What I’m working on now: A new book

After publishing 10 books in the past two years (wow—I just blew my own mind), I am not slowing down, but I am changing direction.

I had a writing and publishing plan.e72b9-bonescoverfinalforweb

Two years ago in July, I published two books in two different Kindle Worlds: Torn Roots in the Lei Crime Kindle World, based on Toby Neal’s Lei Crime series; and Jet: Stealth in the Jet Kindle World, based on the bestselling series by Russell Blake.

Up to that point, I had published only three book-length titles:

  • The Bones of the Earth, book one of a planned Dark Age trilogy, a historical fantasy
  • One Shade of Red, a spoof of Fifty Shades of Gray
  • Army of Worn Soles, the first book in my Eastern Front trilogy, based on the real experiences of my father-in-law in the Red Army during the Second World War.

My plans at that point were to complete the Eastern Front trilogy (done!), then move to the second and third books of the Dark Age series. I also thought I might intersperse those projects by writing and publishing
stories that would tie together into a paranormal-occult-romance novel, Dark Clouds. I had written four chapters, publishing them on various platforms. A lot of people liked the first chapter, which stands alone as a story called The Mandrake Ruse. You can download it for free.

At that point, I had never even heard of Kindle Worlds, and never considered writing fan fiction.

Then Toby Neal diverted me.

Near the end of 2014, Toby Neal, bestselling author of the Lei Crime series and other books, and a prominent member of the BestSelling Reads authors group, selected a few authors to write for her brand new Lei Crime Kindle World. The idea was to publish a novella, something between 10,000 and 40,000 words, based on the characters and situations of her mystery novels.

I was excited and, to be honest, flattered to be one of the first invited to this project. And it also solved another problem for me. I had an idea for a light-hearted thriller with characters based on my family, but I could not make the plot work. When I got Toby’s invitation to write a Hawaii mystery, the plot, setting and characters fell into place.

However, there was one big problem: my main character was a geologist, and I knew nothing about the geology of Hawaii. I wasn’t getting the details I wanted from books or the Web. So I booked my next vacation to Maui, and what I experienced added a lot of realism to the book. And while I missed the first launch in April 2015,
I did manage to write a book, re-write it, get a cover, get it edited and proofread—and share a beta draft with Toby Neal herself—in time for the “second surge” in July.

While I was working on my first Lei Crime book, Russell Blake invited me (and several others) to write for his new Jet Kindle World, too. Its first deadline was the same as the second one for Lei Crime: July 31, 2015.

So, while Torn Roots was with beta readers, editors and proofreaders, I wrote a short, fast-paced thriller called Stealth, introducing two more characters based on people I know: Van Freeman and Earl LeBrun. And I met the deadline without cutting any corners.

My writing went fast in a new direction.

Since then, I wrote and published two more Lei Crime novellas and one novel. I was invited to another Kindle World, based on Emily Kimelman’s Sydney Rye series about a kick-ass woman detective and her giant dog, Blue. I’ve written two books for this series, both featuring Van and LeBrun.

Now, it’s time to get back to the original plan.

Don’t get me wrong—writing the Kindle World books has been a blast. I really enjoyed the characters and situations I created, and to judge by the reviews, my readers have, too. And I think I will find it irresistible to return to them, putting them in more impossible situations.

But I want to get back to the next book in the Dark Age trilogy. Last year, when I was waiting for medical attention after breaking my knee, I worked out the plot outline for book 2, The Triumph of the Sky. (Guess which song inspired that and I’ll send you a personalized, signed e-copy of The Bones of the Earth.)

The Dark Age trilogy is what I call “historical magic realism.” It’s epic fantasy, but set in a real time and place: the sixth-century CE Eastern Roman Empire, often known now as the Byzantine Empire. But the people there at the time called themselves “Roman,” even though most of them spoke Greek.

The Bones of the Earth, book 1 in the trilogy, was about Javor, a poor Sklavenic boy from beyond the Empire’s borders, who travels to Constantinople, the capital of the Empire, searching for answers about his parents’ death and his great-grandfather’s magical dagger. The second volume will tell the story of Javor as a young man, living in Constantinople with a wife and family, going on several adventures and contending with deep, supernatural forces. It’s based on a number, just as the first volume was. I’ve made some progress: two chapters written. In a future post, I’ll post some advance samples when I’m happy with them.

