Genre Chat – Tosca Lee – Thriller & Suspense

Genre Chat – Tosca Lee – Thriller & Suspense

Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of The Line Between, The House of Bathory Duology (The Progeny, Firstborn), Iscariot, The Legend of Sheba, Demon: A Memoir, Havah: The Story of Eve, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times bestseller Ted Dekker. A notorious night-owl, she loves watching TV, eating bacon, playAing video games with her kids, and sending cheesy texts to her husband. You can find Tosca hanging around the snack table or wherever bacon is served. A Single Light, Tosca’s highly-anticipated sequel to The Line Between, releases September 17 from Simon & Schuster and is available for pre-order now!




Caleb: Why did you choose to write thrillers?

Tosca: So I think sometimes we feel like we should write certain kinds of things. And I feel like a common mistake we can make at the beginning is to feel like we should write certain kinds of things when what we really like to read is something else. I’m a big advocate of write what you like, and I enjoy thrillers. I really like keeping readers reading late into the night, way past bedtime.

Caleb: One thing that impressed me about the Progeny was how you were able to weave suspense and mystery throughout the story even after some of the initial questions were answered. How did you accomplish this?

Tosca: So I think there always needs to be some kind of story questions. It doesn’t have to be your classic type thriller question of “who did it?” It can be a question of “will the girl get the guy,” or “will they get the job,” or whatever the goal is. I think there’s an overarching question, but then it’s really important to put those little hooks in along the way and pull the reader along.

Caleb: Do you do a lot of outlining ahead of time, or are you an organic writer?

Tosca: Well I’m a little bit of a hybrid, but I have to have an outline, and I learned that the hard way. I would love to be a panster. Steven James is a friend of mine and he’s a panster, and that’s the fun part for him. The fun part for me is not getting lost. And I will just get lost and write myself into a corner without an outline. I think people who can pants it are amazing, and I’m so jealous!

Caleb: How do you come up with your characters and discover their motivation?

Tosca: I always have to think about what are the stakes for this character, and I always think about what is the outside goal. But I’m always thinking too about the inner journey, and you know that’s something you hear writers talk about a lot, and so the inner journey is basically who does the character think they are, versus who are they really? So who do they think they are, who are they really, and how did they come to that at the end?

Caleb: How do you come up with your stories? How do you keep track of your ideas and what to make into a novel?

Tosca: I have folders on my computer where I will have sometimes longer documents with notes, and sometimes it is just one or two words, but I know what those one or two words mean. Ideas that you come back to a lot, that you circle back to are the ones that probably you should look into.

Caleb: How do you research your setting and immerse the reader into that environment? Even little details that most people don’t think about can plunge the reader into a setting.

Tosca: For the Progeny, every single place that is mentioned, I traveled to write that book. You draw from what you’ve got and then you MacGyver it together with duct tape and a paper clip.

Caleb: Do you have any parting words of wisdom?

Tosca: I have just a couple of rules for writing:

–          Write like no one will ever read this, because it gives you permission just be bold and not worry about what people will think.

–          Get the clay on the wheel. Don’t keep perfecting the part you’ve already done. The temptation is so very strong, but [for a first draft] just let it be a total mess and just get to the end.

Genre Chat – Tessa Emily Hall – Writing for Young Adults

Genre Chat – Tessa Emily Hall – Writing for Young Adults

Tessa Emily Hall is an award-winning author who writes inspirational yet authentic books for teens to remind them they’re not alone. Her first teen devotional, COFFEE SHOP DEVOS, released with Bethany House in 2018. Tessa’s passion for shedding light on clean entertainment and media for teens led her to a career as an Associate Agent for Cyle Young at Hartline Literary Agency, YA Acquisitions Editor for Illuminate YA (LPC Imprint), and Founder/Editor of She’s guilty of making way too many lattes and never finishing her to-read list. When her fingers aren’t flying 128 WPM across the keyboard, she can be found speaking to teens, decorating art journals, and acting in Christian films. Her favorite way to procrastinate is through connecting with readers on her blog, mailing list, social media (@tessaemilyhall), and website: Tessa is also co-host of Firsts in Fiction with Aaron Gansky.

Tessa is represented by Cyle Young at Hartline Literary Agency.

Show Notes

Caleb: Where did your writing journey start, and how did you become interested in YA?

Tessa: I was a teenager when I really started to pursue writing seriously. I started writing my first book, which was Purple Moon. I wanted to write for teenagers, not just because that was my age, but because I wanted to pursue ministry in some way. I felt like in some way God was calling me to write inspirational stories for teenagers – stories that they could relate with.

