November 17 – 23: “Does the upcoming holiday season disturb the writing process?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5Does the upcoming holiday season disturb the writing process, or on the contrary, can it become a great a catalyst for the next story? This week ITW Members Bernard Maestas, Les Edgerton, C. Hope Clark, Rick Zahradnik, Mark S. Bacon, Ethan Reid, Susanne Leist and Arthur Kerns discuss the holiday writing season and more!


??C. Hope Clark is author of the award-winning Carolina Slade Mysteries and The Edisto Island Mysteries, four novels published by Bell Bridge Books, the current release being Murder on Edisto. Hope founded, chosen by Writer’s Digest for 101 Best Websites for Writers for 14 years. She’s appeared in The Writer, Writer’s Digest, Writer’s Market, Guide to Literary Agents, and more, and speaks across the country. Member of MENSA, SinC, MWA, SWA, EPIC, and NINC.


godwin_coverBernard Maestas lives in paradise. A police officer patrolling the mean streets of Hawaii, he has a background in contract security and military and civilian law enforcement. When not saving the world, one speeding ticket at a time, and not distracted by video games and the internet, he is usually hard at work on his next book.


last_wordsRich Zahradnik is writing the Coleridge Taylor Mystery series for Camel Press. The first, LAST WORDS, was published Oct. 1. Before taking up fiction full time, he was a journalist for 30-plus years, working as a reporter and editor in all major news media, including online, newspaper, broadcast, magazine and wire services. In January 2012, he was one of 20 writers selected for the inaugural class of the Crime Fiction Academy, a new program run by New York’s Center for Fiction.


The Undying by Ethan ReidEthan Reid received his BA in English with Writing Emphasis from the University of Washington and his MFA from the University of Southern California’s MPW Program, where he studied under author S.L. Stebel, Oscar-nominated screenwriter Sy Gomberg, and Oscar-winning screenwriter Frank Tarloff.  Born in Spokane, Washington, Ethan is a member of the Horror Writers Association, the International Thriller Writers and the Pacific Northwest Writers Association. Ethan currently lives in Seattle, with his wife and son.


Death in Nostalgia City for ITWMark S. Bacon began his career as a Southern California newspaper reporter covering the police beat. He later wrote commercials for Knott’s Berry Farm, the California theme park. His mystery flash fiction collection, Mysteries and Murder, was published by Ether Books. He is also the author of several business books including one named a Library Journal best business book of the year. His articles have appeared in dozens of periodicals including the San Francisco Chronicle.


deadgameFrom Susanne Leist: “I have always loved to read books. My goal has been to write a book different than any other book that I’ve ever read. And I believe I have accomplished this goal. The Dead Game has dead bodies and suspects like a traditional murder mystery. However, it also has humans, vampires, and vampire derivatives. It has plenty of romance and thrills. And don’t forget the haunted house–we must have one of these.”


Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000037_00028]Les Edgerton has a bit of an unconventional background in that he’s an ex-con having spent a bit over two years in prison for burglary, armed robbery, strong-armed robbery and possession with intent to sell. He’s since taken a vow of poverty (became a writer) with 18 books in print. Recent titles include: THE GENUINE, IMITATION, PLASTIC KIDNAPPING, THE RAPIST, THE BITCH, JUST LIKE THAT and THE PERFECT CRIME.


AfricanContract_coverArthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. In March 2013 Diversion Books, Inc. published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract and in May 2014 the sequel, The African Contract.



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  1. The holiday season is stressful for me, so I attempt to use it as a means to collect ideas, much as I used to do during staff meetings when I worked the nine-to-five. I recall a particular manager who unknowingly gifted me with great phrases, facial expressions and behaviors. During the holidays, reactions, conversations, and calamities offer opportunity that we achieve only during gatherings and major events. Stop still in a mall and watch the crazies. Focus on how each person opens their first gift. Study how individuals pretend to like each other as they shake hands at a party. And on the other side, search for genuine love spilling into the mix. Why not capitalize on the whole mess and take notes? When it’s research for you, it’s interpreted as less stress.