But don’t get too excited. Triumph is going to be a big book, like Bones was. But I’ll keep you up to date on progress, and I’ll have lots of contests and giveaways along the way. One of the first will be a giveaway to anyone who can deduce or guess which number figures prominently in the plot of The Bones of the Earth, and later another one for the number that’s the basis of The Triumph of the Sky.

See you soon!

Excerpt Week 2: JET – Outbreak

By Malcolm Aylward

Excerpt Week is now Excerpt Week 2. Today, the spotlight is on Malcolm Aylward’s JET – Outbreak, which introduces a new female super-spy to the JET Kindle World, based on the creations of Russell Blake.


Island of Menorca—in the Balearic Sea—off the coast of Spain

Maya burst through the thick canopy and onto the white sandy beach. She spied the shooter’s Zodiac watercraft pulled up on the surf and tore off across the sand and headed straight for the boat. Just as she reached it, the woman burst through the trees and immediately saw Maya had beaten her to it.

Josette Perot worked for the French counter-espionage agency DPSD (Directorate for Defense Protection & Security) and her superiors had assigned her to retrieve the stolen USB stick containing the safe house locations after it was stolen by the men she just killed in the villa. She had never failed a mission and she was bound and determined not to have this one be the first. She had easily procured the data stick from these amateur terrorists and was certainly not going to let this person take it from her—no matter what.

Josette raised her suppressed FN Five-seven pistol and fired at Maya. She barely missed as Maya rolled in the sand and came up behind the Zodiac. Maya then drew her pistol and shot Josette once square in the chest and the mysterious black-clad woman jerked backwards and landed flat on her back on the white sands. She wasn’t moving, so Maya ran over and nudged her with her boot. The hollow-point bullet had struck Josette’s body armor and temporarily knocked the wind out of her, not to mention leaving a hell of a bruise to follow.

But before Maya could react, the French assassin performed a leg sweep, causing Maya to drop her gun as she hit the ground. Josette was a highly trained practitioner of the French martial art of Savate and Maya was an expert in Israel’s own Krav Maga, so both women were extremely deadly with their hands and feet.

When Maya hit the sand on her back, she placed her hands flat behind her head and popped back up onto her feet like a cat and let loose a vicious onslaught of Muay-Thai elbows and knee strikes at the French agent’s face and legs. Josette deftly avoided the blows and spun to the left and threw a right side chop at Maya’s throat. The athletic French agent missed with the chop, but threw up a straight left at her face. Maya tried to lean back but got clipped on the chin.

Maya staggered back from the blow and dropped to one knee, seeing stars for a second. Josette threw a spinning leg strike straight at Maya’s head. She barely ducked under the kick but ended up face-down in the sand. Josette seized the opportunity and wrapped Maya up in a scissors lock and squeezed with her toned and powerful legs tighter and tighter. Maya twisted her body sideways and responded with a double open palm strike to each side of Josette’s head. The French woman moved at the last second to lessen the blow and swore in her native tongue.

Maya could speak seven languages fluently so she fully understood the French curse words she heard as she broke free of the hold and stood back up. But hearing Josette speak French caused her to pause for just a fraction of a second. That pause was just enough to allow the French spy to unleash another leg strike at Maya’s mid-section. Maya grabbed her leg in mid-air with both hands, twisted it and spun her around in the air and slammed her down face-first in the sand. Maya then leaped on her back, pulled out her second Glock and held it tightly to the side of the woman’s head and screamed in French, “Enough! Stop now, tell me who you are or I will blow your damn head off. I heard you speak French.”

Josette spat on the ground and said, “Yes, I am French. My government sent me here to retrieve a certain item that was stolen from us. Please know that I am holding a live grenade underneath me right now. If you shoot me then we both get blown to hell. Or maybe I’ll just blow us to shit anyway.”

About Jet – Outbreak

Maya, code-named Jet, finds herself in the midst of a terrifying epidemic just outside of Tel Aviv, battling a horde of infected humans and fighting time itself in a nail-biting race to stop this deadly plague before it spreads any further.

Maya teams up with Josette Perot, a beautiful but deadly French assassin and Chase Thompson, hacker extraordinaire from Texas. Both are future members of the tactical special ops team that will come to be known as The Specialists, and they assist her in battling and finding a way to contain the deadly and mysterious outbreak before it is too late.

