Hey there! I'm thriller author D.V. Berkom and I write high-octane, can't-put-it-down thrillers featuring kick ass women characters. I can't wait to talk with you about writing, publishing, current events, espionage, shadowy government assassins, and whatever else comes up. Ask me Anything!

D.V. Berkom
Mar 12, 2018

Hello! Full-time, bestselling thriller author D.V. Berkom here. I'm available to answer any questions you may have on writing, publishing, current events, espionage, shadowy government assassins, and anything in between!  I write two fast-paced, high-octane thriller series' featuring kickass women characters enjoyed by male and female readers alike. My stories deal with current issues and keep you on the edge of your seat! I regularly work with members of law enforcement, the military, and foreign intelligence, and all sorts of other professionals to craft realistic, can't-put-it-down thrillers. If you've always wondered what it was like to be a full-time writer, then come on over and ask me anything!

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What are some of the methods a writer can use in order to enhance the story, add complexity, and build suspense?
May 27, 3:57AM EDT0

Hi Mitch! That depends on what you're writing. If you're writing thrillers, then building suspense with progressively more dangerous/complicated problems for the hero/heroine to overcome, ending in a climax where the character either wins or suffers a great loss is a good method to get readers to keep turning the pages. Adding complexity is a double-edged sword. You want to walk a line between being too complex and confusing your readers, and not being complex enough to hold their attention. It takes practice and feedback to find your sweet spot.  I always keep the old adage in mind of putting your character in a tree with no way to get down. Then throw rocks at them. The more the character has to overcome (within reason) the more the reader will root for them and want to see them win. Hope that answered your question!

May 30, 8:16PM EDT0

Hey all, the Feed is having technical difficulties and I'm unable to see the last 5 questions, but the AMA folks are working on things, so it should be good to go asap!

Thanks, DV

Mar 20, 7:19PM EDT0

All taken care of! Thanks, AMA :-)

Mar 21, 3:43PM EDT0
What do you think the role of a woman in society should be?
Mar 19, 5:12AM EDT0

Anything she wants it to be :-)

Mar 21, 3:17PM EDT0
What would an average day in your perfect life look like? Do you have just one ideal life or can you think of more than one?
Mar 19, 1:27AM EDT0

That's a loaded question! Since I'm always dreaming up plots for novels, you can bet I'll think of several perfect lives :-)

An average day in one of my perfect lives would look like this:

Get up around 6, have coffee with my husband, check email, take a walk, eat breakfast, do Yoga, and meditate.

8-9am start writing. Write 2-5k words and take a break for lunch.

1-3pm: Take a swim in the ocean, maybe do some snorkeling. Rest on the beach for a while, read a book. Go kayaking, or paddle boarding, or surfing, something active.

3-5pm Answer emails, do some marketing, work with my VA (virtual assistant) on whatever needs to be done.

5-11pm Go out for dinner, or stay in (my hubby is a classically trained chef :-P). Take another walk, watch a movie or go out for some live music.

My other perfect lives would include living in Paris, or a small French village, or Greece, or Italy, or...

Mar 21, 3:16PM EDT0
What goals should a thriller novel attempt to accomplish with regard to its ending?
Mar 18, 4:19PM EDT0

Personally, I prefer to have good triumph over evil. But that's the kind of thriller I like to read and write. Others will disagree, preferring not to have the ending tied up for them. They like not knowing. 

Another goal would be to ramp up the tension throughout the book, with the tensest scene near the end. 

A surprise ending is always welcome, but can be really hard to pull off. Most thriller readers expect the protagonist will make it out alive, especially if it's a series, although they don't always know what kind of shape they'll be in. And readers are pretty darned savvy. Most will figure out what you might think is a "brilliant twist" before the end.

