Keith Dixon
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Keith Dixon's Discussions

Call to writers
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Started this discussion. Last reply by M.E. Purfield Nov 18, 2012.

Where do you stand?
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Started this discussion. Last reply by I. J. Parker May 2, 2012.

Crime Writing Confidential

I'm outsourcing this post ...

You probably won't know it - yet - but the title of this blog is a clever pun based on one of the books by my guest blogger today, Eric Gates. He's the author of several thrillers which I guess deserve the prefix techno-, dealing as they do with aspects of contemporary technological life.

Eric has had an interesting and varied career (as you'll see from his bio at the end) and here he provides an equally interesting insight into how he produces his fast-paced and exciting thrillers. His blog is also very well worth a read if you're interested in thriller writing as he brings together other writers to talk about a subject of their choosing.

So, let's move on!

How do you go about beginning your novel – do you plot, or do you begin and then see where it takes you? Why do you do it that way?

My method in my madness is to start at the end. Yes, it does sound like something out of ‘Alice in Wonderland’, right? Where’s the King of Hearts when you need him? Seriously, having ‘defined’ how a story will end gives me a clear goal to work toward. Obviously, the definition of my initial ending idea is subject to change, sometimes considerably, as I write the tale, but it does allow me to create the theme and message of the novel and stay on track throughout.

Once I have an ending, the next part to be defined is the start. How is the tale going to open? Who will feature in the opening? What questions (hooks) will I pose for the reader? I confess on spending considerably more time on this (say the first three to four chapters, sometimes as many as ten given the chapters tend to be short) than on defining the ending. Not only do I seek to establish the story at the beginning of the novel, but also create a high degree of tension and emotional response (engagement) in the reader, as well as imbue these chapters with a rhythm that will draw the reader into the tale.

The rest is relatively easy (he quipped, smiling) …just propel the narrative from that bombshell opening in the direction of the ending I have in mind. Who said this writing thing was hard?

I don’t outline the novel beforehand as such, but do use Mind Mapping tools to develop ‘scenes’ which could become several chapters, as I go along. This way both the characters and the tale itself can breathe and remain fresh.

What are your thoughts on ‘style’? Is it something you’re aware of while writing? Do you focus more on the story, or on how it’s told?

I write thrillers so keep in mind the generic style constraints for this genre (tension, pace, complex characters, cliffhanger chapters, and a solid storyline) as I write. These characteristics in turn have helped me develop a very personal writing style over the course of my novels. For instance, I have lots of tricks that I will use to keep the pace moving fast throughout, though sometimes deliberately slowing this to ensure my readers don’t end up having any coronary issues and preparing the tale for another gallop (the RollerCoaster effect). This results in the words ‘page-turner’ and ‘fast-paced’ often being used in reviewing my novels. Nowadays I tend to use these tools subconsciously and focus more on the tale itself.

How and when do you do research for the book? Before you start, or as and when you need?

Neither one nor the other. When I have, or generate, an idea for a book, I do broad research into the subject areas it touches upon. I then fuse several of the concepts encountered, looking for an original approach. Once this emerges, detailed investigation follows (lots of reading and note-taking, and not just the Internet, I might add). Next, given my personal history, I will apply anything I have experienced or know about to the story to add believability and authority to the tale. Yes, as I’m writing, I will continue to sniper-research subjects though these are usually highly focused searches for specific details, such as the fuel range of a specific private jet, for example.

How do you deal with Point of View? Do you always use First Person, or Third Person, or do you move between them? What problems are you aware of because of the choices you make?

Generally I pick a character and write the chapter in the Third Person from their point of view. As my chapters are usually short, this allows me to use a different character’s viewpoint in the next chapter without falling into the ‘head-hopping’ trap. So far, this method has not created any issues in telling the tale I want to in the way I wish it to unfold.

How do you go about editing or revising the drafts of your book? What governs the choices you make?

With massive amounts of Patience, and constant use of a piece of software (Stylewriter) I picked up for helping with self-edits. Why is the software so important? Well, to be brief, the answer is in an article on my website: http://www.ericjgates.com/TipsTricksSelfie.html

Are you conscious of being influenced by any particular authors or genre-specific elements when writing? How do those influences affect your writing?

