A truly inspired story
The one question writers get more than almost any other .. is .. where do you get your ideas? For thriller writer Stephen Hunter, the inspiration for his novel "Havana" came from a most eminent source, as Hunter acknowledged in the book.Berkeley Breathed
What happens when a character becomes unfocused -- and how to get it back again
Pulitzer Prizewinning cartoonist Berkeley Breathed is creator of one of the most recognizable, and best-loved, cartoon characters -- Opus the penguin, who is now back in newspapers after a nearly-10-year absence. Eye on Books talked with Breathed about Opus' return, to what is now a very different kind of comic page. Mitch Albom
A spoonful of sugar is all it takes to make a story work.
Mitch Albom's debut novel "The Five People You Meet in Heaven" is a powerful story of a man who arrives in the afterlife desperate to find out if his final act on earth saved a little girl's life, or was just another failure in a lifetime of failures. A story like this could easily turn maudlin or syrupy if you let it, so Albom was very careful about his tone. Dave Barry
Mugged by a mugshot.
Writing the book is only the beginning of the work for an author. Then comes the marketing of the book, and that means coming up with a clever and creative bookjacket. That is harder than it sounds, since the jacket has to visually summarize the tone and outlook of the book itself. Try capturing the "tone" of Dave Barry.Jennifer Weiner
Navigating fiction-writing's mommy track
Not long after she wrote her debut novel "Good in Bed" author Jennifer Weiner took the plunge, and got married. Fast forward two years .. and now, with publication of her second novel "In Her Shoes," Jennifer Weiner is a young mom. Suddenly chick lit takes on a whole new dimension for her.J.A. Jance
Writing without a net -- how one mystery writer does it
J.A. Jance has written and published 28 books -- each written without her knowing where the book was going to end up when she started writing. Oh, now, that means she just doesn't use an outline.. right??Karen E. Quinones-Miller
Can you build a novel around facts?
There is no better-known advice to aspiring writers than, "Write what you know." Sometimes it may be more than what you want to know. Karen E. Quinones Miller turned a family nightmare into her bestselling novel "I'm Telling."Kathy Reichs
Why you have to leave out most of your research
A novel, especially a mystery, is no place to show off how much you know about your subject. Even if you are a bona fide real-world expert in the field, don't put it in your fiction. Ask bestselling author, and real-life forensic anthropologist, Kathy Reichs.Vince Flynn
Where Tom Clancy lost Vince Flynn
There is no doubt that Tom Clancy inspired, and set the bar for, many of today's finest political, military and espionage thriller writers. One of them is bestselling author Vince Flynn, whose series character Mitch Rapp is rather Jack Ryan-like. Or maybe not -- Flynn is hoping that Mitch Rapp never becomes a Jack Ryan. Dean Koontz
Waiting for inspiration? No way.
Dean Koontz is on a roll. His thriller "The Face" was published in May 2003, months before his fans would normally have expected his latest. And there's a reason for that, he tells Eye on Books. His juices are really flowing.....
Why Lisa Scottoline is scared while she's writing
Lisa Scottoline has written a bestseller a year, every year, for a decade. She's been widely hailed as the female John Grisham. So why is she so scared every time she writes? We'll get to that in a moment -- but remember what they told us in Writing 101 .. write about what you know? Scottoline understands that in her case, that doesn't mean briefs and torts and motions -- it means "e-motions". Know what's in your heart.Jodi Picoult
Do writers get jealous of other writers?
Bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult is willing to admit publicly what many authors may only acknowledge privately: she gets jealous of other writers.Harlan Coben
It's an enviable skill some writers have, to write a story that's so good, that makes us turn the pages so fast we get blisters on our fingers. So I'm curious -- if a book has that mile-a-minute pace, did the author feel that, too? I asked the award-winning Harlan Coben.
Robert Crais on his Michael Connelly connection.
The Elvis Cole detective novels by bestselling author Robert Crais are set in Los Angeles -- but so are other mysteries, by other bestselling writers. So it might be considered quite logical that, sooner or later, Elvis Cole would run into someone else mystery readers know, right?Michael Connelly
Main character as alter ego.
With his ninth Harry Bosch mystery "Lost Light," Michael Connelly took us inside Bosch's often-troubled mind as he had never done before -- he wrote the book in the first person. It may have been a logical step, though, since Connelly acknowledges that he and Harry have been getting closer.Rita Mae Brown
Getting away with murder: easier than you think
Think about this -- mystery writers get paid to think up ways to kill people. But in order to make their books work, they also have to think up ways for killers to get caught. And in the overwhelming majority of mysteries, killers do get caught. In real life, the numbers aren't so encouraging. Bestselling mystery writer Rita Mae Brown says she has to balance the real with the optimistic.Walter Mosley
The Golden Age of Black Literature
This is an historic time for America's black writers, says one of the foremost among them, Walter Mosley. Indeed, he says this may be the Golden Age of black literature.Linda Fairstein
Linda Fairstein on why she rejects a technique many mystery writers use.
Linda Fairstein is a fulltime writer now, having left the Manhattan District Attorney's office after a long and successful career as chief of the Sex Crimes Unit. But it's hard to shed old patterns of thinking, especially when those patterns have served you so well for so many years. That's why Fairstein just says no to a technique used by many very successful mystery writers.Terry Brooks
Evil is as evil does
In good fantasy fiction, heroes must be very heroic, and evil must be very evil. But how evil can you make a character before it becomes cartoonish and unbelievable? We asked one of the finest fantasy writers of our time, Terry Brooks.