    However, the season also makes me appreciate disappearing into my writing, because I not only create a few more words, but I can use the process to collect my wits. Why not enjoy writing with carols in the background? Why not have eggnog by my computer instead of tea? Light a fire and fall into your next chapter.

    To me, the season only serves to heighten my appreciation for my tasks and needs as a writer, the good, the bad and the lovely insane.

    1. Hello C. Hope Clark,
      It’s nice to meet you. I agree that a true writer is first an observer. An observer of people and human nature. Who hasn’t stood back from others at a party just to watch. The music and the laughter blur into the background, and you can focus on how people move and on their facial expressions.
      The holidays bring us great material to write about.

    2. I agree with you! Recently I have found that talking with people you meet about being an author pulls them in. You share your blogs, websites, and give hints of what you are working on. People often show interest. Right now, I work at a day job. I jot notes on my breaks or when thoughts crop up I scratch them out quickly before caught. It is kind of thrilling at times. My best idea’s come at odd times. Keeping a pen and paper handy is a must!

      1. Hello Angela K. Crandall,
        I’m happy you were able to join us.
        My best ideas come to me when I’m swimming. No matter what way we choose to use, we have to keep on writing every single day. Many authors like you have to balance multiple things at once before they can sit down and write.
        I hope you have a great holiday season, and don’t overwork yourself.

  2. Deadlines, rather than holidays, dominate my life right now. My debut novel, the mystery LAST WORDS, came out in October. The manuscript for the next in the series, DROP DEAD PUNK, is due to my publisher on Jan. 1. So whatever I might want to do over the holidays, I need to write—rewrite really—flat out from now through New Year’s Eve.

    I’m under the gun because I spent a lot of time in the spring and summer preparing for the launch of the first book. (How much time is required for a debut author—or any author—in this world of ours is probably worth another discussion.) Later in the summer, realizing I was behind on book 2, I really challenged myself to pick up the pace. During a season meant for vacations and relaxation, I was writing a 2,300-word chapter a day, double my previous rate. This year, my holiday break will come in the first couple weeks of January, after which I’ll start thinking about book 3 and a separate middle-grade manuscript that needs a final polish before I can give it to my agent.

    1. Hello Rich,
      I’m impressed with the amount of writing you are able to accomplish in one day. Do you find that you are able to write quicker and better on some days than on other days? Or are you as creative each day of the year?
      For me, some days the words flow right out of me. Other days, I feel like I’m pulling teeth to get them out.

      1. I can relate to the holiday deadlines for manuscripts. I’ve endured two of those, and spent one New Year’s Eve going over edits. When you have deadlines, you find a way.

      2. Hi Susanne,
        Fear and a deadline had me writing that fast. I really had to move. There are definitely days where it comes quicker and others where teeth are being pulled (not sure if it’s ever better). For example, one week during the summer, I was chaperone/driver for Boy Scouts at summer camp. I allowed myself to go on the afternoon excursions to white water raft, a rodeo, kayaking only if I’d finished my chapter. One day, I didn’t so I sat and wrote until I did. When it’s like pulling teeth, I either have to work longer or I don’t make the goal. I’m definitely not as creative every day of the year. That comes and goes (more goes).

        1. Hi Rich,
          I’ve been trying to figure out why I write better on some days than others. I’ve found that my creativity comes and goes with the amount of sleep I’ve had. If I’m groggy, I can’t write one good sentence that I want to keep. Exercise and sleep are the best remedies for me.
          I hope you get a lot of those during the holidays. And some good presents.

          1. Sleep makes a big difference to me as well. But I’ve learned to show up regardless. The habit is important to achieve, and once achieved, each day becomes easier. I guess it’s like working the machinery daily to keep it from rusting and bogging down.

          2. I never thought I was a morning person. That is, I like to stay up late reading, watching TV, movies. I like to sleep in late (though don’t much anymore). Yet I write best in the morning. I’m half speed in the afternoon and quarter speed at night with frustration rising. And like you Susanne, if I’m too tired, I can’t write at all.

