I'm extraordinarily excited to announce that ROCK PAPER SCISSORS: A Lizzy Ballard Thriller is now available in audiobook format on Amazon and Audible!
As with the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels THE SENSE OF DEATH and THE SENSE OF RECKONING, I found the audiobook production to be fascinating (and fun), and thought you'd enjoy a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the process!
The first step was finding a narrator. The Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) acts as a matchmaker between authors / publishers and narrator / producers. I posted an excerpt (Lizzy and Owen in the diner when Owen gets final confirmation of what Lizzy's special ability is) and specified the voice characteristics I was looking for (American female with no pronounced regional accent, between twenty and forty years old, straightforward style, etc.) and waited for the auditions to come in. I also solicited auditions from a couple of narrator / producers whose work I admired.
Then I listened to over forty renditions of my posted scene, noting the pros and cons of each audition, and providing ratings of the performance (because after a dozen or so, they all blend together if you're relying on memory alone). In a few cases, where I generally liked an audition but had a specific reservation about it, I followed up with the narrator, asking if she would submit a slightly modified version. My most common request was related to the performance of Lizzy as a young girl. I wanted the language rather than the intonation to convey Lizzy's age, because I can think of few things more annoying than listening to an adult talk in a high, piping child's voice for several chapters.
The competition was stiff, but in the end the stand-out performance came from the talented Victoria Matlock. Victoria not only has a lovely voice, but also the dramatic background to bring the story to life--check out her professional qualifications at https://www.victoriamatlock.com/.
It turned out that Victoria was not only a wonderful narrator, but a wonderful partner in the production of the audiobook--including patiently re-recording the many instances of "Paoli" when I failed to include its local pronunciation ("pay-OH-lee") in the guide I provided.
There are few things more exciting than hearing one's written words being brought to life by a talented narrator, and I can't wait for fans of Lizzy Ballard--existing and new--to experience her story through Victoria's performance! When you've had a chance to listen, post a comment and let me know what you think!
In July, Amazon reviewer Cyndi Bandy posted this review of THE SENSE OF DEATH:
"Very well done. Kept my attention. Intelligent; well written. Would love to see the next story. ... Only 1 word of criticism; can't stand the f word. This is not necessary to convey the emotions & thoughts of the characters. In my opinion, it cheapens the context & limits your audience."
Cyndi's was not the first review to comment on this. My (fortunately few) negative reviews seem to fall into three areas: "I wish I knew more about Ann Kinnear," "This wasn't a mystery!" (I have since ensured that it doesn't appear in the Mystery genre in online retailers), and "Too much profanity."
Last week, Wade and I were lucky enough to be in Columbia, SC, for the eclipse ...
It really was an extraordinary experience ... I can easily imagine how people not prepped for the event by modern science and media would think the world was coming to an end. For me, the most interesting part was that, with only a tiny sliver of sun not occluded by the moon, there was still plenty of ambient light. The most stunning part was that when only a tiny sliver of the sun emerged from the other side, it was an explosion of light--spectacular! Time to start planning for 2024. : )
(All this celestial excitement must have permeated my subconscious, because in the weeks leading up to the eclipse, the two books on my nightstand were THE STARS ARE FIRE by the wonderful Anita Shreve, and Kent Lester's debut novel, THE SEVENTH SUN.)
Wade and I just got back from another relaxing and productive week in Maine. It started out the opposite of relaxing, because we arrived at what we thought was our rental in Bass Harbor only to learn that, due to an administrative mix-up, it wasn’t our rental after all! After a suspenseful couple of hours, during which we drowned our sorrows in Bar Harbor Real Ale at Thurston’s Lobster Pound, the rental company lined us up with a beautiful old farm on eight acres in Lamoine, on the mainland. It turned out to be a silver lining of the best sort; we had always avoided the mainland because of the horror stories we heard about the difficulty of getting on and off Mount Desert Island, but we were able to plan our travels to miss the traffic jams, and as a result got to enjoy the quieter atmosphere (and lower prices) of the mainland.
My two signing events went well—I spent an enjoyable afternoon at Bar Harbor Cellars, and a busy afternoon at Sherman’s Books, where manager Deb Taylor graciously rearranged the featured books shelf so I could take a photos of THE SENSE OF RECKONING next to Anita Shreve’s latest novel, THE STARS ARE FIRE, which also features the Fire of 1947. (Plus Deb marked my book as a Staff Pick!)
At both the signings, I had my first experience in Maine of having someone come to an event specifically to see me, so it’s exciting to see that word of my books is spreading!
