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by Milton C. Toby

J.B. Lynn always has been a writer, even when she was a child, and even now when she doesn’t have a pen in hand.

“I was that little kid who always had her nose in a book,” Lynn recalled, “who grew up to be the woman who still always has her nose in a book.  I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t a writer, creating problems for my characters, dreaming up impossible situations and spinning tales. I’m the kind of person who can’t see a handprint on the wall of an elevator without imagining half a dozen scenarios of how it got there. I’m never not writing, even if I’m not recording my thoughts.”
A mystery and suspense fan who cut her teeth on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, Lynn soon graduated to Ed McBain and Robert B. Parker.

“It was the 87th Precinct books by Ed McBain and the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker that probably influenced me the most,” Lynn explained.  “I still find myself comparing most villains to McBain’s Deaf Man and I test the moral codes of my characters against those of Parker’s Spenser and Hawk.

“Later I was entranced by James Patterson’s early Alex Cross novels and more recently I’ve become a semi-rabid fan of any of Allison Brennan’s books that feature the Kincaid family.”

Lynn’s interest in Brennan, a bestselling author who writes romantic thrillers and crime fiction, paid off when she was trying to place The First Victim with a publisher.  She characterized her novel as “suspense with romantic elements like the work of Allison Brennan” and wound up working with the editor who handled Brennan’s first few suspense novels.  The First Victim is due for release in June as an e-book original from Harlequin Books.

It’s the story of Emily Wright and her reluctant homecoming 15 years after barely surviving an attack from a serial killer the authorities dubbed the Baby Doll Strangler.  Back in her home town to take care of a younger sister while their father is hospitalized, Emily begins to relive the nightmare of the attack by the Strangler when one of her sister’s friends is killed and the body left in front of the family home.  Emily soon realizes that her sister also is in danger from the killer—and that the only person who can help is the man Emily left behind, Deputy Bailey O’Neil.

Combining a serial killer with a romantic storyline might seem an unlikely mix, but it works for Lynn.

“It’s definitely a balancing act,” the author explained about mixing genres, “but I think a romantic storyline can enhance a suspense novel because it raises the emotional stakes of the protagonist. Plus, it allows a reader to root for something and to hope that in the end, the trials and tribulations of the hero and heroine will result in something more than the defeat of the villain.”

A combination of genres in a single novel also has the potential for generating crossover readers, Lynn added.

“My target audience is the reader who enjoys a fast-paced read that features a sociopathic killer with a gruesome modus operandi, life and death stakes, a capable, yet vulnerable heroine and a strong, but flawed hero. I definitely believe that there’s crossover potential, especially since romantic suspense is such a popular sub-genre.”

The format of The First Victim—an e-book original—might have been a questionable marketing strategy a few years ago, before the digital revolution, but that no longer is the case.  With e-book sales soaring during the first quarter of 2011 (up 160 per cent over the previous year, according to Publisher’s Weekly), sales of print books lagging, and an author comfortable in a social media environment, it was a logical step.

“I must admit that I was slow to hop on the e-book bandwagon,” Lynn explained, “but their phenomenal success recently has changed my mind. As a reader, I’ve become spoiled by the ability to download books in mere moments. Talk about instant gratification! Not to mention that the quality of e-books has improved tremendously. Carina Press is the digital-first imprint of Harlequin. In addition to the e-book version, The First Victim has been selected to be produced as an audiobook and will soon be available through Audible.”

Lynn added that “e-books lend themselves well to promotion through social media,” and she is active on a number of platforms.  “In addition to my website, I’m part of the Killer Chicks blog , and I maintain a Twitter account (@jb_lynn_author). All of these allow me to interact with readers in a dynamic way. As for autograph collectors, I’m always happy to sign a The First Victim postcard.”

Looking ahead, The First Victim may be a springboard for a related story featuring a pair of FBI agents that play secondary roles in the first book.  Lynn also said that her agent is shopping a series of humorous crime novels.

“The series is sort of Carl Hiassen meets Lisa Lutz, with a healthy dose of J.B. Lynn’s warped bent thrown in,” Lynn said.  “I’m a big fan of old movies like Arsenic and Old Lace and The Thin Man series that managed to integrate humorous elements into crime stories, so in some ways, this is an homage to them, although my books are considerably darker.”

Lynn’s advice for aspiring authors is two-fold, one suggestion familiar, the other something of a surprise:

“First, write what you love to read. Don’t write whatever’s hot at the moment, unless you’re a fan of it.  I’ve tried it and it doesn’t work.  Square pegs just don’t fit into round holes no matter how hard you try to force them to.

“Second, write by hand.  In a world where we do everything on our computers, there’s something freeing about writing on paper.  Ideas flow.  You can scribble notes in the margins, cross things out, and circle important thoughts.  Yes it’s time-consuming to type up page after page afterward, but writing freehand makes the act of creation more organic, less manufactured.”

Milton C. Toby