            I wrote much of my first book while working full-time as an editor. As a result, it took a long time to finish.

  3. Thriller Roundtable

    Topic: Does the upcoming holiday season disturb the writing process, or on the contrary, becomes a great catalyst for the next story?

    Les Edgerton’s latest novel is the black comedy crime caper, The Genuine, Imitation, Plastic Kidnapping, a madcap romp set in the Big Sleazy where two hustlers and a whore kidnap the head of the Cajun Mafia with a twist on the textbook ‘napping, in that they don’t snatch his entire body unit, but amputate his hand and hold that for dosh. Things don’t go as planned… This is his 18th published book. He is the author of The Rapist, The Bitch, Just Like That and others. Besides crime and noir, he’s written writing craft books (Hooked is regarded as a classic among writer’s how-tos), YAs, coming-of-age novels, short story collections, books on baseball and books on business. He can be found at his writing blog at

    Answer: It can’t “disturb” the writing process unless the writer allows it to. A professional writes each day—it’s one of the defining elements of being a writer. Someone who writes sporadically, or when “the muse descends,” or part-time, may have a book or books published, but that person is an author, which is not the same as a writer. A writer is a professional, not a hobbyist. If holidays can interrupt the process significantly, that doesn’t make the writer a bad person, but simply a writer who isn’t acting professionally. Our society doesn’t usually put a person down for that, so it’s not the most horrible thing in the world, but it does detract from their professionalism.

    Can it become a catalyst for the next story? Sure. Anything can be a catalyst for a story and holidays are no exception. Is it a better catalyst than others? Not for me, but it might be for someone else. As a writer who writes about criminals and crime, these two particular holidays provide opportunities, however. For example, if I’m writing a heist story, Christmas and New Year’s provide great material, simply because of the nature of the two holidays. Christmas is the single slowest day in the year for cops. In some municipalities, police forces may operate at half-force. Crimes are usually the lowest on this day. And, New Year’s is one of the busiest days for most police forces. That’s a day when overtime is common and everybody goes to work, especially in the late hours when drunks are everywhere. What that means is that the bandits may pick Christmas to perform their robbery on, simply because of the lack of a police presence. Conversely, a gang robbing a place on New Year’s Eve is at greater risk of being nabbed, simply because there are a lot more cops on the streets and available to handle calls.

    Another phenomenon of the holidays is that Christmas Day is traditionally the biggest day for suicides of the entire year. It’s also one of the busiest days for movie theaters. That’s because there are many lonely and depressed people who find themselves going to a movie—simply because they have no other place to go and be around people. Those are things that a writer can use to his or her advantage when crafting a story.

    So, whether a person celebrates either or both holidays or not, doesn’t matter as much to a writer as does knowing the peculiarities of each holiday—ripe material for stories that isn’t available on most other days of the year.

    1. Hello Les Edgerton,
      It’s a pleasure to meet you and to be on a panel with you. I agree that a holiday or for that matter, any occasion can be a great opportunity for a writer. I take along a pen and paper wherever I go, just in case I think of a new idea or a new twist for my book. We can’t turn off our minds. They are always working and churning, even when I’m swimming.
      Happy Holidays.

      1. I know my family gets a little wild sometimes at family gatherings. Do you ever get material and ideas from observing and interacting with a crazy family get together?

        1. Hello Elle,
          Thanks for the question. I have a crazy family. I married into this family. I will have material from their gatherings for years to come. Between Thanksgiving and Chanukah, I have accumulated many horror stories. This might be the foundation from which I created many of my unusual and dark stories. Shrieks and whispers in the wind might be the sounds of their voices still echoing in my mind.
          Thanks and happy holidays,

          1. I laughed when I read your comment about material from family gatherings (Thanksgiving through Chaunkah). It sounded like something from a Woody Allen movie. Have you ever considered going that route rather than horror stories. Your book, The Dead Game, is terrific and I’ve recommended it to many people.

