The Thrill of Reading: A Suspense Author Roundtable

I don’t know about you, but I love a novel that will keep me turning pages with all of its twists and turns. And as the fiction publicist here at Bethany House, I get to work with several of the authors who create those types of books, and they’re joining us on the blog today!

Several of our Bethany House suspense writers are here to share details about their inspiration and research so you can learn more about what it takes to get those page-turning plots to you.

Amy: Why do you think readers enjoy reading about criminal investigations, perilous chase scenes, and high-stakes drama that they wouldn’t want to be involved with in real life? And why do you enjoy writing it?

Susan Sleeman: I think readers like these kinds of books for two reasons. One, they’d like to think of themselves as the hero or heroine, being brave enough to withstand the attacks and smart enough to outfox the bad guy. And two, they like the fast pace and excitement in these books. And they like to be a bit scared by the events, sort of like riding a roller coaster. You know you are safe, but the ride raises your adrenaline, and you like the feeling.

I write in this genre for the same reasons I think readers like to read them. I want to think of myself as being brave, but in reality, I’m a big chicken. I like the adrenaline rush too. But also, I’m fascinated with forensics and police procedures, so I love doing the research and learning new things in that area. Also, I attended the FBI’s citizens academy and several local police citizens academy, and when I saw the agents’ and officers’ hearts for helping people, I was hooked on writing in this genre to portray law enforcement officers as the genuine helpers that they are.

First Lines of Minutes to Die: “Exposed. Kiley felt exposed. Standing there. In the dark. Waiting. Waiting. The moon hunkered behind heavy clouds. The streetlights dim. The quiet Washington, D.C., suburban shopping area shrouded by foggy mist.”

Amy: Tell us a little bit about your main character in your most recent novel. Any desire to move into crime-fighting yourself?

Rachel: Layla Karam works at the CIA as a Middle East analyst, but those in charge at the Agency believe Layla would be a better asset if she was a CIA officer working in the field. Even though she resists, she takes on the challenges because she believes she is serving her country.

Fun fact, Layla got her undergraduate degree in Arab studies, and I got my Master’s degree in Middle Eastern studies. I poured a lot of myself into Layla’s character, but I could never take on dangerous field missions like her. I’m much better sitting behind my computer writing about them!

First Lines of Backlash: “The incessant knocking on her condo door made Layla Karam grumble as she threw off the covers. She had no idea who would be so insistent—especially at two in the morning. Over five years at the CIA had made her cautious, so she grabbed her gun from the nightstand and went to the door, ready for anything.”

Amy: Your latest series has a lot of complexity. What is something you think readers would find interesting about the challenges you faced in writing the Kaely Quinn Profiler novels?

Nancy Mehl: I’ve never worked with a character quite like Kaely before—the daughter of a serial killer who grows up to be a behavioral analyst for the FBI. She certainly comes with a boatload of emotional hang-ups!

But I’d also say it was extremely tough to write about the FBI. I’m so blessed to work with a retired FBI agent who actually worked in the BAU (Behavioral Analysis Unit). You would think that would make things easier. Uh, no. In my first drafts, I had so many things wrong. I actually rewrote the beginning of Mind Games, the first book in the series, three times because my FBI source told me my premise wouldn’t work. I’m sure I tried her patience more than once, but we got it done. I couldn’t have written the book without her.

First Lines of Dead End: “Norman Webber offered his wife a tight smile as he dealt with yet another one of her awful presents. He felt like a fool walking back and forth in this abandoned rail yard.”

Amy: Tell us a little bit about your latest series and what inspired you to chose the characters you did.

Dani Pettrey: The Coastal Guardians series features a team of Coast Guard Investigative Service agents. Each book features a different member of the team. Before I started researching, I had no idea the CGIS existed, but while researching the Coast Guard in general, I found cases the CGIS had worked and solved. I was fascinated and decided to write a series about the men and women who pursue justice for a living. I hope readers will enjoy getting to know the whole team.

First Line of The Crushing Depths: “Greg Barnes clinked along the grated metal steps, his boot heels rasping with each shuffle as he headed topside for a much-needed breath of smoke. Thrusting the door open with a resounding creak, he stepped out into the night air. A litany of protestors’ chants mimicked the shrill whining of cicadas.”

Amy: What do you feel like characterizes your series? Why do readers keep coming back for more?

