Give Me A Hint: The Use of Foreshadowing

I was at work discussing books with a physician who is an avid reader as well of Robin Cook’s novels. Cook could be considered the grandfather of the medical thriller with his ground breaking The Year of the Intern, which highlighted the training physicians go through.

Cook, for me, delved into what a medical thriller should be. Take something medical in nature (like organ donation) and put a twist on it (genetically engineered individuals being used for spare body parts). That novel was Chromosome 6. What my physician friend said was, “The great thing about Robin Cook was he grounded you in the science before he took that leap, so when he did go over the cliff with his theory you were able to buy it hook, line, and sinker.”

Book #3 Bloodline Trilogy
Book #3 Bloodline Trilogy

This conversation got me thinking a lot about my third novel, Peril, which just released. I’m asking the reader to take a big (HUGE really) theoretical leap, but had I spent time grounding them in how this medical theory could really play out?

That question led me to rewrite the first third of my novel.

Some people view foreshadowing as the scary thing suspense novelists do to readers to get the hair to stand up on the back of their necks. Truly, this is part of it. The scary music cuing up before the axe falls on the victim.

More importantly, though, foreshadowing could be viewed as the details we plant for readers so that when the character does something unbelievable, the reader won’t be rolling their eyes in a jump-the-shark moment.

In my first novel, Proof, I needed there to be a instant in time where one character could place a lethal (or was it really?) shot to the villain. In order to do that, I had to paint a picture for the reader of the character being capable of doing it mentally and physically when that moment came.

Step One: Show that she is comfortable with weapons–and maybe a little too psychotic about her safety.

Step Two: Show that she is a good marksman. This scene included her taking a close friend to an indoor shooting gallery. Let’s just say that girl had some skill even with a little bit of alcohol on board. Plus, she had purchased another weapon, which increased the probability of one of them being used. Don’t give the character a weapon and then never have her use it.

Step Three: Show that she will use a weapon when in a dangerous situation. At one point in the book, the villain is giving chase and she fires at him from a moving vehicle.

Step Four: The ultimate showdown must take place. Don’t plant any seeds that aren’t eventually harvested.

Does anyone remember the Laura Croft Tomb Raider movies? In one, it dealt with her finding Pandora’s Box. The whole two hours is devoted to the adventure of discovering ancient clues that would lead her to the ultimate treasure. At the end of the movie, she has the box in her hands and . . . she doesn’t open it.

Huge let down.

What do you think about foreshadowing? How do you think it’s been used effectively or poorly in books and movies?

WordServe News: September 2013

Exciting things have been happening at WordServe Literary!

On the final post of each month you’ll find a list of Water Cooler contributors’ books releasing in the upcoming month along with a recap of WordServe client news from the current month.

New Releases

RawEdgesSandra D. Bricker releases Raw Edges, a book in the “Quilts of Love” series with Abingdon Press.


AnniesChristmasWishBarbara Cameron releases Annie’s Christmas Wish, a book in the “Quilts of Lancaster County” series, with Abingdon Press.


4213 cvr1 CS6.inddJordyn Redwood releases Peril, the final book in her “Bloodline Trilogy” with Kregel Publications.


TheBargainStephanie Reed releases, The Bargain, the first book in the “Plain City Peace” series with Kregel Publications.


ThrashingAboutMandy Steward releases her debut book, Thrashing About With God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything, with David C. Cook.


Christmasinmyheart22Joe Wheeler releases Christmas in my Heart #22, another heartwarming collection of Christmas stories, from Pacific Press.


Joshua'sWayRobert Wise releases Joshua’s Way: Spiritual Warfare Lessons for Today’s Battles with Leafwood Publishers.


New WordServe Clients

Jeff Calloway signed with Alice Crider. He’s writing about clearing spiritual clutter so you can clearly see God’s vision for your life.

Kate Hurley, a singer-songwriter who self-published a spunky memoir titled Getting Naked Later, signed with Alice Crider.

Mike Fechner, a Dallas-based missionary to the inner-city, will write his story with Marcus Brotherton.

New Contracts

Marcus Brotherton has signed with Moody Press for his first novel! Rev Rowdy is the post WWII story of a soldier coming home from the war who finds trouble, but then is convinced by the local sheriff to become the town preacher. Sort of a “Band of Brothers” meets “Mitford” for men.

Joe Wheeler signed a three-book deal with Pacific Press to compile and anthologize miracle and angel stories.

What can we help you celebrate?

Promotional Items: The Good and Bad

I recently returned from the ACFW conference held in Indianapolis. This is an annual gathering of the largest membered group of Christian fiction authors. It’s a great time to connect with fellow writers and hope some of the writing genius from authors like Dan Walsh, Tosca Lee, James Scott Bell, and Frank Peretti infuses life into my writing cells.