Yes. I have three very strong influencers: Charles Dickens (he was a thriller writer too, did you know?), British author John Gardner, and Ian Fleming. All three have provided me with lessons (only John in the flesh, I might add. I’m not that old!) which I maintain alive in both the tales I tell and the way I do this.

Tell us about your latest book, especially any challenges it set you.

My latest, ‘Primed’ is the sequel to ‘Outsourced’ and is, to a great degree, a reaction to demands from readers for more of the protagonists. The challenge I faced with this book is the unique storyline I developed for ‘Outsourced’. I didn’t want this to be an episodic story reminiscent of a TV series, rather an opportunity to learn more about the protagonists and the personal challenges they faced because of the way their lives had been changed by what happened in the first book. To achieve this, it became clear early on that I needed what was almost a standalone story as the engine for the events, and I think that worked well in the end.


Please tell us a little about yourself and how you’d like to be contacted via social media, and also where to buy your books. 


Biography:

Eric J. Gates is an ex-International Consultant who has travelled extensively worldwide, speak several languages, and has had articles and papers published in technical magazines in six different countries as well as radio and TV spots.

His specialty, Information Technology Security and Cyberwarfare, has brought him into contact with the Intelligence community on several occasions.

He is also an expert martial-artist, having been trained in over 25 different fighting arts. He has taught his skills to members of various Police, Military and Special Forces units, as well as Private Security firms, Bodyguards and the public.

He is the author of several thriller novels, details of which can be found on his web, http://www.ericjgates.com which explore the confidential and secret worlds that surround us.

Amazon Author page links:



Global links for the some of the novels:

the CULL book 1 – Bloodline (FREE)  http://authl.it/B00AGZ27FA?d

the CULL – Bloodline Universal non-Kindle link (FREE):  http://books2read.com/u/bwB5e4


Leaving Shadows   http://authl.it/B00DJANLQS?d
Full Disclosure  
http://authl.it/B007XIR5Z0?d

An alternative blog about alternative history!



This blog is intended to throw a light on how crime and thriller writers put together their work. This week, in a change to my usual analyses, I've passed the baton and asked Alison Morton to talk to us about her processes when writing her highly successful alternative histories.

So far Alison has written 5 books in her Roma Nova series, with the sixth, Retalio shortly to be released.

For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, alt-history posits the idea that some actual historical fact didn't take place, or that it did, but in a different way or with a different outcome. So, for example, the recent television series made from Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle considered what might have happened had Germany and Japan won World War II.

So now let's get on with the questions ...

How do you go about beginning your novel – do you plot, or do you begin and then see where it takes you? Why do you do it that way?

As I write a series within one setting – an imaginary country called Roma Nova – I already have some idea of the environment and the characters within it. For the first three thrillers, I was burning to get the heroine’s story out, so just attacked the keyboard. The second three books centred round a prominent secondary character from the first three; I just wanted to know the secrets from her younger life and so I had to write the books to find out! 


I plot about 15% and write 85% ‘by the seat of my pants’. I know where the story starts and where it has to end. After sketching out a few essential story points, off I go.

What are your thoughts on ‘style’? Is it something you’re aware of while writing? Do you focus more on the story, or on how it’s told?
The story is the essential thing. Readers need enough detail to get the smells, sounds and sights of the setting but no more than absolutely necessary to the story. My aim is to write as tightly as possible and let the reader infer things.

How and when do you do research for the book? Before you start, or as and when you need?
Luckily, being a complete ‘Roman nut’ from the age of eleven, I have a reasonable background of Roman culture and life not to have to dive into a reference book or online site all the time. My six years in the military takes care of that side, although I do have to check up on precise details such as honeycombing on rifles and types of Glock. In the second trilogy set late 1960s-early 1980s I had to research forensic knowledge available at that time. You can’t use DNA profiling in 1968! Even though my books are set in an alternative timeline, I like to keep as near as possibly to contemporary technology.

How do you deal with Point of View? Do you always use First Person, or Third Person, or do you move between them? What problems are you aware of because of the choices you make?
I write almost exclusively in the first person. I like to know what’s going on in my protagonist’s head, her motivation and reactions and her emotions. Many writers consider it’s limiting to only have one view on events in the story, but I see this as a delicious way to set up conflict and misunderstanding. The narrator only truly knows what she sees, or senses herself; everything else is (her) speculation. 

