Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Top Suspense Anthology currently at #127

Our Top Suspense Anthology is currently the 127th bestselling Nook Book at Have you gotten your copy yet? If not, find out what you've been missing! And don't forget, the action continues from our round robin story, The Chase, in our $0.99 ebook, Die, Lover, Die!


Thanks for all the comments last week, folks! Keep 'em coming! And just so you can plan in advance, here's our summer schedule of conversations. Be sure to join us.

July 5th and 6th: Sex and Suspense

July 18-19: Writing the Bad Guys

August 1-2: Great First Lines

August 15-16: The Best Character in Suspense awards

We're open for suggestions! Let us know if you have other topics you'd like Inside Top Suspense to discuss.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Die, Lover, Die! Now on Kindle for .99

This unplanned, round robin story by all of the members of Top Suspense Group is a non-stop rush from the opening line, and you can't beat the price.

Die, Lover, Die! by Top Suspense

Die, Lover Die! by Top Suspense is now available for $0.99 for the Nook, and soon to be available for the Kindle.

And don't forget the Inside Top Suspense discussion that will be going on all week.

Monday, June 20, 2011


Welcome to the launch of INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE, an ongoing discussion on the craft of fiction writing. Between us, the members of the Top Suspense group (you can see who we are on the right) have published literally hundreds of novels and stories, many of them best-sellers and award-winners. In the coming months we hope to share our knowledge with you.

Each week (or maybe two, depending on our schedule) several of us will discuss a topic related to the craft of writing and publishing crime, thrillers, and horror. We’ll let you know what’s worked for us and what hasn’t. But that's only part of the conversation. We'd also like you to join in. Ask questions, share reactions, tell us what works for you.

One caveat – this is not a place to BSP. While we might mention how a technique worked (or didn’t) in one of our novels, this isn't the place to advertise your work. We want this to be a forum that helps us all become better writers.


Our first topic is -- not surprisingly – suspense. What technique of suspense is most effective for you… and why? Thriller author Joel Goldman, whose first Lou Mason novel, MOTION TO KILL, has just been republished as an e-book, leads off, followed by Libby Fischer Hellmann. On Tuesday, Vicki Hendricks reports in, and Wednesday, the one and only Max Allan Collins. Finally, on Thursday, UK author and screenwriter Stephen Gallagher weighs in. During the week you’ll hear from the rest of us in the comments section as well. So, grab your favorite beverage, pull up to the screen, and join in. We hope INSIDE TOP SUSPENSE will become your favorite place to hang out!

Joel Goldman here and thanks to Libby for kicking things off. Suspense depends on several things. First, the reader has to care what happens to the characters. If they don't, the payoff is nothing more than a curiosity. Second, suspense has to build slowly at first and then accelerate with a combination of inevitability and unpredictability. The payoff can be something the reader knows is coming but dreads or something the reader doesn't see coming that leaves her gasping and shouting Holy Crap! Finally, the mix of plot and character has to make sense, even if it involves characters making bad choices or events that strain (but don't break) credibility. Don't confuse suspense with suspension of disbelief. And it never hurts to make your prose sing and zing.

Libby, here. I agree suspense has to accelerate, but one of my favorite techniques -- which you can only use during moments of high suspense and/or action -- is something I call "Literary Slow Motion." It's what William Goldman did in HEAT where he spent something like 6 pages describing 18 seconds. I love to s-l-o-w down the action using as many sensory details as possible... ie the hero has been knocked to the ground, and he sees a boot coming at him, feels the snow and ice on his cheek, hears a laugh from the enemy, tastes blood in his mouth... etc. The more details you can add, the more the reader is invested, and hopefully is compelled to keep reading.

I have a question for you, Joel... or anyone. How far can you strain credibility? How much is too much?

From Vicki
I'll let someone else answer that question and go on with my tip for the day.
The most well-known and easiest to explain suspense technique, the only one that I know of with a name, is called “The Ticking Clock.” The writer sets a figurative clock ticking or, in the case of the TV series 24, a literal clock. Other examples: the cop is given 24 hours to find evidence on the murderer to avoid being accused, the woman has 2 hours to get an antidote for her snake bite, or the scuba diver has half an hour of air left, it’s getting dark, and murderers are on a boat above her, looking for her bubbles. The last one is from my novel Iguana Love, and it was a challenge to think of a way out for the character with that set up, but knowledge of equipment always offers possibilities, while underwater vulnerability and lurking creatures keep the reader turning pages. Once the time is set in any story, the reader’s subconscious will keep the clock ticking to heighten the tension in every scene.