Get it exclusively on Amazon.

About the author

Malcolm Aylward is a genre fiction author from the Great Midwest who loves to write action/adventure, thrillers, fantasy and sci-fi novels.

Before JET: Outbreak, he released the military thriller Dunn’s Revenge. a precursor novella featuring Major John Dunn and Chase Thompson (from JET: Outbreak.)

Malcolm has also previously released the non-fiction self-help book, “How I Kicked Type 2 Diabetes Butt! And You Can Too” in March of 2015, describing his personal battle to overcome and conquer Type 2 diabetes.

When he isn’t writing, Malcolm spends his time enjoying his two amazing sons, his lovely girlfriend, his goofy dogs, playing music, exercising, martial arts, fishing, collecting swords, whiskey, and the great outdoors, all the while saving the world from the zombie hordes.

Visit his

About Amazon Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Jet Kindle World is based on the character Jet, created by bestselling author Russell Blake.

Excerpt week 2: Jet Black — A Jet Kindle World novella

Written Words continues to with daily publishing of excerpts from books by fellow author-members of the Jet and Lei Crime Kindle worlds. Today features a dollop of Steven Konkoly’s Kindle World crossover between Russell Blake’s Jet series and Konkoly’s Black Flagged series.

By Steven Konkoly

Jet-Black-Konkoly-coverJet pressed her lips together, spreading the burgundy shade of lipstick evenly. The dark red accentuated her tan skin, leaving just enough color to attract attention—or distract a bodyguard. She examined her appearance in the full-length mirror, searching for the smallest detail that might draw the wrong kind of attention. A missed button, frayed sleeve corner or errant wrinkle could spell disaster. The hotel staff dressed impeccably, one of the luxury resort’s signature touches.

Finding nothing out of place on her tight-fitting outfit, she affixed a brushed silver, oval name tag just above the left breast pocket of her royal blue suit jacket. Today she was Selena Amador, Senior Concierge, La Joya Azul Resort and Spa. Tomorrow she could be a visiting European banker in Buenos Aires. Whatever they wanted her to be. She was their chameleon, and more often than not—their viper.

Jet turned from the mirror and approached the white-marble-topped, dark mahogany vanity next to the spacious sink, noting the watchful eye of the team’s mission leader—and her stand-in husband for the operation. Without either of them saying a word, she removed a suppressed compact pistol from the top of the vanity and tucked it snugly into the custom holster sewn into her black leather Prada shoulder tote. A knockoff bag, she suspected. The Mossad’s budget didn’t include disposable thousand-dollar accessories—unless those accessories killed people. With the bag in place over her left shoulder, she smiled at Gilad.

“How do I look?” said Jet.

“Deadly as always,” he replied, without expression. “I just hope deadly enough.”

“I can handle two thugs at close distance,” she said. “The second guard will still have his eyes on my breasts when the first guy’s brains hit the wall.”

“Those aren’t your best assets,” he said, shifting casually in the bedroom’s door frame.

“I keep lobbying for implants,” said Jet, making a final adjustment to her jacket collar.

“We’d prefer to focus on investments that will get you out of trouble, not in,” he said, finally betraying a thin smile. “I’m thinking more along the lines of an advanced Krav Maga course.”

“I could teach those courses by now,” she said, stepping back.

Gilad raised an eyebrow, challenging the inherent smugness of her statement. She was right, to a degree. Unless the master Krav Maga instructors had invented a series of new moves, there was little point—she had mastered every technique offered. He imperceptibly shook his head.

“If the guards are more alert than intelligence suggests—you walk away. It only takes the blink of an eye to pull a trigger. We’ll find another way,” he said.

“I just need to get within thirty feet,” she said. “This ridiculous outfit will get me close enough.”

“You’re good, but not that good,” he said.

“Really?” said Jet. “I’m the best shot on the team.”

“You need to ensure two dead-center head shots. A skull ricochet might hit the door, alerting the guards inside. Fifteen feet minimum. Preferably five. The closer you get, the narrower their focus,” he said, shifting his eyes toward her chest.

“I thought they weren’t my best assets,” she said, pulling her jacket tight.

“They’ll have to do,” he said, winking at her.

Her concealed earpiece crackled. “Strike, this is overwatch. Shift change underway.”

