As Lauren and Michael Casey bicycle through Miami’s Coconut Grove, Michael races off while his wife is preoccupied with changing gears. When she gets up to speed, Michael is out of sight. She anticipates he will surprise her by coming up from behind and tapping her on the shoulder. It doesn’t happen. After a fruitless search, she reports him missing. Later that evening, she is mortified when she learns he was murdered.
For our first interview of the new year, we’re pleased to welcome Lynn Sheft, author of the suspense thriller, The Deadly Game.
Interviewer: Christina Hamlett
Q: Tell us a little about your journey as an author. Who or what would you say had the greatest influence in inspiring you to pick up a pen…or put fingers to a keyboard?
A: When I was in eighth grade, I was assigned to write a true story and asked to read it aloud to my class. I told of my attempt to bake cupcakes on my own for my Girl Scout troop’s bake sale. I had success with the cake part; it was the frosting that was a disaster. I selected a boiled frosting from my mother’s cookbook without any knowledge of using a candy thermometer. The frosting was soupy, but I put it on the cupcakes anyway. When my mother got home from work, she asked me why was there was a grainy puddle on the cupcake. With no time do repeat the recipe, she advised that I should just buy prepared frosting in a can. She asked my Dad to get it for me. I had to remove the icing puddle so I scraped it off and then wiped the rest off with a sponge. When the class heard that, they erupted in peals of laughter. I was thrilled that I could entertain them. I also got an “A.”
Q: What attracted you to the genre of suspense/thriller for your debut novel?
A: I enjoy reading suspense/thrillers.
Q: Are there suspense/thriller novelists whose work you especially admire?
A: Dennis Lahane, Joe Finder, Ken Follett, Andrew Gross, B.A. Shapiro, and last, but not least, Stephen King.
Q: Many people walk around for years with a book idea in their heads but there seems to be no shortage of real or perceived obstacles that keep them from ever starting. What convinced you there was no time like the present to make that dream a reality?
A: I realized that time is precious so I decided to publish before it was too late.
Q: Where did you get the idea for The Deadly Game?
A: The idea came from my Sunday bike rides through Coconut Grove with my husband, Barry. Just like the character Michael in my novel, Barry would race off and hide. When I least expected it, he would appear out of nowhere and tap me on the shoulder. Naturally I screamed. It was on one of those bike rides that I came up with the idea. What if he failed to appear?
Q: They say write what you know. Your protagonist is a senior copywriter in a Miami advertising agency. How much of the story comes from your own experience?
A: The story comes from my own experience with the employees and the type of projects I managed.
Q: Particularly in suspense novels, the physical setting can be as compelling and mysterious as any of the characters walking around in it. What do you believe are some of the elements that make Miami such an effective backdrop for your plot?
A: Miami is an international city featuring different neighborhoods that have their own distinct culture: Little Havana, Little Haiti, Liberty City, Coconut Grove, Downtown, Coral Gables and Key Biscayne. The population is as diverse with people from all walks of life: Billionaires, drug dealers, businessmen, and artists all making a living, including the street peddlers hawking bags of limes at the intersections.
Q: Plotter, pantser or a combination of both?
A: I am a plotter. I start with an idea for the plot. Then I make a list of characters and everything I know about them. Next I start outlining chapter by chapter. This process gives me the opportunity to formulate the story so I know if the plot is suspenseful. Then I begin writing. Of course, I may change things while writing, but I least I have the solid foundation.
Q: How much research do you typically do?
A: I do enough research so that I have the facts right. I’ll interview experts in their field, and view maps so what I write is correct. I actually did arrange to take a lie detector test so the scene in the book is realistic. I also arranged with a yacht broker to go aboard a vessel as described in the novel. The yacht was magnificent and I was amazed to learn it required a full-time crew.
Q: Do you allow anyone to read your work while it’s still in progress or do you make everyone wait until you have typed The End?
A: In this novel, I teamed up with another writer working on her romance novel. We exchanged a chapter a week and commented on each other’s work. It kept me on task and I appreciated her feedback. I did the same with my second novel, Saving Maria that I expect to publish in late summer. For my third, I had a mentor from Mystery Writers of America read 25 pages. I wanted to know if my opening was strong. I’ve done most of the research, but I have yet to finish the outline.
Q: When did you discover the power of words on your audience?
A: This would go back to the first question, when I read my story aloud to my classmates. I discovered the power of words on my audience with this novel from five-star reviews posted on Amazon. I learned that The Deadly Game kept readers up past their bedtime.
Q: What governed your decision to self-publish?
A: I attended a webinar in August 2021 with a literary agent who was speaking about the current state of publishing novels. She mentioned that suspense and thrillers were a tough sell to editors. My ears perked up since that’s my genre. When it was time for questions, I asked why. She said that so many thriller and suspense authors are publishing independently with much success and the traditional publishers can’t compete with the financials.
Q: What do you know now about self-publishing that you didn’t know when you began?
A: I didn’t know how satisfying it would be to have total control. I formatted it in the font I like, selected the cover photo and font, arranged for a professional photographer and completed all the editing with an eagle eye. I celebrate the fact that this novel has been well received by all who read it.
Q: What have you found to be the most successful marketing/promotion strategy for you?
A: I have distributed bookmarks and completed two email blasts. I have an appearance scheduled at a senior community in January that I expect will go well since I was invited. I believe personal appearances will prove to be successful; however, the pandemic may curtail future efforts. I do plan to contact the broadcast media this month.
Q: Best writing advice anyone ever gave you?
A: Develop a writing schedule. Sit down and write what comes to mind, even if it’s bad. Don’t let the blank page intimidate you. And most of all, believe in yourself.
Q: Thus far, what has been the reception to The Deadly Game?
A: Excellent. The reviews posted on Amazon are all tops—five stars.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: I’m outlining an historical suspense novel that I’m very excited about. My own mother never knew her father and her mother would never tell her anything about him. My protagonist is fashioned after her and the time she lived. Her quest is to find out who her father is in 1941.
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
A: Thank you for this exceptional opportunity to share my thoughts and experience with you and your audience.