Caleb: What is it about young adult fiction that appeals to so many different age groups.

Tessa: It’s so cool! I think I even heard a study that said about 50% of readers of young adult fiction are actually adults. Just the teen angst… I think some of us can still relate with that sometimes. I love that age group, and I especially love the voice in young adult fiction, especially in the contemporary genre. I just love how a lot of the young adult fiction books are written in the first person point of view, because that allows me to get in the head of the character, and to hear their voice a little bit more.

Caleb: Do you do a lot of reading in the YA genre?

Tessa: Some people find it hard to [read in their own genre] because they start writing in that authors voice and style, but to me it kind of unleashes my voice a little bit more. I don’t copy that author, but it allows me to unleash my own voice. I read during my evening time as I’m winding down. Sometimes I’m only able to read five minutes a day, and I try to read at least an hour a day if that’s possible. I also listen to audio books.

Caleb: How can a YA author stay relevant in a market where the genre’s trends are changing so often?

Tessa: You really can’t predict the future of publishing. The thing is publishing moves at such a slow pace, and the process of writing a book is slow. you don’t know what’s going to be popular by the time your book is actually published. My advice is not to try and chase the trends. It’s important to understand and be familiar with what’s important, but you don’t know what’s going to be the next trend setter. Be familiar with what’s trending and write in a way that can be appealing to that target audience, but do it in a way that can bring something fresh and something new to the table.

Genre Chat – From the Archives – Literary Flair with Aaron Gansky

Genre Chat – From the Archives – Literary Flair with Aaron Gansky

In addition to being a loving father and husband, Aaron Gansky is an award-winning novelist, teacher, and podcast host. In 2009, he earned his M.F.A in Fiction at the prestigious Antioch University of Los Angeles, one of the top five low-residency writing schools in the nation. Prior to that, he attained his Bachelor of Arts degree in English with an emphasis in Creative Writing from California State University of San Bernardino, where he studied, in part, under Bret Anthony Johnston, now the Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University.

His first novel The Bargain (2013, Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) was a finalist for the Selah Award for debut novel. Two years later, The Book of Things to Come (2015, Brimstone Fiction), the first book in his Hand of Adonai YA Fantasy series, won the Selah Award for YA Fiction. He has written two books on the craft of fiction; Firsts in Fiction: First Lines and Write to Be Heard (with Diane Sherlock). To find out more about his books, visit

As a Creative Writing teacher in California, he brings his expertise on the craft to several writing conferences around America where he speaks on a variety of topics.

In 2013 he began his Firsts in Fiction Podcast with Steve McLain. Shortly after, Heather Luby joined the line up. Lately, he chats with his father, novelist Alton Gansky, about elements of the craft. Each week they dispense practical, in-depth analyses of how to write powerful fiction.

You may find Aaron on Twitter (@adgansky) and Facebook.

Genre Chat – Cristel Phelps – Lessons from an Editor

Genre Chat – Cristel Phelps – Lessons from an Editor

Cristel is “Saving the world from bad writing, one project at a time, all while drinking copious amounts of coffee.”
Cristel is part of the Serious Writer team, lending her editing expertise to writers at conferences and online. Mentoring and coaching authors through the editing and proposal process is what makes her shine. She is also a member of The Christian Pen and owner of The Editing House, where she edits manuscripts and other projects for the Christian industry.
Managing editor for Decapolis Publishing in Lansing, Michigan for 7 years.
Editing reviewer for CBA for 5 years.
Editing for Elk Lake Publishing for 4 years.
Deep POV edit is her specialty.

Show Notes

Does everyone need to hire an editor for their work?

Well I hope that everybody who’s listening or watching loves coffee. Because I actually spend my Saturdays over at Starbucks and there are actually three other authors that are there on Saturdays doing writing. We’ve had some wonderful chats, and every single one of them are indie authors and they all will pay for the editing because they know that there are errors in their babies. They realize their focus is just the writing. They want to tell a story, and they want to tell a good story, but they may not necessarily be good at some of the grammar, and some of the specifics that make it easier for a reader to understand what they’re saying. Even before you submit for a proposal, make sure it goes through a professional editor.

Where should the editing process begin?

I think that the last few clients that I’ve worked with have been writing long enough that they actually get people that are good readers that are friends of theirs that they call beta readers. They will send it out and have a friend of theirs read it and make sure that there are no questions in their minds. Beta readers are kind of the first line of editing, and it’s usually just a friend that loves to read. If an editor gets something that’s already gone through that process, it makes my job a whole lot easier. The less amount of time I have to work on a project, the cheaper it is for the author to get the job out there.