Making a series more than a bunch of reruns
Authors who create series characters face a challenge other writers don't -- they have to find ways to let their characters grow and evolve from one book to the next. Ridley Pearson is the author of the very successful series of thrillers starring Seattle police detective Lou Boldt. But Pearson says it's not just the characters he pays close attention to, it's his razor-sharp plots, too. Joyce Carol Oates
The character is me
"Memoirist fiction" is how Joyce Carol Oates describes her novel "I'll Take You There" -- it's a fictional construct, but clearly modeled after Oates' own college experience. Which raises interesting questions about how much any author pours herself into her characters. In the case of Oates' main character -- who is never even given a name in the book -- she's a young woman who reminds Oates of herself. Kinky Friedman
The Author Visits the White House
Reporters are always curious to know what the President of the United States is reading, who his favorite authors are. The answers can make a writer's career -- look how insurance man Tom Clancy skyrocketed to fame when it was revealed that Ronald Reagan loved "The Hunt for Red October." Well it wasn't long ago that someone asked about President Bush's favorites, and the answer was -- Kinky Friedman. Who was then invited to the White House.
Writing a book that's nothing like your others
Absolute Power. Total Control. The Simple Truth. Saving Faith. David Baldacci has a well-earned reputation for fast-paced, page-turning thrillers with political and legal twists that would make Machiavelli proud. But there was one kind of book Baldacci always wanted to write, a book nothing like his other bestsellers.James Ellroy
Getting to know a large cast
James Ellroy's novel The Cold Six Thousand has over 100 characters, including many actual historical figures. How in the world can a writer get to know that many characters well enough to write about them?Janet Evanovich
How Scrooge McDuck inspired Janet Evanovich
With nine Stephanie Plum mysteries behind her now, Janet Evanovich continues to sharpen and refine her immensely popular character, letting her grow and mature. And there is a core principle Evanovich adheres to, in crafting her Stephanie Plum books.
Why first person is his last resort
Every story has to be told from a point of view. And while it's not always clear at the beginning of the writing process what that point of view should be -- or whose it should be -- there is one POV that Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Oscar Hijuelos generally avoids, regardless of the story he's telling.Jane Stanton Hitchcock
Getting the tone of the story right
For a novelist, choosing the right words is certainly important; forming a believable plot is essential; creating three-dimensional characters is a must. But overarching all of that, believes Jane Stanton Hitchcock, is getting the tone of the story right. She wrote -- and threw away -- Social Crimes after writing it in the third person, because the tone wasn't right.Brad Meltzer
His research really gets personal
Every good writer does some research -- some writers do a lot more than others, but how many are willing to do what Brad Meltzer did, in researching his thriller, The Millionaires? He wanted to find out how easy it was for someone to dig up information on someone else's personal life.Sara Paretsky
The perils of creating peril
Without some danger, mysteries would fall pretty flat. What excitement is there if the main character isn't challenged by threat, peril, or risk? But the question is, how much threat, peril, and risk?Adam Gopnik
Writing the effective first-person essay
The first-person essay is a much more difficult form to do right than it may look. An effective and memorable essay means bringing the reader along through the writer's personal thoughts, recollections, and conclusions, without feeling like he's just been dragged through an interminable vacation slide show. "New Yorker" writer Adam Gopnik -- who collected essays about Paris in his book, Paris to the Moon -- says the key to an effective personal essay may be right at the writer's fingertips.E. Lynn Harris
How has the passage of time changed the way you write?
He's had five bestselling books in five years. E. Lynn Harris, the former IBM sales executive, is a self-taught author. We asked him how the passage of time has changed the way he writes.Laura Lippman
She's a Baltimorean, hon...
It was once dubbed "Monumental City," but more folks know Baltimore as "Charm City" -- and Laura Lippman is quickly establishing herself as the principal voice of Baltimore in mystery fiction, with her popular series of Tess Monaghan books, as well as powerful standalones such as Every Secret Thing.W.E.B. Griffin
Research or Forecast?
Writers like W.E.B. Griffin underpin their books with voluminous research, so much so that it can make them as much of an authority on their subject as the people who do it for a living. Griffin has written dozens of military and police bestsellers, sometimes based on storylines that are more factual than even Griffin knew.
Banks and Rebus Together
Mystery writers Ian Rankin and Peter Robinson have written a pile of bestsellers, built around their series heroes -- Rankin's Inspector John Rebus, and Robinson's Detective Chief Inspector Alan Banks. In a rare joint interview, Rankin and Robinson talked with Eye on Books about their characters, their plots, their ideas, and their philosophies.John Connolly
What a mystery is, is no mystery
What is a mystery? The boundaries of that definition have been expanding for years now, encompassing all kinds of fiction from the lighthearted to the visceral. But apparently in some people's minds, there are some boundaries that cannot be crossed. John Connolly writes about a private investigator named Charlie Parker, but his books also incorporate elements of the supernatural, such as his 2005 thriller The Black Angel.Sandra Brown
What the mystery writer likes to read
Mystery writers are mystery readers, too. So even those who turn out bestseller after bestseller, like Sandra Brown, enjoy curling up with other people's books. But while for many of us part of the fun of reading a mystery is trying to figure it out, Sandra Brown says that is not the way she approaches a book.