Have you been celebrating Mystery Thriller Week here with us? I’ve had some fabulous guests so far. I hope you’ve been enjoying the features, and that you’ve found a few new books to read! Today’s guest is author Ronnie Allen, who will be talking to us about her writing life. First, let’s meet the author behind the words.
Ronnie Allen is a NYC native transplanted to rural central Florida nine years ago. In a year and a half of being traditionally published, she has two novels out in The Sign Behind the Crime Series, Gemini, book 1, Aries, book 2. Scorpio, book 3 is coming in September and Ronnie is writing Libra, book 4 now. With a psychology background and degree in School Psychology, she’s a retired NYC teacher as well as a Board Certified Holistic Health practitioner. Facets of her training, education, and careers are in her novels.
The Writing Life Interview with Ronnie Allen
When you first begin writing a new book, is your main focus on the characters or the plot?
I was plot driven with the first book Gemini, and also with the second book, Aries. When I became very familiar with the characters and I knew they would be in all of the following books, my plots are character driven to bring out internal and external conflicts that occurred in their lives.
Why do you write within your chosen genre?
I loved the crime drama genre from way back in my screenwriting days in the 80s to mid 90s. I’ve carried that through to my novel writing today, sticking with psychological and romantic thrillers as far as what I write. I read many sub genres in the crime genre. I love the energy, fast-paced, in-depth characterizations, multilevel subplots in crime fiction, police procedurals, and books of this nature. I stay away from reading plots and characters that are one dimensional. That will definitely cause me to close the book. I really feel I must have been a FBI agent and or a detective in a past life. I get high on this action. So it’s personal for me. I like the way this genre makes me feel while I am reading and writing.
How much research goes into your fiction writing? What is your approach?
Yes, research is major for me. In the crime genre it is the authors responsibility to get the details right. Forensics, ballistics, crime scene investigative procedure have to be portrayed credibly, not necessarily like on television. For example, forensics do not come back within a few hours or even a few days. Nothing is instantaneous. I also have medical themes in my novels and anything medical has to be portrayed correctly. The author also needs to research what you are allowed to say or not in a novel. For example, psychiatric organizations and affiliations prefer not to be mentioned and therefore the author has to fictionalize their proper name. Hospitals, Schools all need to be fictionalized and relocated. This is all part of the research. It’s different than using a brand-name for identification purposes only, which your publisher will mention on the copyright page. Research takes a lot of time for me and I have a lot of folders in my office of hard copy that I refer to all of the time and sometimes even have to send proof to my publisher of why I used certain terminology.
Describe your writing environment.
Great question for me. I wrote my first second and third novels poolside in my development. With the third one, a woman came over to me who I did not know, and she asked me because my notebook was the largest she had ever seen if I was writing the great American novel. She had no idea I had two books out and this was the third I was working on. When I explained to her that I was, she was shocked but she and her friend became two of my readers who love my books. When I write at the pool people see me so engrossed in either my iPad or my notebook that they do not come over to disturb me. Because I write in such deep POV, my startle response is so great that if someone comes over to me behind me to interrupt, my scream will be so loud that they will jump backward into the pool.
What do you find the easiest to write; the beginning, middle or end? Why?
First I brainstorm in a large spiral notebook with five sections. I break up the sections for character profiles, plot ideas, chapter synopsis, chapter ideas, research I need to do. I can plot up to five months before I write my book. So to answer the question, I start with the beginning go to the middle go to the end but when I start I know what my end will be. Here’s an example of how my plotting worked for me. I plotted the second book Aries for a full five months before I started typing. As a result, Aries flowed out of me in three months and 10 days reaching 122K words. Next came my critique partners and beta readers, and revised and edited and tweak before submitting to my publisher. I was given a contract on Aries two weeks after submission. Now, Aries is out exactly one year, and I was just notified by my publisher that their Board of Directors nominated Aries to be submitted for Mystery of America Nero Awards. I am both humbled and honored by this and of course this is a definite affirmation for me that my process worked.
Do your characters sometimes surprise you with their behavior? Or do you always have complete control?