How do you go about editing or revising the drafts of your book? What governs the choices you make?
I print out what I think is the final version of my draft, then carry out a harsh self-edit, red pen in hand, looking for overwriting, adverbs, wobbly dialogue, over-use of qualifiers like ‘very’, ‘rather’ and ‘quite’. I check the timeline for the main story, then for each character. Then it goes to my critique partner of many years who has the eye of an eagle and the instincts of a velociraptor. After any revisions, the manuscript goes to a (paid) structural editor who checks for story cohesiveness, plot holes, pace and voice. After the inevitable, but these days thankfully few, revisions it goes to the (paid) copy editor to be shuffled into a print-ready version. I explain more fully here.

Quality is essential for me and I owe it to the reader to make the finished book the best it can be.

Are you conscious of being influenced by any particular authors or genre-specific elements when writing? How do those influences affect your writing?
One of my first influences was Robert Harris’s Fatherland; it introduced me to alternative history. But more than that, to writing a pacey crime mystery within such an alternative timeline. There is no great exposition of their world; the characters live (to them) normal and natural lives within it. Alternative history has rules – a point of divergence from the standard timeline with no return, a properly built world, and writing the consequences of the divergence. These rules must be firmly planted in your head, but like the iceberg, not show in your writing. The thriller, crime or mystery is the most important thing, but the alternative world forms the framework.

Tell us about your latest trilogy, especially any challenges it set you. 
AURELIA is a crime thriller and sets up the rivalry between Aurelia Mitela, an ex-Praetorian Guard and Caius Tellus, an amoral but intelligent predator. I had to do massive research on 1960s technology and German courts, prisons and legal procedures! INSURRECTIO is more of a political thriller where a charismatic leader of a nationalist movement makes a grab for power. Of course, Aurelia tries to stop him. The last book in the trilogy, RETALIO, which is out on 27 April, is a story of resilience and resistance with plenty of doings by ‘the ungodly’ (as Simon Templar would describe them).

 Is there anything else you’d like to add? Please tell us how you’d like to be contacted via social media, and also where to buy your books. Please add a short biography, too.



Bio

A ‘Roman nut’ since age 11, Alison Morton continues to be fascinated by that complex, power and value driven civilisation. Armed with a masters’ in history, six years’ military service and the love of a good crime thriller, she explores via her award winning Roma Nova novels the ‘what if’ idea of a modern Roman society run by strong women. 

The sixth book, RETALIO, will be published on 27 April. In the meantime, Alison lives in France with her husband, tends her Roman herb garden and drinks wine.
Connect with Alison on her Roma Nova site: http://alison-morton.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/alison_morton @alison-morton

Buying linkfor all formats (paperback, ebook, audio) of all books:
http://alison-morton.com/books-2/buying-links/


*******
Thanks, Alison! Very interesting stuff! I hope Retalio does as well as the other books have so far.

Finally, I'd like to point out that the new Paul Storey thriller, One Punch, is now available for pre-order. It'll be on sale on May 8th at a starting price of 99 cents or 99 pence. You can click on the link here, or the cover image at the top left of the blog, to be taken to your nearest Amazon site in order to pre-order it. Thanks!  One Punch Pre-Order


"Trouble comes not in single spies ... "

That's Shakespeare, that is.

But in this case I've taken a liberty, because it's not trouble but good fortune that's coming my way.

So I'm sitting at my desk waiting for a Skype call to come in so I can record a podcast for Dave Core at thrillsandmystery.com. And then the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) publishes on their website a brief article I wrote on 'The Secret of My Success'.

Success Stories

Moments after that's published, and while I'm still waiting at my desk, I get another email from a man saying he's just read this article and would I like to record a podcast on my Self-Publishing Journey?

Self-Publishing Journeys

I guess this is what they call a virtuous circle ...
 