One caveat: I don't like cliff hangers when it comes to the story question that's raised at the beginning. I feel totally cheated if that question isn't resolved, and I have to wait or buy the next in the series to find out what happened. There's no reason to do that. Sure, have questions at the end that aren't resolved to entice readers onto the next book, but always give them a satisfying resolution to the main plot or many of them will stop reading your books.

Mar 21, 3:06PM EDT0
What are your litmus tests for how much detail to provide, how to spread them out so as not to lose momentum and at what point to let the plot begin its final stretch?
Mar 18, 9:10AM EDT0

At this point in my career, I usually go by feeling rather than logic for those writing issues. I don't use a blueprint for my work, other than a loose 3-act structure. Much of it becomes second nature (especially with lots of practice), and you start to sense a kind of flow to the narrative. It's akin to creating a piece of music, at least in my mind.

When I first started out I used a timeline to figure out when to put specific scenes in, and about what word count I should have specific events happen in the story. So very roughly, I did the following for a 60k thriller:

Inciting incident (a specific event that puts the story question into motion) First 15k

First turning point (where something happens to set the protagonist on their journey) By 25k

Mid-point 25-30k

Second Turning Point 30-40k (this is where the protagonist is fully committed to doing whatever the story is about)

Black Moment 40-50k (oh no! Bad things happen! The protagonist has failed!)

Resolution (wrap up any loose ends, the ending)

There are endless variations on the above, and if anyone is interested in pursuing this further there are lots of books and courses out there that use this kind of structure to teach novel writing.

I know what I enjoy reading, and usually have a feeling for when to wrap things up. I don't like a lot of description in what I read--I get bored and flip through--so I try hard not to do the same with my writing. 

The only way that I know to really get a handle on the questions you've asked is to write, write, write, and then write some more. Take a course or find a book that speaks to your process (or a process you're interested in studying), and study other (successful) writers in the genre you like by reading and picking apart their books. What did you like? What didn't work for you? Pretty soon it'll become second nature. 

Mar 21, 2:55PM EDT0
What was the most adventurous or crazy thing you have done in the past month and what has been the most adventurous or crazy thing you have ever done?
Mar 18, 5:47AM EDT0

The most adventurous and crazy thing I've done this month is finish the latest Leine Basso thriller, Dark Return. It's both adventurous and crazy because I've taken the character in a darker direction and I'm not sure readers are going to come with her to the dark side :-)

As for the most adventurous and crazy thing I've ever done, there are too many to count. Same with stupid things (and often those are very much the same).

One that stands out is driving through cartel country at the height of the war between the Mexican government and the Sinaloa Cartel in the name of research--which was stupid and adventurous and crazy. And entertaining, for the most part.

I've traveled all sorts of places alone and with a companion, and have ended up in some weird situations that I'd rather not talk about :-) I've traveled alone throughout the US many, many times, and have met and spoken to lots of different people from all walks of life--including some shady characters to be sure, but also some surprising folks, too.  If there's one thing I've learned, you shouldn't judge a person by first impressions. Usually. The older I get,  the more sensible I've become, although I still love getting to know all kinds of different people and discovering new things. And I still LOVE to travel.

Mar 21, 2:23PM EDT0
What is your favorite and least favorite movie or TV show, with regard to how they protray their female characters?
Mar 17, 9:03PM EDT0

Any TV show or movie that portrays women as living only for: shopping, their girlfriends, getting a man, or not going for what they want because of what society tells them. Women are SO much more than these stereotypes (and I'm not dissing shopping, relationships, romance, or being insecure. I just don't want to see a program that hinges on those things without showing some kind of character growth.)

The ones I love to watch are those that show a strong, multidimensional and complicated female character, especially those who make a decision and carry through with it rather than waffle about what others will think.  A character who has agency will capture my interest every time, male or female.  I am sooo tired of reading/watching female characters who don't think beyond surface issues and are portrayed as such.

Mar 21, 2:09PM EDT0
If you could choose to gender-bend any fictional male character, who would you choose and why?
Mar 15, 6:55PM EDT0

Bond. James Bond.

