Friday, May 29, 2015

Travels With Corinne - A Central American Adventure, Part 2

from Jacqueline

After kicking off our Costa Rica adventure in the capital, San Jose, the time spent in Tortuguero seemed to mark the real start of our trip – the Tortuga Lodge was just the sort of rustic yet very, very comfortable accommodation we’d hoped for.  And there was much planned – a river trip with a guide, a hike around the whole property to learn more about the flora and fauna of the very wild lands adjacent to the lodge, volunteering in a local village school, and visit to the neighboring village.  And then there was the iguana.

 Let’s get him out of the way first.  You know how you get birds and other animals who are used to guests eating outside, and seem to wait around for the odd tidbit to fall from the table.  This is the foodie who came to lunch and dinner.  I kept my distance. I am not a lover of reptiles, though I hold nothing against people who try to tell me it’s just like having a dog or cat in the house. I once had a friend who snuggled up with Hiss every night – yes, her boa constrictor. No, that’s not for me. I like fluffy and warm, not clammy with pointy bits that look dangerous.

I'm pretty sure that's him again, waiting for dinner to roll around.

We saw quite a few iguanas, and caimans, and lizards.  We saw poison dart frogs and all manner of spiders. There were also snakes to be avoided, with names such as the eyelash viper, or the pit viper.  A rattle snake seems positively cozy by comparison.  Oh, and one of my favorite insects – funnily enough – was the leaf cutter ant.  Talk about industrious! I should have a photo of a phalanx of them on my wall, just to remind me what it is to really work at something every time I have a touch of the lazies (which, admittedly, isn’t that often).

These tiny little ants march out from their nest every day, back and forth, back and forth, to bring back bits of leaf, which form a vital nutritional basis for the forms of life (a fungus in particular, I think …) that sustain them in the nest.  But apart from all that, an ant carrying a large chunk of leaf is a bit like me carrying around a big slab of concrete on my back, which we know is not going to happen in this lifetime. I have enough trouble with a backpack! Under each bit of leaf in that photograph is a worn out ant, who will deliver her cargo and then go straight back out to the leaf-face again. 

I loved the toucans, even though they can be pretty aggressive birds, taking eggs from the nests of other birds, and generally ruling the roost.  One evening we watched as a group of spider monkeys chased off toucans feeding high in one of the trees – moving in on what was obviously something really tasty.  I was a bit disappointed in toucan behavior, probably because I always thought they would be neighborly birds, given their links to the Guinness advertisements of old.  I imagined them toddling off to the Toucan Arms and having a pint with the locals.  And mystery writers – did you know that as a copywriter, Dorothy L. Sayers was on the advertising team that came up with the toucan idea for Guinness?

And then there was the sloth, who as far as I know has never been used to advertise anything, though parents of teens may have likened their offspring to the slow, rather lazy animal at times.  They are strange creatures, but with a life that’s quite fascinating.  Do you know about the sloth? They live in the same tree for weeks on end, only coming down from the tree once a week to do their business, then scurrying back up again (they are ungainly on the ground).  There’s a veritable city of life on the sloth – various insects call the sloth home, including one particular species of moth that uses the sloth and his waste matter as a crucial part of their reproductive process.  And to think, when the sloth is hanging in the tree upside down, munching on leaves, he looks so lazy (hence the name), but so much is going on in this animal, it’s an ecosystem in itself.  Sort of like a teen’s bedroom.

When we made arrangements for the trip, Gustavo (our travel planner) drew our attention to the Words Adventure Program organized by the Tortuga Lodge. Guests can volunteer to go to a local village school to be part of a lesson, giving the children an opportunity to practice their English skills. The founders of Costa Rica Expeditions  wanted to make a real contribution to the children of the area – and learning English is considered crucial given Costa Rica’s dependence upon tourism (and the worlds’ fastest-growing languages are English and Spanish).  We were taken along to the school by one of the guides – Priscilla – who taught several lessons at the school each week, and who was leading the lesson for the small class of more advanced learners.  By most “western” standards, the school left much to be desired.  Small prefabricated buildings, no electronic devices, no teaching aids other than a whiteboard and markers, all pretty low-tech.  The buildings had been brightly painted though, and outside a mixed group of boys and girls, all ages, played football (soccer, that is) on a makeshift pitch surrounded by others cheering and calling out. Dogs seemed to run around everywhere, and one even tried to join the class.  But here’s the key thing – those children might have had few of the advantages of the children in schools local to my home in northern California, but their English was really, really good, and they tried very hard to get things right (even though I am sure they would have much preferred to be kicking that ball around with the other kids).  We had a good time, and something strange happened to me – I remembered how much I enjoyed teaching!  OK, so before you think I don’t know what I am talking about – I originally trained to be a teacher, and during my three-year course I taught at some really challenging schools for several months at a time.  I might never have taken up a paid teaching position (by the time I graduated, there was a complete surplus of teachers in the UK), but I was able to draw upon something that lingered from my original training, because when I arrived back our room, I was Googling, “Volunteer teaching opportunities in Costa Rica.”  In any case, here we are with our class.  They were wonderful kids and it was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

