Developing Characters – Meet Jack Fowler: #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of  writers share their thoughts and experiences.  I encourage you to check out their posts by clicking on the icon at the bottom.

Developing interesting and intriguing characters is one of the primary challenges for any writer of fiction.  Unlike non-fiction subjects, these characters exist only in the writer’s mind. It’s up to the author to bring them to life and make them believable.

All writers get asked how they go about selecting and creating characters. For me, each of my novels revolves around one or two protagonists.  The way these characters are developed and how the reader learns about them are as important as who they are and the roles they play in the story.

In real life, the way you learn about people is through observation. How an individual looks and acts, how he/she relates to others, and his/her interests and values are all things you primarily see and learn, and are not always told to you.  This should also be the case with fictional characters.

Let’s take a look at Jack Fowler, the lead character in the murder mystery I’m currently writing, BUTCHER ROAD.

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The novel opens with Jack out for an evening walk when his nose directs him to a decaying corpse in an abandoned house.  In that scene, the foul odor reminds Jack of his military experience, having returned from Afghanistan two years prior.  He has a brief flashback before shaking it off and reengaging in the present.  During the same scene, he interacts with police officer, Al Walker.  Their banter portrays Jack as a no-nonsense guy, unafraid to challenge authority and get involved.

In just a few pages, the reader is introduced to Jack Fowler.  Very little backstory is used during this introduction, and these pages establish a base for Jack’s character going forward.

One other trick that helps me be consistent with character development is to build a profile of my main characters.  I refer to this profile from time to time as these characters appear and evolve throughout the novel.  If this does nothing else, it prevents characters changing hair color from chapter to chapter.   Below is Jack Fowler’s profile:

  • Physical Description
    • Tall, athletic, dark hair, blue eyes, conservative/basic attire
  • Values & Interests
    • Family, career, relationships, community, outdoor activities
  • Personality:
    • No-nonsense, unafraid, patriotic, caring, dry humor, takes responsibility
  • Other traits
    • Successfully fighting PTSD symptoms

Every suspense novel interjects tension and conflict into the life of its protagonists. It is this tension and conflict that make the characters interesting and compelling. How they engage, resolve or fall victim to conflict should also be consistent and fit their profile.

The sources of Jack Fowler’s tension in BUTCHER ROAD are many.  He faces a struggle to overcome PTSD symptoms.  Fellow police officers are resentful of his fast rise in the department.  A new relationship with Angela Jones, a Charlotte detective, has him balancing his personal and professional life.  Most importantly, Jack becomes entangled in a serial murder case where he and Detective Jones become the targets of the killer.

So that’s Jack Fowler.  If you’d like to assess how I did introducing Jack, you can read the first chapter of BUTCHER ROAD by clicking HERE.  I’d appreciate your comments.

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Thanks for stopping by my blog.  Please check out what other writers participating in this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop have to say by clicking HERE.

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Sex, Violence & Profanity in Novels

A recent review of my latest novel, At the River’s Edge, caught my attention. The reviewer appreciated reading a murder mystery that wasn’t laced with profanity and sexual content. Similar comments have been made by other readers.

To be clear, I wrote this book for adults, and it does contain earthy language and moderate violence. After all, it is a murder mystery, but it doesn’t contain explicit sex scenes, and the violence is within the context of the story.

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I believe you can build tension and suspense in a mystery without gory violence or profane language. I only need to reference Rod Serling and his TV series, The Twilight Zone, to make my point. For younger readers, Google him or take a look at a YouTube clip of one of the episodes from the 1950s and 1960s.

I’ve never overused violence or profane language in any of my novels. Early on, however, I mistakenly believed those who told me sex sells, and I attempted a couple of lust-filled scenes in my first two books, Corrupt Connection and Better Late Than Ever.

A romance novelist who reviewed the second book said the sex scenes read like the author was not committed to what he was describing. She was right. I couldn’t force myself to write the oft-used, salacious words describing what the lovemaking partners were doing to each other.  While readers expect this content in romance novels, I don’t think it flows naturally in a murder mystery or crime novel.

You will not find a focus on lust in John Grisham’s suspense-filled novels. In fact, he once mentioned his early attempts at integrating sex scenes into his thrillers made his wife laugh.  To this date, he avoids politics and lust.  I can’t think of a better role model or advice for writers of suspense.

My current novels contain elements of romance, including At the River’s Edge, but now the door closes and reopens a few pages later. What happens in between is up to your imagination.

Learn more about At the River’s Edge by Clicking Here.

Places to Go – Books to Write: AuthorToolBoxBlogHop

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of experienced writers share their thoughts and experiences.  I encourage you to check out their posts by clicking on the icon at the bottom.


Writing books is my aspiration and an avocation that continues to move in the right direction. After working three decades in corporate America, I retired in my mid-50s and released my first self-published novel shortly thereafter.  I’ve since published five additional novels and two short story collections.  My recent release, At the River’s Edge, has been my best-selling book to date.

I’ve been asked, At your age, why start a writing career? 

