Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Turning Knowledge into Strength

As somone who has long been hooked on detective novels and mystery novels, today's guest in My Writing Corner caught my attention immediately. My guest today is author Christopher G. Jones, PhD/CPA who goes under the pseudonym Topper Jones for his detective novels featuring surfing crime-fighter Thaddeus Hanlon and his sassy partner Bri de la Guerra. 

Before devoting himself full-time to writing, Jones worked in public accounting and higher education, where he taught accounting, computer information systems, and business writing. To be close to his family, he makes his home in the southwestern desert rather than his native California, but he says, every chance he gets, he treks the 450 miles to the Pacific Coast to get in a little “water therapy” and catch a few waves.


Let's find out more about Topper and his novel, All That Glisters. What do you find is the most challenging part of being an author?


Plotting, by far. As I explained nearby, in the question on the“road to publication,” when I submitted my original manuscript for review to a New York literary agency, I learned my masterpiece  was “unmarketable.” According to the reviewer, faulty plotting was the reason. Here’s what the agent wrote in his rejection letter:


“The problems that have rendered your novel less than marketable go to the very heart of the book’s conceptualizations. Plot structure is the first point because the structure of this novel contributes to its lack of success.”


I took the agent’s advice, shelved the manuscript, and decided I needed to learn a whole lot more about how to tell stories.  Eventually, I came across Blake Snyder’s trilogy on screenwriting—Save the Cat!®, Save the Cat!® Goes to the Movies, and Save the Cat!® Strikes Back. I just couldn’t put these books down. I even enrolled in one of the Save the Cat!®  workshops. There, under the tutelage of a Hollywood “script doctor,”  I was taught story structure and learned about the major plot points found in every tale. During the two days together, I had the opportunity to workshop my “novel in the drawer” until I had an outline for a “marketable” manuscript. 


The re-plotted original novel has been well received. The critics at Kirkus Reviews call All that Glisters a: “A tension-fueled mystery with plenty of twists and two appealing sleuths.” Their verdict: GET IT.  


I like to believe that by doing my homework,  my plotting weakness became plotting strength. Today when I write, I tend to “beat out” the major plot points in my novels, complete with scene cards. Each card has a short scene description identifying the Hero/Heroine, Goal, Obstacles, and Stakes along with notes on the emotional change from scene opening to scene close. 


As I write the scene, sometimes magic happens, and the “players” don’t behave as I expect. I find I end up channeling the characters, leading to surprises I never would have imagined during the outline phase of the project.


Listening to the Muse means trusting the “pantsing” side of my brain. When that happens, I’m more than happy to rewire the plot. So, for my writing process, it’s both plotting and pantsing. But, always plotting first.


Tell us about your road to publication.


In 1983, after completing what I thought would be a bestseller, I sent my manuscript off to a major New York literary agency for review and evaluation, hoping they would represent me as a client. I soon learned my book was DOA.


The feedback was scathing: “Returning your manuscript with my very deepest regrets since it just doesn’t add up to a marketable piece of work.” I put the stillborn novel in a drawer.


Fast forward forty years. Now with a year of graduate study in creative writing under my belt, attendance at workshops in writing commercial fiction, and the help of a developmental editor specializing in mysteries, I rewrote the abandoned proverbial “novel in the drawer.” When the second draft was done, I workshopped it with a local writing group. The only thing surviving the original draft was the preposterous premise on which the novel was based. What exactly was that preposterous premise? The answer is no mystery, but you’ll have to read All that Glisters to find out.


How did you come up with the idea to write your book?


How did I come up with the inspiration for All that Glisters? The year was 1977. I was working for a small publisher in North Carolina. Summer was slipping away, so I took my little family to Myrtle Beach, SC, for a little “water therapy” and a chance to catch up on my reading. Top on Publishers Weekly suggested beach reads: Robin Cook’s medical thriller Coma. I stayed up all night. Couldn’t put it down. I thought: If a physician can write a bestseller, why can’t a certified public accountant? We were both professionals. We both had the writing bug. All I needed was a preposterous premise. That’s when I came up with the idea for All That Glisters.