After a couple of days at the Tortuga Lodge, it was time to move on to the Pacuare Lodge, one of the best-rated eco-lodges in the world.  There would be limited Wi-Fi (and only electricity in the office and kitchen, as they depend upon hydro power), and there would be no power in the cabins, so illumination at night would be provided by candles.  This is a photo of us on our way from Tortuguero to the Pacuare River, where we would board rafts to take us to the Lodge.  And this would be the last time Corinne saw her Tilley hat. More on that later.

Here we are on the river, after Corinne lost her Tilley hat, probably when she left it on the rocks as we prepared to get on the raft, and she discovered that we had to don helmets. Well of course we did – you could get knocked out on the rocks!

 This is Alberro, our river guide, who brought out juicy fresh pineapple when we stopped for a break and to look at some waterfalls.

Finally we were at the Pacuare Lodge. Heaven on earth. The sounds of the jungle reverberated around us, and I knew this was where I would finally start to really relax.  That’s when Corinne discovered two disasters: 
            The Tilley hat was no longer in her possession.
            If there was no electrical power in the rooms, then there was no way she could operate her HAIRDRYER! 
            I have traveled in quite a few countries with Corinne, and in our early twenties we shared three different flats and a cottage together over a period of about four years, and let me tell you, mornings with Corinne are punctuated by the sound of a hairdryer. Corinne does not leave the house without styling her hair and fiddling with the hairdryer.  I’m always telling her it doesn’t look any different for all the work, but still she goes on.  Once it used to drive me nuts (we were always late getting to parties, for a start), but now I just find it amusing.  I think her husband just shuts it out, or maybe revs up the car threatening to leave without her.
            However, the search for the hat had only just begun!

Next week:  More at Pacuare, a bumpy ride out, Arriving at Nayara and the Arenal volcano, the magical gardens of Nectandra, how to make a good cup of Joe - and what it means to grow in a place.

Notice Corinne minus her hat!

Thursday, May 28, 2015

How I Got Published by Lisa Black

Lisa Black

It took fifteen years and nine completed novels. I had a long learning curve. I had never taken a writing course, hadn’t read a book on the subject and, in the interests of completely embarrassing myself will confess that I, a cum laude graduate of a private college, wrote my entire first novel misspelling the word “wasn’t.” I still don’t understand why that word doesn’t have an e in it. How can you go straight from the s to the n without a vowel? It’s anarchical.
            At any rate, through years of grueling trial and error I eventually produced something semi-readable. At the same time a little TV show called CSI premiered and since I and my character are both forensic scientists, that was enough to get an agent to notice me. I had been a secretary for ten years so if there was one thing I could handle, it was mass mailings. I would mail ten agents at a time, screw ‘no simultaneous submissions,’ and everyone got a query letter no matter what they asked for in Writer’s Digest. One momentous day I got a phone call from my first, excellent agent who sadly passed away a few years ago. I had no acquaintance or ‘in’ with her, mine was simply another query letter that showed up on her desk.
            However, she had some suggested changes to my book Trace Evidence…eight months of suggested changes. Some I liked, some I didn’t. (After the editor got it, she sent me nine pages, single-spaced, of more suggested changes. The olden days.)
            My agent decided to auction the book. (This is not a reflection on my writing ability but on the extent of the CSI craze sweeping the nation.) Coincidentally I would be on my way to Cleveland to visit my mother (which I did regularly) on that day. When I changed planes in Charlotte and turned on my cell phone, I received a message from my agent that there had been such a bad snowstorm in New York that she had postponed the auction until Monday, except Monday would be Martin Luther King Jr. Day and many people would be home what with kids being out of school and all that she decided Tuesday would be a better idea.
On Monday she called me just to ask ‘how I was doing.’ I think she had grown accustomed to much more high-strung clients.
            Tuesday came. My sister drove up from mid-Ohio to visit with me and we were about to take my 85 year old mother to pick up my 80 year old aunt to visit other relatives in two separate nursing homes, and were delayed because my agent called and said the auction was already over. She had sold it to Hyperion. These were the days when the economy was riding its false bubble and everyone was spending money as fast as they could make it, and she named me an astronomical sum. She must have been disappointed in my reaction—I simply asked her to repeat it, as I thought I must not have heard correctly. Even then, no screaming, shouting, jumping up and down. We’re not super-demonstrative in my family. But we were all very, very happy.
            Then, of course, we piled into the car and went to pick up my aunt--the day’s schedule had to be kept. While driving I called another sister, two brothers, and my husband. The focus, of course, was on keeping my husband from going on an instant spending spree. It would have been gone in two weeks if I didn’t keep all my business paperwork at my day job.
            Alas, in ten years things have changed. Hyperion got out of the fiction line entirely and I don’t know any authors who receive advances they’d actually get excited about. I often think of quitting. Then I don’t.
            My tenth book will be released in May 2016.