Gilad’s eyes darted up and to the right momentarily, a subtle tell that he had received the same message.

“Five minutes,” he said, glancing at his watch. “Let them settle in.”

She nodded, slipping her hand into the shoulder tote and checking the holster action. Within a fraction of a second, Jet pointed the suppressed Glock 26 subcompact at her image in the mirror.

“Maybe twenty feet,” said Gilad, finally smiling.

About Jet – Black

At a luxury resort on the coast of Uruguay, Jet prepares her Mossad team for a daring attack against a Russian mafiya boss suspected of selling bioweapons to the Iranians. Simultaneously, Jessica Petrovich readies a small team of Black Flagged operatives with order to kill Dr. Anatoly Reznikov, the source of the mafiya bioweapons.

There’s only one problem: both targets are located in the same suite, and neither team knows the other is coming!

Two of the most lethal femme fatales in recent thriller history are about to come face to face in the explosive return of the Black Flagged saga.

About the author

Steven graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1993, receiving a Bachelor of Science in English Literature. He served the next eight years on active duty in various Navy and Marine Corps units.

From leading Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) operations as a boarding officer in the Arabian Gulf, to directing Close Air Support (CAS) as a Forward Air Controller (FAC) assigned to a specialized Marine Corps unit, Steven’s “in-house” experience with a wide variety of regular and elite military units brings a unique authenticity to his writing.

His first novel, The Jakarta Pandemic (2010), explored the world of “prepping,” well before television and books popularized the concept. Hailed as a “grippingly realistic” family survival story, The Jakarta Pandemic introduced thousands of readers to the unfamiliar concept of “survival in the suburbs,” motivating many of them to take the first steps to better prepare themselves for a major disaster. His recently launched series, The Perseid Collapse, continues Steven’s legacy of engaging (and informative) post-apocalyptic (SHTF) fiction.

Steven lives with his family in coastal, southern Maine, where he wakes up at “zero dark thirty” to write for most of the day. When “off duty,” he struggles to strike a balance between a woefully short sailing season and unreasonably long winter.

You can contact Steven directly by email (stevenkonkoly@gmail.com) or through his blog (www.stevenkonkoly.com).

About Amazon Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Jet Kindle World is based on the character Jet, created by bestselling author Russell Blake.

Excerpt week: JET – Rescue — a Jet Kindle World novella

By Kim Cano

All this week, Written Words is publishing excerpts from books by fellow author-members of the Jet and Lei Crime Kindle worlds. Today, you can get a feeling for Kim Cano’s Jet novella, JET – Rescue.

JET-rescueCoverBangkok, Thailand

Lawan stared at her reflection in the dirty, cracked mirror. Instead of the eyes of a ten-year-old child, innocent and filled with light, hers were despondent, the embodiment of lost hope.

So much had changed in such a short time.

A bouncer came in. “Hurry up!” the heavyset Asian man shouted. “Customers waiting.”

Lawan rose and wordlessly walked to the front of the nightclub, trying not to fall in the high heeled shoes they made her wear. It was difficult to see in the dim, smoke-filled red light, but after a few minutes, her eyes grew accustomed to the gloom.

Rap music thumped loudly as a bevy of young waitresses clad in skimpy vinyl outfits served drinks to the farang white male tourists who came to Bangkok seeking pleasure. The mama-san stood like a sentry, scanning the crowd. She was old but missed nothing and monitored all the girls’ movements like a hawk.

The ping pong show had just started, and Top Cat, the most popular club in Bangkok’s Nana Plaza, was known for having the best ping pong show in town. Lawan watched as nude young ladies stood on stage, smiling suggestively while performing for the men seated in the audience.

The tourists held their paddles in the air and whistled appreciation, making Lawan uncomfortable. She wished she could disappear but paid close attention to the show, remembering what the mama-san had said when she arrived last week: “Watch and learn, because soon you’ll be up there with them.”

A drunk patron bumped into Lawan, and she lost her balance.

“Sorry,” the man mumbled as he walked past.

Not knowing what he said since she didn’t speak English, Lawan righted herself and resumed watching the show. As she studied the girls on stage, trying to figure out how they did what they did, the mama-san approached.

“Room number two,” she said.

With a heavy heart, Lawan headed to the back of the club and knocked on door number two. A moment later, a balding, obese white man opened the door, and she walked into the mirrored bedroom.

