Mystery Mondays: Brenda Chapman – The Art of Creating Killer Suspense

9781459730960What an honour it is to have Brenda Chapman as my guest today. She’s the author of Cold Mourning,  My Sister’s Keeper, Second Chances, The Second Wife, In Winter’s Grip, Trail of Secrets,  Where Trouble Leads, Hiding in Hawk’s Creek, Running Scared, and When Boomers Go Bad.

Tumbled Graves is scheduled for release on February 27th, 2016. I’ve pre-ordered my copy and won’t that be a nice surprise when it arrives on my kindle in February.

If her list of books is not enough to entice you to keep reading, Brenda is sharing some wicked writing advice today.

The Art of Creating Killer Suspense by Brenda Chapman

Cold Mourning - smallAlfred Hitchcock was a master at drawing an audience into the lives of his characters while ramping up tension. Hitchcock used techniques that crime writers have long recognized as keys to successful story-telling.

The art of creating suspense is tied to an author’s ability to have readers care about their characters. Without first building this connection, the reader is never fully engaged and the frisson of fear or anxiety as the characters face danger cannot be fully achieved. The litmus test for an author is the sympathy we also feel for our characters…and how difficult it is to kill any of them off.

In writing one of my earlier novels, I planned to murder one character, but when the time came, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, I killed off another character of whom I hadn’t grown as fond, but unfortunately, the book ground to a halt. I had to go back and kill off my originally intended victim. The book ended up being stronger for it, and I eventually got over the loss.

Butterfly Kills coverHow do we make readers care about our characters? For me, the back stories are key: revealing what matters to the characters, their fears, hopes, friends and family. They have to have human failings that everyone can sympathize with and relate to while exhibiting some trait that makes the characters likable. Seldom are people all good or all evil although in crime novels, somebody has to be amoral enough to kill. Revealing what led them to kill can be used to make them human, especially if readers can see themselves in some part of the scenario, although hopefully not the hitting someone over the head with a blunt object bit.

Giving characters difficult or painful secrets is another great way to build tension and draw readers into their world. Officer Kala Stonechild is introduced In Cold Mourning, where I reveal that she grew up in foster care and helped hide a murder when she was ten years old. I take my time filling in her back story over the course of the series, sharing some of her secrets while she works on murder cases and struggles to form relationships. I give the other main characters different but equally flawed personal histories, secrets and troubling dilemmas.

I even share inner dreams and problems for minor characters, who might pop into the story for a chapter. For instance, in the third Stonechild and Rouleau mystery Tumbled Graves, which will be released in early 2016, a long distance transport driver, who is only on stage for one chapter, shares the physical alienation he feels from his family when he is away so much, but also the love he has for his wife and kids that keeps him returning home.

Once the reader cares about the characters and doesn’t want anything bad to happen to them, the time is ripe to add the ticking time bombs—a husband with a gambling problem, a child hooked on drugs, a vindictive ex-lover… The key is to introduce potential problems and slowly twist the tourniquet so that characters and readers are on the edge of their seats, waiting to see what happens next…who makes it to the finish line in one piece.


Thanks to Brenda for sharing her advice with us.  As a special photo, I’ve included my signed copy of Butterfly Kills.


Publicity photo 5 2011You can find out more about Brenda and her works at

Thanks for reading, and please share your thoughts on writing advice or ask Brenda questions in the comments section.

If you’d like to buy one of Brenda’s books, just click on one of her book covers above and you’ll be taken to Amazon.

Announcing Mystery Mondays

Promoting Reading – Promoting Authors

It is my pleasure to announce I will be hosting a series called Mystery Mondays.  Authors from many genres who write with a hint of mystery will tell you about their books, answer your questions about writing and share their thoughts with you. Every Monday, you’ll be introduced to another author and maybe discover someone you’re not familiar with.

The opening line-up of Mystery Mondays authors:

Character Driven THRILLERS: Luke Murphy, July 20th

Psychological HORROR and YA THRILLERS: Michael Conn, July 27th

Adventurous Women SLEUTHS: Catherine Astolfo, August 3rd

THRILLERS for Adult and Children: Donna Galanti, August 10th

A Formidable Calgary DETECTIVE: Garry Ryan, August 17th.

Dangerous Amateur SLEUTH: Debra Purdy Kong, August 24th

MYSTERIES with a Hugely Successful Sleuth: Rosemary McCracken, August 31st

Mystery, History and Romantic SUSPENSE: Alison Bruce, Sept 7th

Screwball COMEDY Capers: Melodie Campbell, Sept 14th

Amateur SLEUTH with an Edge: Judy Penz Sheluk, September 21st

Exciting Police THRILLERS: Brenda Chapman, Sept 28th

Gritty and Psychological THRILLERS: Barbara Fradkin, Oct 5th

Sassy yet Vulnerable SLEUTH: Phyllis Smallman, Oct 19th

International best-selling author Cheryl Kaye Tardif will be posting…the mystery is on what date. She’s booked. We have her. So stay tuned to find out.

Click on the blue-green-ish highlighted author names above and you’ll be taken to their page to find out more about them, or even better, order their books and experience a fantastic read.

If you’d like to be hosted on Mystery Mondays, come back here next Wednesday and I’ll tell you how.

Thanks for reading… And please share to help spread the word.

Unveiling of DESCENT…A little more…

You’ve probably noticed I’m having fun with the upcoming release of DESCENT. So here’s a big piece of the fun. Award winning author of the Inspector Green mysteries, Barbara Fradkin, provided a quote for the cover of DESCENT. I can hardly contain my excitement.

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If you haven’t read Barbara, now’s your chance! Here is where you can find her first Inspector Green novel, DO OR DIE.

