Cover Reveal ~ Best Friends Forever by Shannon Hollinger

I’m thrilled to share the cover for my first release with publisher Bookouture, the psychological thriller Best Friends Forever! And don’t let the title fool you – my name for this book was Unspeakable. So be warned…. this is #NotYourAverageBFF!

Best Friends Forever will be released on January 12th, 2023. The Kindle version is available now for preorder!

Click the link below to:

Preorder Now!

The story is set in the fictional town of Wakefield, Florida, parts of which coincidentally mirror the dunes we weren’t supposed to visit back when I was in high school. Hmm… must have used my imagination to create the setting then!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the cover, and if you’re compelled to read it, the book! You can tag me on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram @thiswritersays and/or use the hashtag #NotYourAverageBFF!

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

I emerge from the trees, drenched in sweat, my voice lost as I take in the scene in front of me. The blood. The body. Emma’s eyes meet mine for a second. “It was an accident,” she whispers.

Emma and I were childhood best friends. We did everything together. Until that terrible night in the woods.

I couldn’t tell anyone what I’d seen. We never discussed it, but our bond was too strong; I could never betray my best friend. Even if she had killed someone.

But I also couldn’t stay in town and watch her live a normal life, knowing what she’d done. So I left.

Now, ten years later, I’m back. The guilt and the fear have stayed with me. And I have realized I need to reveal the truth if I’m ever going to move on.

But I never get the chance. Because the day I turn up, Emma is found dead, and the way she died means I start to doubt everything I thought I knew about that night all those years ago.

As my grief turns to anger at all those lost years of friendship, I realize with horror that Emma might not have been the only killer. Someone else is out there. Someone who was close to us both, someone who knew the smallest details of what had happened back then. Who from our small town could have murdered not once, but twice? And who’s next…?

An utterly gripping and compelling psychological thriller with twists and turns to die for. If you love Karin Slaughter, Paula Hawkins and Freida McFadden, you’ll love Best Friends Forever.

How I Spent My Summer (I Have A Book Deal!!!!)

When I started this blog back in 2012, it was because I wanted to write. And though it’s been a while since I’ve written a post (March of this year – time flies!) I have been writing. A lot. And I’ll be writing a lot more. And editing. A lot. And smiling . . . also a lot.

Because while success doesn’t happen overnight, hard work does pay off.

Earlier this year, I signed a five-book deal with UK publisher Bookouture. That’s right – the same publisher who gave us Angela Marson’s wonderfully dark and gritty DI Kim Stone series. And Lisa Regan’s hauntingly disturbing Detective Josie Quinn series. And now . . . my Chief Maggie Riley series. That’s right!

But that’s not all!

Because I also have two standalone psychological thrillers coming out – the first one as early as January 2023! I should hear the final titles any day now, and also . . . covers!!!!

Which I will definitely make sure to share here, and in less time than it took me to get around to sharing this fantastic news, I promise! (In all fairness, I just came up for air for the first time in months! Seriously – family members are starting to forget what I look like!)

I can’t wait to share more details with you about this amazing journey as it gets further underway!

But in the meantime, I have. So. Much. Work. to. Do!!!!!!

Recent Story Acceptances

My story Tracked will appear in the Bloody Good Horror Anthology, which is expected to release this winter. This is a more recent piece, written during the last year, and is the first horror story I’ve written in half a decade. Tracked is also unique in that it’s the first Young Adult short story I’ve ever written, but fear not – the teenage characters don’t make this story any less dark and disturbing! I had so much fun writing this one that it led to the inception of what is perhaps my most spinetingling, toe-curling horror short ever (also YA), a piece I’m really proud of and hope to be able to share with you soon!

My piece Love Blind has been accepted by the quarterly literary magazine Third Wednesday for their winter issue. Love Blind is a work of flash fiction that I wrote several years ago and recently ‘rediscovered’ in my files. This short mixes what I hope is a surprise ending with a little dark, tongue-in-cheek humor.