Friday, May 22, 2015

Travels With Corinne: Journey To Central America

from Jacqueline

If you hadn’t guessed already, this has been a bit of a challenging year for me thus far.  A collarbone injury that refuses to heal, my prolonged bout of severe bronchitis, and having to cancel half my book tour.  There’s more, though I won’t bore you with the details.  But there was a light on the horizon – an adventure planned last November with my friend Corinne, when I thought I would have a healed collar bone in double-quick time, no chest infections or any other illness, no problems with my mother (who needs high risk hip replacement surgery), and nothing to get in the way of my book tour. You remember the saying about how to make God laugh by telling him your plans?  I’ll remember that next time I look ahead at the year and start slotting in this and that with a sense of abandon, playing fast and loose with Fate.  In March, when I complained to my doctor that I had to get rid of the bronchitis quickly, as I had a book tour to finish, plus a trip to England to see my mother ... and a trip to Costa Rica, she looked at me in disbelief and said, “You’re not going anywhere until I say you can!”

The seeds for our expedition were sown many, many years ago, when Corinne and I were in our early twenties. Confirmed travel buddies, we always said we would do a big trip when we hit the big 6-0, which was then the official retirement age for women in the UK – fat chance of being able to retire at 60 now!  Funny how those years whipped by – it was last October when Corinne emailed to say, “When are we going, and where are we going?”  And we set to planning, with one problem to overcome – everywhere we wanted to go demanded either a very long journey for me, or a very long journey for Corinne, who lives in Harrogate, England.  New Zealand, South Africa, India … every exotic country on the planet came up for consideration and was deemed too much for one of us. Then Corinne said, “How about Costa Rica?”  We checked flight times, and – on paper – it seemed that she would only have a couple of hours more travel time than me.  At last, were off to the races! 

 Let’s start with a confession – I am addicted to what I might call “travel porn.”  I subscribe to about four travel magazines, and I am a sucker for a travel memoir. I buy books about places I want to go, and I keep a file of articles on places that interest me.  I pulled out my clutch of papers on Costa Rica, and identified a travel company I thought would fit the bill, Costa Rica Expeditions.  Corinne looked them up on and agreed – they were first class.  All I will say at this point is that Gustavo, our travel planner at Costa Rica Expeditions, has the patience of a saint – graciously dealing with two women, one in the north of England, and one in California, who would email him every couple of days asking if this change could be made, or that outing added to the mix.   Gustavo put together a really exciting trip for us, and soon the day of departure whipped around.  My doctor said, “OK, you can go – but don’t get sick.”

If you haven’t gathered this before, in previous Travels With Corinne posts, it doesn’t take much to kick start fits of giggles when we get together.  My 'plane landed a half hour before Corinne’s, so I was waiting for her when she came through the arrivals hall, and her first question was, “I think I need some colons!”  I started to laugh.  “How about some commas as a side order?” I replied – and that was it, we were off!  The stage for our adventure had been set – this was going to be a lot of fun!  (The currency in Costa Rica should be pronounced “col-on-es” and should not sound like either a part of human plumbing system, or punctuation).