He stood opposite her, sweating profusely and eyeing her like she was a rare jewel. The man reeked of cheap cologne and body odor, and Lawan almost retched.

“You speak English?” he asked.

Lawan had only learned what the mama-san had taught her to say. She was trying to think of the words but was so nervous she couldn’t remember.

“Guess it doesn’t matter,” the man said, removing his pants.

Lawan took off her clothes. She felt nauseous as he pulled her close and groped her, but she pretended to like it, as instructed. They lay on the bed, the man crushing her tiny frame with his weight, and as he violated her, Lawan thought of the place she and her sister, Mayura, used to play together, a verdant valley of rice paddies as far as the eye could see.

About JET – Rescue

Set in Thailand’s seedy underbelly, in Russell Blake’s Jet – Betrayal, Jet rescues a ten-year-old girl named Lawan from Bangkok’s red light district. Jet Rescue explores more of that story from Lawan’s point of view, chronicling her time at the Top Cat Club and her escape with Jet and Matt.

“A heartbreaking tale of human trafficking.” Bestselling author Deborah Brown

“Jet – Rescue is a great companion book to Jet – Betrayal.” Reader and Jet fan, Janet Nelson

About the author

Kim Cano is the author of three women’s fiction novels: A Widow Redefined, On The Inside, and Eighty and Out. Kim has also written a short story collection called For Animal Lovers. 10% of the sale price of that book is donated to the ASPCA® to help homeless pets.

Kim lives in the Chicago suburbs with her husband and cat.

Visit Kim’s website to learn more and sign up to be notified of new releases:

About Amazon Kindle Worlds

Kindle Worlds is an Amazon initiative that allows authors to publish stories set in another author’s fictional universe. The Jet Kindle World is based on the character Jet, created by bestselling author Russell Blake.

IT’S ALIVE! JET – Stealth launches with the JET Kindle World

The JET Kindle World has launched! I feel both proud and humble to be included in this group of bestselling writers. JETworldimage

The Kindle World is an Amazon initiative where writers can contribute to the fictional world of another author. Russell Blake invited me and other authors to write stories based in the blistering-paced world of his Mossad-agent-turned-Mom, Maya, code-named Jet.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing JET – Stealth, a story that features the title character and introduces two of my own, Van and LeBrun.

JET - Stealth - 500 x 800

 Here’s a sample:

Maya heard an odd buzz from the gun as the flight attendant flew backward and fell onto the passenger in front of Maya. She saw blood bubbling out of his mouth and spreading down the front of his navy-blue uniform.

The first flight attendant’s continuous wails were joined by screams from nearly everyone in first class. “Quiet!” shouted the gunman. He leveled the gun at the flight attendant, who clamped her mouth shut even as her eyes seemed to be trying to pop out of her head.

The wounded flight attendant fell off the passenger and onto the floor, gasping for breath. Maya undid her seat belt and reached for him, ripping his uniform shirt open.

“You! What are you doing?” shouted the gunman. Maya looked up into his brown eyes and said calmly, “I am going to try to save his life.” She tore two strips off the wounded man’s shirt and pressed them against the wound. The bullet, probably a .32, had punctured a lung, and it was a toss-up whether the man bled to death or suffocated first.

The gunman turned his attention to the female flight attendant. “Take me to the pilot. We’re changing our destination for Columbia.”

This can’t be happening, a part of Maya’s mind thought even as she struggled to keep the wounded man alive. She grabbed the collar of his shirt and ripped off half of it, then tossed it to the passenger he had fallen on, another businessman who was watching the goings-on with his mouth hanging open. “You,” she ordered. “Tear this into strips for bandages.”

A useless order. The flight attendant was bleeding out in front of her.

She heard pounding footsteps from behind and turned to see the rest of the cabin crew running forward to the first class compartment. A man in the last first-class row stood and blocked their way. “Stay back, or you’ll get what he did,” he said with a nod of his head toward the dying man.

How could anyone hijack a commercial jet in this day and age? Maya wondered.

I would like to say thanks to Gary Henry and Roxanne Bury for editing the manuscript, my good friend Thane Brown for excellent advice, and of course David C. Cassidy for such a great cover. (I think it’s the best in the series, but I’m a little biased.