Two more flash fiction stories rediscovered in the dark corners of my file drive, A Mother’s Heart and Rare Reception, have both been accepted by The BOULD Awards Anthology. Both pieces lean towards the satirical. A Mother’s Heart is dark (do you see a theme here?) and sardonic and does not end up where you’re expecting! Rare Reception is more of a straight-up humor piece that I still clearly remember writing back when I accepted a job position that required me to help answer the phones. I hate answering phones. You have to find a way to make it fun. (Trust me – you do NOT want me answering your phone!) Expect to see the BOULD Awards Anthology late this November.

Publishing Updates And Other Insanity

Life has been crazy hectic this summer. I’ve been juggling monkeys and herding cats, and unfortunately, the time it takes to do this (trying to get a monkey to behave or a cat to stop ignoring you and obey are both very labor intensive chores) has greatly diminished my writing time.

And I’ll be honest here and confess that I get insanely cranky when I’m writing and get interrupted, and will usually just ignore whatever the interruption is until it goes away. But that wasn’t going to work this time. So, instead of creating new material with what scant time I’ve manage to squirrel away, I’ve spent those far and few between moments excavating old, forgotten about short stories from my file explorer, brushing them up, and submitting them for publication.

I’m thrilled to announce that my story, Here I Am, will appear in the fall 2021 issue of 34 Orchard, due out November 11th. Described as ‘a literary journal that takes you dark places,’ it was a perfect home for this piece, which, as the editor describes it, “is infused with a pervasive sense of sadness and regret that’s hard to escape; visceral work that illustrates the dark reality of our world; those internal things we cannot talk about, but we all know exist.”

I wrote Here I Am about 2 years ago. It’s definitely a departure from my normal mysteries, and I was reluctant to find out how it would be received. This acceptance was a lesson in ‘no risk, no reward’!

My story, Last Stop Of The Night, has been accepted for the next issue of Pulp Modern, themed 1981, which was, according to editor Alec Cizak, “a fantastic year for genre literature and cinema,” specifically in terms of horror. Which makes this piece . . . you guessed it! A horror story.

I wrote Last Stop Of The Night 6-8 years ago. Loosely based on a real life experience followed by a dream I had after, I felt this piece was a little too retro horror to appeal to a modern publisher. This acceptance proves that if you write it, there is a market and an audience who will appreciate it!

I’m also happy to share that my story, Money Talks, has been acquired by Murderous Ink Press for a new project they’re working on called It’s Always Raining in Noir City. A publisher of “crime fiction in most of its many and varied guises,” they’re an ideal publisher for this piece!

Money Talks, in it’s current form, was completed early last year. However, I’d been kicking around the core idea for this one for the better part of a decade, and had many false starts. I wanted to develop this idea into something serious and hard hitting. Once I let go of what I wanted to force it to be, the words flowed and I finally managed to complete the story. This acceptance proves that sometimes the story knows best – even better than the author!

I’m looking forward to life slowing down and more time opening up to write, but until then, I’ll keep making the most of it. I like reading through my old work (even when it makes me cringe) and applying what I’ve learned since into strengthening old pieces until they’re ready to see the light of day (or the page)!

For all you other writers out there, keep at it! Find a way to use what time you have wisely, and don’t be afraid to submit – there’s someone out there who wants to read it!

Publishing: 1 Month After Release (Sharing My Experience For Other Writers)

My collection of short stories was released in the US one month ago today. And while I’ve been published before (all of the pieces in the book featured my reoccurring character Detective Shaw and had previously appeared in a variety of magazines and anthologies), this was different. This book, every part of it, was mine.

There were no stories by other authors to carry the reader through if they didn’t like my writing, the style, the voice of the piece, the characters or the plot. If a reader hated this book, the only one they could find fault with was me. It’s a daunting thing, making yourself vulnerable, putting yourself out there like that. I didn’t know what to expect.

And, this being my first release, I had no idea what to do.

I didn’t do any blog tours. I didn’t even do a proper book release leading up to publication.

I wrote the stories, put them together, formatted them, etc., but that’s the easy part. Getting someone to read them is an entirely different, much more difficult task. Because obviously, that’s the goal, right? To be read? But how, exactly, do you get those readers?