Keith Dixon's Page

Latest Activity

Keith Dixon left a comment for Nancy Thorp
"Hi Nancy, thanks for the invite. Like your list of authors. I've recently come across Michael Connolly - do you know him? He's all over the local bookstore shelves like a rash at the moment - don't know how I missed him before!"
Feb 15, 2009

Profile Information

Hometown:
Rode Heath, England
About Me:
I'm a writer, editor, proofreader and copywriter and I've published two crime novels, with the third on the way. I have a blog that focuses on how crime writers write - in other words, how do they create their own particular style?
I Am A:
Reader, Writer, Editor
Website:
http://www.cwconfidential.blogspot.com
Books And Authors I Like:
Anything by James Lee Burke, George Pelecanos, Elmore Leonard, Robert Crais, Patricia Highsmith, Lawrence Block, James Hall, Tim Dorsey, Joe Lansdale. Most of Jefferson Parker, Carl Hiaasen and James Crumley. No British crime writers make my cut.
Then add in Scott Fitzgerald, John Steinbeck and John Dos Passos.
And Kurt Vonnegut.
Movies And TV Shows I Like:
At the moment:
Mad Men
Breaking Bad
Justified
The Walking Dead
NYPD Blue (deceased)
The West Wing (deceased)
Movies: Too many to mention - some current favourites:
The Bourne trilogy
A Clockwork Orange
Mulholland Drive
Chinatown
Citizen Kane
The 400 Blows

Hi! This is a link to my blog on Blogger. It looks at how crime writers write and produce the effects that they do: Crime Writing Confidential

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At 11:34pm on January 18, 2008, Poisonguy said…
Keith, if you're the Keith I'm thinking about, I critiqued a story of yours way back on another site (CC). Set for Saturday I believe it was called. Good stuff. I remember another story of yours - though I blacked out on critiquing it (blame the ouzo) - The Secret Place. It was a 2x4 to the back of the head attention grabber. What've you done with it?
At 9:06pm on December 15, 2007, Keith Dixon said…
Hi Jochem
Yes, I just did - it looks good! I'll keep it in my favourites. I forgot to mention George Pelecanos and Walter Mosley, who your interviewee also mentioned. My latest favourite is Joe R. Lansdale - an East Texan writer who is both exciting and comic at the same time. Oh, and let's not forget the great Elmore Leonard!
At 9:03pm on December 15, 2007, Jochem van der Steen said…
Hey Keith... James Burke and Block are personal favorites as well. If you like that stuff you should visit www.sonsofspade.tk.
At 7:13am on September 7, 2007, Roger Newbury said…
Hi Keith, you're welcome. I had over 10 yrs experience with my local theatre, it was only a small one, 150 seater, but as well as acting, and lighting experiences gained, it fired up my interest in writing comedy plays, mainly for the amatuer market, (although if one got taken up by a professional theatre company, so much the better!)
I need to do some major re-working on my two main novels, 'Medusa's Curse' & 'Inside Justice', as they were written in the early 90's, and I feel that by today's standards, they'd not fair too well.
It's nice to make your acqauintance.
At 6:55pm on September 6, 2007, Dennis Venter said…
Oops, sorry - can't believe we down here actually got to see the end of the Sopranos before you up there. And I know what you mean about avoiding commentary on the finale, I ducked and dived it for months too. But I don't think I gave anything away, did I?
At 5:23pm on September 5, 2007, Dennis Venter said…
Hi Keith. Yup, I noticed our similar tastes. What did you think of the Sopranos finale? Are you in the camp that hated it and felt cheated or did you think it was perfect - like I did?
At 10:40pm on September 4, 2007, Daniel Hatadi said…
Thanks, Keith. Glad you like the place. The badges might be picking up the style of your blog and becoming hidden. Another option is using the simpler version from the help page.
At 3:26am on September 3, 2007, Maryann Mercer said…
Hi Keith,
You know, the first month I worked at the store the manager had to remind me to pick up my paycheck. That's how excited I was to be working there. Of course, the perils of retail include messy shoppers, rude shoppers, customers who belive we are a baby-sitting service, and those who believe we need to stock books out of print for the past decade. Even with all that, I love talking about my favorite authors, recommending books, and seeing the new stock come in and sell well. I'm also fortunate that this is a second job, or I'd be bankrupt just supporting my addiction to the printed page :o) BTW Is Altered Life available in the US? I'm in a university community, so we have an eclectic group of readers. We carry (finally) Stephen Booth's mysteries as well as a few others. I'd like to read yours so I can recommend it!
 
 
 

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