International Thriller Writers is thrilled to announce that as of this summer, more than five hundred writers have been through the Debut Author Program. This year’s Debut Author program chair, Elena Hartwell sat down (well, virtually anyway) in conversation with our first Debut Author and our five hundredth Debut Author, to find out a little bit about where we started and where we’re headed.
The First ITW Debut Author: Matt Bronleewe is a Grammy-nominated songwriter, producer, and author. His name has appeared on over 500 records, amassing sales of over 25 million. His songs have been used by The Walking Dead, Orange Is The New Black, as well as various other tv shows, movies and video games. A founding member of the band Jars of Clay, his credits include producer of the Sinfonia line of digital instruments, owner of Unsecret Music, and co-writer of the current country radio hit “Flatliner” with Cole Swindell & Dierks Bentley. He lives in Nashville, TN with his wife and three children.
For more info on Matt, click on the links below:
The 500th Debut Author: Lisanne Harrington: Eleven years ago, I left the legal world behind forever so I could pander to my muse, a sarcastic little so-and-so. Only copious amounts of Diet Cherry Dr. Pepper and hamburgers will get him to fill my head with stories of serial killers, werewolves, and the things that live under your bed.
I love to watch reruns of Gilmore Girls, horror movies like Sharknado and Fido, and true crime shows. I like scary clowns, coffee with flavored creamer, and French fries. Lots and lots of French fries. I live in SoCal with my husband and always-has-to-have-the-last-word Miniature Pinscher, Fiona.
For more information on Lisanne, click on the links below:
Amazon: Author Page
Matt: I love the idea of shooting questions back and forth. Lisanne, how did you get started? And what led to the release of your debut novel?
Lisanne: Well, let’s see … I was a paralegal for nearly twenty years, until the day an attorney threw a stapler at my head. I knew then it was time to move on. My aim is a lot better than his….
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t write stories, but it wasn’t until 2006 that I decided to get serious about it. And Moonspell was formed.
Elena: Tell us about Moonspell.
Lisanne: Moonspell is the first of the Wolf Creek Mysteries. When townspeople are murdered during the full moon, James Manarro is confronted by his cousin with her suspicions about the identity of the killer—a werewolf. At first, James just laughs it off, but with each vicious murder, he’s forced to admit that she may be right…and one of them might be its next victim.
The others in the trilogy are called Moon Watch and Moon Shadows. I’m also under contract with Black Opal Books for a stand-alone murder mystery called Murder in the Family.
Elena: What about you, Matt? How did you get started?
Matt: My journey started about fifteen years ago. I’d been doing music for around five years—give or take—and I was feeling the itch to explore new creative places. Poetry was the first thing that struck me. Writing poetry was a natural step from writing songs, but while my songs were succeeding, my poetry was not.
After amassing a battalion of poems—all publishable in my mind—my manager arranged a meeting with an author who lived here in Nashville.
He declared my poetry a waste of time, and told me to abandon it before it distracted me from the thing I did best—write and produce songs. His words were sharp, but he honestly wasn’t trying to do me harm. Looking back, I’m glad he wasn’t more tactful, because it quickly made me change my angle. But not in the way he thought.
I began writing fiction in earnest. Every night I tried to crank out a few pages. I had no idea where the story was going, but it felt SO GREAT to write. So I just kept writing until one day I realized I’d completed what amounted to a book. A bit slim, but still, it was more words than I’d ever dreamed of stringing together.
I was flummoxed at what to do next. I knew I wasn’t going to go back to the author I’d met with previously. To have him squash me down again would be unbearable, so I reached out to someone else, another producer/songwriter who had also authored a few books. This time around, the meeting went much differently than the time before. This new mentor was encouraging, even to the point of connecting me with his publisher.
The publisher left his position at the publishing company and became my agent, with his unbridled enthusiasm and help, he managed to land a multi book deal.
My first book, Illuminated, was the book that got me into ITW. It was followed by a sequel, House of Wolves, before I decided to take a hiatus from the series in order to focus on some other creative goals I had in mind.
Elena: What a journey you’ve been on, Matt. I see your third novel in the series is Man of Action. Congratulations on a trilogy! What else would you like to ask Lisanne?
Matt: I’m excited to dig into Moonspell, and it makes me curious about research habits… What places, whether online or in the real world, are strongholds for you in terms of information? Do you like to interview people? Dig through old volumes and libraries? Sift through endless websites? All of the above? I ask because my stories are often birthed from research.
Lisanne: I have a touch of social anxiety, so interviewing people is fairly difficult for me. What I did for Moonspell was to visit places where teens congregate: MickeyD’s, Starbucks, the Mall, *shudders* to listen for current slang terms and issues. I did online research on werewolf legends, including the first recorded appearance. Research also included serial killers (their mindset, nurture vs. nature, etc.), the difference between psychopaths and sociopaths (one uses charm and normally has above-average intelligence while the other tends to be uneducated, highly volatile and easily agitated.)