Interesting insider tip for the Friends of Ann Kinnear: The Somesville house on which Garrick Masser’s is modeled is for sale. Based on the photos on Zillow, it’s a lot more cheery than Garrick’s home, but the front hall is very much as I described it in RECKONING.
The best news of all: My draft of SNAKES AND LADDERS, the sequel to ROCK PAPER SCISSORS, is now up to 40,000 words (final manuscript will be 80-90K) thanks to the inspiring (and dog-distraction-free) atmosphere of the Lamoine farm! I’m feeling confident that I will be able to have a draft ready for my editor by mid-December. ROCK PAPER SCISSORS, which is my third book, launched on 3/3—might Book 4 be ready on 4/4? I’ll keep you apprised of progress!
My husband, our nephew, and me in New York City
I just got back from four days at ThrillerFest XII in New York City, where I got to learn from--and in many cases talk with--some of the biggest names in the thriller field: David Morrell (who wrote First Blood, on which Rambo was based), Charlaine Harris (mastermind behind True Blood), Val McDermid (best known for her psychologist character Tony Hill), Gayle Lynd (one of the few highly successful women in the spy thriller genre), and this year's ThrillerMaster honoree, Lee Child (creator of Jack Reacher), to name a few. (When signing a copy of a book for me, Lee noticed my nametag and asked, in his wonderful British baritone, "Is that your real name?" When I told him it was, he said, "That is a fantastic name." I told him he should feel free to use it in an upcoming Jack Reacher novel.)
I got to chat briefly with the always-gracious C. J. (Chuck) Box, author of the Joe Pickett novels. (Detective Joe Booth in THE SENSE OF DEATH and THE SENSE OF RECKONING is an homage to Joe Pickett.) Chuck retained his graciousness throughout one panel discussion during which the moderator repeatedly referred to him as "Joe."
I also had the pleasure of speaking with Lisa Scottoline, the most generous author I've ever met in terms of reader engagement, and (my fan girl moment) with Michael Koryta, author of psychological suspense novels like So Cold the River. My buddy Sherry Knowlton got to sit next to Michael at the author signing. I'm jealous.
One of the most enjoyable parts of writing a novel is the research--in the last week, as I work on Lizzy Ballard Book 2, I've spoken with the Search and Rescue Coordinator of the Coconino County (AZ) Sheriff’s Office; a subject matter expert at the Delaware Museum of Natural History; and a paramedic with 17 years of experience in emergency medical services (it just wouldn't be a thriller without the need for some emergency medical services). Next on the research tour: the hospital emergency department professionals who helped me with ROCK PAPER SCISSORS.
I've even tapped into the Facebook hive mind for ideas for Southeastern Pennsylvania-specific words and phrases, and common night-time gathering places for homeless people in Philadelphia.
The people I've asked for help have been unbelievably generous with their knowledge and their time, and I hope to be able to repay them with a storyline that relies for its thrills on the surprises and oddities of the real world.
What have I learned in my research?
Discontinuing use of steroids abruptly can cause mood swings, fatigue, restlessness, achy muscles, and depression.
Air ambulances are only used when the benefit of faster transportation to a hospital justifies the added cost and risk of the operation.
The Arizona Department of Heath Services Triage, Treatment and Transport Guidelines includes an instruction to assess patient for decapitation.
Jellyfish (or "jellies" as they are now called, as they are not fish) are venomous, puffer fish are poisonous, while the Asian tiger snake is both venomous and poisonous. So watch out for this guy ...
It's been quite a week! Friday 3/3 was the launch party for ROCK PAPER SCISSORS at Kildare's in West Chester--many thanks to everyone who came out! (10% of the proceeds from the sale of ROCK PAPER SCISSORS went to All 4 Paws Rescue.) You can check out other photos from the party on Facebook.
If you weren't able to make it to the party and would like a signed copy, click here to order one for yourself, or for a thriller-loving friend!
The launch got some great media coverage, including an interview with fellow Brandywine Valley Writers Group member and author of Shoplandia, Jim Breslin--click here for that!
I was also extraordinarily excited to be interviewed by Main Line Today for the launch, especially because the Main Line--the towns along the railroad tracks stretching west from Philadelphia--is the setting for much of ROCK PAPER SCISSORS. Lizzy Ballard's family starts out in Paoli, and moves first to Thorndale and then to Parkesburg as their fortunes decline. Her father, Patrick, commutes to his job at William Penn University (the fictionalized version of my alma mater, the University of Pennsylvania) via the train to 30th Street Station.
