Leslie Wolfe: Stories that have to be Told
Writing and Marketing Savvy
Please welcome bestselling author, Leslie Wolfe as she delves into aspects of her writing and marketing strategies.
1 I am always struck by the power of your female characters and protagonists. Your women characters are ballsey yet remain vulnerable at the same time, feminine too. What are the tricks of your trade, your prose style, that allows your narrative to promote this depth of character?
Thank you for saying that. I guess the trick of my trade for creating powerful women leads is based on the reality of successful women in our current day and age. We see them all around us; they are the single mothers, the senior business executives, the cops, the doctors.
This world has been spinning for thousands and thousands of years before women could have a voice could vote, could gain access to decent jobs and top-notch education. If you put things in perspective, women have been held back and discriminated for the absolute majority of the time that represents the history of mankind.
Billions of women still live in the darkness of oppression, discrimination, and injustice, even in 2018.
Okay, so we all know that.
But do you realize what kind of resilience this age of hardship has instilled in the women of today? That’s who my lead characters are; not somebody surreal or entirely imaginary, but someone we see every day, whenever we see a successful woman in our neighborhood, office, or circle of friends. She is strong because she had to fight twice as hard to get where she is; she is smart because she didn’t shy away from reading books and learning from people who were willing to teach her; she is resilient – a survivor. She has a strong sense of right and wrong, and rarely settles for a compromise solution. She’ll do whatever it takes to catch the villain I give her, and she might kill him too if he pisses her off J
2 We see your story consistently through the eyes of your protagonists. How do you keep an eye on POV?
I studied screenwriting, and that was extremely helpful to learn how to joggle character arc development, POV, and structure. My screenplay still awaits that darn call from Hollywood, but even if the phone call will never happen, I’m still going to be grateful for having had the opportunity to learn a few tricks from the movie writers that we all love. The one thing I recommend to any aspiring writer is to read their favorite movie screenplay, and then read it again. Understand how subtle changes in POV mark the shift from one scene to the next, or for us novel writers, from one chapter to the next.
When you start writing, all you have to do is imagine yourself in that movie: who are you? Are you Robert Downey Jr. playing Ironman? Or are you the villain, the one who cracks lightning whips?
3 Your stories come to life using description, action, and dialogue to put your readers into the story. While being careful to give just enough detail to trigger their imagination, do you plan how much of each of the elements or do you let the Muse rule?
I never plan at this level. I draft, then I rewrite. I draft the essence of the plot, the core action if you will. Then I start refining and polishing, adding descriptions, giving the dialogue another look, figuring out what would the reader's impression be when they read that chapter. Will they be able to see it like I do?
I’m also aware of how communication has evolved in our modern society. Everyone is so rushed, under constant bombardment of alerts and pings and phone calls and social media posts, overloaded with information, and starved for a moment of peace to make sense of it all. If this is your modern-day character, do you think he or she has a lot of time notice the décor on the wall in each of the scenes you’re writing? Would you, if you were them?
I know I wouldn’t… I’d zoom right through there, through that setting, without noticing much that is not critically relevant to the goal I’m looking to achieve. I also don’t want to slow my story down by flooding the reader with unnecessary detail. Imagine or remember reading a book; a chapter here, on your coffee break. Another one there, on your commute home. Maybe another one, while waiting for the kids’ dinner to cook. Where, in this hectic schedule, is there any room left for the exquisite descriptions that have marked the works of the giants of American literature? Sometimes I wish we could all slow down and enjoy F. Scott Fitzgerald, Steinbeck and Harper Lee, and why not, dare to write like them.
4 When I first started reading your books Ms. Wolfe, the techno-thriller genre intrigued you. Your research garnered you readers that read the likes of Tom Clancy. What got you into writing techno-thrillers?
It’s who I am, and can’t be changed. I’m an engineer with a dual background in computer science and technical management. I can’t conceive a single scenario worthy to put in a book that doesn’t include technology and science. Fifty years ago or more, police work used to be about beating the streets, interviewing suspects, outsmarting villains into confessing, or even using the old phonebook at times.
Today’s police work is a bit on the “boring” side, because it involves a lot of database searches, screening of video surveillance, and zeroing down on suspects starting from a larger pool of people. Maybe in rural America, there are a few small towns left that are being policed the traditional way, but I’m yet to write about those.
