Crime authors spill their guts about writing...
This week: Terry Lynn Thomas
Tell us about yourself...
Terry Lynn writes the Cat Carlisle Mysteries, set in Britain during World War II. The first book in this series, The Silent Woman, came out in April 2018 and has since become a USA TODAY bestseller. The Family Secret released to critical acclaim in March 2019, and House of Lies, the third book in the series releases March 4, 2020. When she’s not writing, you can find Terry Lynn walking in the woods with her dogs or visiting historical cemeteries in search of story ideas.
Where do you most like to do your writing?
Believe it or not, I prefer to write in bed with computer on my lap and my dog laying by my side.
How do you go about plotting your book? (eg Are you a bits of paper everywhere person, have it all in your head, create biographies for characters, stick to a plan, just write whatever comes…)
I plot like a madwoman! It really helps me to get my story mapped out before I start writing, so I give myself two weeks to come up with a detailed plot. Comprehensive character sketches along with photos of where scenes in the story actually take place also go into my pre-planning arsenal. This method provides me an opportunity to really problem solve plot issues before I start writing. It’s like I do all the logical left-brain stuff first. Then when I sit down to write, I run the film in my head – for lack of a better way to describe – and write down what my characters see and feel.
What’s your favourite distraction when procrastinating?
That’s an easy one. Social media! It’s so easy to get sucked into Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram when I should be writing. After I read Cal Newport’s wonderful book entitled Deep Work, I’ve switched up my routine. I don’t even look at social media until I’ve hit my word/page count for the day. Writing comes first, so I write first, get my words done, and then I’m free!
Do you ever get writer’s block? How do you tackle it?
If I’m going to have story problems, they usually get sorted out during the outlining/character development stage. That part of the process is much more difficult than the actual writing, for me anyway. Having said that, if I sit down to write a scene and it just doesn’t gel, it usually turns out the scene is not necessary to perpetuate the central conflict and needs to be cut.
If I’m composing a story and I get stuck, I take a nice walk and – knock on wood – by the time I get back to my computer, the problem has resolved itself. So the short answer to your question is when I hit a wall, I go back to the beginning and see where this particular dramatic scene influences the main conflict. I work on the left-brain, logical planning part of the story and am usually able to resolve problems and get myself back into the story that way.
Research: do you find it fascinating or laborious? How do you conduct your research?
My first six books are told during World War II, so research was super important. I read novels and watched movies that were popular during this time, read newspapers, diaries, and political documents. I studied the classified ads (their personal columns were the equivalent of social media). I really immersed myself in the era. So I would line up my research, and then sprinkle it in with a light hand. The last thing you want to do is give your readers an info dump.
I’ll be writing a new mystery series set in modern times, featuring a sixty-two year old divorce attorney. That will involve get advice from my lawyer friends to make sure I’ve got my legal scenarios accurately set out. I assume that every legal issue will need to be verified. I will do some research beforehand, but will spend a lot of time double checking my facts after the first draft is written.
What’s your favourite part of the writing process and why? (eg, the planning, the first draft, editing, typing The End!)
Since I came to this gig late in life, I can honestly say that I enjoy it all. But plotting and scheming has a special place. Taking characters and leading them through conflict, planning if they will be successful or not, is so much fun. Working with my editors is an amazing experience. Professional editors can make or break a book, and I’ve been so impressed with the detailed suggestions. Editing not only makes my book better, but it pushes me to grow as a writer. I’m now working on my seventh book, but still feel like a newbie. So much to learn…
How easy/hard was it to get your first break?
Although I had published my Sarah Bennett series with an indie press and subsequently got my rights back, my first break came when I submitted a novella to HQ Digital in response to a call for submissions on Twitter. The novella was rejected (the usual story for me), but several months later an editor reached out and asked if I could turn the story into a novel. I did, and the novella eventually became The Silent Woman, book 1 of the Cat Carlisle Series. That book released in April of 2018.
My husband and I were camping in Colorado when The Silent Woman hit the USA Today best-seller list. We came down to civilization, and I was so excited to see the book had done well. So I would say my first break, after writing so many books, came when The Silent Woman was accepted at HQ Digital.
How has your writing style developed over time? And the way you approach writing now?
Writing is interesting. If you write a lot, you will get better. Practice provides tangible improvement. As I’ve developed as a writer, I’ve increased my daily word count goals because I know that pushing myself to write 1,000/2,000 words a day is going to let me continue to improve.
As for style, my Sarah Bennett Series, which are ghost stories/modern gothics, are written in first person. Although that POV was a great way to learn, when I started writing the Cat Carlisle series, I switched to third person and my writing totally took off. My writing seemed to be freer and unencumbered after the switch. Stories become much richer when you can give your readers a broader, more expansive point of view.
As for approach, I set goals, hit my word count, and give myself permission to write bad prose, knowing that I can always edit later.
What is the best writing tip you have ever been given? How has it influenced you?
Best tip: Read a lot and read widely. I’m not sure who said, “Don’t be a writer, be writing,” but that quote inspired me. Because sitting down everyday and writing, even if it’s only one page, will eventually get you where you need to be.