If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

August Interviews

8/5 Lucy Burdette, The Key Lime Crime

8/12 Maggie Toussaint, All Done With It

8/19 Julie Mulhern, Killer Queen

8/26 Debra Goldstein, Three Treats Too Many

August Guest Bloggers

8/8 Leslie Wheeler

8/15 Jean Rabe

August Interviews

8/22 Kait Carson

8/29 WWK Authors--What We're Reading Now


Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!

Look Margaret S. Hamilton's short stories in the new Mid-Century Murder by Darkhouse Books. Margaret's story is titled "4BR/3.5BA Contemporary."

Grace Topping's second novel in Laura Bishop staging series, Staging Wars, was released by Henery Press on April 28th. Look for the interview here from April 29th.

Annette Dashofy's 10th Zoe Chambers mystery, Til Death, will be released on June 16th. Look for the interview here on June 17.


Wednesday, November 16, 2016

An Interview With Mystery and Thriller Author Jen J. Danna

Writing as Jen J. Danna and Sara Driscoll

by Grace Topping

Writing is usually a solitary occupation. However, more and more writers are teaming up to produce works, either under a single pseudonym, under both names of the authors, or under the name of a writer “with” a supporting writer. The word "with" actually appears on the cover.

This is the third in a series of interviews featuring authors who have taken a team approach. Jen Danna, who teams with Ann Vanderlaan, agreed to tell us about her experience of writing “with” another author and about her publications under the names Jen J. Danna and Sara Driscoll, the pseudonym for Danna and Vanderlaan.

Jen Danna (with Ann Vanderlaan) is the author of four books in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries series (a fifth to be released in 2017), featuring Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott and Boston University forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell. Jen is a scientist specializing in infectious diseases, and Ann is a retired research scientist. Their backgrounds in science help them create realistic and suspenseful fiction.

Under the name Sara Driscoll, Jen and Ann have created a new series featuring FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and Hawk, her search-and-rescue Labrador. The FBI K-9s series is so authentic that if I didn’t know better, I would think that one of them had spent a career working with search and rescue dogs. Below is a brief description of Lone Wolf, the first in their new series.

Lone Wolf
by Sara Driscoll

In the first book in a thrilling new series, FBI Special Agent Meg Jennings and Hawk, her loyal search-and-rescue Labrador, must race against time as they zero in on one of the deadliest killers in the country . . .

Meg and Hawk are part of the FBI’s elite K-9 unit. Hawk can sniff out bodies anywhere—living or dead—whether it’s tracking a criminal or finding a missing person. When a bomb rips apart a government building on the National Mall in Washington D.C., it takes all of the team’s extensive search-and-rescue training to locate and save the workers and visitors buried beneath the rubble.

But even as the duo is hailed as heroes, a mad bomber remains at large, striking terror across the Eastern seaboard in a ruthless pursuit of retribution. As more bombs are detonated and the body count escalates, Meg and Hawk are brought in to a task force dedicated to stopping the unseen killer. But when the attacks spiral wide and any number of locations could be the next target, it will come down to a battle of wits and survival skills between Meg, Hawk, and the bomber they’re tracking to rescue a nation from the brink of chaos.

It gives me a great deal of pleasure to welcome Jen Danna to Writers Who Kill.

With you living in Canada and Ann in Texas, how did you meet and form a writing team?

Jen J. Danna
We met online when I was just writing for fun almost ten years ago and she read some of the material I’d posted online. The funny part of the story is that I’m a gun control loving Canadian, and she’s Texan, and she caught me in a gun error. That one correction opened the door to a conversation. First she started beta reading some of my writing, but then she was contributing so much, she became a partner in planning and editing. We wrote five trunk novels together before we decided to go professional with Dead Without a Stone To Tell It. Lone Wolf is our fifth published professional novel, with number six, Lament the Common Bones, coming out in March 2017.

What is it like writing with a partner? Are there different levels of participation? How do you divide up the work?

I always say that two heads are better than one. When it comes to planning, it’s always great to having someone to bounce ideas off of, and have them build more ideas on, and so on. So we do character planning and story planning together. Then I go off and write a chapter, which I then send to her. She edits it until it’s bloody, then I put it back together again. We do each chapter like that; then at the end we do several full manuscript edits. So, yes, there are different levels of participation, but Ann has a full hand in the planning and editing.

Do you bring different skills to the team?