I’m also fascinated with how villains can use technology to gain the upper hand, to do irreparable damage without firing a single bullet. Of course, there’s a limit to the reader’s interest in any such fiction; let’s be real, readers appreciate a little bit of blood on the streets, a good car chase, heavy weapons fire, and absolutely awesome, macho and fierce heroes and sheroes… not nerds LOL
A funny bit of trivia about myself. Researching the technology I write about is a quick and easy task I enjoy tremendously. But if I have to include anything that has to do with a more traditional, family-oriented lifestyle, I’m in big trouble. I research that thing to death, and still manage to feel insecure. You see, my parents are both engineers, and my husband also, so in our family, a good dinner could potentially mean tuna from the can while playing with the latest gadgets on the market.
5 Over the last two years, I have marveled at your marketing audacity. You have succeeded at targeting highly competitive categories: the pure thriller and the police procedural and stood your own with the likes of Stephen King and Ian Rankin. Hats off to you! What made you attack these monsters by jumping into the fray with the Tess Winnet Series and then Baxter and Holt? BTW Brilliant re-branding!
Wow, thank you! You’re too kind.
I’m not planning my releases like that. I have stories that need to be told. For example, the Tess Winnett series is centered around the difficulties faced by women struggling with PTSD in the workplace. Our society is quick to discard anyone who shows the tiniest amount of frailty, of emotion, while at the same time demands that people are passionate about what they do, just as long as they don’t show it, they remain calm at all times, and they behave more or less like robots.
Well, real people have feelings, have scars, a painful past, and still, they can do a terrific job. It might come as a surprise that the occasional reader dislikes Tess Winnett, despite the tremendous success of the series. Those reviews make me shake my head because those reviewers are the people who are the intolerant ones in the workplace with a colleague who’s secretly suffering.
To finally answer your question, I don’t think of my books as a way to attack other authors. I think only of my readers, and how I can bring entertainment to their lives, moments of escape from their daily grind, moments of enjoyment, and just because I cannot help it, a little bit of science and technology sprinkled like seasoning over a steak, sometimes in excess, but nevertheless tasty. I hope!
Michael’s reaction: Ooops. I never really meant ‘attack’ in that sense of the word. I should have said, “…compete with…”. Sorry about that slip-up.
6 Not only are you a great storyteller, writing character-driven adventures, but your marketing prowess also makes you a one-of-a-kind writer. You epitomize the Holy Grail of Indie Publishing. By that I mean, your writing shines and you have mastered the business side of publishing. Would you go into some details about your mailing list and how you plan a book launch?
Thank you, but I cannot take the credit you’re so generously offering. There’s a team who handles all these things, a small digital publisher, Italics Publishing, who has managed the marketing aspects of my books since day one while leaving intact all the freedoms associated with being an indie author. For example, I decide what I am going to write next,
I have the final say in cover and layout design, but this fantastic team helps with the marketing and brings it to a level that I never thought possible. They combine social media prowess with state-of-the-art analytics and market studies. They test campaigns and recommend the ads and engagements that work best. I would be lost without them. If you recall, I’m an author and engineer; marketing is not really my strength.
7 Tell us about work-in-progress.
Currently, I’m finalizing the third book in the Baxter and Holt series, called Las Vegas Crime. It’s scheduled to be launched on November 16, and it’s currently in preorder. After this, I will be taking a break from this series. Very early next year I will launch a title that will be announced soon, in collaboration with four other fantastic authors, names also to be announced soon. And after that, I will introduce my readers to a new crime-solving powerhouse woman against the backdrop of the Pacific Coast.
I’m also thinking of doing another crime series based somewhere else, with a male lead for a change. I know it goes a little bit against the current, but they're a lot of great men out there, with their own stories to tell. Plus, you cannot really put too much action with a woman lead, because beating the crap out of her would really read badly and I won’t do it. But think of James Bond, right? In every single movie, he gets one hell of a beating and still manages to look like a superhero. I’ve always wanted to write a James Bond of criminal investigations, and maybe 2019 will bring that dream to life.
Good luck Leslie and thanks very much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk to us today.