I used my Bookfunnel account (I pay $20 a year, which allows me to offer a link for a pdf, mobi and epub file for up to 5 books, which is how I distribute a free copy of a short story to people who subscribe to my newsletter), to create a landing page for a free download of the book. I then took out an ad with a $15 budget on Facebook targeting mystery readers in the US, UK and Canada. I had 72 downloads.

I also posted on several boards on Goodreads offering free copies for review. I had about 25 people request a copy.

I offered a free download to everyone on my mailing list. Six people requested a copy.

So, in the first week, I managed to get my book into over a hundred hands. I actually only know 2 of those 100+ people.

I’m painfully introverted – it was difficult and awkward just posting requests for reviewers on Goodreads – and there I was, relying on the kindness of strangers. Crossing my fingers that I got some reviews. And that they were good. And that some of them ended up on Amazon. Because just a tiny bit of research will tell you that’s what it’s all about – after getting 50 reviews on Amazon, Amazon will start taking measures to advertise your book for you. What writer wouldn’t want that?

And then, instead of obsessing about it, clicking the refresh button every five minutes to see if someone had left a review or actually *gasp* purchased a copy of the book (I made myself wait at least ten minutes to refresh), I got back to writing. Now, one month later, here are my results:

16 ratings, 15 reviews on Goodreads, 6 reviews on Amazon, and 6 books sold. I even got a little Instagram love from the fabulous @Booking.With.Janelle!

I’m more interested in reviews at this point than in selling copies of the book, I believe that one will lead to the other. I’m happy with these results, and believe it’s proof that you don’t need a huge budget to advertise your book.

But I’m going to tell you what you do need – an end product that lets readers know you respect their time. Which means making sure the copy is clean by EDITING your butt off – then doing it again and again! Working on the formatting until you get it right. Resisting the urge to hound the people who directly requested a copy from you, asking where their review is.

And I’m going to say it again. EDIT. We’re all human. I’ve found typos in books distributed by the major publishing houses. And there’s no denying that it’s hard to catch errors on something that you’ve read over a dozen times, especially when you wrote it, because you know what it’s supposed to say. But, as writers, if we expect readers to make the effort to leave a review, we should first make the effort to make sure what they’re reading is our absolute best effort, whether that means reading the work out loud, backwards, one sentence at a time, trading edits with another writer, or all of the above.

The reason I’m harping on this is that I’m hesitant to read books by Indie authors myself because I’ve read so many that were error ridden. And a couple of the reviews I received remarked about the lack of typos, which means other readers have had this experience as well. The publishing world is changing. The gatekeepers have lost control and now anyone can – and does – publish their work on the various available platforms. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t make sure the book babies we’re releasing into the world aren’t quality work. Take the time, make the effort, and your readers will thank you (and read your next book!).

If you missed out on getting a copy of Detecting Fear and you want to do so, it will be available FREE on Amazon next weekend.

The Anatomy Of A Short Story : Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing

How do you write a short story?

Sometimes it begins with an idea, or a mood, but for me, most often, a short story begins with a hook. When I have the time and the inclination to work on a shorter piece, I don’t wait for inspiration to strike. I make it happen.

Usually this occurs during mindless tasks where I’m free to let my thoughts wander, like while doing the dishes or washing my hair in the shower. And it starts with a challenge:

  1. Think of a first sentence that’s shocking, or intriguing, or just plain grabs some attention.

When I land on a sentence I’m happy with, I use it as my launching point to develop a scene or a character or a plot by asking:

2. What situation might this apply to, who might say it, or what might it lead to or mean?

One of those answers will be stronger than the rest. Sometimes I get an image in my mind of the person who would say it. Other times I imagine a chain of events that the line sets in motion. Occasionally the overriding thought is the place where the character is or event occurs when the sentence happens, which dictates:

3. Whether the story is driven by character, plot, or setting.

Knowing that, I’m able to take the next step forward, juggling a few “what if” or “if, then” scenarios.

What if this character did that? OR If this happens, then that happens.

Example: A character is in trouble. What did they do to get in trouble? What will they do to get in trouble next? What will they try to get out of trouble?