Promo1Most conferences have a “freebie” table where writers are allowed to leave promotional items to get the word out about their product. This year I thought I’d give you my take on them. The good and the bad.

Think of a promotional item with a goal in mind. What do you want it to do for you? Consider the return on your investment and what you hope to achieve. I think most people view a promotional item as a chance for exposure. Most marketing types will tell you it takes six-ten exposures for someone to buy your product. So a good promotional item is something a person will keep and look at over and over.

I’ve determined that giving away bookmarks is not a good idea. EVERY author/writer does this and last year when I had bookmarks I ended up taking most of them home. They are not unusual enough anymore and with the advent of e-readers I think many do not need them anymore either.

One way bookmarks could work is if you are a very popular, well-known author and they are signed. But, sigh, that is not me. Yet.

RedwoodNewsletterQRMy goal was to get people to subscribe to my forthcoming newsletter. I gave out full-size Hershey Bars and packs of gum with the stickers you see on the first photo. The sticker includes this QR code that links to a newsletter sign-up form where I’m giving away a prize worth over $75.00. It includes all three books of my Bloodline trilogy, a $25.00 Amazon gift card, a $25.00 Starbucks gift card and some fun Halloween items (yes, this is still happening, so sign up!) and goes on until October 1st, 2013.

I brought 108 chocolate bars (okay, I did eat ONE) and 36 packs of gum. I didn’t have to bring any home, which was great. People were interested enough to pick them up but, thus far, I’ve only gotten about six new newsletter subscribers, making it a very expensive venture with few results. Perhaps the QR code is not intuitive for people yet.

Other promotional items and my thoughts.

promo2 promo3 promo4 promo5 promo6 promo71. Luggage Tag: This is a good idea because not only do you use it but also other people along the way can see it.

2. Small button flashlights for key chains: I’m iffy on these. The writing on one is hard to read and the light is weak. They are fun to have but I don’t know if I would use them.

3. Ribbon bookmark: I’m personally not a fan. I am a no-wrinkle-on-the-pages kind of girl and putting a large plastic paper clip on pages would wrinkle them. Plus, it was not very intuitive to me what it was at first because it was attached to a business card.

4. Pack of sticky notes: This was given out by a publisher. Nice, as most authors love office supplies.

5. A bag of tea: This one I liked because I’m a tea lover. I think this would also be more economical than what I did, as mine ran about 50-60 cents apiece. I think it’s a good tie-in for some genres (romance, cozy mystery, historical set in England) but not so much for suspense. It might not work for my books.

6. Grippie lid opener: Someone can post in the comments what the real name of this is. I like this one for its durability. It’s something I’ll keep on hand and use and therefore will expose me to this author’s name multiple times.

7. Small composition notebook: This one I’m actually giving a gold star and I’ll tell you why. I still have the one from last year in my purse. Every time I pull it out, I see that author’s name. I actually looked into doing this myself but they run (at the cheapest) about $1.00 apiece and that was too spendy for me.

What about you? Which promotional items do you like? Which do you think you’d actually pick up and keep? What have you used as a promotional item and did you appreciate the return on investment?

Use of Humor in Thriller Novels

Don’t we need humor in life to make it through? Life is hard. I have two very serious jobs. I’m a real life pediatric ER RN and a suspense novelist. Those can be heavy days but they can also be fun days—by using a little humor to get through.

LaughterMarriage is no different, right? Humor is necessary. What are some of the funniest things that have happened between you and your spouse? To take a break from discussing serious subjects: like death, trauma, and writing suspense—I thought I’d take a humor break and share some funny highlights from my married life.

Do you find that opposites attract? That’s the truth with my husband and I. He’s the quiet introvert. I’m the more outspoken extrovert. He gets queasy at the site of blood. Obviously, I do not. What we have seems to work—as we’ve been married fifteen years.

During our dating years, we were set to see a movie. I drove to his place and let myself in—and then sat there fuming when he was nowhere to be found. This was before the age of everyone having a cell phone. Finally, his phone rings. I answer. He’s on the line. “Where are you?” He asks. “Where are you?” I ask right back. He says, “I’m at your place!”—“Well, I’m where you should be.”

Other funny moments? Let’s see—teaching kindergarten Sunday school with his ex-girlfriend. Well, we can laugh about that now.

My husband likes to trim his own hair. One day, he mistakenly forgot to put the spacer on the clippers and took a swipe. Without much introduction, he comes into the living room and asks me, “Can you fix this?” with one bald stripe down the middle of his head.

I burst out laughing so hard—I still crack up thinking about it. ER nurse, honey—not hairdresser extraordinaire.