I'm especially excited to connect with readers in the Philadelphia area--be sure to drop me a note and let me know what you think of ROCK PAPER SCISSORS.
If you're in the Chester County, Pennsylvania, area on Sunday, January 8, please join me and fellow suspense and thriller authors Merry Jones, Jane Kelly, and Sherry Knowlton at Kennett Brewing Company for the first "Drunken Poets Society" event: 4 authors, 4 KBC beers, and 4 local cheeses, at 4 o'clock, all for $10!
For me, mid-December means ... Lizzy Ballard's fateful trip from her home in Parkesburg, in the far western Philadelphia suburbs, to New York City, and her life-changing encounter on the Keystone train as it approaches 30th Street Station. Curious? Then mark your calendars for March 3, 2017, the launch date for Rock Paper Scissors: A Lizzy Ballard Thriller!
30th Street Station, Philadelphia
December also means the yearly trip my husband and I take to Charleston, South Carolina, for a quick escape from the Chester County cold. Several years ago, we discovered lodgings in an iconic Charleston single house on East Battery, with a view across Charleston Harbor. The home was built in 1836 (and has been in the current owners' family since 1900), and it's easy to imagine the residents and their neighbors standing on the long verandas, watching the Battle of Fort Sumter unfold.
Now we get to watch the carriage tours pass by, to the clop of the horses' hooves, and the (very) occasional reveler returning home from the downtown bars and restaurants. Charleston tip: When porch-sitting (one of my favorite Charleston pastimes), bring a wide-bottomed "snuggie" for your water bottle to avoid having it roll down the steeply pitched veranda floor and three floors down into the neighboring side yard. Happened to a friend. Yeah, that's it.
Photo by Wade Walton
What is your favorite historic destination? Post your thoughts in the Comments!
Back in October of 2015, in conjunction with the launch of The Sense of Reckoning, I provided a guest post for Omnimystery News titled "The Sense of Place - The Story Behind the Story." Making a story's location as much a character in the plot as the human participants has always been a goal of mine, and one that reviewers seem to feel I've delivered on in The Sense of Reckoning (set largely in the Bar Harbor / Acadia area of Maine) and The Sense of Death (set largely in the Philadelphia area, including my own home base of Chester County, PA).
When I read Robert Blake Whitehill's thriller Deadrise, I was struck by the vividness of his depiction of the setting of his story: Smith Island and the Chesapeake Bay. As the winner of screenwriting awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Screenwriting Fellowship
(for UXO (Unexploded Ordnance)) and the Hudson Valley Film Festival (for Blue Rinse), and as a finalist in the Telluride IndieFest (Blue Rinse), Robert obviously knows a thing or two about setting a scene.
I asked Robert if he would be willing to share his thoughts on the setting as character, and he provided the wonderful post below. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and that it will inspire you to check out Robert's books!
Westworld. Big Two Hearted River. The cradle of action in fiction can be so integral to a work that the setting’s name becomes the title of the story. While my own titles are drawn from different sources for other reasons, the settings for the Ben Blackshaw series are no less crucial, both for their uniqueness to the Blackshaw world, and for their commonalities with the settings crafted by other writers.
Smith Island, in the Chesapeake Bay, is really a low-lying archipelago of stream-riven bluffs and sandy hummocks. The few hundred hardy souls living there in two small hamlets can communicate via walkways and footbridges. A third village can be reached only by boat. In between, the wild beauty of the marshes in fog might conjure a sense of misty English moors. Four hundred years ago, when the original Cornish settlers first arrived, they must have felt at home. And yet Smith Island’s bedrock is sinking, even as the waters of climate change rise. This beloved place is slowly trying to kill its people, or drive them off to safer elevations. This tells you something about the spirit of the folks who choose to live there. (Isn’t that the value of any hero’s hardship?)
I have made an effort to ensure that the settings of the Blackshaw thrillers are well-developed and intriguing in their own right. Reviewers have remarked that my take on the Chesapeake Bay makes it more like a character than a mere place where the business occurs. Certainly the Chesapeake’s weather is mercurial, moody. Its depths can obscure astounding truths and horrors lying on the muddy bottom. It can stretch mirror flat for miles, or it can hide an enemy just beyond the horse’s mane whipping off the crest of the next steep looming wave. The Chesapeake can feed an entire island, an entire nation, or drown every last soul biding there. Its salty alluvial scents can evoke memories of love, of childhood, of plenty, of home; its dark brackish depths can flood lungs and clog throats with suffocating bitterness; the watery chill of death.