I think that the one thing that I enjoy doing the most is actually working with authors as I’m working on their book. I usually make a phone call as soon as I take a job, and I ask some very detailed questions. One of the ones that a lot of people don’t know how to answer initially is “when you’re reader is done with your book, what do you want them to feel like? What are the takeaways that you want them to have?” I’m honored to walk alongside an author in “birthing their baby.”

What are your pet peeves as an editor?

I think the hardest thing is people who are just extra wordy and they don’t need to be. I think people just want to read how you would have a conversation with someone. I think just telling people what’s in your heart and doing it in a conversational style makes it so much easier.

Basically words that we repeat a lot like, “that, and, of, very.” I just got done editing one where every other sentence was an exclamation point. The more exclamations, the more question marks and the more ellipses that you use, the less powerful they are.

What are some things new writers should know before going into the editing process?

We (as editors) are the watch guards of what you want your reader to read and come away with. So if I can make sure that I know the knowledge you want the reader to have at the end of the book, or the feeling that you want them to come away with, I can be that watch guard. I think probably the hardest part for a new author is having an editor ask them to go places they don’t want to go. Especially with a brand new author, I end up kind of holding their hand as we walk through. There’s a thing called a substantive edit. A substantive edit is where I literally dig deep into your story. Does the timeframe match? Are the words that you use correct for the time period? I have to walk hand in hand with an author and ask those kinds of questions.

What are some things writers should remember when submitting to publishers?

Always if you’re going to submit to a publisher, the very first thing that you need to do is you need to download a copy of their style sheet. Their style sheet will tell you how they want the document set up. Most style sheets will also tell you what the word count needs to be for each of their genres. If you submit based on their style sheet, you can pretty much be assured that they will at least read it. They will at least get started with it.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give to an aspiring author?

Don’t be afraid, and don’t be discouraged when an editor changes something. Don’t be afraid of the editor’s marks and changes. All they’re trying to do is make it better. Don’t feel threatened by it.

Genre Chat – Ane Mulligan – Southern Fiction

Genre Chat – Ane Mulligan – Southern Fiction

While a large, floppy straw hat is her favorite, Amazon bestselling author Ane Mulligan has worn many different ones: hairdresser, legislative affairs director (that’s a fancy name for a lobbyist), drama director, playwright, humor columnist, and bestselling novelist. She firmly believes coffee and chocolate are two of the four major food groups. Ane resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler who thinks he’s a teddy bear. You can find Ane on her website, Amazon Author page, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Google+.

Why did you choose to write Southern Fiction?

I don’t necessarily think I chose it. It sort of chose me, it’s just what I write. I live here in the South. I write about people where I live. It’s part of the romance of the South that’s a little bit different than some areas. Eva Marie Everson says, “We don’t hide our crazy relatives in the South. We put them on the front porch and celebrate them.”

What sets Southern Fiction apart from other genres?

My main way of writing is I always have an ensemble cast of strong women going through life together, warts and all. There’s usually lots of humor in what I write just because that’s how I view the world.

Where do you draw the inspiration for your stories?

Usually it’s just a basic idea. For my Chapel Springs Series, for the first book, it was an overheard conversation. It was about marriage, and what this young woman thought. I just ran with it. I thought, “If she thought that, a lot of people would too.” I just ran with it and it became a story.

What’s the difference between three dimensional characters and two dimensional characters?

Two dimensional characters are not fully developed. You’re main characters are fully developed. But two dimensional characters serve as a background like in a piece of artwork. If you don’t have that two dimensional background, the main thing doesn’t pop out. They are flat. They lack the depth. They’re only partially developed, and they’re very often stereotyped. They are vital in a novel.

What are some of the lies characters believe about themselves that drive their actions?

Amy Wallace taught me about this. She had studied psychology in collage, and that is where this came from. As a novelist, we can use it happening anywhere in their lifetime, but for most people their lies develop when they’re a small child, usually under five.

Typical lies people and characters believe about themselves:
– I’m a disappointment
– I’m not good enough
– I’m defective
– I’m too much to handle
– It’s all my fault
– I’m helpless
– I’m unwanted/unlovable
– I’m bad

Interestingly, one of my favorite ones is “I’m helpless or powerless to fix things.” That leads to a fear of being controlled, which is an interesting characteristic to give someone. This is where you can develop a lot of conflict for the story is with the lie they believe, and then it colors their hold worldview.