Find it on Amazon. And while you’re there, check out the JET Kindle World and all the great new titles. If you like one, write a review!

Cover reveal: JET – Stealth

JET - Stealth - 500 x 800



My next book will come out in about a week when the new JET Kindle World launches on July 28. So now it’s time to reveal the cover, designed by my favourite book cover designer, David C. Cassidy.

What’s JET – Stealth about?

Once Mossad’s deadliest assassin, Jet is headed for a new, quiet life in a tropical paradise. But when a mysterious, handsome agent with no tradecraft but with brilliant blue eyes asks for her help to secure a new stealth weapon, she finds she just can’t say no.

This addition to the JET Kindle World combines breakneck pacing and non-stop action with wry humor.

The JET Kindle World features new books and stories by many authors, all based on the characters and world created by bestselling author Russell Blake.

Watch this space and my Facebook Author page for an announcement about availability.

What do bestselling writers like to read?

Writers are inspired and informed by authors they’ve read. I asked some best-selling authors what they like to read most. This week, I’ve asked two very different authors for their opinions.
Best-selling Toby Neal is author of the Lei Crime series, set in her home state of Hawai’i; Russell Blake writes thrillers from his home in Mexico.

Name three characteristics of books that you like. What makes you keep reading a book? What are some books that you weren’t able to put down until you finished them?

Toby Neal: 

I love a book with vivid characters in interesting situations most of all. I’m a voracious reader and read a variety of genres: mystery/suspense, romance, literary, memoir, sci-fi…First and foremost, the characters have to be three-dimensional and capture my interest. I also like original imagery and word choice “shaking his hand felt like grabbing a gel-filled surgical glove” is an image I remember from a new book I’m blurbing for mystery writer Thomas Matthews. Original! Memorable!  I like writing that feels confident, fresh, fast moving with a deeper message behind the outward action — and I write the kinds of books I enjoy reading.
Things I hate: 
  •     clichés
  •     formulaic plots
  •     overdescription and qualifiers: “she gasped, wailed, screeched”
  •     wandering narrative — I want to be anchored in each scene with sensory cues. New writers often launch into long dialogues that then float, unanchored, and we lose the setting 
  •     self-conscious wannabe sophistication, like no punctuation (literary can be very annoying to me).

In short, if a book has dynamic characters and solid writing, I’ll read it and probably review it too!

Russell Blake: 

In fiction, I’d have to say that I look for different things depending upon my mood. When I’m in the mood for a mystery/thriller, I look for a combination of pace, plot and prose. If the pace is fast and the plot engaging I’m hooked, but if the prose does more than simply move me along, I’ll be recommending the book to my friends.
I think the last book I couldn’t put down was one of James Lee Burke’s — Last Car to Elysian Fields, I believe. Before that, Lawrence Block’s The Burglar Who Counted the Spoons. Although these are very different styles, I found them both fully engaging and finished them within a few days.
When I’m in the mood for literary fiction, it’s all about the prose. A great example of what I’m into would be Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — quirky, unusual, but brilliant prose. Frankly, I have so little time to read these days, with my publishing schedule, I’m unlikely to have enough time to read an entire book without putting it down. But those were books I put everything aside to finish.

Do you consciously try to emulate these books? If so, what form does that take: plot, structure, characters, settings, author’s voice and word choice?

Russell Blake: 

Good lord, no. There’s no way I could come close to James Lee Burke’s word choice or author voice, although I aspire to at least get in the same ballpark. I’d say that I tend to ignore other authors once I sit down to write — I try to learn while I’m reading, and then forget the specifics, allowing their prose to color my perception without creating something I follow.

I don’t like to deconstruct when I’m reading, and the only way I could see myself emulating with any accuracy would be if I read, deconstructed, and then deliberately set out to use what I’d analyzed, which would take all the joy out of writing for me.

Toby Neal: 

I’ve written ten books and a memoir. Seven of them are published with great reviews. I don’t need to emulate anyone anymore, but when I started out in crime mystery/police procedural, I was emulating my “idols” Michael Connelly and Lisa Gardner and tried to “show not tell” virtually everything. My first book, Blood Orchids, is much choppier and more gritty in writing style than later works, where I found my “comfort zone” of a more descriptive style and less bad language and gritty violence. I prefer a more PG-13 level of violence, and my readers like that, too. I’ve also developed a series that’s unique in the police procedural genre, which features a protagonist who starts out very damaged from child sexual abuse, gradually improves and recovers over the course of six books, and grows through a subplot love story that readers are crazy about!
Most of my early author idols’ protagonists remain fairly static, and that’s come to bore me as a reader. I eventually abandoned Stephanie Plum and Sue Grafton because the main character never changed. That frustrated me — perhaps because of my background as a mental health therapist, I want my characters to learn and grow over the course of the book(s). I hear repeatedly from readers that get hooked on my books that they like that, too.