In the books, his character is an old school misogynist who doesn't think very highly of women, except for what they can do for him in the sack. I'd make him an elite woman agent who toys with men the same way. Leine actually started out like that, but early readers thought she was too callous, so I softened her up some :-)

Mar 16, 4:56PM EDT1
What are some of the biggest clichés to avoid when developing a female character?
Mar 15, 8:19AM EDT0

Most thriller readers aren't interested in a character's shoes (unless they're high-tech and can do amazing things to further the plot :-), her clothes and how she accessorizes, or her angst about what someone else thinks about them. Or whether she hooks up with her dream man.

I can't tell you how many times I've received emails from readers thanking me for not including a description about a female character's shoes, or not having her be on an op in heels (a particular pet peeve of mine). Seriously, if your character is going to have to run or get physical, why on earth would you make them wear heels, unless it's for comic effect? No one who reads thrillers cares about those things. At all. Most also don't care to have pages and pages describing your character making love. Folks don't read thrillers for an emotional release--unless it's an adrenaline rush.

And certainly avoid making a character one-dimensional (primary or secondary). Add some depth--give her some quirks, make her flawed-- in a big way that she has to overcome. To me, that makes an interesting and powerful protagonist. And unless it's pertinent to the plot, please don't have her cry at the drop of a hat, especially in public. Emotion is great, but the thriller genre tends to err on the side of action and logic rather than emotion.

I think it's a grave injustice for authors or readers to think that you can't write a realistic, multi-dimensional female character who can take care of herself, or one who doesn't need to be part of a couple to live an interesting life. Many of the interesting women I've met have figured out a way to balance relationships and work and their life passions, without making any one of those more important than the others.

Now, there are genres that deliver description of the above very well, like romance and women's fiction, and if that's what you're interested in writing, awesome! (Just don't do it in a straight-up thriller. You'll most likely get a bunch of bad reviews unless you explain the mashup of genres in the description.) But even in a popular genre like romance, there are authors who  don't write the typical storyline where the main plot is a female character looking for a partner who completes her. Talk about one-dimensional. There has to be something else to keep a reader's attention, and many writers in those genres accomplish that well.

Anyway, different strokes. I personally don't care much about shoes or purses (blasphemy!) or shopping, or soul mates, so I naturallly gravitated toward the thriller genre. I prefer action in books and movies. As with everything, YMMV.

Mar 15, 12:51PM EDT0
What do you believe are the reasons behind there not being many realistic renditions of female heroes?
Mar 14, 10:16AM EDT0

Ten years ago, I would have said because more women weren't creating them. There are more being created every day, now, and I'm psyched. Not only that, but men are hopping on the bandwagon, too, and many of them LOVE reading about strong, realistic female heroes.

It's taken some time, but women are finally starting to see themselves as their own heroes, rather than looking to someone else to play that role. There've always been outliers throughout history who have bucked conventional roles, but the tipping point finally appears to be here! WooHOO!

Mar 15, 12:26AM EDT0
Which specific character trait of your heroine do you wish you had and why?
Mar 14, 8:55AM EDT0

I wish I had Leine's patience. It's the one character trait I've worked to attain since I knew what the word meant. I'm better, but still not there yet :-)

I have this crazy idea that life would flow so much more smoothly if I had more of it.

Mar 15, 12:18AM EDT0

Do you believe writer's block is real or is it something one can breakthrough if they just sit down and type (even if the writing is terrible)?

Mar 13, 10:56PM EDT0

I believe that if you think it's a block, then that's what it is. Personally, whenever I get stuck, or blocked, it's my subconscious telling me I took a wrong turn somewhere in the work. If I go do something else, something to take my mind off the piece I'm working on, then within a few hours or a day, the solution will usually pop into my mind. Discussing the problem with someone helps open the door to a resolution, too. I've tried writing my way through it, but it never ends well :-)

Mar 15, 12:11AM EDT1

What atributes do you often use when building a kick ass women character in your writings? 