This allows me to create at least two points in the story, which:

4. Gives me the jumping off point I use to begin writing.

Sometimes the rest flows organically, practically writing itself. When that doesn’t happen, I create momentum by answering questions like:

How can I create tension? What does my character want? How should I deny them that or make them fight for it?

Answering these questions often provides me with the crux of my story, which:

5. Gives me an endpoint to aim for.

But the process doesn’t stop there. In fact, I’m really only getting started once I have a first draft. Because then it’s time to edit.

6. The first round of edits I tackle the story, which means I have to ask myself:

Is this believable?

How is the pacing?

Do the characters/settings/moods/themes need to be developed better?

Have I created enough tension to keep the reader vested?

Is there something in the story (a feeling, an emotion, something experienced by the senses, etc.) that most readers will have encountered themselves at some point in their lives? (Giving the reader something to identify with help

7. The second round of edits, I address the structure.

Is my meaning clear?

Are my sentences easy to understand?

Have I bogged down the pages with too much description?

Is there too little description? Am I leaving my characters and readers in a wide, empty space?

Do the events segue smoothly from one to another or are there jumps?

Are my character’s actions consistent with their personalities?

Is there any information in the story that contradicts something else on the pages?

After answering these questions, I’m ready to:

8. Edit. Edit. And edit again.

Checking for grammar, punctuation, typos, etc.

9. Then it’s time to think about publication.

This is when I decide what genre or category the story best fits. Then, I research who’s open for submissions using Duotrope (which charges $5 a month for full access) and The Submission Grinder (free, but perhaps not inclusive).

10. Then I sumit!

Which involves carefully reading the requirements for each publication, making sure I follow directions, and a great deal of finger crossing.

This post came about because I realized I haven’t had any stories published this year – I haven’t even submitted because I’ve been focusing on a novel instead. So, I’m dedicating the next 6 weeks to brushing up a few old pieces, writing a few new ones, and submitting, submitting, submitting. Hope to have some acceptance news soon!

If you have any questions, I’d be more than happy to answer them to the best of my ability, based on my own experiences!

Thursday’s Thoughts On #Writing : Writer’s Block

See the source imageI’m a firm believer that if you have writer’s block, then you’re writing the wrong thing.

I know that doesn’t help when you have a deadline you have to meet, or when you come to a paralyzing halt at a crucial point of your latest manuscript, but sometimes it’s the pressure you put on yourself that builds that brick wall between you and your creative process. But sometimes it’s not.

If you find yourself staring at the screen, the blinking cursor mocking you with words you just can’t write, shake it up. Skip ahead and write a later scene. If that doesn’t help, work on something else. It’s a perfect time to explore that short story idea you’ve been contemplating, or to try your hand at a piece of flash fiction. A different genre. A children’s book. Poetry, anyone? (Limericks? 😉 )Even jotting down notes and a loose framework for a new manuscript can help shake the words loose.

bLike many people, I was struggling to write with the whole quarantine thing. And even though I know I have to shift gears when I hit the wall between me and my words, I didn’t want to. I LOVED what I was working on. But I couldn’t get much work done. I was wasting time and energy. So, I jotted down a few ideas, and one caught fire.

I wrote a brief synopsis to remind myself of the idea, and everything fell into place. The words flowed like water. I was fixed. So, I returned to my WIP. Made some progress, but it was stilted. It felt forced. I still loved it, but it was a struggle. The piece deserved better than that. Even though it broke my heart, I set it aside. I’ll return to it one day. It’s definitely a tale I need to finish, but now’s not the time. And that’s okay.

See the source imageJust like when your body tells you something’s wrong, your creative process can, too. Maybe I’ve yet to live the experience that will allow me to bring an added layer of depth to the story. Maybe, as the idea stews on the back burner of my brain, I’ll think of a great twist that I hadn’t planned and wouldn’t otherwise have thought of. Or maybe, the delay isn’t even about me – maybe it’s waiting so it can become the story a reader needs to find, when they need to find it. Maybe they don’t need it yet. Who knows how these things work?

