Writer’s Toolbox

Author Q&A

Here we present our exclusive collection of Q&As with a long list of illustrious authors.

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Pamela Callow

Pamela CallowPamela Callow is the author of thriller novels such as Damaged, Indefensible, and Tattooed.

What is your method for overcoming writer’s block?

Writer's block means different things to different people. For me, it occurs when the writing flow stops and I get stuck in my manuscript. Usually it is because of one of two problems: either I don't know my character in that scene well enough, or I need to explore other story development options. So this is what I do regarding the first issue: I open a new file, and begin to drill down into the already established back story of my character. I spend time exploring relationship dynamics with family, friends, partners; childhood experiences; current desires and frustrations. Generally, what I'm trying to establish is the motivation and/or reaction of a character to a particular conflict or event that is occurring in my plot. It never fails that I have an "aha" moment, and it opens the door to a number of possibilities.

However, all these possibilities can lead to another problem, which is my second most common reason for writer's block. I have written three thrillers, all of which have at least four or five different points of view in them. There are a myriad of motivations, reactions, and story options to pull together. In Tattooed, my latest release, I have two killers with different motivations, two different criminal cases (one is a cold case, one is the crime that is developing as the suspense element), and an assisted suicide campaign. I have to make certain decisions to integrate the character arcs, criminal investigation, and suspense elements to create a cohesive, page-turning novel. Once in a while, those decisions lead me astray and I'm left staring at the screen, wondering what to do next.

I am a lover of flow charts, so I take blank paper, and a gel pen (because what writer doesn't have a favorite type of pen?). I lay out the plot elements as headings in simple flow chart form running horizontally across the page. Then I begin to play "what if" with them, turning assumptions on their heads. I map out the consequences of those actions under each particular plot element heading in a vertical flow down the page. It helps me keep an open mind and allow the characters to react naturally, while providing a structure for the thriller elements.

What are your favorite or most helpful writing prompts?

I like to write without music as it is difficult for me to concentrate. However, for all of my books, I have had a theme song that has spoken to me on a creative level, usually through mood or tone. For example, I heard Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” just before I began writing Indefensible, in which an ultra-successful managing partner of a law firm is accused of murdering his ex-wife and finds his entire self-identity stripped away. I would listen to the song before I wrote his scenes. Tattooed, my recent release, focuses on themes of obsession and revenge. Adam Lambert’s acoustic version of “Mad World” helped put me in the head of one of the killers in the book. I wrote out the lyrics above Chapter One on the draft of my manuscript, so I could put myself in the head of that character (who opens the book).

What is the most valuable advice you received as a young writer?

I can't remember a specific piece of advice given to me as a young writer, but I am eternally grateful to my junior high school English teacher Lillian Fowler, who ran a creative writing workshop as part of our curriculum. She fanned the spark. She gave me the opportunity to explore and not be forced to stay within the lines.

I do have a piece of advice for young writers: have faith in yourself. If you don't believe in yourself, your work, and your value, you cannot expect anyone else to. It comes from within. That is something I remind myself everyday when I sit down and write.