Then, add kids to the mix and the potential for a good laugh multiplies. We have two daughters age 8 and 10. When my youngest was perhaps 4 y/o—she was just in one of these pestering type moods. After several attempts at redirection, I finally just say, “Please, just get out of my hair!” In her sweet, innocent voice, she says—“But, I’m not in your hair.”

Sometimes, readers need lighter moments to get them through serious subjects or intense novels, too. I have a very dry sense of humor. My debut medical thriller, Proof, dealt with some very serious subjects and I thought whilst writing the ms—I really do need some moments of levity.

Hence, the humorous pairing of my odd couple detectives, Nathan Long and Brett Sawyer. Nathan means business. He’s serious and organized—bordering on an undiagnosed case of OCD. A southern gentleman. Brett’s the laid back easy type—maybe plays a little bit loose with the rules to get the job done. Often, their interactions provide comic relief in Proof. Let me give one example: an elderly woman with some questionable underwear choices serving them tea with a heavy dose of liquor during an interview. You may think that would never happen. Well, just recently I had a 14y/o show up just in his skivvies—at the ER. That’s right—just the white cotton briefs. And let me say—he was not deathly ill. Plenty of time for that young man to get dressed.

What about you? What’s the most humorous thing that’s happened in your married/dating/writing life? I’d love to know—could end up in my next book.

Names withheld—of course.

Are You A Hypocrite?

Have you ever been in church, or on-line reading blog posts, or just conversing with a good friend when something they said just is like a dagger to your heart with how much truth it speaks? Love those times . . . sometimes.

Me trying to be less hypocritical about fitness! Warrior Dash 2013.

As a Christian, I am tired of being called a hypocrite. There’s been a story floating around Facebook (cannot verify its veracity) about a new minister that dressed as a homeless person and attended his own services in this disguise. The post laments how no one came up to speak to him or welcome him in any way and then the minister, in this outfit, goes up to the pulpit and gives a sermon on– well, you get my drift.

Then there is comment after comment about “This is exactly why I left the church!”– even one from my own relative.

Honestly, it makes me mad because I think two things.

Did said I’m-dressed-up-as-a-homeless-man-minister actually offer to shake anyone’s hand? Did he take an initiative, despite his dress, to get to know a few people? And those that use this example as the reason they left their own church– why aren’t you out there greeting people? Be the change you want to see.

I feel like I do try and live what is taught on Sunday. But then a sermon came up about being a hypocrite and I was in the beginning stages of rolling off a barrage of thoughts like the ones above until the minister said this:

“Hypocrisy lives between what you believe and what you do.”

Well, now . . . ouch.

It dawned on me that hypocrisy doesn’t just apply to aspects of the Christian life but to all aspects of our life. For years I said, “I want to be published.” but what was I really doing to accomplish it? That gap between my words and my action is hypocrisy.

These words hit home most for me in the area of weight loss. About three years ago, I saw a photo of myself and it was like a very bright spotlight on the lie I had led myself to believe. I knew I was a little fluffy– but not obese by any means.

Everything changed when I saw that photo. A dagger right into my heart. I couldn’t deny the truth anymore. Well, of course, I could but I knew I never wanted to see another photo like that . . . ever.

So I started on a wellness path . . . very slowly. It’s taken me about three years to lose forty pounds but I’m not quite there yet. Quite honestly, I should be at my goal weight. I have plenty of excuses why– or what we call “reasons” when we’re living in hypocrisy. Some of them sound very good and reasonable but they’re really not.

I’m trying to decrease my “reasons” and increase my actions. I don’t want to be viewed as a hypocrite. I want people to believe that I’m going to do what I say I’m going to do.

What about you? In what area of your life are you being hypocritical? Where is the gap between what you say you’re going to do and your actions? Is it spiritual (I’m going to pray more), or professional (I’m going to start my novel– maybe tomorrow!) or physical (I want to be a size six.)

How do you plan to change it?

And yes, all my ranting about the church above was being hypocritical, too. I have lots of self discovery in process.

Why I Write Inspirational Fiction

People ask me, “Why do you write Christian fiction?” This reminds me of when people ask me, “Why are you just a nurse?”
pragIn reality, they are politely implying that I am too smart and, perhaps, have wasted my time by never going for a medical degree. However, I think the answer to these two questions is the same.

To save lives.

I’m an ER nurse and a suspense author–I do tend toward the dramatic, and this is a dramatic post. But then again, life is dramatic. So is death.

If you’ve ever been in a hospital, you know a nurse is the last line of defense for a patient. We’re the ones that give medication, order tests, make sure patients are at the right place at the right time. Ensure that people who are learning medicine don’t kill you. A seasoned nurse (even if they aren’t super warm and fluffy) is the best asset for a patient next to a competent physician.

What I see in nursing, some days, are last moments. The last moment of life. The last moment of “My life was this…” before hearing a cancer diagnosis. The last moment of peace, maybe for a while.

