Protips from the Pros

One of the joys of attending conferences is meeting people. At the Killer Nashville conference, I had the pleasure of meeting Carmen Amato, a wonderful person who has a deliciously mysterious past which she incorporates into her Detective Emilia Cruz police series.

In addition to her award winning novels, Carmen writes the Mystery Ahead newsletter – but I’ll let her share the details: 

Mystery Ahead 

Every other week, readers of the Mystery Ahead newsletter get my booknews, plus a feature author interview or book review, and a behind-the-scenes mystery writing protip.

As the newsletter readership has grown, so has the popularity of the protip section. Basically, these tips are clues to writing a tight and complex mystery. They are a glimpse behind the curtain for readers who love whodunits, as well as useful advice for writers who love their readers!

Here are some Mystery Ahead favorites from authors whose books pack a punch:

Aaaaaand action!

J.J. Hensley, thriller author of RESOLVE and RECORD SCRATCH, recently wrote that “Each time I write an action scene, I try to recall some incident in my real life in which not only physical action was taking place, but when I felt a spike of adrenaline, detected a certain scent, or felt a specific sensation on my skin. It’s the vivid nature of those incidents even—especially—the unpleasant ones, we are trying to pass on to the reader . . . Are you writing a car chase scene? I bet at some point in your life you’ve smelled rubber burning and can describe it to the reader.”

Structure matters

Margaret Mizushima, author of the Timber Ridge K-9 series gave two tips: “First, I would encourage writers to seek continuing education through craft-based workshops and conferences. Second, I like to keep the action moving in my manuscripts by plotting out scenes prior to writing and intermingling action with quieter scenes. I also like to plan an explosive twist for somewhere close to the middle of the book.”

Do the work

Jim Nesbitt, author of the Ed Earl Burch series, advocates good research:  “What I can tell you is something I learned a long time ago as a cub reporter — facts are your friends and the more facts you have, the firmer the foundation you can build for your writing and the surer and more authoritative and authentic your story will be . . . If you get those details wrong, you run the risk of undermining your story because believe me, somebody will catch it or Google it and call you out.”

Be relentless

Nicolás Obregón, author of BLUE LIGHT YOKOHAMA and SINS AS SCARLET, said “You have to be relentless, even on days when you don’t feel like it. I was juggling university and full-time work when I wrote Blue Light so that meant writing on the bus into work, on my lunch break, never being more than a metre away from my notebook . . . As for a pro tip, an old teacher once told me, it doesn’t matter too much what it is, or even what it’s about, it just has to make me care. It’s the best bit of advice I’ve had.”

Beta readers do it better

Tim Tigner, author of the best-selling Kyle Achilles series, advocates early readers: “My best protip is to use lots of beta/proof readers. An army of eyes catches more than a couple of pros. Not just typos and inconsistencies, but “professional” errors. Docs catch medical stuff, lawyers legal, etc. Ask for volunteers from your fans (mailing list), so that you know they like your style and their tastes match your target audience.”

And finally . . . The devil’s in the details

A recent Writer’s Digest article pointed out that details are a writer’s best friend. “As a writer, you should be considering things like the books on a character’s book case, the paintings on his walls, the colors of his walls, the kind of car he drives, the kinds of clothes he wears, his tastes in food, in music, in movies, in lovers, in wines…” BUT the details must be consistent. If your character loves red wine, don’t make white the favorite in a later chapter. If the details matter to the plot, mention it 2-3 times over the course of the book and let events hinge on it.

Carmen Amato writes mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco and optioned for television. Emilia Cruz is the first female detective on the Acapulco police force, confronting Mexico’s drug cartels and legendary government corruption. Originally from New York, Carmen was educated there as well as in Virginia and Paris, France, while her experiences in Mexico and Central America inspire many of her books.

Visit her website at to subscribe to the Mystery Ahead newsletter and get a free copy of the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library. Follow her on Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook.



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