We used American $$$ anyway.

I know many readers will have already visited Costa Rica, so I won’t bore you with the sort of things you can read in any travel magazine, but I want to write about those elements that really struck me during our visit, and some of our highlights. 

Our first day in the country was spent in San Jose, the capital, where we made our way from our lovely old hotel, the Hotel Grano de Oro, into the center of the city. 

We set off for a walk on our first morning, and within one block came across what looked like a street party – I guess it was, and it seemed like a regular Sunday event. The street was sealed off from traffic for several blocks to allow families to come together and enjoy a day out.  One group of kids was playing street hockey using those Styrofoam noodles and a ball, and they were having a blast!  Another group were skateboarding through a series of obstacles put up to test their expertise, and with everyone waiting his or her turn to show off their skills.  And on the next block, the BMXers were getting pretty serious about being the best – it was like being at a rodeo for kids on bikes.  Mothers, fathers, families stood and watched, chatted and shared in the fun – and not one of those youngsters was toting a cellphone or some other distracting piece of electronic equipment (and believe me, it’s all readily available in CR).

And here’s something else I noticed as we walked along – Corinne observed the same thing – that babies under the age of about a year or so were not put in strollers, or strapped to a parent so that they were facing outwards to look at every stranger walking towards them, rather they were carried in their mother’s arms, swaddled in a shawl and held close to the heart.  There was something comforting about that, as if the child were deeply cherished, and even amid the throng, would feel the mother’s (or grandmother’s) arms around him/her. I liked that - it was as if the weight of the child were nothing loving arms could not bear. 

This is one of several statues of what I guess you could call "earth mother" women around the city.  I wish I knew what inspired them - I would love to think it was the close, affectionate mothering of the women with their children.

The next morning began with the part of the tour I was secretly dreading; a flight on a small aircraft from San Jose to Tortuguero on CR’s Caribbean coast.  

You know how I feel about flying – not my favorite thing, which is pretty rich coming from someone who was a flight attendant in earlier years.  That’s when Corinne and I met, becoming flatmates, good friends, and travel companions.  But my love of travel overrides my fears – fortunately.  Yet Corinne could not wait to get into the aircraft, and bagged the front seat next to the pilot immediately. That would be the pilot who appeared as if he had been playing truant from high school to fly us to Tortuguero.  I looked suspiciously at the 5-seater Cessna (including the intrepid aviator), noting the two seats behind the pilot and Corinne, then the small seat tucked into the rear, right in front of the tail.  I gauged the weight of the two other passengers waiting to board, and I thought – with good reason, I might add – “Oh, here it comes.”  Let me first tell you something about me and 'planes – I like to sit as close to the front as possible.   Even my publisher’s publicist knows that I will put up with pretty much everything that might be thrown at me on a book tour in terms of travel, but seat me anywhere beyond about one third of the way down the 'plane, and I might just take myself onto another flight.   And I prefer a window seat, not so I can look out, but so I can close my eyes and burrow down.  I looked at the pilot and said, “I don’t like sitting at the back.”  He regarded me with pleading eyes.  He said nothing, as if he knew I’d understood what was needed.  I held up my hands in resignation.  “I know,” I said.  “You want me in that little seat so the load and trim of the aircraft is within legal limits don’t you?”  “Yes, I really do,” he said. “Or we will never get off the ground.” 

That's Corinne, having leapt into the seat next to the pilot.

As we taxied down the runway I was wondering how I would get out of that thing if we needed to a) abort take-off,  b) crash land on terra firma, or c) crash in the sea.  I figured my plan would be to whack out the window, climb over passenger #3 having shoved him into passenger #4, and either swim or run.  Corinne could get herself out for nabbing that front seat before me!  I must admit, I also took some nice photos – I realized that if I didn’t look out the window, I would have to look at the joins in the metal inside the Cessna, and they sort of moved a bit. 

Thankfully, we soon landed in Tortuguero to be greeted by guides from the Tortuga Lodge, which was situated across the river. They walked towards us with umbrellas (yes, it was raining, a happy sight for someone from drought-stricken California, not so much for a lass from the north of England), then helped us board a small boat to take us to the Lodge, where we were met by a waiter bearing a tray glasses filled with the most delicious blend of fresh fruit juices I have ever tasted.  Ah, now we were in the Costa Rica we had come to see.  Now the adventure would truly begin.   Now we would need the insect repellent.