From Stephen Gallagher
My take on suspense is a pretty straightforward one, I think. You have a character with whom the reader empathises, who needs to achieve something. Bad things are going to happen if he or she doesn't achieve it.

As they set out, everything seems set for success. But then obstacles arise - immediate, unplanned-for problems that have to be solved before your protagonist can move forward toward the greater goal. Meanwhile, the bigger situation deteriorates and the bad consequences loom larger.

Solving the lesser problem may get your protagonist closer, but gives rise to further problems that will impede progress even more. This is where the art comes in. Those problems have to be entertaining, and the effect of the delays and diversions has to be a pleasurable one. Suspense isn't about making the reader uncomfortable. It's about deferring closure in a way that heightens the anticipation of it.

The reader is trusting you to deliver an ultimate reward. But there's only a slim chance of success for your protagonist. And it gets ever slimmer, the closer you get to it. Will that slim chance disappear altogether just as you get there, or will your protagonist make it in time? For me that's the essence of suspense.

From Max Allan Collins
I don't really think in terms of suspense techniques. I am an instinctive writer and fairly linear, and just set up suspenseful situations and let them play out, as dictated by character. The most conscious craft decision I make along those lines is where to start and end chapters. Like many, if not most writers of msytery/crime fiction, I try to start at an exciting point. I was raised on Mickey Spillane, and his beginnings -- and for that matter his endings -- are always the gold standard for me. In KISS ME DEADLY, a beautiful woman, (naked but for a trenchcoat) jumps in front of Mike Hammer's car, to force him to pick her up, in the first paragraph. So I am very careful to start at an interesting, compelling point. That strategy works for the first chapter, but really every chapter. And the end of the chapter -- yes the cliff-hanger -- is equally important. The idea is to make the reader start reading, and keep reading.

Another technique -- really a strategy -- is to play against the reader's expectations. In a thriller there are certain conventional situations that can't be avoided, so giving them a fresh spin can keep the reader guessing and ratchet up the suspense. In the Nate Heller novel I'm working on, a very cliched moment arrives -- two thugs show up to take Heller for a ride to see a mob boss. But Heller knows these guys are killers and just goes Nancy Reagan on 'em ... just says no. He says he will follow them to the mob boss and will take the meeting, but will not get in the car with them. No violence breaks out, but the threat of it hangs over a very tense scene.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

More Praise for Julius Katz and Archie

Wendy reviews Julius Katz and Archie over at the Minding Spot, and wraps up her review saying:

"Another superb Julius Katz and Archie mystery! Their are clues revealed through-out for the reader to try and figure out who the killer is, with Archie leading the way. But Julius always does something "off-screen" to trip Archie up. The plot it tight and sound, having this reader guessing the whole way while being thoroughy entertained! Archie is one of the best characters out there in mystery and suspense. Very cleverly written -- I can't wait for the next one!"

Friday, June 17, 2011

A Chat With The Little Guy

I have a friendly chat with Archie here.

If anyone has additional questions they'd like me ask Archie, or even possibly Julius, leave them here, and I'll see if I can get them answered.

--Dave Zeltserman

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Why I Donate Royalties "For the Kids"

“Flesh & Bones” a bestselling Jake Lassiter thriller, is now an e-book priced at 99 cents for a short time. TSG author Paul Levine explains why he has pledged all royalties to childhood cancer treatment.

By Paul Levine

In the United States today, one in 300 children will be diagnosed with some form of cancer. All of us have friends or family members who have fought that grueling battle. These days, with great advances in medicine, there’s a increasing chance the fight has been successful.

Yet, progress seems excruciatingly slow for those on the front lines.

A few years ago, one of my dearest friends, the godfather of my son, lost his daughter Margaux to Ewing’s sarcoma, a rare but vicious bone cancer. Another friend, a well-known author, has lost both a child and a grandchild to the disease. The survival rate for Ewing’s sarcoma that metastasizes is a disheartening 10 per cent.

Ten per cent!

In this age of medical miracles, how can that be?

After Margaux’s death at age 14, I dedicated a book to her. Such a feeble gesture. I wanted to do more. Still do. Here’s how.

“Flesh & Bones,” a legal thriller in which Jake Lassiter falls for his client, a woman who may have murdered her own father, was published internationally to wide acclaim in 1997. Out of print for many years, it’s now a 99-cent e-book, with all proceeds going to the Four Diamonds Fund, a charity that pays for treatment of pediatric cancer patients at Penn State Hershey Children’s Hospital.

This is my second venture into publishing for charity. Last summer, my first novel, “To Speak for the Dead,” was brought out of retirement as an e-book and produced thousands of dollars for the Four Diamonds Fund. That book introduced the world to Jake Lassiter, a linebacker-turned-lawyer who searches for justice but seldom finds it.