I do rely heavily on the internet for my research, although sometimes, it can be very satisfying to go old school and go to the library to pour through actual books.
I have a few friends in law enforcement, so I did contact them with certain questions on police procedures, weapons, cruisers, and such.
The way I work, a character usually appears to me and we chat until they feel comfortable enough to tell me their story. That’s when I start my research. I can’t start before that because I don’t know what the story elements might be.
Matt: So interesting to hear your story and your writing methodology. The way you described your conversation with your character, getting comfortable enough for them to tell their story, is fascinating. My encounters with my characters are more “observational,” if I had to try and describe it. Rather than interacting with them in some imagined way, I tend to daydream in “scenes,” seeing my character in action, whether he or she is escaping a burning building or talking his or her way out of a sticky situation. This is probably rooted in my love of movies, and I’ve often been told that my chapters feel quite cinematic—which I’ve taken as a compliment 😉
Elena: I love hearing about both your processes. What about space, do either of you have dedicated writing spots?
Lisanne: I normally sit in a big recliner in front of the TV. That seems to work best for me when writing or researching. When cleaning up the manuscripts, though, I hide in my room at my desk (TV still blaring!), door closed, with strict instructions to the rest of the house to not bother me unless they are on fire. Everyone but Fiona, my rowdy min pin, respects this. But even though I have a dog bed right next to my desk for her, which she sometimes lays in when she’s looking out the slider and surveying her Fifedom, most of the time she either wants to play ball or sit in my lap. Not always the easiest thing to have a 12-pound fireball sitting in your lap as you’re trying to write…
Are you a pantser or do you outline?
Matt: I’m usually somewhere in-between. Outlining, or at least just sitting down and beginning to write ABOUT the story, helps me think through the tale in greater detail. I usually discover some stumbling blocks during that process, which helps me avoid them during the actual writing. (Of course, other problems crop up later haha!) Inevitably, even when I’ve sketched out a point-by-point outline, I somehow loose control of the characters once I sit down to write. Characters don’t behave! (Do you find this to be true?) I think this is something we as creatives understand that is difficult to relate to those who aren’t active in the arts: YOU DON’T HAVE FULL CONTROL. I don’t know if I’ve found a worthy analogy—riding a wild horse, etc.—but it’s certainly not a mechanical exercise. Have you found that to be true for yourself?
Lisanne: I NEVER have control over them. They just won’t let me!
Elena: (Laughing because she knows just how these two feel…) I think we have space for one more question from each of you. What are you working on now?
Lisanne: I’m actually working on two stories at the same time. One is a paranormal mystery called Gravelings, and the other is a murder mystery, as yet untitled, that is the first in the Robbie Macfarlane Mysteries. Gravelings is about critters who terrorize a young girl with anxiety and depression issues. Because she is on medication, no one believes her until it is too late.
The Robbie Macfarlane story is about a writer and her son, who suffers from OCD, who move into a new house in a new town and soon find the body of their next-door neighbor. Everything points to Robbie as the killer. She and her son set about trying to solve the murder.
I also have ideas for six or eight other stories clamoring to be told. Sometimes my brain really hurts!
Matt: On the music side, I’m continuing to write and produce music for artists in just about every category. From the outside that might seem unfocused, but I’ve discovered that underneath all the genre differences, there’s a thread running through it all – STORY. Whether that story is represented by a musical theme, or literally described in the lyrics of a three-minute song, it cuts through everything else and grabs the listener’s attention. Writing fiction was a HUGE HELP in discovering that, and I believe it’s given me a unique point of view in the music world.
On the writing side, I’ve just finished a tv pilot script called PILGRIM – think “Mad Max” meets “Lost.” We’re still in the pitching phase, but my co-writer and I are excited about the momentum the project is gaining, and we’re planning to develop the concept into a book series too! Speaking of books, I’m finally writing the first draft for a new August Adams thriller called THE SHAKESPEARE CIPHER. This story focuses on a centuries-old literary mystery – the Shakespeare authorship conspiracy. The stakes are global, the secrets are deadly … needless to say I’m having a ton of fun! I’m planning to self-publish, but I’m still open to talking with agents and publishers (wink wink!)
Elena: So much creativity in both your lives, it’s been great chatting with you about your careers. I’m looking forward to staying in touch. Thanks for being members of ITW’s Debut Authors Program.
Elena Hartwell was born in Bogota, Colombia, while her parents were in the Peace Corps. Her first word was “cuidado.” At the age of nine months, she told two men carrying a heavy table to be careful in their native tongue. She’s been telling people what to do ever since. After almost twenty years in the theater, Elena turned her playwriting skills to novels and the result is her first book “One Dead, Two to Go.” The Eddie Shoes Mystery Series launches April 15, 2016, to be followed by “Two Dead Are Better Than One” and “Three Dead, You’re Out.” For more information on Elena, please visit elenahartwell.com or like her Facebook Page ElenaHartwell/Author. You may get to see cute pictures of her dog and her horses.
To learn more about Elena Hartwell’s newest book, click on the cover below: