Highly popular mystery and romantic suspense thriller author Meb Bryant is our guest on Author CenterStage for a round of questions on her writing experience. Meb has published titles in mystery suspense and romantic suspense. Her fiction has entertained readers through many nights! Meb, thanks for joining us and answering questions!
Meb Bryant: Thank you, Candi, for the flattering introduction. I’m excited to share my writing experience with you and your readers on AuthorCenterStage. I wish I’d made the decision to become a writer much earlier.
Candi Silk: You’ve got plenty of company on “starting earlier.” I’ve gathered several frequently asked questions from readers to share with you. So, let’s begin with a couple of key questions: How did you arrive one day with pen, ink and paper in your hands as you began your first novel? What tipped the balance scales of your motivation to write the first word, the first page?
Meb: My dream of dreams from an early age was to become a writer, but I hid the idea in my heart and never shared it with anybody. After a hospital visit that ended with me in the intensive care unit, I decided to start marking items off my bucket list before it was too late. When my health returned, I sat my derriere in the chair and started typing.
Candi: So after that kick-start, what was your first novel, and what were the early challenges you faced in writing and publishing it? What were your feelings the day you published it?
Meb: My first novel, Harbinger of Evil, is set in 1963 New Orleans’ French Quarter. It’s about the murder of a wealthy businessman and the generational secrets that lead up to his death. Throw in hard drinking NYC Detective Richard Mobey, Alaskan oil, CIA operatives, the Mob, the JFK assassination, and add an erotic twist for a spicy literary gumbo.
Trust me, I’ve had several challenges, but the most difficult was learning to use a computer for something other than rudimentary functions. At the time, the learning curve almost broke my spirit, but I was determined.
The first time I held a printed book with my name on the cover I clutched it to my chest like a long lost friend. I think I cried. Creating a novel is like giving birth…without the anesthesia.
Candi: That’s a wonderful description of the agony and ecstasy of writing. How far back does your history go with books and reading? How old were you when you first noticed your desire to put words on paper to tell a story? What were early influencers, books, people?
Meb: I learned to read at an early age when Santa Claus brought me a record player and records with accompanying books. I would sing along and read the words. Many times during the writing process I wonder if I should’ve been an opera singer. My mother bought record player needles by the dozen.
Right after I learned to read, I decided to begin my writing career by carving MEB into my parents’ new furniture. Being an only child at the time, I was the primary suspect. After being interrogated for hours, I finally confessed to the crime with the stipulation that I not be spanked. They weren’t pleased with my first autograph but they sure bragged about it.
Candi: Ahh, now I understand how your crime scenes are written with the voice of experience. LOL! Currently you have 5 published titles listed on your Amazon Author Page. What are the details that led you to write and publish in the mystery suspense thriller and romantic suspense genres? Do you have a favorite genre?
Meb: I love to read in the mystery/suspense/thriller genre and appreciate a bit of sexual content thrown in for good measure. As a legal secretary, I typed almost a hundred words per minute. When I write fiction, my WPM slows down considerably, but when I write sex scenes, my fingers sail over the keys. Know what I mean, Candi?
Candi: Oh, yes; keys are permanently scorched! How many of your books are set in your home state of Texas, USA? Have you experienced any particular backlash from local citizens? (I’m thinking of Thomas Wolfe and his novel, Look Homeward Angel, that was set in his hometown, Asheville, North Carolina.) I’ve read your explosive Killing People. How does that novel figure with this question?
Meb: With the exception of Harbinger of Evil, all my works are set in Texas, particularly around Houston and The Woodlands. So far, thank goodness, nobody has complained about me bringing mayhem and death to their imaginary neighbors. Several readers have mentioned they identify with the locales I’ve written about and find it surreal when I know which direction the sun sets or what flowers are in bloom. Write what you know.
Candi: And readers are good at catching the smallest of details. One of the most popular fiction genres today is the thriller category. What are the ingredients or elements that turn a plain vanilla thriller into a mystery suspense or romantic suspense thriller?
Meb: I don’t usually write about blood and guts, but I do try to tap into a reader’s fear to produce a visceral reaction. For example, our society is vulnerable through our children, who are helpless and unable to defend themselves. When faced with that threat, the fear is palpable.
I’ve noticed that humans have a natural aversion to snakes and I like to tickle that terror. Several of my friends say they will not go into a dark bathroom after reading Harbinger of Evil.
Candi: No wonder Harbinger of Evil is so popular! What is a typical writing day like for you? When does it begin and end? And do you use a lot of expensive equipment or materials in writing your novels? Can you write with background noise or do you prefer quiet?
Meb: I don’t have a typical day of writing. Wish that I did. My husband and I have owned a small corporation for many years, and I work full-time at that job from my home. That said, I’m my own boss which means I can write all day if everything aligns. Though I like to write in my pajamas, our customers prefer that I dress. I can only write when my muse shows up and she’s a cranky old biddy who likes to play tennis.
I write on an HP computer with a large monitor for easier reading. With the exception of a ringing phone, I’m able to block out all noise, including a TV that sits a few feet from my desk.
Candi: Sounds like my kind of writing studio. A frequently asked question for authors is: What has been your experience with writer’s block, and how do you deal with it or prevent it?
Meb: I’ve lived in writer’s block my entire life and try not to panic when the creative juices get dehydrated. I’ve learned to accept my limitations, realizing I can write only when I’m in a creative mood. Of course, I’m more creative when my behind is at my desk and not on a tennis court, but I need the exercise to keep the muse happy. If the muse ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Candi: To what extent do your story characters shape your novels? What do they add? Isn’t it enough to just tell the story sort of like a newspaper article? You know, just lay the facts out? What distinctions do characters bring to a story?
Meb: We’re told that stories are either character driven or plot driven. I find my stories are a hybrid since my characters drive the plot, especially the flawed characters. When you ask about the facts, I think of the old TV show Dragnet, “Just the facts, ma’am.” I believe ‘just the facts’ works for true crime, but not so much for genre fiction.
My characters drag their human frailties around like a ball and chain. It’s my job as the writer to set them free to succeed or fail. Bad guys don’t always do bad things and good guys don’t always do the right thing.
Candi: You just described the mosaic of humanity. How do you conceptualize or layout the plan or your approach to the plot for a novel you’re about to write? What’s the time sequence like? Is it scribbled on a napkin over a cup of coffee or over a period of days or weeks? And what are the particular challenges of the process of solidifying and nailing down the plot? What are the challenges facing an author when doing research for writing the book?
Meb: Writers fall into two categories: plotters or pantsers. Plotters plot a story from beginning to end before writing the first word. Pantsers fly by the seat of their pants and create as the muse unfolds. I once plotted an entire novel on a board with color-coded notes and pens. It’s a lovely piece of art, but I can’t find the creativity to finish the piece. I fear my muse took offense to the plotting concept. I’ll finish that piece when my muse goes on vacation.
After completion of a project, I move on to a new idea and imagine the story’s start and ending, like I’m watching a motion picture. Then, I set the muse free to help me connect the dots. I’m unable to remember creative thoughts when I’m away from my desk, and will write on anything so as not to lose an idea. I try to keep a pen and scratch pad in my purse, car, den and bedroom. After the ideas are typed on a Word document, I trash the bits and pieces of paper (and napkins).
When I read a book for entertainment, I also want to learn a few facts. I love to do research and share what I’ve learned with my reader, but find it challenging not to write an info dump. If you find that I have, please forgive me.
Candi: I believe you’ve had experience with writers’ groups. Is that something you would recommend to beginning writers and why?
Meb: Definitely. I’m a member of International Thriller Writers, Mystery Writers of America and Romance Writers of America. Of the three, I think RWA provides an excellent source of information for the mature writer as well as the new writer. Even though I don’t write romance novels, I try to include a strong romantic element or sexual content in each story.
Candi: Your writing is seasoned just right! How long does it take you to write and publish a book, from start to finish? It must be easy and simple with all the advanced technology available today. Are there any major ups and downs during that process?
Meb: From the time I start writing a book to the day I publish is usually about a year, provided the muse cooperates and life doesn’t get in the way. Novellas and short stories are quicker. With today’s technology, there’s really no reason not to write a story if a writer has the talent.
For me, trying to land a literary agent was an exercise in futility and frustration. With the introduction of e-readers, sales of printed material has dropped drastically. I believe thirty-three percent of book sales are now electronic. Literary agents are feeling the pinch. Once I abandoned the querying process, I set my sites on starting my own publishing company and haven’t looked back, although I find discoverability a major challenge.
Candi: So you’re saying writing and publishing is not 100% easy. So, what advice do you have for a person, let’s say my neighbor down the street, who says she wants to write a book? She’s got this great idea for a bestselling novel. Should she enroll in the nearest college writing class, buy 10 books on writing, or what?
Meb: I don’t think I know the correct answer for anybody who wants to write a book. Just write the story. Research the Internet and read everything you can find on how to write, how to query, how to indie publish.
Personally, I feel writing is a God-given talent that needs constant exercise. No matter how long I stay in writing, I plan to continue sharpening my skills through workshops, reading material on writing, and attending conferences with knowledgeable speakers. Keep learning your craft.
Candi: Great advice! Okay, time for a challenge question: You’ve just been notified that you’ll be teaching a university course entitled: Writing Your First Romantic Suspense Thriller. What 3-4 points or pillars would you consider essential to the course?
Meb: Goal, motivation, conflict. The two love interests should have a goal, motivating factors, and conflicts hindering the success of this goal. Placing one or both parties in peril contributes to the novel’s suspense. A multi-layered antagonist intent on doing harm sharpens the suspense. It’s imperative that the story concludes with an HEA (Happily Ever After) ending.
Candi: Let me know where you’re teaching; I’ll register right away! You’ve pulled me in with the HEA. So, what are the biggest challenges facing new writers today? Sources vary, however it’s been reported that Amazon has over ten million titles (books) listed on their website.
Meb: Due to the volume of e-books on the market, I find the biggest challenge for writers, except for big name authors, is discoverability.
Candi: What are the challenges for readers in selecting “good reads” from that many choices? What’s your best advice for readers on how to choose an entertaining/interesting book?
Meb: When I’m looking for a good read, I rely on word of mouth or search the Kindle Store categories. When I find a book that looks interesting, I read a sample before purchasing.
Candi: That sample can be a determining factor. If you could start your writing career over what two or three things would you do differently and why?
Meb: If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn’t have spent a year searching for an agent. I would have started a mailing list earlier.
Candi: That seems to be a frequent discovery and realization. Okay, isn’t it enough for a writer to simply have all the facts for her story and just write it and publish, or to what extent does the writer’s imagination play a part in crafting a page-turning novel?
Meb: A writer’s imagination is the source for the writer’s voice. Unique.
Candi: Some have said writing is not an end result, but a journey that never ends. Do you agree or disagree with that and why?
Meb: For me, writing is my way of leaving a footprint behind after I’m dead. A baring of my soul. When I finished my first novel, I handed the typed pages over to my grown daughter, an English major. She took the pages and promised to carefully read every word. Moments later, we were both surprised when I snatched the pages back. For some reason, I couldn’t bear to part with my work. We did this back and forth a few times until I finally felt comfortable giving my baby away.
Candi: Your writing has your fingerprints and impressions from your heart all over it! From what I gather, many years ago (think post early printing presses) authors and readers rarely connected or communicated. A reader was lucky to just read the written book. But today the Internet is one huge gathering place where authors and readers communicate freely. How do you feel about those dynamics and how do both authors and readers benefit from that kind of environment? How do you enjoy making and keeping in contact with your readers?
Meb: I draw energy from my readers’ enthusiasm. I’m always surprised when they discover something in my characters that I didn’t. I get excited when they love, or hate, the characters I’ve built with a blank page and a keyboard. I love my readers, especially the reader who takes the time and energy to write a review or send me an email.
Candi: What are the advantages of the Kindle, Nook, and other e-reader devices? Isn’t there something to be said about a real paper and ink book in hand as one sits by the fireside of home and reads?
Meb: I’ve been a reader a lot longer than a writer, and reading a paper book is a sensual act for me. I love the feel of the page, the smell of the ink, the sight of the words on the paper. That said, I can’t afford to purchase too many print books. I’m a voracious reader and appreciate the affordability of e-books. Cheaper prices mean I can buy more reading material.
Candi: Meb, you apparently have a varied background and one rich with many experiences, including the business world. How has that contributed to your writing?
Meb: As a child, I had the privilege of being exposed to many adventures while living across the Deep South and Alaska. As an adult, I enjoyed employment as a legal secretary and real estate agent until my husband drug me off the tennis court to start his own company. Dealing with the public is fodder for writing fiction.
Candi: Another challenge question: According to various surveys the average American reads fewer than 10 books per year. Which of your books would you recommend they read next, and why that book?
Meb: If the reader knows where they were when JFK was assassinated, I think they’d enjoy Harbinger of Evil set during the ten days surrounding his death. If the reader enjoys a more contemporary read about vigilantism and snipers, Killing People might be a good choice. I’ve written short stories and novellas for the reader with limited time.
Candi: Both of those themes tap into current day popular tastes in books. Now for the big question: What can readers look forward to from the writing studio of Meb Bryant in the next 12 months?
Meb: The muse and I are pounding away on the sequel to Killing People. The bad guy is scaring my critique group and me. The printed book and e-book should be completed by the fall.
Candi: Since I enjoyed your novel, Killing People, I look forward to reading the sequel! Meb, thank you for taking time to share your thoughts and giving us an inside look at your fascinating writing world.
Meb: Candi, I’m flattered you invited me to AuthorCenterStage, and hope I’ve given a morsel of information to your readers and future writers. Thank you for having me.
Candi: Here’s how you can experience the entertaining writing of Meb Bryant, author of mystery suspense, and romantic suspense thrillers:
Meb’s Online Links: