March 15, 2012

Guest Post: Gerrie Ferris Finger

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 8:53 am


I am so happy to welcome Gerrie Ferris Finger back to the blog because I have followed her series ever since the first amazing contest win that launched her writing career. Gerrie’s post today contains some invaluable advice on writing the sophomore novel–and the ones that come after–and also on building suspense. Best of all, if you leave a comment, you’ll be entered to win an ARC before almost everyone else in the world gets one of Gerrie’s latest book!

Gerrie Ferris Finger

For me, every manuscript means getting a foot hold in a crevice when climbing a rugged cliff. Every book is avoiding slippery slopes and anticipating falling rocks. But oh the joy when I reach the top, when an acquiring editor accepts my manuscript, when a contract comes in the mail, and when I finally hold that printed edition in my hands.

I got there in 2010 with THE END GAME   I’d ascended the airy height successfully and thought, “I’ve made it! Yeah!”

Sooner or later, I had to ask myself: Didn’t you mean this to be a series?” Answer: Yes. Directive: Then get to it.

Like me, unless you know yourself to be a one book writer, ala Harper Lee, you get to start over. It’s not any easier getting a foothold on the second full-length novel than the first, and it’s not easier avoiding slippery slopes and foreseeing falling rocks.

Getting a Foothold

Alas, I left real life bliss to tackle fictional catastrophe – and face rejection. In today’s publishing world, rejection often comes if the first book doesn’t achieve the success expected by the publisher. No more bringing writers along until they find their audiences.

Since I prefer avoiding catastrophe in my life, I don’t walk the sidewalks in iffy neighborhoods or ride a motorcycle without a helmet. However careful I may be, I’m not in control of every situation and expect suspense at every turn. What if I’m in my bank and a robber points a gun at the teller?

I’ve learned to harness suspense by taking the “what if” approach in starting a novel. What if my heroine leaves her purse in the back seat of a taxi? What if my hero spots a man with a van forcing a woman into the back?  Action occurs, characters emerge and the cliff-climb begins.

Last Temptation

I’ve a foot up the cliff in my second book because I know the main characters, Moriah Dru and Richard Lake. They first appeared in THE END GAME when I thought what if a call awakens them to a disastrous fire where two young girls are missing and their foster parents are dead in the blaze. By chapter two I had a good foothold on the villain and the resolution.

In THE LAST TEMPTATION I thought what if Dru and Lake are eating a lunch and a call comes in:

Lake was about to dig into his coconut pie when the call came. When it ended, the white flash of his smile ended, too.

Slippery Slopes

I encounter slippery slopes too often, and I don’t know a writer who hasn’t. It’s also called telling not showing, back story, info dump, character bores, lackluster scenes, dialogue drag, impossible plot and generally going off half-cocked.

For me, what derails plot most often is lack of action, long paragraphs of interior dialogue and static do-nothing. Readers go to movies and see the heroes and villains in action. ACTION. Don’t tell readers what’s going on. Get them involved. In editing  I take scenes where I’ve hit the main points and re-write to let readers see and hear and feel what led up to the action.

Falling Rocks

Falling rocks I want. I’m writing a mystery/suspense. My readers are reading suspense because they want to find out what happens next to whom and why. Therefore, I must create vigilant, apprehensive anticipation, also known as waiting for the falling shoe. This is done party with setting—cemetery, dark night, creaky house—but it’s the characters that provide most of the suspense. If readers don’t care about the characters I’ve created—if the main characters are cardboard cutouts or unpleasant —they won’t care what happens to them.

There is joy in writerville, though. Once my first draft is finished, the fun begins. I edit and revise to my heart’s content, taking care not to edit the life out of the story. (A well-known instructor once told his class, “Don’t smooth out all the wrinkles. Placid lakes are boring.)

When I’m done I know I’ve created a world and people that no one else could have.

Retired journalist Gerrie Ferris Finger won the Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition That novel, THE END GAME, was the first in the Moriah Dru/Richard Lake series. The second in the series, THE LAST TEMPTATION, was a finalist in the St. Martin’s/Best Private Investigator contest and will be released July 2012. After spending twenty years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution as a reporter, editor, and columnist, she moved to coastal Georgia with her husband, Alan, and standard poodle, Bogey.


  1. I can hardly wait for July. I loved the first book in the series.

    Comment by Janet — March 15, 2012 @ 10:10 am

  2. Love that metaphor! Very apt. Congratulations, Gerrie (what a beautiful name) on all your success!

    Comment by SavvyBlue — March 15, 2012 @ 10:14 am

  3. Gerrie – ‘Placid lakes are boring’ – so true! Good luck with your sequel. I look forward to reading the first in the series!

    Comment by Connie J Jasperson — March 15, 2012 @ 10:27 am

  4. great post, Gerrie. I always feel a bit nervous each day I sit down to write because, though I use an outline, I never know what peril will befall my sleuth.