Whatever the reason, it’s not the story I’m meant to write right now. Life is short, and writing, with all it’s associated stress and pain, headache  and heartache, should still make your heart sing. Don’t force what isn’t working. If you’re struggling to get the words on the page, find a different page. The important thing is to find something – anything – that gets you writing again. May the force be with you, may the odds be ever in your favor, and just do it!

 

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing: Characters Who Make You Care

Think of a book that made you care, that had you so invested in the outcome that you wanted to cry or shout or throw the book when things didn’t go the right way. When you think of that book, what is it that you think about? The setting? The plot? Or the characters?

For me, a good plot keeps me hooked, but a good character makes me feel.

Anne Of Green Gables. The Hunger Games. The gang from Harry Potter.

Would any of these books have such lasting and widespread success if the characters didn’t feel so real to the readers? I don’t think they would. Because these characters feel like someone we know. A friend. An ally. Someone we care about.

So, what is it about these characters that draws us in? What makes them feel so real?

I believe it’s their quirks. Their vulnerability. Their flaws. They have insecurities, they doubt themselves, they feel anger and shame and sorrow. But they also feel happiness and joy – just like a real person would.

Making sure your characters are well-rounded is what brings them to life.

So give them flaws. Make them doubt themselves. Make them feel and think things we’ve all felt and thought before, something the reader can identify with and have an, “I’ve felt that way too,” moment.

Happy Writing!

Here are some articles to check out if you want to some writing tips:

Character Development: How To Write Characters Your Readers Won’t Forget

33 Ways To Write Stronger Characters by Kristen Kieffer

15 Ways To Make Your Characters Suffer (For The Good Of Your Novel)

 

 

Thursday’s Thought On Writing: Character Consistency

When editing, character consistency is something that’s easy to overlook, but your character’s behavior and personality need to be true to who you’ve developed them to be. That’s not to say that the character can’t change and evolve over the course of the story, they can, but you need to include the reader in on the character’s inner journey.

For example, a character who is easy going and forgiving can’t suddenly have a wicked vendetta, and vice versa – a vengeful character can’t suddenly become forgiving – not without you showing the reader how the change came about.

I’m guilty of this myself.

Because sure, your MC is a kind, patient, wonderful human being except for that ONE person. And haven’t we all had that person in our life? That someone who just rubs us the wrong way, even if it’s for a reason we can’t quite pinpoint? It’s fine for your character to have that flaw too – you want your characters to be realistic. But just because YOU know that this is your character’s ONE person, it doesn’t mean your readers will know. If this is behavior that’s out of character for them, you need to address it somehow.

There are many ways this can be done, including internal dialogue or in discussion with another character, other characters discussing the MC’s uncharacteristic behavior, maybe even in conversation with that ONE person themselves – have them call the MC out!

Here are some articles to help you keep your character’s behavior and personality consistent:

5 Ways To Keep Characters Consistent by by Darcy Pattinson

Building Consistent Characters by M.L. Keller

Self Editing Advice: How To Tackle Character Consistency by Jessica Bell

Thursday’s Thoughts On Writing: Creating Suspense

I have a love/hate relationship with books that keep me up most of the night reading: I love when a story is so good that I can’t put it down! I hate the gritty, tired eye feeling in the morning (even if it’s worth it!).

And I know I’m not alone here. I know there are other readers out there pulling late nights with a good book. But what is it that makes us sacrifice sleep?

For me, it’s not the bam-bam-bam of action that keeps me reading. It’s the tension of needing to find out what happens next. The slow burn as the flame travels up the wick, getting closer to the stick of the dynamite, keeping me in suspense.

And here’s the thing – it’s not just thrillers that need that steady draw. Don’t all writers want to keep their book clutched in a reader’s hand? This applies to all genres.

Here are some helpful articles to help you develop suspense in your writing:

Just Writerly Things: How To Create Suspense In Your Story

The Write Practice: 7 Steps To Creating Suspense by Joe Bunting

Writer’s Digest: 6 Secrets To Creating And Sustaining Suspense by Steven James

Keep your readers hooked! Happy Writing!

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