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.

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