My answer is simple. Writing is ageless.  It requires inspiration, imagination, and hard work, none of which are limited by age.  Like learning, writing is a life long process. As long as you can learn, you can write, and in many ways, being older is an advantage.  With age, come experience, wisdom, and perspective, things that can’t be taught, and all are valuable assets for a writer.  Writing has also introduced me to interesting readers and writers of all ages, people I would not have met otherwise.

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I make no claim to ever achieving the success of the following writers, but there are numerous examples of authors who spent most of their lives at different professions, turning to writing later in life.1, 2

  • Laura Ingalls Wilder lived her life as a farmer and a teacher, publishing her first book, Little House on the Prairie, at 64. She wrote her final book at 77.
  • Wallace Stevens, winner of the 1955 Pulitzer Prize, spent a long career as an insurance executive, publishing his first book of poetry at 44, with the majority of his poems written after the age of 50.
  • Raymond Chandler was an oil executive before he started writing detective stories. At the age of 51, he wrote The Big Sleep with character Phillip Marlowe making his first appearance. He went on to write seven more novels.
  • J. R. R. Tolkien published The Hobbit at 45 years old, and didn’t publish Lord of the Rings until he was 63.

Granted, many of these late-in-life writers became authors in the early to mid-1900s. Today’s writers face broader and more diverse competition, fast-evolving marketing and advertising media, as well as rapid growth in self-publishing. It’s a complex world for new authors.

At times, I feel technology is a barrier for older writers. I didn’t grow up with iPhones, tablets and social media. I was nearly 40 when I purchased my first cell phone, and it was the size of a brick! What’s second nature to younger writers requires more effort for me.  Still, I’ve slogged through setting up a website.  I formatted and self-published my e-books and paperback novels on Kindle Direct Publishing. I’ve learned how to market my books on Facebook and Amazon.  And here I am, posting on an authors’ blog hop–something I didn’t know existed a few years ago.

If you’re looking to write your first novel later in life, I offer the following advice:

  • Don’t hesitate. You can do it.
  • Learn from other writers. Join writing workshops, writers’ groups, and author blogs.
  • Focus on writing. Websites, social media, and marketing can come later.
  • Dedicate sufficient time, and be proud of what you produce.
  • Engage an experienced editor and beta readers before publishing.

I didn’t need to look far for my motivation to take up writing at my age. Now 89, my father, a former building contractor, was an accomplished wood carver into his early 80’s, demanding high prices for his productions. My mother, at age 86, had her knee replaced. She could have easily avoided the surgery and watched the world pass from a chair on her sun room, but she had things to do and places she wanted to go.  Mom is still going places… and I still have books I want to write.



To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.

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Check out my latest novel, At the River’s Edge, on  Learn what Emily and James discover on the bank of the New River that propels them into the path of a killer.

Click HERE to learn more.

Headsone in Creepy Cemetery with Bridge in background


A New Year

Readers & Friends,

I hope your new year is off to a great start!

Claudia, Milo (our dog), and I are heading home to Roaring Gap, North Carolina on the final leg of our annual Midwestern holiday tour. After visiting family and friends in Kentucky, Illinois, and Wisconsin and traveling over 2,000 miles, I’m ready to take down decorations, get back to my desk, and reflect on the year ahead.

Dark and eerie urban city street at night

With regard to 2019 writing goals, I’m excited to be halfway through BUTCHER ROAD, another murder mystery set in North Carolina. I’ve set an objective to publish this novel by June 21st (the first day of summer), and it’s currently ahead of schedule.  When the time comes, pre-publication discounts will be available for early orders.  Click HERE to learn more about my progress.

Other goals I’ve set for 2019 include participating in more book signings and book club meetings.   I enjoy meeting and learning from readers.   If you’re interested, here’s my ongoing OFFER for book clubs in the North Carolina/Virginia area.

Thanks for helping make AT THE RIVER’S EDGE my bestselling novel to date and for subscribing to my monthly newsletter. Please “like” my Facebook page when you get a chance.

I look forward to hearing from you in the coming year.

— D.R. Shoultz

‘Tis the Season

 The holiday season is upon us, and if you judge by department store decorations and TV commercials, it arrived before the last trick-or-treater came to your front door.  

With all the parties, family events, and planning that occupy Thanksgiving through New Year’s, time to write, or even think, is significantly reduced.  It’s been my practice to start a writing project in the summer, get it well underway, and then write as time allows the remainder of  the year.  So has been my plan this year. 

Butcher Road, my next murder mystery, is outlined and approaching 100 first-draft pages.  If I go heads down in January, I should be able to wrap it up by mid-2019.  In the meantime, I’m pecking away at the keyboard as Michael Bublé croons Let it Snow on our Amazon Echo and Claudia wraps presents for our grandchildren.  

I wish you a Merry Christmas and a safe and Happy New Year!

— D. R. Shoultz 

P.S.  Please take a break and read A Christmas Found by clicking 
HERE!  It’s a short story that will warm your heart on a chilly night.