Both Ann and I are very well read, so even though neither of us have extensive training in English or literature, we know exactly how to write a structurally solid story. I bring my writing skills to the table, and Ann has great editing skills, especially in seeing when something is missing and putting her finger on how to fix it. For our Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, my 25 years in a research lab is invaluable, whereas for the FBI K-9s series, Ann’s experience as a dog trainer and handler has been invaluable. Ann also brings the additional skill of helping me write for an American audience and beating all the ‘Canukisms’ (as we call it) out of the manuscript.

Besides living so far apart, what was the most challenging part of writing together?

We actually don’t have any problems writing together. The hardest part is likely just my schedule because I still work full time. Ann, lucky gal, is retired and goes out of her way to make time when I need her to hit large manuscript pieces in a short period of time.

What surprised you the most about the process?

The most surprising aspect was how hard the first draft can be. Once it’s down, you can edit out the rough patches, but you can’t edit a blank page. Somedays, ripping that first draft out of my head is really tough, especially after a long day at work.

What did you learn from the experience? What advice would you give writers who plan to write as a team?

The first thing we did before we even sold the book was to write a partners contract between us. We’d just signed with our agent, Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour Agency, but the book was far from being sold. But we drew up the contract that still stands today, one that covered everything we could think of—who was responsible for what tasks, what the royalty split would be, who made the final creative decisions in case of disagreement, and how to terminate the partnership if either partner wanted out. At the time we didn’t even know if we’d ever sell anything, but it’s always easier to make those decisions where there is no money or intellectual property on the table. For anyone working with a partner, that is absolutely step one as it protects both parties and avoids downstream difficulties and misunderstandings.

In your FBI K-9s series, you provide a great deal of detail about the FBI and its K-9s unit. It’s so realistic that it's as if you were recounting actual experience. How did you learn so much about the K-9s unit and the operations of the FBI?

Research, research, research. We reached out to the FBI and were able to make contact with one of the public relations team who provided some information. But we also did a lot of reading. And we were able to base our experience with law enforcement on all the work we’d done with the Massachusetts State Police for the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries. We are extremely fortunate to have the head of homicide for the Essex Detective Unit as our contact there.

Your book and your blog provide a great deal of detail about search-and-rescue dogs. Have you actually worked with them or had experience with dogs before writing this series?

This is where Ann is a huge asset to the team. I’ve had absolutely no experience with search-and-rescue dogs, though I’ve done a lot of research on them. However, Ann has had significant experience with dog training and handling. One of her pit bulls, Kane, is a trained therapy dog, and they are currently training for nose work where Kane has already passed a number of odor recognition tests.

I learned a lot from the definitions for various terms used in K-9 search-and-rescue that you included at the beginning of each chapter. Are these terms specific to the FBI or used by search and rescue operations in general?

Those are terms used by search-and-rescue operations in general.

In Lone Wolf the love Meg Jennings feels for her canine partner, Hawk, is strong. Meg’s sister trains dogs, and her parents run a rescue center. In your book and through your blog you’ve done a lot to shine light on the plight of animals. What prompted your interest in dogs? Do you have a dog, or now feel tempted to get one?

I grew up with a black Lab (which is why one stars in the series), but due to my kids’ allergies growing up we never were able to own one. We do, however, have two rescued cats, and Ann has four rescued pit bulls, so we are both focused on the plight of less fortunate animals and do what we can to bring them into our own houses and contribute to other animals finding forever homes.

I live in the Washington, D. C. area and was impressed with your descriptions of the city. Movies and books frequently get locations wrong. How did you get it so right? Did you get to do some on-site visits for research?

I wasn’t able to do on-site research for this book, but I’ve been to Washington D.C. many times and was able to draw from those memories. And, once again, research did the rest. I have to give Google Street View credit for putting me ‘on-site’ when I couldn’t be there in reality.

You write about criminals and the people who work to stop them. To do that, you have to write about some despicable characters and include some painful scenes. How do you protect yourself emotionally when writing about violent incidents, especially in chapters with a criminal’s point of view?

From my point of view, it’s all about emotional justice. Bad happens in the world, but from a reader’s point of view in a novel, you want to see good triumph over evil. So I can write about evil, knowing that the satisfaction of the team’s triumph is coming.

As far as some of the violent scenes, my husband has asked me the same thing. I can’t watch similar scenes on TV, but it’s like my imagination can tone down the vividness in my own head. I’ve written scenes that critique team members have said made them feel physically ill. I couldn’t watch a visual of it, but apparently I can dampen it enough in my own head that I can get the words down.

With a full-time job, how do you balance the demands of work, research, writing, and promoting your books? And at the same time, have some family time?