I am definitely a plotter. But with going into such a deep POV, my characters do develop a life of their own. For example, the love interest in Gemini, who is now the wife of the forensic psychiatrist, gave herself a much larger role then I had intended in Gemini. Actually, she became the vehicle to solve the case and save hero after he was shot by the killer. This character, now Vicki Trenton has become a main character who helps the police out the case in Scorpio, the third novel coming out in September. She also has a major role in Libra, the fourth book in the series that I am currently writing.
Do you edit as your write? Or do you write an entire rough draft before doing any edits?
Here is what I found is helpful for me because whenever I share information it’s from what I personally experienced not third hand. I will edit as I go. When I get to 12 chapters, I print out a hard copy and here’s why. Because I write in depth plots with a lot of set-ups, I go through my manuscript to make sure that every set-up that I have marked, I will be sure to pay off by the end. I truly believe in not toying with the readers emotions and leaving loopholes or plot holes. It is so important to engage readers and satisfy their expectations. In addition to this, I do editing to make sure I have all the details about the characters correct. Blue eyes don’t change to green for example, and character names have stayed consistent. I’ll also fact check during this time rather than wait till the end, my rationale being why carry through something that is incorrect through the novel when it could be corrected early on?
How do you decide on your book’s title?
Gemini’s title was decided early on. I started writing Aries before I received my contract on Gemini. Aries went through a few title changes. It started as a romantic suspense entitled Operation Destiny. At 50k words, I decided I had that too stupid to live heroine. I took the DEA character, changed his name, changed into a forensic psychiatrist, named Frank Khaos, kept very few things from the plot and retitled it Khaos Rules. Then in writing it all of the Aries elements came out. My tagline up until that point was a The Mind Behind The Crime because I write psychological thrillers. I thought quickly, and created the series tagline The Sign Behind the Crime. I approached my publisher when Gemini was in edits, and they love the idea so we ran with it. So The Sign Behind The Crime Series was born, and appropriately titled because the symbolism of the sign helps to solve the crime.
Do you set your books in real locations or do you make them up?
Gemini is set in New York City and rural central Florida where I now live. I am a native New Yorker transported to rural central Florida nine years ago. New York City locations are real. I use street names but not specific house numbers. I fictionalized my county because it is a small town and many people do not know me even though I reassure everyone that no one in my books is anyone I personally know. I just felt fictionalizing crime police teams would be best for writing in this location.
The Sign Behind the Crime Series by Ronnie Allen
Both psychic and clairvoyant, Dr. John Trenton is a forensic psychiatrist who has a wife he worships and a position as a department head at a hospital for the criminally insane in Manhattan. His patients—young adult men, who are some of the most psychotic and psychopathic criminals in NYC—enable him to live his life on the edge, just the way he likes it. Then he meets a woman who changes everything.
She is two days from accomplishing the revenge she lives for—until she meets him…
Stripper by night, school psychologist by day, Gemini obsessed Barbara Montgomery, makes a critical mistake and is committed for seventy-two hours of observation, where she risks it all in an unnerving escape. Furious with Dr. Trenton for interfering in her life, she is now determined to kill his wife and unborn child, along with everyone else who has ever caused her pain—real or imagined.
As the killing spree continues, John is forced to use all his ESP, as well as his knowledge and expertise, to interpret this psychopath’s Gemini obsession and unravel her dark and murderous past. But can he track her down and bring her to justice—before she destroys his world completely?
Samantha Wright, a rookie NYPD detective, gets her first case, a big one, by stumbling over the body while jogging in the park. Sam has a lot to prove, both to herself and to her new precinct, on this serial murder case involving fashion icons in NYC. Together with a rough around the edges BJJ fighter, forensic psychiatrist, Frank Khaos, Sam chases down leads through the five boroughs of NYC. As the bodies pile up, sparks fly and Sam and Frank, polar opposites, go from their dislike for each other to setting the sheets on fire. But their main suspect is hooked up to an IV in a hospital bed, so how has she pulled off five murders in seven days? And can Sam and Frank stop her before even more innocent lives are lost?
Connect with Ronnie Allen