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Writing tips: ‘Alpha Wolf’ author on e-books and creating plot May 12, 2009

Posted by Diana McCabe in Authors.
Tags: , , , ,

How do you craft a sexy paranormal story where the town is a character? What’s it like to write an e-book? I asked  Linda O. Johnston, whose latest novel ALPHA WOLF is a mix of shapeshifter lore, Military macho, romance and whodunit! She’s also written e-books for download to the Kindle. Her next release: BACK TO LIFE, due out in June. (Is that a hot cover or what?!!) backtolife

Q. In ALPHA WOLF (check out a review here), you do a great job about writing about place. A rural town in Maryland called Mary Glen. Was it based on a town you’d visited? Why did you pick that setting?

A. I wanted a setting that was remote, a fictional area that might not have a huge population. My husband and I own some property south of Baltimore and I’ve visited the Eastern Shore, so that naturally came to mind when I was considering a place.

Q. The town itself becomes a character. How hard was it to balance that aspect of the story with the love story and the mission of Alpha unit without the book becoming overly long?

A. I’m glad to hear Mary Glen feels like a character, since that was my intent. I love placing stories in locations that fit well, whether fictional or real. And as with all “characters,” Mary Glen and its quirks and inhabitants had to be interwoven with the rest of the people and plot.

Q. Talk about plot. So many writers get stuck there. How do you convert a tiny speck into plot? How do you know your plot doesn’t stink?

A. Before I actually start writing, I first will describe the story by stream-of-consciousness on the computer, then flesh it out into my own version of screenplay plotting on a form I developed for myself that I call a “plot skeleton.” That’s seemed to work best for me. I also run the concept by friends who are critiquers and help me brainstorm anything that appears not to work.

Q. You switch between mystery/romance and paranormal. How do you make that switch? (Unless you can just flip a button in your brain and on it goes!)

A. I’ve prided myself for years on being able to easily switch from one kind of writing style to another. I started out in advertising and public relations, and wrote articles for a small newspaper as I tried writing my first fiction. Then I became a transactional lawyer, and have enjoyed for years writing contracts on the same day I write novels. I don’t know if there’s a button in my brain, but switching from dark, sexy paranormal stuff to light cozy mysteries is fun, yet not as much of a challenge as switching from drafting a contract to writing fiction. Or maybe that’s not as much of a switch as it should be!

Q. When you’re writing about romance, how do you choose the words to use in the love scenes? We can all go through the various lists, but if you’re just starting out — any advice??

A. I’m a great believer in pointing one’s subconscious in a direction and then letting it spew out a scene. That also helps in writing love scenes that are comfortable for the writer. Of course I edit. And the genre or subgenre I’m writing in also makes a difference as to how graphic to be. My advice would be to let your imagination go wild–as wild as you’re comfortable with, and as wild as the genre you’re writing in will allow.

Q. I see that Nella’s story (CLAWS OF THE LYNX) is available as an e-book and you can also download it on Kindle. Why an e-book and how is it doing? claws

A. Nocturne Bites are shorter stories, around novella length. Like other e-books, CLAWS OF THE LYNX is available for now only as a download onto readers like Kindle, or onto computers, too. CLAWS OF THE LYNX will be available in print form later this year in an anthology along with other Bites–Awakening the Beast. And I believe LYNX is doing well online.

Q. Is there anything different about writing an e-book?

A. I’ve written short stories and novellas as well as full-length novels. Each format presents challenges. In the shorter stories, you don’t have as much time to introduce characters and plots, but it’s fun to figure out how to write them.

Q. How did you get your first book manuscript published?

A. I’d already published mystery short stories, including one that won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award for best first mystery short story of the year. I became one of those authors with a dozen manuscripts under the bed, though. My last novel manuscript before I sold was a time travel romance in which the hero developed a scientific way for traveling in time. In those days, having too many genres included in one book was the kiss of death. I kept getting “good” rejections for that one–editors and agents who loved the story and my writing, but told me that a contemporary, historical, sci-fi, romantic suspense story couldn’t be sold. That’s when I discovered the genuine subgenre of time travel romance and wrote A GLIMPSE OF FOREVER, in which the heroine just touches fossils to travel in time–nothing scientific about it. It sold! And I’m glad that, today, those kinds of artificial genre restrictions don’t seem to apply any longer.

Q. How does a typical writing day unfold?

A. I’m still working on that one at the moment. Years ago, when I had a young family and full-time law job, I’d get up an hour earlier than anyone else and use that time for my writing. Then my sons grew up and I became a part-time lawyer instead, and I felt I had to get my law projects out of the way first before concentrating on my writing each afternoon. These days, I’m looking for more law projects but am currently a full-time writer, and I’m not as organized about it as I’d like. If I don’t have a deadline looming, I generally will work on several projects on the same day. If I do have an impending deadline, I concentrate on that story.

Q. You have kept your full name — Linda O. Johnston — for all of your books? No second pen name? (And what does the “O” stand for?)

A. I want to brand myself as a versatile writer, so I use my real name for everything so far, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t use a pseudonym if it appeared practical–for example, a real change in what I’m writing. I once had a reviewer say “O” stands for “outstanding”… but it’s actually the abbreviation of my maiden name. I use it to distinguish myself from all the other Johnsons and Johnstons who are out there selling books. Besides, it’s fun to be Linda O! for some stories and Linda O? for mysteries!

Q. Any other advice to writers?

A. Write, learn your craft, don’t be afraid of critiques, and join writers groups like Romance Writers of America to network with others who are interested in the genre you’re pursuing. alpha

Check out part 1 of Linda’s interview (Q&A: Her Alpha Wolves Practice Safe Sex) and more about ALPHA WOLF here.


1. amy - May 20, 2009

Just wanted to note that Nocturne Bites stories like Claws of the Lynx aren’t just for Kindle — they’re ebooks that are available from any ebook retailer like Sony, Fictionwise, eReader, eBooks.com and Harlequin’s eBook Store.

2. Diana McCabe - May 21, 2009

Thanks Amy. We have so many options now for downloads. Thanks for the reminder! — Diana

3. Q&A: Vampire author on juggling full-time job with novel writing « Paranormal Romance - June 13, 2009

[…] O JOHNSTON: ‘Her Alpha wolves practice safe sex’ and CLICK HERE for her writing […]

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