All That Glisters is an edgy contemporary whodunit involving financial skullduggery, high-level political intrigue, and a behind-the-scenes view of cyber sleuthing. 

Here’s the blurb:

When the facts don’t add up in his surf buddy’s bizarre death, forensic consultant (and daddy-to-be) Thaddeus Hanlon investigates, volunteering to go undercover to pick up where best friend Rafi Silva left off in a secret probe of the U.S. gold stockpile—every last bullion bar.

Rafi’s spunky fiancĂ©e, Bri de la Guerra, has suspicions of her own and soon joins Thad on the hunt for answers. Together, the two amateur sleuths delve deep, stumbling onto a financial a-stock-alypse in the making, triggering a brutal manhunt along the Eastern seaboard meant to silence anyone looking to set the ledger straight.

Let's get an excerpt:


Rafi, Bri, and I had been good friends throughout college. Marissa entered the picture a few years later but was no less committed to our bond as besties. There was nothing fake about our relationship. It was solid. Genuine.
 

“Okay, Bri,” I said. “You made your point. You feel Rafi had too much to live for, that suicide is implausible.”
 

“Impossible. And I can prove it, Thad.” Bri sounded certain like she possessed facts in evidence, that we didn’t have.
 

Marissa picked up on Bri’s assuredness, following up with questions of her own. “So, Rafi was murdered? You can prove that?”
 

“Not directly.” Bri leaned forward and got as close as she could to Marissa and me. “What I said was that I can prove Rafi did not kill himself.”
 

“We’re listening.” Marissa pointed to herself and then at me.
 

I made the left-hand turn from the Pacific Coast Highway onto the California Incline, a slanted road that connects PCH with Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica.
 

Bri started fidgeting with her engagement ring again. “Remember the Dodge Whitney staffer who conference-called us Thursday night with the news?”
 

I nodded. Marissa nodded. In my mind, I replayed Jenny Yu’s livestream of the crime scene. Her failed CPR attempt. And then my crazy request for her to rummage through Rafi’s pockets to look for a suicide note or some kind of clue.

 

“That night Jenny said something that didn’t quite make sense,” Bri said.


What’s your next project or what are you working on now?


Just this month, I submitted the manuscript for Book Two in the Thad Hanlon & Bri de la Guerra Mystery Series to my publisher. Here’s the blurb: 


Hanlon & de la Guerra have gone full-service. In this second book in the surfing crime-fighter mystery series, Thad Hanlon and his martial-arts-obsessed partner, Bri de la Guerra, hang out their shingle as newly licensed private investigators.


Now in addition to detecting white-collar crime, the two forensics experts do it all. Just about anything that requires sleuthing.  Even finding lost souls. 

 

All they need is a client. 

That’s when a former exotic dancer from Bakersfield CA shows up looking for her surf prodigy son who’s gone missing in the wake of a spree of cult violence terrorizing the California Central Coast. 

What advice do you have for beginning writers?


Workshop your work!


Whatever it takes, get feedback from people who are interested in your success. And be open to what fellow writers have to say. They can tell when something isn’t working, when characters behave out of character, and when your language isn’t capturing your intention. Listen and revise accordingly. 


You can often find writing critique groups at your local library or through state and local writing organizations. I found my “writing safe space” through Heritage Writers Guild, a local chapter of the League of Utah Writers. Each week the Writers Improvement Group (WIG for short) meets to review what we wrote since the last session. Knowing I need to have “something for WIG” motivates me to get words on the page. My critique group functions as both an accountability group and a sounding board. Everyone needs a little encouragement. Especially writers!  


Want to know more about crime fighting Thad and his partner Bri? You'll have to buy the book!  Here are the buy links and Topper's contact information: 

Thank you Topper for being my guest today on My Writing Corner.  Any questions or comments for Topper?

3 comments:

  1. Congrats on an informative article and an enticing introduction to ‘All That Glisters’, Topper. Meryl Brown Tobin

    ReplyDelete
  2. Terrific interview and advice. Just added Glisters to my kindle. Best of luck!

    ReplyDelete
  3. You are so right about working with a group. That can sharpen a story. Best on your book. It sounds good!

    ReplyDelete

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