Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Advice for Aspiring Writers - A Guest Post by Karna Small Bodman

This month, Fabulous Florida Writers welcomes guest blogger Karna Small Bodman. Karna is the bestselling author of four novels that have hit “#1 in "Thrillers” on Amazon.  She is currently on tour promoting her new thriller, Castle Bravo. Karna was our featured writer on April 28, 2012.

One question that authors often get is, “Where do you get your ideas?” When I decided I wanted to write novels - political thrillers - (a life-long dream), I knew that I could pick up any morning newspaper and see a veritable petri dish of plot points. But I figured that “being there” was even better.

I started my career as a TV news reporter and anchor in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Washington, DC. Then I was asked to serve (6 years) in the Reagan White House – first as Deputy Press Secretary and later as Senior Director of the National Security Council. Talk about story ideas!!! I was scheduled to be in the car with Press Secretary Jim Brady on that fateful day of March 30 but stayed back at the last minute to do other work. Of course, that’s the day that John Hinkley fired those six shots in his assassination attempt! If I had gone to that event at the Hilton Hotel, I would have been standing right next to Jim and President Reagan.  Instead, I spent the day in the Situation Room as members of the cabinet gathered information, kept leaders of Congress and world leaders informed of developments and advised the American people on the operation to save the President’s life (Hinkley’s bullet was lodged ONE INCH from the President’s heart).

There were many other crises, events, disasters and “screw-ups” – as there are in any administration - and I use many of them in my novels, Checkmate, Gambit, Final Finesse, and the new one, Castle Bravo. Each story focuses on a different threat to our national security – at least the way I see them. So, of course, I’m trying to call attention to these subjects, not in a “textbook” sort of style, but by writing a thriller that I hope readers will enjoy while also learning about these issues. After all, it was George Bernard Shaw who said, “The best way to get your point across is to entertain.” I’m trying.

A word to aspiring writers – you don’t have to have The White House on your resume. In fact, my first two novels are “under the bed” – never got a contract. Agents and editors didn’t care about my resume.  They just wanted a good story they could sell.  After I wrote Checkmate, I did meet an editor at a writers’ conference in New Jersey. I signed up for a “pitch session” where you have a chance to sit down for a few minutes and pitch your story. Think of it as something like “speed dating.” She liked the concept and I eventually got an agent (at her suggestion) and a contract.

But here’s an idea for writers who also want to find an agent (rather than self-publish – though that is an option for everyone now).  Another thriller writer told me he had no luck for years in nailing down an agent, but then he had an idea.  He made a list of about 20 bestselling authors who wrote thrillers somewhat similar to his. Then he went to the library to find their FIRST books because on the “Acknowledgements” page, an author will traditionally thank his agent and editor. He made a list of all those agents and then double checked their websites and submission guidelines. He wrote a personal letter to each one saying, “You took a chance on __________, perhaps you will take a chance on me.” One day he got a call from one of those agents who agreed to mention his book to a publisher, and he finally got a two-book deal.  An idea you might try.

Bottom line: go to writers’ conferences and workshops. There is one coming up in my area on Saturday, February 23 organized by the Southwest Florida Romance Writers group. You don’t have to write romance novels – many authors who write in different genres attend. I’ll be there. You’ll have a chance to meet editors and agents and learn about the craft. Check it out at: www.swfrw.org . Remember, you never fail until you quit. Best of luck – and keep writing.

Next: Joseph Eger - Universal Music

Friday, January 11, 2013

John Mackie - He'll Take Manhattan

Sergeant John Mackie was a cop’s cop.  A seventeen-year veteran of the NYPD, he was a rising star in the department. He’d earned dozens of medals and commendations, including the prized NYPD Medal of Valor for actions taken by him in an incident in which two other officers were shot. Even though he was assigned to the tough Street Crime Unit, he loved the job and the people he worked with. One day, when Mackie was responding to meet a department undercover officer, an elderly lady missed a stop sign and plowed into his car.  The injuries he suffered as a result of the accident forced Mackie into early retirement.
“I left the NYPD kicking and screaming,” Mackie says. “Afterward, I needed a change, so I moved to Asheville, North Carolina.” He served a short stint there as the county undersheriff, then “decided to do what every good New Yorker must eventually do – I moved to Florida.” Since he was an avid Dodgers fan, he settled in Vero Beach.  A long and futile job search sent Mackie into a dark bout of depression. Still in his forties, he decided to do something he’d always wanted to do – write a book. “That terrible period wound up being the dawning of a new day,” Mackie says. “I spent the next ten years writing every day before finally getting published. I reinvented myself. I was no longer John the Cop, or John the Depressed Mope. Now I was John the Author.”
A high school drop-out who failed English, Mackie faced some formidable challenges. But challenges were nothing new to this tough ex-cop.  He joined writers groups and took adult education writing classes. He tried his hand at many different writing formats and wrote, rewrote, and polished his work. “Before self-publishing became what it is today, you needed three things to get published by a legitimate house - talent, perseverance, and luck,” he says. ”The most important is perseverance, and I knew I had that. I believed I had the talent, and eventually the luck caught up.” In July, 2002, Mackie’s first novel, Manhattan South, (NAL/Penguin) hit bookstore shelves. The story of a triple murder in a chic Midtown bistro, the book introduced Sergeant Thorn Savage, a dedicated boss in the Manhattan South homicide squad.
Thorn Savage and his crew returned in three subsequent mystery novels: Manhattan North, East Side, and West Side.  Praised by Publishers Weekly as “High intensity,” Mackie’s stories are based on real-life experiences and imbued with a grittiness and edge that makes them ring true. “Authenticity is really important to me,” Mackie explains. “Good novels require well-drawn characters and a plot that is larger than life. The challenge for the writer is to keep the larger-than-life characters and plot plausible and believable. I know my characters well. They’re based mostly on men and women I worked with… some are amalgamations. I try to show them in their true light, for better or worse. They aren’t superheroes. They’re just real folks who must deal with the un-real that often is police work in the big city.  The reader has to like the characters, identify with them, and believe in them… and dislike the bad guys.”
Mackie has now finished To Kill a Queen, the fifth novel in the Thorn Savage series. In this tale, Savage is traveling aboard the Queen Mary 2, enjoying a well-deserved vacation from the NYPD.  Mackie describes this book as “the all-too plausible tale of a two-pronged terrorist attack conducted against the world-famous Cunard liner.”  The takeover of QM2 by embedded terror team 1, and the coordinated high-seas intercept by terror team 2—who carries with them a one-kiloton nuclear device—occurs on the Atlantic Ocean just south of Ireland during one of the Queen’s regular New York-to-Southampton crossings. The story focuses on several passengers from different walks of life, who, like the heroic passengers aboard Flight #93, find themselves in a horrendous and seemingly hopeless situation. They must band together under Savage’s leadership in order to outwit and defeat a highly organized group of fanatic Jihadists bent on the destruction of QM2 on the high seas—with loss of life greater than that of 9/11.
Since parting company with NAL/Penguingroup, Mackie has had all rights to his books reverted from the publisher to himself.  All five of his novels are now available exclusively on Amazon Kindle.
Although he enjoys travelling and spending time with his wife, Bonnie, Mackie sets aside time every morning for writing. “I look at writing as the efforts of one for the delight and amusement of many,” he says.  “I always hope my readers will be entertained and amused and feel that their time with me has been well spent.”
For more information, visit the author's website at www.mackiej.com.