In a thriller, the setting serves many turns. The most important characteristic of a locale for dynamic action is isolating the main characters the way a boxing ring contains the fighters, the way a stage helps us know where the actors will do their thing. This isolation on a closed stage also requires a character to work only with what he can forage or make from the immediate environment as in Apollo 13 scripted by William Broyles Jr. and Al Reinert. A writer can also carefully, plausibly trickle in outside influences according to her plot’s requirements. In the case of Apollo 13, the outside influence was just information and ideas from Ground Control about using foraged materials to help the heroes save themselves.
An island can sequester characters, preventing escape, as in Defoes’s Robinson Crusoe, and William Broyles Jr.’s script for Cast Away. Total containment can be guaranteed by reefs, sharks (as in Anthony Jaswinski’s script for The Shallows), or simple overwhelming distances that prevent one from being found, or which hinder rescue once found. James Bond villains love their island lairs because the isolation confers a naturally defensible perimeter, bolstered by man-eating crabs or armed guards who cannot shoot straight, but who can be relied upon to pitch screaming off a high palisade or cliff to a watery grave when they themselves are plugged.
There are all kinds of figurative islands in fiction. In Dov Simen’s Two Day Film School, he recommends making one’s first low budget film a horror movie by ‘locking a bunch of teenagers in a cabin in the woods and chopping them up.’ Isolation. No hope of escape or rescue. The clichéd, “No one will hear you scream” applies here. A science fiction setting on an alien planet, such as The Martian, or on a spacecraft, like Event Horizon, or on an underwater habitat, as in The Abyss, fulfills the same isolating function, with the added frustration that well-meaning rescuers might know exactly where the endangered protagonist is, but they cannot hope arrive in time across vast hostile distances.
What if a setting fails to offer enough dramatic isolation to match the tale’s stakes? In Deadrise, I added a hurricane to further jeopardize all the characters on the storm-tossed Chesapeake. The bad weather also reduced visibility to a claustrophobic minimum allowing characters to be nearly on top of one another, but still not see each other. Underwater, clouds overhead nulled sunlight, and conspired with curtains of silt to prevent Blackshaw from noticing important plot developments immediately in his vicinity until I chose the precise moment to let the silt clear just enough for the story to begin. Later, the eye-watering ammonia-guano stench of a great blue heron rookery serves to protect a cache of buried gold from discovery by casual trespassers.
In Nitro Express, I create an itinerary of international settings with darkness, distance, the heights of skyscraper rooftops, a field of steaming fumaroles and geysers in the high Chilean Atacama desert, as well as a labyrinthine cathedral of vaulted ice sheets on the bottom of Canada’s Wakeham Bay at low tide. Obscuring a character’s view, blocking any sensory input really, is key to keeping him ignorant of imminent dangers, allowing a writer to string the plot with near-misses and direct hits of fortuitous or catastrophic nature.
In Tap Rack Bang, Blackshaw is holed up on a man-made island of sorts; the wreck of a Liberty Ship in the Chesapeake Bay. There is a handy fog-bank in play as well. The story climaxes in the makeshift cells of a human trafficking ring in dark catacomb tunnels beneath a liquid natural gas facility.
In Geronimo Hotshot, the Arizona border wilderness offers hills to hide and fatigue footsore travelers, ravines for entrapping, handy crevasses for stashing corpses, and arroyos to block the sight of closer dangers. I added in a vast and dark cavern system below (complete with a fast-running subterranean river), as well as the obscuring, choking smoke plumes of a raging wildfire on the surface. The setting is as much a hero’s path as a place, and it must be strewn with obstacles.
My hat is off to Lee Child for his canny use of wide open space in his Jack Reacher novel, Worth Dying For. Like George Lucas in THX1138 and his agoraphobia-inducing featureless white rooms that seemingly have no walls, Child sets his action in Nebraska, a Great Plain State, and centers it in a remote small town built around a crossroads. One result of this setting is keeping law enforcement local, corrupt, cowed, or apathetic by turns. Child makes it clear that Reacher could walk out, or hitch-hike out, if he wished. Reacher’s moral enforcer conscience pins him to the locale until he sees the action through.
I must also salute my father, Joseph Whitehill, and his use of setting as the denouement of his short story entitled Marshmallow World, which appeared in the April, 1954 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. The world potentate was afraid of the strongest man in the world, who though peaceful, could burst steel ball bearings between thumb and forefinger. How to contain such a man if he turned traitorous? In the end, the threatened potentate marooned the strong man on an island surrounded by a marshmallow sea, a medium against which his mightiest swimming strokes would yield no distance in the fluff. To my mind, that setting is perfect.