Mar 13, 5:59AM EDT0

I think kick ass women characters are brave, first and foremost. Whether they're scared sh#tless or not. She pushes past her fear to do what needs to be done.

Second, I'd say she's strong but allows herself to be vulnerable, (not wimpy). Everyone's got vulnerabilities. A strong woman (or man) can show this without acting like a victim.

And third, she's willing to risk it all to do what's right. 

What do you think shows a woman character's kick-assery?

Mar 15, 12:07AM EDT0
Show all 4 replies
How long did it take you to become a best-selling author? Did you expect this level of success when you wrote your first book?
Mar 12, 12:25PM EDT0

I'd been writing for several years, and hadn't really thought about it. I was too busy learning the craft and trying to get more books written. Bestsellerdom wasn't my main criteria for success (It's too ephemeral to use as a gauge) -- making a living writing was. I achieved that in 2012, and except for a stretch of time when I slowed down in marketing my work, have increased my income every year.

Mar 12, 8:51PM EDT0
What does your writing schedule look like? Do you write every day?
Mar 12, 11:53AM EDT0

I try to write every day--if I take a couple of days off, it takes time to get back into the groove. That being said, I do take vacations and time off in the summer. My schedule when I'm in the middle of a novel is generally writing 5-8 hours a day, 6-7 days a week. Sometimes in the mornings, sometimes the afternoons, depending on appointments and life in general. I rarely write at night, and when I'm done, I'm done. I get drifty and easily distracted, which tells me I need to do something else for the rest of the day or evening. I'd love to be able to write 10-12 hours at a stretch like some authors, but that schedule tends to make me really cranky, and I'd lilke to keep my husband around :-)

Mar 12, 8:44PM EDT0
What do you think are the key ingredients of a best-selling thriller book?
Mar 12, 11:38AM EDT0

If I knew that, Kenza, I'd be making sure I did it every time :-D A lot of it is hard work and learning the craft, but luck plays a big part, too. Most authors I know would love to create a best selling novel or 10, but it isn't the main reason we write. Mainly because that kind of success is so ephemeral. Writers write because they have to--there's no other option.

Mar 12, 8:37PM EDT0
Is there a common message you are trying to send to the world through your books?
Mar 12, 9:59AM EDT0

A theme that continues to run throughout my work is that of second chances and redemption. That, and that anyone can learn to stand up for themselves. I'm all for empowerment :-) I believe there's bravery in everyone--it doesn't always come to play, but in the right circumstances it can and often does.

Mar 12, 8:33PM EDT0
How can readers learn more about you and contact you?
Mar 11, 12:41PM EDT0


Thanks for asking :-) Readers can go to my website at dvberkom.com, which has my contact information and lists all of my books with links (eBook, audio, and print). There's also a sign up form to get the first installment in both of my series' for free. Or, they can always connect with me on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Pinterest, or email me at dvb(at)dvberkom(dot) com. I love to connect with readers and other writers!

Mar 11, 4:36PM EDT0
What’s the greatest pleasure or reward for you in writing? Anything you are particularly proud of?
Mar 11, 12:20PM EDT0

Finishing a book is definitely up there with one of the great pleasures of being an author. It's an awesome feeling when you type "The End."

I'm proud to have built my career writing strong but flawed female protagonists. There were so few to choose from when I started in that genre-- it was (and still is) dominated by male authors and characters. I wanted to read about a strong female I could relate to, so I went ahead and learned how to write one. I highly recommend it ;)

I'm also proud of writing about issues that piss me off, and shining a light on them in my novels. The way I see it, the more information out there regarding these horrendous problems (e.g. human trafficking, ivory poaching, etc.) the bigger the possibility that something will be done about it. The more people who know about these issues, the better.

Mar 11, 5:43PM EDT0
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