It surprises me how blase people can be about eternity. They just feel that they know the right answer without having cracked open a Bible or any other holy book. For a Christian, a person who doesn’t invest in investigating life after death is curiously reckless. Like biking without a helmet. Or biking and texting without a helmet (yes, I just saw that last week!).

Since I experience the fragility of life, I want people to be confident in their beliefs about the afterlife. And I know many of us don’t have as many moments left as we think. A novel can be a less threatening way to introduce someone to the concepts of Christianity than handing them a Bible, and yet can still deliver a strong, compelling message.

It’s like pulling someone off the train tracks as the whistle is warning them to move.

Here is my top ten list of why I write Christian fiction:

1. September 11, 2001.
2. The Boston bombing.
3. Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting.
4. The child that died of an allergic reaction.
5. The family I helped give a cancer diagnosis.
6. My friend’s brother, who died after being in a vegetative state for 13 years following a motorcycle accident.
7. Christians who are killed/maimed/imprisoned for their faith.
8. Kids in my ER whose families won’t show up.
9. Driving on ice.
10. Moore, Oklahoma tornadoes.

What I’ve seen is that sometimes I can’t stop the train. I can’t stop that moment. What I can do is offer what I think is hope . . . preventative medicine for the ever after.
We as religious people get so caught up in divisive cultural issues. Pro-life/pro-choice. Traditional marriage. Homosexual marriage. Gun control. And I’ll be the first to say, as a Christian, that while I have strong beliefs on each of these issues, my expressing them can pull people away from the true message of why Christ came.

He died. For. You.

That’s it.

So before you decide, do some reading. Whatever method is the least threatening. A novel. A blog post. The Bible.

Just read and see if His message begins to resonate with you.

Before the train whistle blows on your last moment.

Writing a Trilogy

For those of you starting on your writing journey—there are two realms of publishing. The ABA (the American Booksellers Association) and the CBA (the Christian Booksellers Association.) The ABA publishes what would be considered secular novels and the CBA publishes Christian or “inspirational” books. Publishers generally fall under one of these two categories.

Book #1 Bloodline Trilogy
Book #1 Bloodline Trilogy

CBA publishers like trilogies. And there is good reason for this. If you can hook a reader on one, they’ll likely buy the rest. There is an inherent marketing value to producing a series. I’ve not quite seen this trilogy trend in the ABA though there are beloved characters (James Patterson’s Alex Cross, Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, and Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone to name a few) that monopolize more than a few books but are not quite designed as self-enclosed three-book sets.

When Proof was first contracted, it was proposed as a trilogy. The publisher didn’t like the first proposed sequels and asked for different plot lines in the subsequent titles, which I provided. Even after that, they still contracted only the first. In a twist and turn of God fingerprinted events, they ended up contracting the trilogy a few months after the initial offer.

Book #2 Bloodline Trilogy
Book #2 Bloodline Trilogy

However, having not ever written a trilogy, there are a few things I would do now when planning a series that I thought could benefit future trilogy authors.

  1. Each book stands alone but should be connected to the others: It’s nice for readers if they don’t have to read one book to understand the others but is also nice if certain characters/themes carry through all the books for those sticking with you. This can be challenging because a little information will have to be given (in a creative way) to readers to both clue them in to the previous story(ies) and also serve as a nice reminder to those picking up the next book who may have read the others—considering books release six to twelve months apart.
  2. Book #3 Bloodline Trilogy
    Book #3 Bloodline Trilogy

    Timelines are important: I know—this should have been uber-obvious to me, right? But consider some things that can seriously mess up your timeline—like characters getting pregnant. You have to then backtrack to the time of conception and make sure all story plots support it. Add to that a hostage story (Poison) that deals with younger children that then need to be aged seven years, and a teen pregnancy (yes, I did all of this!) and it can be challenging to make sure all events line up. Graphing out the timeline is a seriously good idea. And then keep it to refer back to until the book is actually in print.

  3. Avoid absolute characterizations: In Proofone character commented that another one never sweats (and it was a blazing hot day and he was in SWAT gear.) It was more to relay how calm the man was under pressure. Well, in Poison, my editor reminded me how often this character was now sweating and how I said in book #1 that he never did. It’s just like a test—never, all, and always are not good picks or preludes to character traits.
  4. Provide a circular moment for the reader: What is a circular moment? It’s something (an event, an emotion) that happens in the beginning that is revisited at the end of the novel that shows how the character has changed. For instance, in Proof, the lead detective, Nathan Long, carries a list of “unforgivables”—acts that he literally writes out that he can’t get over emotionally. There is some forgiveness for Nathan at the end of the first book but it ultimately doesn’t fully happen until the end of Peril, the third book in the series. So each book needs a moment like this as well as the series.

What about you? Do you have tips for planning a trilogy?

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