Ronie Kendig: In the twenty-plus books I’ve written, I’ve found that readers—and I—really love the team dynamic, the camaraderie and the relationships. It takes a lot of effort, more than when I wrote a regular cast of characters, but I love it because it brings depth to the story that otherwise isn’t there. It also affords an opportunity for diversity, humor, and impact that I find easier to imbue in a story through that team dynamic.

I’ve also written interconnected threads across the series in several of my series to date. The most difficult thing is to pull all those moving parts together in the end to create a satisfying but not cliché, everyone-lives-happily-ever-after conclusion.

First Lines of Kings Falling: “Being hunted by the monsters she had created was a horrifying, well-deserved death. God forgive her for the terrible things she’d done, but it had been for good. For the good of all humankind. Only it hadn’t turned out … good.”

Amy: You mention on your website that you write “suspense stained by history’s secrets.” What does this mean?

Jaime Jo Wright: I created that phrase when I was repeatedly asked what I wrote, and when I answered “suspense,” I received questions about the FBI, police, murder investigations, and so on. So I wanted to define that my stories are far more vintage in nature, and that while there are present-day mysteries and suspense stories, they’re all very stained and saturated with the secrets of the past.

First Lines of The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus: “Life was not unlike the wisp of fog that curled around the base of a grave marker, softly caressing the marble before dissolving into the violet shadows of the night. There was a sweetness in its bitter that left an aftertaste, a vision, a moment of wonderment.”

What question would you like to ask your favorite suspense authors? We might use them in a future post.

Add a Word, Ruin a (Pandemic) Book

Inspired by this cartoon, the Bethany House fiction team rewrote a few classic novels to better fit our current season.* Since everyone has extra time on their hands, why not make the literary greats more relevant by one tiny little change to the title? Here’s what we mean…

One Hundred Years of 2020 Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

A Tale of Two Quarantines by Charles Dickens

Not On the Road by Jack Keroauc

Sense and Sanitation by Jane Austen

Charlotte’s Web Classroom by E. B. White

Alexander and the Terrible, No Good, Very Bad Year by Judith Viorst

Oh, the Places You Won’t Go! By Dr. Seuss

To Kill a Social Life by Harper Lee

The Lord of the Masks by J.R.R. Tolkien

Twenty-Twenty by George Orwell (JUST AS BAD)

But why stop there? Thinking about it, we realized we could update a few Bethany House titles as well.

From a Social Distance by Tamera Alexander

Before I Zoom Called You Mine by Nicole Deese

A Dangerous Cough by Elizabeth Camden

Until the Restrictions Fall by Connilyn Cossette

A Faithful Virtual Gathering by Leslie Gould

Stuck Together (in Quarantine) by Mary Connealy

A Cure Unknown by Roseanna M. White

A Most Inconvenient Mask by Regina Jennings

A Mosaic of Germs by Kimberly Duffy

For Such an Unprecedented Time by Kate Breslin

A Uncommon Skype Courtship by Kristi Ann Hunter

A Conspiracy of Conspiracy Theories by Ronie Kendig

Outbreak by Davis Bunn (wait, that’s actually the real title…)

We hope you’ve enjoyed our little exercise in re-writing books. May all of your reading be healthy and occasionally hilarious!

(*This is all totally tongue-in-cheek and not intended as actual, serious pandemic commentary. Except if your takeaway is that books are great for social distancing, because they are.)

Okay, your turn, readers! Add or change a word to modify a book to make it more COVID-relevant. Then share it in the comments.

Summer Stacks Contest!

If you’re like us, you have quite a to-be-read pile…so why not have some fun with it for a little photo contest?

How to Enter: take an artistic picture of a stack of books – either ones you have yet to read, or ones you’ve read and loved! Then share it on Facebook or Instagram, tagging Bethany House Fiction and including the hashtag #SummerStacksContest. At least one of the books must be a Bethany House book. (Look for our logo on the spine to check!) The rest can be anything you like: any publisher, genre, or even nonfiction.

No social media? No problem. Send your picture to alokkesmoe@bethanyhouse.com, and I’ll include your entry too. The point, though, is to recommend some favorite books to others, so if you chose this option, don’t forget to spread a little love for those books by word of mouth.

Next Thursday, August 20th, we’ll select and contact four random winners plus a BHP’s choice winner to receive their choice of any two of our July or August new releases.

Want some examples? Here are some #SummerStacksContest photos we featured on our own Instagram account. They’re also the books you can chose from if you win!

What are you waiting for? Get started!

August 2020 New Releases

Wow, can you believe that August is already here? As you enjoy some relaxation this summer month, we hope you’ll bring a book along, and we’d love for you to check out our four fabulous new releases! Whether you want a contemporary love story with a dash of wit or a quilting-inspired Amish tale with a historical storyline, if you’re craving a Regency romance with an aristocratic flair or a page-turning suspense novel, we’ve got just the story for you. Click on the cover to read an excerpt. We hope you enjoy them!

 

Love and a Little White Lie by Tammy L. Gray
A State of Grace Novel

Plot Summary: After hitting rock bottom, January decides she has nothing to lose in working at her aunt’s church—while hiding a lack of faith. A minor deception until she meets the church’s guitarist and sparks fly. Can she avoid disaster—especially when a handsome landscape architect has an annoying ability to push her to deal with feelings she’d rather keep buried?

 

Piecing It All Together by Leslie Gould
Plain Patterns #1

Plot Summary: Dumped by her fiancé a week before the wedding, Savannah Mast flees California for her Amish grandmother’s farm, where she becomes unexpectedly entangled in the search for a missing Amish girl. When she discovers her childhood friend, Tommy Miller, is implicated as a suspect, she must do all she can to find the Amish girl and clear his name.

 

Vying for the Viscount by Kristi Ann Hunter
Hearts on the Heath

Plot Summary: When a strange man appears to be stealing horses at the neighboring estate, Bianca Snowley jumps to their rescue. And when she discovers he’s the new owner, she can’t help but be intrigued—but romance is unfeasible when he proposes they help secure spouses for each other. Will they see everything they’ve wanted has been there all along before it’s too late?

Minutes to Die by Susan Sleeman
Homeland Heroes #2

Plot Summary: Terrorists have been smuggled into the country intent on unleashing a deadly attack, and FBI Agent Kiley Dawson and ICE Agent Evan Bowers are charged with taking it down—only, Kiley blames Evan for the death of her former partner and can’t be in the same room as him. As threats ensue, the two are pushed to the breaking point in a race to save countless lives.

 

Are any of these on your TBR list, readers?

Prayer for Authors: August 2020

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Lokkesmoe, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in August:

Leslie Gould
Tammy L. Gray
Kristi Ann Hunter
Susan Sleeman

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress where I will not be shaken.”—Psalm 62:5-6 (NLT)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For productive writing sessions in the midst of busy life schedules.
  • For God to teach them lessons and give them spiritual insights that they can include in future stories.
  • For struggling bookstores and libraries who are facing limited sales and health concerns for employees.

It’s always so great to know that we have a community of readers willing to pray for these authors. Thanks for joining us!

Beach Reads: Books with the Ocean on the Cover

It’s summertime, and while you may not be going to the beach this year, all it takes is a book to bring the beach to you! There are several out there (because who wouldn’t want the ocean in the background if it makes sense for the story?), but here are a few of our recent ocean covers:

 

The Killing Tide by Dani Pettrey

Since the series focuses on a Coast Guard Investigation team, an ocean close-up makes perfect sense, and the way it’s shown in this dual-exposure image is breathtaking.

 

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes

The ocean against a starry night sky framed by rocky cliffs, with the added bonus of a mysterious ship, makes this cover stand out, especially since a nautical mystery is at the heart of this tale.

 

Shelter of the Most High by Connilyn Cossette

The soft colors and muted lines of this cover make it so I can practically smell the sea salt with our main character as she stands by an unusual backdrop for biblical fiction.

Flight of the Raven by Morgan L. Busse

There is so much drama to this ocean with the crashing waves and windblown hair! Definitely the most epic-looking ocean in this lot, appropriate for the fantasy genre.

The Ebb Tide by Beverly Lewis

An Amish woman in a very non-traditional setting lends this simple, elegant cover an intriguing angle, evoking the charming Cape May setting at a glance.

Verity by Lisa T. Bergren

Since the hero of this story is a ship’s captain, the heroine’s look back at a prominent port in the background of this colonial island-set book is perfect to represent the story.

How about you, readers? Can you think of a novel you’ve enjoyed with a prominent view of the ocean?

Ask BHP: How Can New Authors Stand Out?

Every year, we get some great questions to our Ask BHP Survey from aspiring authors who follow us on social media, including this one: “I wonder about the process of finding new voices. How does an unpublished author stand out when you probably see hundreds of proposals?”