Writing is a Business: IWSG

It’s time for my November contribution to the Insecure Writer’s Support Group (IWSG) blog hop. This month I varied from the recommended topic to discuss my recent marketing ventures.  Be sure to click on the #IWSG icon at the end of my post and check out the responses from dozens of interesting, experienced writers.

Being a self-published author is like running your own business. There’s a lot about writing books that I like, or else I wouldn’t do it.  But there are many activities I’m not that crazy about.

I like that I set my own schedule.  I don’t have a publisher or agent looking over my shoulder checking on the content and status of my next book.  Most of what I do is at my own pace.  Don’t get me wrong. If an agent or publisher would take me on, I’d be glad to crank out books on their schedule, but for now, I’m not real sure if this is Wednesday or Saturday, nor does it matter that much.

Time at my desk writing is what I prefer.  When I’m heads down, typing away, it can be exciting.  It’s not like work.  It’s more like discovery or invention.  I frequently ask myself if I’d write if no one read my work.  It’s a tough question, but most days the answer is yes. The creative process alone is its own reward.

I’ve mentioned before in blog posts that marketing is the part of self-publishing I struggle with the most.  The creativity required to write a novel is not the same as the creativity needed to market a book. Sure, there are some common elements, but selling me and my books is not something I find easy to do.

After finishing At the River’s Edge, I promised myself I would spend more time learning the “ins and outs” of social media marketing.  I’d had a website and Facebook and Twitter pages for many years, but I had never spent much time running ads.  I closely studied what others had done, trying to understand what to do and what not to do.  I targeted specific readers and ran test ads to see what caught their eyes.  I tweaked the ads as I learned.


I spent more money on ads than I had originally planned, many weeks in excess of my sales.  I woke up mornings checking my CPC (Cost per Click) on Twitter, Facebook, and Amazon Marketing Services.  I became obsessed with the daily sales tally on Kindle Direct Publishing.  After three months, I ended up selling many more copies of my new novel than any other over that period.  But I wasn’t making any more money than before, and I was spending less time writing.

I’m still marketing my books, but electing to run fewer ads and put my focus back on my writing.  I learned from the past three months.  I learned the part of the writing business I like best is writing.

Many thanks to Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor,Ann V. Friend, JQ Rose, and Elizabeth Seckman for hosting this month’s blog hop.  To follow nearly 200 writers participating in this week’s IWSG blog hop, click on the icon below.  You can also follow on twitter @TheIWSG  or #IWSG.

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Click HERE to check out my latest novel, At the River’s Edge.



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Writing Across Multiple Genres: AuthorToolBox

It’s time again for my contribution to this month’s #AuthorToolBoxBlogHop where dozens of experienced writers share their experiences.  I encourage you to check out their thoughts by clicking on the icon at the end of this post.  This month I ask the question: Can an author write across multiple genres and develop a following? 

My latest book, At the River’s Edge, is a murder mystery set current-day near my home in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  Prior to this novel, I’d written the Miles Stevens investigative suspense series. This three-book series is based on a CIA agent from a couple decades in the future sent back in time to stop global terrorism: Cyber One (cyber-attacks), Melting Sand (nuclear flare-up), and Gone Viral (viral contamination).  I’ve also written three short story collections of eclectic tales and two additional crime/suspense novels set a few years into the future: Better Late Than Ever and Corrupt Connection.

If there’s a common thread in all my novels, it’s suspense.  I attempt to build tension early in each novel and then dedicate the rest of the story to disclosing and resolving the conflict. I also include a male and female protagonist in each novel working as a team to thwart evil.

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I’ve recently decided I prefer writing murder mysteries, and have already started my second, putting the Miles Stevens series temporarily “on hold.” But can an author write across genres and still build an identity and following with readers?

My short answer is probably not.

It’s tough enough for indie authors to develop a following when they focus on a single genre.  Most big-time authors narrow on a niche, and if they ever decide to divert course, they sometimes write under another name. Witness J.K. Rowling’s efforts to step away from YA/Fantasy as Robert Galbraith, crime novelist.

Admittedly, I’m no J.K. Rowling. My following numbers in the hundreds, not hundreds of thousands.  Nonetheless, my readers have expectations. And if I ever want to get to thousands of dedicated book buyers, I doubt I can do it writing in multiple genres.

So, where do I go from here?

My plan is to continue to market the Miles Stevens series.  I may even add to it if there’s continued interest, but my writing focus going forward will be on suspenseful mystery novels.  This is for several reasons:

  • At the River’s Edge has sold more copies in the first two months than any of my other titles.
  • I also believe mystery and suspense has a wider appeal to both men and women, whereas my Miles Stevens series leans more toward men.
  • And most of all, if I were to pick a genre in which to write, it would be mystery novels, and specifically murder mysteries.

Keep a lookout for Butcher Road, the next in what I hope to be a long line of murder mysteries.

To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE.  Thanks to Raimey Gallant for facilitating this year’s blog.  I look forward to 2019.   Happy blog hopping!Nano Blog and Social Media Hop2

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