It’s tough, and sometimes I don’t do a good job of keeping everything balanced. Basically I work all the time and don’t take much time for relaxation. It’s the only way to make it all fit. Luckily I have a very understanding husband and two daughters who’ve watched the process take shape and have even been dragged to Massachusetts on several research trips, so they are very good sports.

What’s next for your “Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries” series? I hope we’ll see more of them.

Book five in the series, Lament the Common Bones, will be coming out in both print and eBook on the Ides of March—March 15, 2017. This book contains not only a new case for the team, but Matt and Leigh will also bring to a close the mysterious blackmail subplot that started in A Flame in the Wind in Death and continued in Two Parts Bloody Murder. Essentially, it’s two mysteries in one and it’s the most complex Abbott and Lowell we’ve written yet.

Thank you, Jen, for joining us at Writers Who Kill.

Thank you so much for having me!

Lone Wolf will be in bookstores December 2016. The eBook version will be available November 29, 2016.

Here is a brief peek at the fifth book in the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries series. Look for it March 15, 2017.

Lament the Common Bones
By Jen J. Danna (with Ann Vanderlaan)

When death hides in plain sight, only the most discerning eye can see the truth.

Forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell and his team of grad students don’t go looking for death—it usually comes to them. But when one of Matt’s students suspects the skeleton hanging in a top competitor’s lab is actually from a murder victim, Matt has no choice but to sneak in to confirm a suspicious death. Once the case comes to Massachusetts State Police Trooper Leigh Abbott, the team is back together again.

While trying to handle a new murder case, Matt and Leigh also uncover new evidence behind the mysterious deliveries intended to smear the name of Leigh’s father, an honored cop, fallen in the line of duty four years before. When the person behind the deliveries is finally uncovered, it becomes clear that lives are in jeopardy if they attempt to thwart him. At the same time, as the murder case delves into underground societies and grows complicated when the killer himself becomes a victim, it will take all of Matt and Leigh’s teamwork to solve both cases and escape with their lives.

To learn more about Jen Danna/Sara Driscoll, visit


Warren Bull said...

I heard a talk about a dog and trainer who was involved in arson investigation. It was remarkable. It sounds like your books are too.

Gloria Alden said...

My chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a man, who had a trained cadaver dog. It was interesting, and the dog was delightful.Your books sound like ones I'd like.

As for team writing, I started writing my first book with a sister who lived fifty miles away. It didn't work. She was still busy teaching and didn't have much time to get together, also our voices were different so I continued on writing the book and six more books after that.

Jen J. Danna said...

First of all, Grace, thank you so much for hosting me today! What a fun interview!

Warren - thank you very much! All scent dogs are incredibly talented but arson dogs have a particular challenge. They have to be able to recognize just the tiniest trace of accelerant buried in scents that are overwhelmed with other burned smells - electronics, plastics, chemicals etc. That they can identify anything is absolutely amazing.

Gloria - I'm glad the series sounds interesting to you. Good for you for trying to write together. It can be hard and it's all about finding the right combination of contributions. Glad you found what worked for you in the end.

Kait Carson said...

Riveting. While I can't imagine writing as a team, it certainly seems to work well for you. As a dog lover (and former owner of a therapy dog) I am always attracted to canine (and K-9) related stories. Definitely on my TBR pile.

Margaret S. Hamilton said...

Your K-9 books sound wonderful. I would find team-writing overwhelming. Congratulations on making it work so well.

Shari Randall said...

Thank you for this fascinating glimpse into your writing process. Your K-9 series sounds especially intriguing. Isn't it amazing what valuable team members these canines are? We had several programs at the library where I worked where trained therapy dogs came in so children could read to them. Those kids made great leaps in their reading ability - thanks to the reading therapy dogs.

Grace Topping said...

Thank you, Jen, for teaching us so much about the FBI K9 operations. Wishing you continuing success with your career.

KM Rockwood said...

I am in awe of people who write in such realistic detail, especially in several series! And people who can team-write.

Looking forward to reading some of your books.

Jen J. Danna said...

Kait - So glad the series appeals to you. If you try us out, I hope you really enjoy it!

Margaret - We're very lucky. Yes, writing as a team can have it's challenges but the good definitely outweighs those challenges.

Shari - Therapy K-9s are amazing. Ann's rescued pit bull therapy dog Kane bring such joy to the ill and the elderly. They can be such a comfort.

Grace - Thank you! :)

KM - We are very bounded in reality. Maybe too much? My kids joke that mom could never write fantasy... and they're probably right!

Thanks for all for their comments and interest in our books!