          2. Hello Chris Birdy,
            I’m happy to hear that you enjoyed reading my book.
            I’ve been the class clown from Kindergarten all the way through graduate school. It’s hard to keep my sarcasm inside. It pops out even in my writing. I have to keep it at bay when I’m writing a horror story. I had to give one character in my book a sarcastic personality to satisfy that side of me. I hope you liked Mike. He’ll be back in the second book.

      2. Speaking of holidays and families, do any of your relatives see themselves as characters in your work? Do they dissect scenes believing they know of an event that triggered such a scene?

        1. OMG, my family all think they are in my books. And many of them are in small ways here and there. I have an ex-husband and a mother who have not read my books for fear of seeing reality. LOL But it’s a hoot listening to their thought processes.

        2. Hi Chris Birdy,
          This is a good question. My characters don’t resemble any people I know. The main character, Linda, may resemble me a little . Some of me is in her. But no one has noticed it or mentioned it to me.
          My family members don’t like reading books. One daughter does, but she feels like I’m talking to her in the book. She has told me that she’s too familiar with my writing to feel like she’s reading a book. That is what happens when you help them too much with their schoolwork. My husband read around 50 pages. I had to give up with all of them.
          Most people don’t want to be compared to a vampire or human vampire anyway.

          1. I’ve been asked by friends, not family, if they’re in the book. The answer is no. I take traits, bits, pieces from here and there to create characters. Someone’s hair or laugh or favorite word might inspire. I also get asked if my main character is me because he too is a journalist. He’s not. He’s braver, more single minded, more dedicated to the cause. He’d never get distracted by writing a novel.

  4. Similar to Rich I just had my debut novel, The Undying, come out in October and now face a January revision deadline for it’s sequel. So yes, I agree that deadlines drive much of the writing and editing currently, despite the season.

    For me, it’s not the holiday season that hampers the writing process as much as my son’s winter break from school. Thankfully they are very few days and I still disappear into my office while he keeps himself busy around the house throughout the afternoon (he’s eight now, so I don’t feel too guilty about writing or editing through the morning while he watches cartoons, reads and then begs his way to the iPad).

    I also find the holidays beneficial in the catalyst way, as the longer I’ve been in the writing process, the shorter time I find need to remove myself from a manuscript to gain perspective. Like a marathon runner needing a break every now and then, the writing muscle is well refreshed when school starts up again. For me it’s a livening of the thought process over the holiday break. The first few weeks of the New Year opens vistas of creation which lend to discovering nuggets that either make the current manuscript better – I see things I might otherwise miss – or create a vehicle into the next manuscript (or the one after that, too).

    While I might not be behind the desk quite as many hours as I’d prefer to be, I still work throughout and take copious notes over the holiday season. So I guess, in the end, the holidays both disturb the process but breathe new life into it, as well.

  5. Before my knees gave out, I ran on a regular basis at a certain time of day. If I skipped my run, the rest of the day I walked around having a nagging feeling that something was missing in life.
    Same thing with writing. I have to write every day at a certain time or I get very antsy. When something or someone causes a change in my program, irritation sets in.
    Now when the holidays arrive one is faced with all sorts of disruptions. Visitors, family, relatives arrive and demand attention—right when you’ve had a great breakthrough in that manuscript. Sure you need a break now and then to regroup and reboot, but aggravation still settles in.
    Then there’s the situation when you go on an extended trip to celebrate the holidays. Frustration begins simmering under the surface. Should I take my computer, or notebook, or my rewrites? What will everyone think of me when I barge in with all my paraphernalia then look for a quiet place to work?
    Now if you try to explain all this to a non-writer invariably you’ll be accused of selfishness, thrown an incredulous look, or worse hear the expression, “Oh, you writers.”
    Yes, there are times when situations during the holidays inspire a story, perhaps a comedy or a murder. However, does it become a great catalyst for the next story? Usually not for me, but then again there was that time when we traveled to New York when . . .