    Comment by Marilyn Levinson — March 15, 2012 @ 11:23 am

  5. Great post, Gerrie! I’m not sure I agree with that instructor, though. To me, all the writing “wrinkles” in a story *should* be edited out–they’re like tree roots across a path, causing the reader to stumble and not be able to pay attention to what we want them to pay attention to–the story experience. I do agree that editing that makes the story too placid is the wrong kind of editing–but I feel like good editing takes all those little stumbling blocks/tree roots out of the reader’s way, so they can be totally immersed in the story as if it were real. To me, a story that’s not totally polished is like a road with potholes–you can’t completely enjoy looking at the scenery because you’re constantly being jolted by the rough places. (Okay, I guess that’s enough similes!) Thanks for sharing your experience, and I wish you the best of luck with your new book!

    Comment by Lauren S — March 15, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

  6. Terrific piece! Many thanks to Gerrie and to Jenny.

    I’m a huge fan of THE END GAME and cannot wait to read the next in the series.

    Comment by Kaye Barley — March 15, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

  7. Congrats on continuing your series! I know from experience it isn’t easy.
    All the best.

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — March 15, 2012 @ 2:35 pm

  8. Congrats on the second book in your series! I love your ‘What if’ idea producing tip. Good luck!

    Comment by Pamela DuMond — March 15, 2012 @ 2:52 pm

  9. Thanks to everyone for your comments. I enjoy reading Jenny’s columns and was delighted to be invited to talk about the second in the Dru/Lake series. Lauren, the instructor used “wrinkles” to mean working the life out of a story by over-writing and using weak verbs and nouns. He believed that often a writer’s first drafts conveyed maximum emotion and revising could, if not careful, lessen its impact. It’s my fault for not making his meaning clear.
    All the best.

    Comment by Gerrie Ferris Finger — March 15, 2012 @ 4:39 pm

  10. What great advice! And so true. Thanks Gerrie and Jenny!

    Comment by mountainmama — March 15, 2012 @ 7:18 pm

  11. I enjoyed this and am greatly looking forward to reading these.

    Thanks too for the chance to win a copy of the latest.

    Comment by Brenda — March 15, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

  12. Great interview as usual! Your book sounds great Gerrie can’t wait to read it.

    Comment by Kellie — March 15, 2012 @ 8:51 pm

  13. Thanks you all, and especially to Jenny. The winner will get an ARC maybe within two weeks, depending on when I get them from the publisher. Hot off the press, as it were.

    Comment by Gerrie Ferris Finger — March 15, 2012 @ 9:48 pm

  14. I love it when I discover a new author, and look forward to reading your books. As a hiker, I could relate to your blog. Loved how you incorporated the “risks” of climbing into it, something I’ve thought about doing on my website, along with the Flicker photos.

    Comment by Carole Price — March 16, 2012 @ 2:36 pm

  15. I’m looking forward to your next book. What I enjoyed about The End Game was the growth of suspense, and danger as the story progressed. To me, the “still waters run deep” works very well.

    Comment by Lil Gluckstern — March 16, 2012 @ 4:28 pm

  16. Hmm. I’m a day late, as usual, but I’m glad I took the time to read this. Very interesting and I’ll be adding your books to my TBR stack. Thank you for sharing.

    Comment by Marja McGraw — March 16, 2012 @ 6:11 pm

  17. Loved the metaphor and look forward to reading your books. Somehow I’d missed them up till now!! Good luck.

    Comment by Penny Tuttle — March 17, 2012 @ 10:22 am

  18. Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Wishing everyone a lucky, healthy and prosperous one. Happy Reading, too.

    Comment by Gerrie Ferris Finger — March 17, 2012 @ 10:31 am

  19. Interesting interview. Thanks.

    boots9k at wowway dot com

    Comment by shirley nienkark — March 17, 2012 @ 4:14 pm

  20. Not only am i an avid reader & literature enthusiast but also a huge fan of this particular genre & type of book, hence i was facinated to read your review. Also, as an amateur writer myself i found your advice to be invaluable so thank you so much.
    I would love to be concidered for your book giveaway, that was advertised on ‘Goodreads’ a site that i use about books & reading. x
    From: Miss. Lucinda Fountain

    Comment by Miss. Lucinda Fountain — March 17, 2012 @ 5:24 pm

  21. Great interview and interesting books!
    Please consider me for the giveaway as well- as long as it’s international, that is. If not, then never mind, I did get the pleasure of reading your interview.

    Comment by Maryam — March 19, 2012 @ 9:16 am

  22. Thanks for all your comments and to Jenny for giving me some space. :-D
    Best of luck.

    Comment by Gerrie Ferris Finger — March 19, 2012 @ 1:00 pm

  23. Congratulation to MountainMama. I will be mailing you an ARC fo THE LAST TEMPTATION as soon as my publisher (Five Star/Gale) sends mine.
    Thanks again, Jenny and you who commented. I always learn a lot from feedback.

    Comment by Gerrie Ferris Finger — March 23, 2012 @ 11:29 am

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