For context, I’m on our marketing team, so I only see book proposals at one of the last stages in the “will I get a contract?” process: publication board, or pub board. By that point, the manuscript has already impressed one of our acquisition editors, been reviewed by some test readers, and gotten the thumbs up from the editorial team. At pub board, the editor has to convince marketers like me, sales team members, and executives that the project is worth investing in. We talk not just about literary merit, but things like sales history, expected print quantities, and cold, hard cash.

Pretty intimidating, huh? So I completely understand the desire to stand out in the crowded market of traditional publishing. There’s lots of advice I could give here, including:

  • Show that you understand the publishing market (know your terms, join writing groups/associations, make your book proposal professional).
  • Have a well-thought out marketing section, which can include endorsements, promotions, platform numbers, local media or book events, and launch team efforts.
  • Make sure you’ve taken time to perfect the craft of writing so those sample chapters absolutely sparkle.

While all of those things are important, something I’ve thought about recently when pitching our 2020 debut novels for reviews and other media coverage is that publishers (and readers) are looking for projects that are both familiar and new. Let me explain what I mean by that.

Familiar: This is what makes your book something that you can demonstrate people will want to buy and read…because people are buying and reading stories similar to it. An editor picks up on these aspects of the story to pitch it to the often-skeptical sales team. They’ll say things like, “This book has a similar theme/style/setting to [famous bestseller]” or “Readers who enjoy [trope or genre] will love this” or “This one has a strong Hallmark Christmas movie feel.” Your proposal will need to make some connections to entertainment that your target audience is loving.

Because of this, as a brand-new author, now might not be the time to break every rule/preference possible in an attempt to be different. Your Bronze Age superhero novel set in Antarctica with haiku chapter openers from the point of view of a talking elephant might cross the line from being unique to being un-sellable.

New: It’s also easy to identify a manuscript that tried too hard to play things safe. Whether the author is unconsciously imitating favorite authors or intentionally adding in time-tested plots and reactions, it’s possible for a story to be too familiar. Characters are often predictable and even boring, and the ending, while probably happy, falls flat.

In contrast, a project that has a few unique aspects is one that attracts our attention—if we think it will attract readers’ attention. Doing something different just to be different—“In my contemporary romance, all of the main characters die at the end!”—isn’t the goal. Doing something different that, mentioned on the back cover of the book, would make a reader intrigued enough to read the book is.

If all of that is still too abstract, let me explain by using the examples from the four debut novels we’re publishing in 2020. (Also a note that this is higher than our average number of debuts; the number is usually 1-2.) These books all had other factors in their favor, including strong writing and savvy authors. But from my point of view, here’s what each novel brought to the table in terms of familiar and new, points that were very clear in their book proposals.

A Mosaic of Wings by Kimberly Duffy

Familiar: A historical novel with a romance plot, the heroine is a strong woman ahead of her time

New: Over half of the book is set in India (a place the author loves), the heroine is an entomologist (studies and sketches insects), potential for other India-connected novels to follow this one

 

The Sowing Season by Katie Powner (releases October 2020)

Familiar: Contemporary fiction, addresses themes of growing older and growing up

New: Shows an inter-generational friendship between neighbors (a retired farmer and a teenage girl, who are the point-of-view characters), strong writing voice

 

Things We Didn’t Say by Amy Lynn Green (releases November 2020)

Familiar: Set during WWII, a popular era for historical fiction.

New: Epistolary (told entirely in letters), about the little-known German POW camps in America during WWII, the romance subplot hero is a Japanese American training to be a spy/negotiator

 

The Dress Shop on King Street by Ashley Clark (releases December 2020)

Familiar: Dual-time where the contemporary characters try to solve a mystery of the past

New: Retro fashion theme and well-realized Southern setting, deeply relatable characters who have had their dreams delayed, both timelines are equally interesting

 

Remember, though, that your manuscript might have solidly hit on both familiar and new and still not find the publishing home you dreamed about. Sometimes our team turns down projects because the writing isn’t quite at the level we’d like to see, or because we have an author writing something similar in six months, or because the theological slant, genre, or tone just isn’t what we’re looking for at the moment.

That said, this is a great way to start—thinking about your story in a marketing mindset will help you know how to pitch it in meetings with editors and agents. Whether you’re wondering which idea to write next or how to present your completed manuscript in a proposal, try to find that balance between familiar and new.

Take a look at your bookshelf and find a book you’ve enjoyed recently. What about it fits into “familiar” and “new”?