  6. Sometimes, isolation can pay off. Or maybe I just look for silver linings, who knows?

    Hi, everyone, happy to be back and kicking off another week of discussion! I’ll get my shameless plug out of the way: My second novel, “Godwin’s Law” dropped yesterday! Good reviews from advanced readers so far and there’s a piece about it in this month’s newsletter. Pick it up at your favorite online retailer!

    With that out of the way… I think the holiday season can be a productive time for me as a writer. Living far from most of my family and not being able to travel is difficult. My network of friends dries up a bit and my isolation ratchets up, so I have a bit more free time to write and more than enough angst to fuel it.

    What this topic brings to mind, similar to what Les had to say, is the infamous Christmastime heist. My first thoughts are of the original DIE HARD with its (at the time) shocking violence set against a backdrop of Christmas trees and a holiday party. I’ve seen some imitations of this formula, with all but a paltry few falling flat on their faces. Just mentioning this topic actually has a fresh idea percolating in my mind, but that’s another story.

    As Les mentioned and I can speak from my police experience, there are interesting crime phenomena around this season. Crime rates dip on the holidays themselves and soar on the surrounding days as people make up for lost time. New Year’s Eve is Christmas for cops as it’s an easy time to pad your arrest stats. Then, of course, there’s the suicides.

    There’s a scientific link between depression and suicide as well as depression and creativity. I won’t get into the chemical reactions behind that but I know, for me, bleeding onto the page is a great way to way to channel that.

    Oddly, though, I’ve found limited success writing in this season, though I don’t have much data to back that up. November is National Novel Writer’s Month, last years’ being a dismal disappointment. Also in the latter quarter of 2013, I wrote one of my favorite novels, my first mystery, BULLET TO THE HEART, which never saw the light of day. (Fortunately, that was revived as I blended it into two other novels to make my most recent novel, CONCRETE SMILE.) So far, this year I’m behind on my work, but given that I wrote a 74,000-word novel in a week, I’m sure I can finish my current project.

    But, I digress. I think my opinion is that the holidays are a great time for writers, between the stress and angst of the season burnt as fuel and the potential plots that abound.

  7. I believe that the holiday season pushes writers to pursue their craft with a greater vengeance. The season of shopping and merriment entices us and encourages us to promote our work. Who better to sell your book to than a market of eager and happy shoppers?
    I’ve been promoting my first book. I began writing my second book in the series. I’m even collaborating on a book with another author. We are pumped and ready for the holiday season.
    Will readers buy our books? Will they love our new promotions? Will they want to buy books as presents? We can only hope and pray. We hope and pray for snow so here’s another prayer. All readers, out there shopping and partying, please buy our books during this festive holiday season. Amen.

  8. First, after just returning from Bouchercon I seem to be drained of energy, yet energized with ideas and new friendships and ready to get back to the keyboard.

    The holidays/new year are a time for reflection and, for me, for expressing gratitude for my opportunity to write and publish–among many other things. Although I try to be grateful for each new day, the end of the year always makes me more reflective.

    That said, yes, the holidays do mess up the writing process–although as Les said above, only if you let it happen. But family and friends come first and at this time of year I’m juggling more things than usual, like participating in online forums. 😉

  9. Hello to you all! I have only read Susanne Leist’s The Dead Game, and am interested in finding out more about you all. But first I would like to ask her what made her want to write supernatural? I loved the story, and look forward to her upcoming book!

  10. What advice do any of you have for a new author to get promoted? Some say the hardest part of writing is the marketing/promotion. As a new author who just published a suspense/thriller Newborn Nazi, I would really appreciate any advice. Thanks

    1. Hi Rhoda,
      I agree with what Mark Bacon posted below. Definitely read that. It’s exactly what I’m doing, and I’m definitely in the camp of no six figure advance. Marketing/promotion is the hardest part of writing or only JUST as hard, depending on whether you’re someone who can naturally promote and do PR or you “hate all that miserable commercial stuff.” If you’re the latter, it’s harder. I’m the former, I’m doing it now and can say promoting the first novel takes as much time as writing the second.