For the inside cover, I was very lucky to receive quotes from Brenda Chapman and Garry Ryan. Check out Cold Mourning by Brenda and Queen’s Park by Garry. These are the debut novels in their series.

In case you haven’t seen their quote, I just have to share them again.

“Murder rocks the competitive ski world in Stanley’s layered tale with enough suspects to keep readers guessing until the last chilling chapter.” –Brenda Chapman: Award winning author of the Stonechild and Rouleau Mysteries.

“From the first line, you’re strapped into a Stanley novel. Just turn the page, hang on, and enjoy the ride.” –Garry Ryan: Award-winning author of the Detective Lane mysteries and Blackbird trilogy.

Full cover coming soon…

If you haven’t read my blog before, I’ve signed on with Imajin Books and will blog about my publishing adventure. I’ll share what I learn and hope it helps someone out there get their novel published.

Thanks for reading.


The Writing Process Blog Hop

Calgarian Garry Ryan, author of the Detective Lane mystery series and the Blackbirds Trilogy, asked me to be part of the blog hop. Of course I said yes to Garry. You may have heard of the Crime Writers of Canada. When Garry was the president, I was lucky enough to have him as my mentor as part of the CWC mentorship program. Garry worked by my on my Manuscript, Burnt, which has since been nominated for the Debut Dagger by the Crime Writers Association in the UK. How could I not be excited to follow Garry in the blog hop?

This is your chance to get a looking inside a writer’s  mind, or in this case many minds if you follow the blog hop.

I have tagged two author friends to take part in the blog hop. The bio’s are listed below. Please check out their blogs too 🙂

Now to the reason for the blog hop:

What Am I Working On?

I read somewhere that life as a writer means having homework for the rest of your life. There is aways something to work on, whether it is writing, researching, social networking, learning, editing or proofreading. Then there is the query letter, blurb or synopsis to be written. Now add in my blog. All are part of being a writer and all can be very engaging tasks.

On the writing scene, I currently drafting the fourth novel in the Stone Mountain mystery series. The series takes place in a fictitious ski resort located in the depth of the Purcell Mountain Range in British Columbia, Canada.  The protagonist, Kalin Thompson, is the director of security and human resources at the resort in continually finds herself torn between running investigations and her friends who live in the small community. She can’t look for suspects without looking at one of her friends.

For editing, I am working on Look the Other Way. The novel takes place in the Bahamas and is a spin off from the Stone Mountain mystery series.

How Does My Work Differ From Others in It’s Genre?

Drugs and the drug industry gets a lot of focus in the BC press. i try to stay away from the topic. There are many great books by BC novelists that delve into this area. I’ve chosen other crimes, typically the type committed by an every day individual who has been pushed beyond their limits. I try to make wilderness living and wildlife interaction a character within my books.

Why Do I Write What I Do?

One night, while I was living in Germany, I tried to go to bed early. A company driver was to pick me up at 4 a.m. to take me to the airport. I was nervous about a presentation I was to make in London, England and wanted a good night sleep. Here’s where a small decision I made changed my future path. I picked up a novel, Moonlight Becomes You, by Marry Higgins Clark. It starts out with a woman trapped in a coffin. Now how could I put that down before finding out how she got out of the coffin. I read through the night until my car arrived. Exhausted, but excited, I knew I wanted to write something that would keep a person from going to sleep, even when they knew they needed to be their best for the coming day.

I write about the Purcell Mountain range because it’s a magical place. I write about human resources and security at a ski resort because I have experience in the field. My job at a ski resort was the best job of my life and writing about the industry is a way for me to keep it with me.

How Does My Writing Process Work?

Variety. That’s the key for me. Morning’s are usually better for me if I want to get more words on the page. By the end of the day, I’m better at researching or working on my online platform. I like to write without interruption, as I’m sure most of us do, but I’m pretty good a tuning out the world around me if I can’t find a quiet place. Mostly I write on a computer, but sometimes a pen a paper get my creativity moving.

To create a first draft, I decide on a crime and start writing. I develop my characters as I go. By the end of the first draft, I usually know who committed the crime, but that might change in a later draft. Once the draft is done, I create a spreadsheet and start a detailed analysis of each scene. This is where I look for the empty stage, errors in timing, too much or too little of something and so on. Once I’ve written several, okay many, drafts, I send the manuscript to my favourite readers. At this stage I ask for them for notes on when they think they know who committed the crime, if they skim any sections, if something is unclear, and if they feel connected to the characters. i don’t ask for proofreading at this stage. That comes later before I’m about to submit to my agent.

As soon as I submit to my agent, I start on my next novel. The writing business is slow, and this is a good time to focus on new work and not agonize about the words I’ve sent out.


Fellow author friends are:

Charlotte Morganti will post on July 28th:

Charlotte Morganti has been a burger flipper, beer slinger, lawyer, and seasonal chef de tourtière. And, always, a stringer-together-of-words. Her first novel, The Snow Job, was a finalist for Crime Writers of Canada’s Unhanged Arthur award in 2014 for the best unpublished crime novel. You can find out more about Charlotte’s fiction at

Brenda Chapman will post on August 11th.

Brenda Chapman began her writing career with the Jennifer Bannon mysteries for young adults. More recently, she writes the Stonechild and Rouleau police procedural series – Cold Mourning was released from Dundurn in 2014 and Butterfly Kills will be on the shelves in early 2015. Brenda also writes the Anna Sweet mystery novellas for Grass Roots Press, with My Sister’s Keeper shortlisted for a 2014 Arthur Ellis Award. Brenda is a former teacher and currently works as a senior communciations advisor in Ottawa.
Brenda’s blog link:

Thanks for reading . . .