Pandemic Reading Danger Levels

Everyone on the Internet seems to be posting charts and graphs meant to keep us safe from the latest outbreak. And I don’t know about you, but I just can’t relate to all of the activities they mention. Going to a party? Who has time now that my TBR pile is above my head…and growing? Going grocery shopping? Nope, the latest book mail just got dropped off on my porch. Watching a movie in the theater? Sorry, but the book is always better.

Because of this, I created a chart to help readers like me determine their risk level for various activities. I hope it helps you as we navigate these contagious waters.

(And yes, this is fully tongue-in-cheek. Shockingly, none of the books on my TBR stack are medical ones.)

May your 2020 continue to bring you many books and the social distancing required to read them all!

July 2020 New Releases

We can’t believe it’s already July, and we’re excited to introduce you to six new releases from Bethany House, all of them perfect for summer reading. You’ll meet everyone from a long-beloved matriarch to reoccurring series favorites to entirely new characters…and the people who inhabit these stories are ready to tell their tales. Get to know them by reading an opening excerpt when you click on the cover, and see what catches your eye!

Line by Line by Jennifer Delamere
Love Along the Wires #1

Plot Summary: Years of hard work enabled Douglas Shaw to escape a life of desperate poverty—and now he’s determined to marry into high society to prevent reliving his old circumstances. But when Alice McNeil, an unconventional telegrapher at his firm, raises the ire of a vindictive co-worker, he must choose between rescuing her reputation and the future he’s always planned.

Set the Stars Alight by Amanda Dykes

Plot Summary: Reeling from the loss of her parents, Lucie Clairmont discovers an artifact under the floorboards of their London flat, leading her to an old seaside estate. Aided by her childhood friend Dashel, a renowned forensic astronomer, they start to unravel a history of heartbreak, sacrifice, and love begun 200 years prior—one that may offer the healing each seeks.

 

The Crushing Depths by Dani Pettrey
Coastal Guardians #2

Plot Summary: When an accident claims the life of an oil-rig worker off the North Carolina coast, Coast Guard investigators Rissi Dawson and Mason Rogers are sent to take the case. But mounting evidence shows the death may not have been an accident at all, and they find themselves racing to discover the killer’s identity before he eliminates the threat they pose.

 

Love’s Mountain Quest by Misty M. Beller
Hearts of Montana #2

Plot Summary: After her son goes missing, Joanna Watson enlists Isaac Bowen—a man she prays has enough experience in the rugged country—to help. As they press on against the elements, they find encouragement in the tentative trust that grows between them, but whether it can withstand the danger and coming confrontation is far from certain in this wild, unpredictable land.

 

A Bride of Convenience by Jody Hedlund
The Bride Ships #3

Plot Summary: Upon discovering an abandoned baby, Pastor Abe Merivale joins efforts with Zoe Hart, one of the newly arrived bride-ship women, to care for the infant. With mounting pressure to find the baby a home, Abe offers his hand as Zoe’s groom. But after a hasty wedding, they soon realize their marriage of convenience is not so convenient after all.

 

A Blessing to Cherish by Lauraine Snelling

Plot Summary: After several years of widowhood and hardship, Ingeborg focuses on the good she’s been given while she watches her widowed stepson fall in love once again. But not everything is comfortable for Ingeborg; one of her dearest friendships is changing—and she will have to decide if her settled life is worth more to her than a future she hardly dares to imagine.

We’d love to know: what have you been reading this summer? (Fiction or nonfiction, your choice!)

Prayer for Authors: July 2020

Since it’s the first Sunday of the month, we’ll be continuing the Bethany House Fiction tradition of taking time to pray for authors who have new releases coming out this month. I’m Amy Green, the fiction publicist here, and I’m thankful for all of the readers who show their support for our authors in the way that matters most: by praying for them. To read more about the reasons behind this time of prayer, go to this post.

Prayer

Authors with Books Releasing in July:

Misty M. Beller
Jennifer Delamere
Amanda Dykes
Jody Hedlund
Dani Pettrey
Lauraine Snelling

Verse of the Month: Feel free to use the text of this verse to guide your prayers for these authors, as well as other people in your life who you want to remember in prayer today.

“One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”—Philippians 3:13-14 (ESV)

General Suggestions for Prayer:

  • For endurance for pressing on, whether it’s through life trials or writing struggles.
  • For words and concepts from these novels to stick with readers and make them think.
  • For focus and the ability to know how to spend their time wisely.

Thanks for taking a few minutes out of your day to lift these authors, and others, up in prayer. We appreciate you more than we can say!