      1. Promoting my first novel was pure torture. I constantly held the smile but OMG, trying to sell yourself as a new author is hard. Many people do not take you seriously. My second was almost as hard. I’m promoting my fourth right now, and I’m beginning to see parties take me more seriously. But you don’t reach three, four, or ten without enduring that first one. You just keep digging and working at it, because it’s part of the game you have to work through.

        But my advice is this….promote, be seen, guest blog, work social media daily. Absolutely daily. Appear in person when possible. Many die-hard readers find you better that way for some reason. But there’s no one place to go or one way to do it. No two authors publicize the same.

        1. Hi, C. Hope Clark,
          I haven’t made a public appearance yet. I was waiting to set up my market and my social media. Now that I have a presence online, I’m ready to step out from behind the computer. Do you have any suggestions as to where I should do this? I have one local bookstore that is small. There’s a Barnes & Noble about a half hour away by car. The book market isn’t the way it used to be with bookstore on almost every corner.

          1. I’ve appeared before civic groups, schools, indie bookstores, writing conferences, even a Christmas Fair at the local rec center where sales were very brisk! Have three B&N coming up (one Saturday in Charleston, SC) but that’s new territory for me, and I’m thankful for my publisher in making it happen. I even have an antique mall event coming up. To me, the worst events are those where you are competing against dozens of other writers (i.e., conferences and book fairs). The best are where you are speaking solo and selling afterwards. It’s slow going, but after several books and steadily chopping away at this promo business, you make headway. Nothing sounds better than “loved your book” except for maybe “I’ve heard of you!”

          2. Hi C. Hope Clark,
            You’ve been busy. I will begin slow with local bookstores and work my way up to conferences. What is an indie bookstore? Does it specialize in indie authors?

      2. An Indie bookstore is an independent small bookstore – not a chain. They are limited, but if you find one that loves you, they support you all day long. I’m supported by a handful who readily let their customers know about me. It’s a great relationship.

  11. Hello Rhoda,
    I’m happy to hear from a fan.
    My love of the supernatural began years ago with the original Star Trek series. I continue to watch T.V. shows featuring vampires and other supernatural characters. However, I only read mysteries and thrillers. That is why my book, The Dead Game, became a paranormal mystery. It has dead bodies, clues, and a cliff hanger.
    The cliff hanger will allow me to continue the story in future books. Since my book is bringing in sales, I have begun to write the second book. It should be available next year.
    Thank you,

      1. Hi Rhoda,
        The devious Wolf was killed, right? Or was he? Who was listening to the conversation between Todd and Linda at the end? Why did Hayden have so many powers? Was he a special vampire?
        All this and more.
        I’m beginning to sound like a commercial. That’s what promoting does to you.
        I hope that answers your question.

    1. Hello Steven Nedelton,
      I’m so happy you stopped by. I’ve been working on my second book, but life keeps interrupting. I believe the holiday season has already slowed me down. I have one weekend left before my daughters come home to visit. I’ll have to sneak into a closet to write.

  12. Rhoda, if you can afford it, I’d hire a publicist. Unless you got a five- or six-figure advance from your publisher, you can not expect your publisher to do it all for you. In addition, I would take community college/university extension classes in social media and in marketing basics. Attending professional conventions/ conferences such as Bouchercon, ThrillerFest and Left Coast Crime are also a big help. You can meet veteran writers and debut novelists and share info.

    1. Mark,
      Bouchercon will be in my neck of the woods next year, Raleigh, and I’m toying whether or not to go. Never been. How do you think it helped you? I’m eager to hear.

  13. Elle, Chris, C. Hope – Agree that certain family gatherings can be a rich resource for writers! The holidays disrupt routines, or create a whole new set of routines. Disruptions can be positive if the routines are obstacles – to new ideas, observation, research, work.

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