Penn State students have adopted the Four Diamonds Fund as their cause and have contributed an astonishing $78 million through their annual dance marathon, which goes by the slogan: “For the Kids.” This year’s event raised more than $9 million alone.

One more thing. If each of us can contribute – just a bit – we may help do something everlasting “for the kids” by conquering childhood cancer.

“Flesh & Bones,” priced at 99 cents for a short time, is available on Kindle, Nook, and at Smashwords. More information on Paul Levine’s Website.

A Cool New Cover for Dying Memories + free copies

To celebrate this cool new cover for Dying Memories, I'll be giving away free copies to the first 5 people who ask for one. Send me an email to and let me know whether you'd like a kindle or nook version.

--Dave Zeltserman

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Stoker Awards

The Horror Writers Association Stoker awards ceremony will be broadcast live and advertisement free Saturday June 18th. The feed will begin at 9:30 PM EST at this web address:

I'm up for a Stoker for Best Collection (A Host of Shadows) and plan on losing to some guy named Stephen King. Happy Father's Day!
Harry Shannon

Monday, June 13, 2011



The final countdown is on for the launch of the ebook edition of Motion To Kill!! In only 48 hours - absent any last second techno-glitches, my first self-published ebook will go live on Amazon and I can't wait!

Help make the launch rocket through the roof by going to my Amazon page and "Like" Motion To Kill and read the reviews (all 5 and 4 stars!) and click "Yes" on each one as a helpful review. Amazon loves these kinds of statistics and the more "Likes" and the more "Yes" clicks, the more Amazon will promote the book and the happier my wife will be!

And, if you prefer another format besides Kindle, you can order it right now on Smashwords!

Stay tuned! It's going to be a great week!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

13 Facts About Julius Katz

1) Julius Katz is a brilliant, eccentric and, ultimately, very lazy detective, who like another brilliant, eccentric and lazy detective, Nero Wolfe, needs to be pestered by a sidekick named Archie to work. But there are distinct differences between Julius and Nero, just as there are between Nero’s Archie Goodwin and Julius’s Archie.

2) Julius owns a townhouse in the Beacon Hill section of Boston, while Nero resides in Manhattan.

3) Julius is a wine connoisseur with an extensive wine collection, while Nero drinks beer.

4) Julius is handsome, physically fit, and a 5th degree black belt in Kung Fu. Nero is none of those, weighing in at one seventh of a ton.

5) Julius is a womanizer, at least he was before he fell madly in love with Lily Rosten, who did the same with Julius. Nero is afraid of women.

6) Julius’s favorite pastime is gambling, especially poker. Nero’s is taking care of his orchids.

7) Julius is a gourmet, as is Nero.

8) Julius’s arch nemesis on the police force is Detective Mark Cramer. Nero’s is Inspector Cramer.

9) Julius’s favorite freelance PIs to hire are Saul Penzer, Tom Durkin and Willie Cather. Nero’s are Saul Panzer, Fred Durkin and Orrie Cather.

10) Julius has a bit of a larcenous streak in him. I haven’t done a family tree yet, but I suspect he shares some DNA with my con man Pete Mitchel.

11) Julius will only allow himself to be pestered by Archie into taking a case when his funds have reached dire levels.

12) While Nero’s Archie Goodwin is a flesh-and-blood hardboiled PI, Julius’s Archie is something entirely different, although he has the heart and soul of a hardboiled PI.

13) While fiercely loyal of Julius, Archie dreams of beating his boss to the punch in solving case. Maybe some day it will happen.

About Julius Katz and Archie

The award-winning Julius Katz mysteries have delighted thousands of mystery fans since first appearing on the pages of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine in 2009, winning a Shamus, Derringer and Ellery Queen’s Readers Choice Award. ‘Julius Katz’ introduced readers to Boston’s most brilliant, eccentric and possibly laziest detective, Julius Katz, as well as his sidekick, Archie, a tiny marvel of whizbang computer technology with the heart and soul of a hard-boiled PI. Now in Julius Katz and Archie’s first full novel, the stakes have never been higher when a famous Boston mystery writer, Kenneth Kingston, tells Julius he wants to find out who’s planning to kill him. The problem is almost everyone in Kingston’s life has good reason to want to kill him, and this case soon plunges Julius and Archie deep into the world of murder and publishing. Julius Katz and Archie is available for #2.99 as either a Nook or Kindle download.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Black River Falls, classic noir

Harry Shannon here. Our colleague Ed Gorman's classic mass-market noir novel "Black River Falls" is available on Kindle for only $2.99!