As has been noted, there are many qualities of a setting. They can become clever devices for leaking information to readers and watchers. It is fine to let your audience learn things at the same time as a character. Let the audience see something before a character does, what’s just around the corner, and that’s getting interesting, building tension. Let the audience learn something after the character, that in simplest terms is your unreliable narrator, and all bets are off; the reader or viewer can trust nothing until the story’s end, and sometimes not even then.
The cell phone and setting. These devices, so helpful in real life, are the bane of any good thriller author. The mobile phone dispels tension too easily, makes the cavalry just a phone call away. That’s why, true to the real Smith Island, cell phone reception in Deadrise is anemic at best. Add a crippling storm, and the island’s few rickety cell towers come down. Likewise, the land lines are toast. No dialing for help, no data, no encouraging word or clue from a friend. Instead, Blackshaw eventually forages an enemy satellite phone, which does not need cell towers; but now Blackshaw can only gather intel from, or spread disinformation to, his enemy.
If a setting is character, I first use the five senses to help readers to perceive it. How does a place look, smell, taste, sound, and feel to a character, and most importantly, what memories or emotions are evoked in a character by those sensory revelations? I tend to pick one impactful sense on which to focus, though I might eventually refer to all the others to round out a character’s—and therefore a reader’s—experience. The setting in a thriller is the very matrix in which the plot unfolds. Without a keen eye to developing a vivid sense of place, an author short-changes the audience, and fails to exploit one of the most subtle, yet powerful agents of progress and setbacks for the hero.
Robert Blake Whitehill is the critically-acclaimed, award-winning, bestselling author of the Ben Blackshaw Series, which is available in English and German. A proud native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, he lives in New Jersey with his family.
#LeeChild #Castaway #BenBlackshaw #ChesapeakeBay #TheShallows #DovSimen
Do you love a novel with a strong sense of place? Then please click here to check out the Ann Kinnear Suspense Novels, The Sense of Death and The Sense of Reckoning, and click here to sign up for Matty's monthly-ish email newsletter to get updates on progress on her third novel, Rock Paper Scissors, and other author activities!
It’s been a busy couple of weeks! On October 22, I did a signing at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore in Harrisburg, where I was joined by Tory Gates. I chatted with customers, signed books, drank excellent coffee, and got the inside scoop from Tory about outreach via radio. Also had some fun with the store signage.
Then Wade and I traveled to Mt. Desert Island, Maine, the setting for much of The Sense of Reckoning, which has as its backstory a devastating fire that occurred there at the end of October, 1947. On October 27 of this year, historian Sean Cox and I gave a talk at the Jesup Memorial Library in Bar Harbor about the fire. The library set up a great display on the topic ...
... and Sean and I feigned casualness before the event ...
For the talk, I read two excerpts from The Sense of Reckoning--one scene that takes place during the fire, and one during the fire's aftermath. Sean, an MDI local and the person who helped me get the details of the fire right, provided a fascinating historical perspective using photos, old postcards, and clippings of newspaper articles and ads.
I was nervous about whether we would be able to draw a decent-sized audience during the MDI off-season, but people started coming in half an hour before the talk was scheduled to start ... and kept coming in, with the library staff pulling out extra chairs to accommodate the growing crowd. By the time we started the talk at 7:00, there were seventy people in the audience, including some watching from the balcony that surrounds the main floor!
The talk went well, and was made even more fun by a great audience. At the end, some people who had experienced the fire and its aftermath in person shared their memories of the event. One gentleman described seeing firefighters patrolling the area where the fire started during the day, guarding against flare-ups, but recalled that they went home each night. Another audience member told of being a four-year-old and finding all the excitement quite exhilarating, although she was upset when her mother covered her with a blanket during part of their escape; she found out only later that they had driven right through the fire to reach safety. I heard another audience member relate a relative's delight at having her first experience of macaroni and cheese at one of the canteens serving the fire victims.
The conversation with the audience members continued after the talk wrapped up. The attendees seemed appreciative of the evening of information and entertainment, the library mentioned having us back for another talk (maybe next October, which will be the seventieth anniversary of the fire), and I introduced The Sense of Reckoning to seventy potential readers who are obviously deeply interested in all things MDI-related.
Next year, Sean, Wade, and I are going to go to Bar Harbor's Blaze restaurant for our after-talk drink!
Happy haunted reading!