How do you develop the setting for your novels?

Most of mine are fictional towns. In my Chapel Springs Series, I based it on Dahlonega, Georgia and Black Mountain, North Carolina. I love the nostalgia of it; I love the smallness of it. I love that you can walk it all in a very short time. In the Southern Season book, my mayor had been asking me for ages to write a story and set it in Sugar Hill, so I finally did. And I had to take some liberties, because Sugar Hill never had a down town. It was a bedroom community that incorporated a little over 75 years ago. They have for several years been building a downtown, but for the book I had to take liberties, and just put it in an author’s note.

What does your writing process look like? Are you an organic writer or an outliner?

I’ve changed a lot, and the funny thing is I’ve gone the opposite of most. A lot of writers start out total seat-of-the-pants and discover they have to become an outliner. I was a total outliner and discovered I’m becoming more and more seat-of-the-pants. I need a plan to follow. I have to know some of the scenes. What am I going to do to get them there, and I’ll plot out about a third of the book that way, but not in a lot of detail. Then I just let the characters go, and they change all kinds of things on me.

What advice would you give to a new writer?

Enjoy your journey. It’s really rare that your first book is going to sell. I mean, that would be extremely rare. So finish it. Edit it. Move on, and just enjoy the journey that you’re on. I have made lifetime friends, deep friends. That’s part of the journey. Meeting people like you, and sharing and networking. For the Christian writer God has a time and a place. So let Him worry about that, and enjoy.

Genre Chat – Michelle Barfield – Contemporary Christian Fiction

Genre Chat – Michelle Barfield – Contemporary Christian Fiction

Author Michelle Barfield is a former first and second grade public school teacher. Now a stay-at-home mother of two, she uses her love of teaching to write children’s books. Michelle is the author of two children’s books: The Sully Bug and Weezy’s Wedding. Her debut novel, The Well, was released in 2014, and is currently being adapted as a Christian film.

Show Notes

Caleb: Tell me about your journey writing The Well.

Michelle: I have to start by saying it was a God thing. I had no desire whatsoever to write a novel. I was comfortable with children’s books. And God put this story on my heart, and I tried really hard to ignore it, but you know how that goes. You can’t ignore God but for so long. Finally, I shared it with my husband, and he said “You have got to write this story down.” I said, “I don’t even know where to start,” and he said, “Just sit down in front of the computer and start typing.” That was probably the best advice that I got. I sat down, and it just started to pour out like water. I have a producer that has committed the next year to The Well, and he is interested in doing a feature film.

Caleb: What was it like adapting your novel into a screenplay?

Michelle: With the book, you can write so much background. It’s much more visual with a screenplay. It was different, and I had a lot to learn. I kind of jumped in with both feet.

Caleb: What was it like transitioning from writing children’s books to writing for adults?

Michelle: I taught school for eight years, first and seconds grades, and I’m a mother. So I always feel like I have plenty of material for children’s books. I always felt pretty comfortable there. I was very intimidated with transitioning into the novel. I thought that I may spend all this time, and put my heart into it, and not be able to finish. But, God just put it out there. I probably, myself, would have never said “oh, I’m going to write a novel,” but I just had no choice.

Caleb: With this being your debut novel, what are some lessons you learned throughout the journey?

Michelle: I learned to write from your heart. Don’t try to force it. Don’t try to make it something. Don’t try to send it in a certain direction. Just write from your heart.

Caleb: What inspired your characters, and how did you go about developing the story?

Michelle: Several people who read it, thought that I based the main character, Ava, on myself. That was certainly not my thought process. She’s a doctor. She’s a missionary in Africa. As the writer, of course I put some of my personality in her. There’s a little bit of my mom, my dad, my husband, my son, my daughter. Little things that are each one of them.

Caleb: How did you research the setting and lifestyle of a missionary?

Michelle: Our church sends our youth group to Haiti. They have a relationship with a church there and they go often. I was able to talk to a lot of people who had been there. The Well, the whole thing behind that is that Ava, the doctor from the United States, she goes over as a doctor. Then she realized that one of the main causes of this illness there is water borne illness from drinking unclean water. So she reaches out to her contacts in the United States to put a well in that would help this poor, rural area. That’s very realistic to what’s going on in Africa right now. Just keeping it as true to life as possible.

Caleb: What advice would you give to someone working on their first novel?

Michelle: I would just say that if I can do it, anybody can do it. Write from the heart. Write what you love. Write what makes you feel that you’re doing something positive.