Do you try to avoid any of the techniques or conventions followed by your favourite writers?

Toby Neal: 

I try to avoid being clichéd and formulaic (see above annoyance list) and if my favourite writers devolve into that zone, than yes, I not only stop letting them influence me, I stop reading them. For instance, I’m not reading Patricia Cornwell anymore because I feel like she’s obsessed with detail and her books have slowed down too much for me. I can take a class in forensics if that’s what I want, rather than reading that for pleasure!
I’ve become much more confident in my own voice and vision, and while I read a lot (as I said above) I try to expand my own repertoire by reading all kinds of things, including nonfiction that can inform my plots. One new “indie” mystery writer I really respect is Gae Lynn Woods. I wait for her books, and they inevitably are more gruesome and twisty than mine, with Texas local color — and I love the nested mysteries and distinctive characters she does. I also really respect Gillian Flynn for her trulyoriginal plots — but I hate her characters! Allof them! And yet, they’re so bizarre and captivating I can’t stop reading. Now that’s a good book, that keeps you reading even when you want to stop.

Russell Blake: 

Every author I really like tends to have something intriguing in their use of language, but I don’t think they follow specific conventions. None I’m able to deduce, at any rate. The hallmark of an effective author is the ability to mind-meld with the reader and transport them along, to put them in the same place as the characters, make them hear, see, smell, touch the world you’ve created. So beyond trying to do so, I can’t say as I consciously avoid or advocate any one thing beyond clear communication while creating beautiful sentences.

What rules of writing do you intentionally break? 

Toby Neal: 

Point of view is my favourite area to surprise and bend the rules on readers.

I try to push out with new combinations of POV in every book. Lei Crime #6, Shattered Palms, coming out in March, is the first book I’ve written with only one, third-person POV.

My most innovative featured an investigator in third-person past tense, and a bad guy POV in first-person present tense. It made for a sometimes jarring reading experience, and I wanted readers to be uncomfortable — I was writing about sex trafficking and sadism, without a lot of gruesomeness. I wanted the reader to be in the head of a sociopath and see their way of seeing the world. It was challenging, but I think I pulled it off in Black Jasmine.

Russell Blake: 

Well, I don’t believe that there are many actual rules, more like author preferences that have been laid out as rules by the dogmatic. In that regard, I don’t much care about the proscription against adverbs in dialogue tags, nor am I afraid to open with the weather, nor do I particularly fear overwriting. So I guess you could say that while I know all the rules, I break or abide by them as the story mandates rather than out of some slavish devotion.

Thank you, Toby and Russell!

Toby Neal grew up on the island of Kauai in Hawaii. After a few stretches of “exile” to pursue education, she has made the islands her home for the last fifteen years. Toby is a mental health therapist, a career that has informed the depth and complexity of the characters in her books. Outside of work and writing, Toby volunteers and enjoys life in Hawaii through outdoor activities, including beach walking, body boarding, scuba diving, photography and hiking.
Visit her website, follow her on Twitter @tobywneal, or visit her Facebook page, LeiCrimeSeries.

 A Wall Street Journaland The Times (UK) featured author, Russell Blake is the bestselling author of twenty-five books, including the thriller novels Fatal Exchange, The Geronimo Breach, The Voynich Cypher,  Zero Sum, Silver Justice, King of Swords, Upon A Pale Horse, the Assassin series, the Delphi Chronicle trilogy, the JET series, and his latest BLACK series.

Non-fiction includes the international bestseller An Angel With Fur (animal biography) and How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated), a parody of all things writing-related.
Blake lives in Mexico and enjoys his dogs, fishing, boating, tequila and writing, while battling world domination by clowns.
Visit his blog, RussellBlake.com where he publishes his periodic thoughts, such as they are. Follow him on twitter @BlakeBooks.