Next week:  On toucans, teaching English in the village school, a walking tree, lunch with the iguana and white-water rafting to the Pacuare Lodge.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

What’s a Southern writer, anyway?

Guest blogger Cathy Pickens

Jim asked an interesting question: “What’s a Southern novelist, anyway?” 

Does that mean a novelist from the South?  Someone who grew up there?  Or can it include those
who have moved to the South and embraced it as their own?

And heck, what’s the South?  Got to answer that before you can say who is really from there.

Does “the South” include Florida, which was too hot before the advent of air-conditioning for anyone to wear hoop-skirted dresses?  And which has a huge population of people who definitely do not have Southern drawls.

What about Texas?  True, as with South Carolina and other states, Texans at one point tried to be their own separate country.  And while they like their conservative politics and love their guns, they’re also proud of their cowboys and barbeque beef brisket and understandably see little need to “be Southern.”  They are, after all, Texans.

What about the people who’ve moved south and claim it as their soul home, the place they were meant to be before some cosmic oversight misdirected the place of their birth? 

[Note: This cannot include the people who move here and proceed to tell us (1) how they did it back home, (2) how much better that was, and (3) why we should change.  Categorically, they don’t belong and should go home immediately.  As Southern comedian Lewis Grizzard famously said, “Delta is ready when you are.”  Sadly, will they recognize themselves in this description?  Unlikely.]

Does being Southern mean loving guns, eating squirrel, cringing at fake Southern accents in Hollywood movies and TV shows, competing in tobacco-spitting-for-distance contests, and going barefoot (either by choice or by poverty)?  I can give you names for each of those examples—as well as names of true Southerners who are the exact opposite.

Does being Southern mean we keep our crazy people on the front porch instead of in the attic?  [Might be onto something here … had family and neighbors that occasionally checked into the mental hospital for a little rest, back in the day.]

For me personally, my Southern bona fides are solid: my family has lived in South Carolina for 300 years.  (As I’m fond of saying, we don’t go far.)  My current home in Charlotte, North Carolina (which sits on the border with South Carolina) is as far north as anyone will let me go.  People say I have an accent, though I don’t know what they’re talking about.  So I’m sure all that has affected what I choose to write.  But is that what defines “Southern writer”?

Does being a Southern writer mean knowing Pat Conroy?  [He and I were in Highlands a few summers ago, working on our novels.  Of course, he didn’t know I was there.  But we were breathing the same air.]
Is it the strength of religion?  The strength of family?  Is it the food (mostly fried)?  Is it the proximity to nature (or the killing thereof, everything from hunting and fishing to logging to strip mining to that more recent phenomenon: mowing down acres to plant shopping centers)?  Is it a history of both extreme wealth and extreme poverty?

Plenty of other regions of the country can boast these attributes.  So that can’t be it …

Maybe it’s the red mud?  [Three of my nephews seem to think so.  See photo.]

Or is it our penchant for storytelling?  Maybe.  We tell and hear stories at home, at church, in the bleachers at the summer softball games, at the local meat-and-three restaurant, while fishing, even at WalMart.  I’ve had strangers walk up to me at the checkout line and start telling me their life stories or showing me their scar tissue.  All the things we love—family, food, church, home, WalMart—seem to involve stories.  And we cherish them, just as we cherish our crazy people.

What does it mean to be a Southern writer?  For me, it means that one day, I may be the crazy cat lady of my neighborhood, wandering the streets at dusk, talking to myself.  And people will let me.  I hope I’m smiling (unlike a couple of other angry-talking, crazy street-wandering women I’ve known).  And I’ve got to get a cat first.  At least one.

But I also get to listen carefully for the stories that fill the air around me.  Can’t say if that’s what makes a Southern writer—though it does seem to be fairly potent air, given our literary history.  I’ll settle for that as a definition—a Southern writer loves where she is, listens carefully, and tries to pass the stories along.

If you want to breathe some Southern literary air, come to the South Carolina Book Festival [] May 15 – 17, Columbia, SC.  It’s free.  It’s fun.  Jim Born and I will be there, along with loads of other writers—some you’ve heard of, some you’ll be discovering for the first time.

Then you can decide for yourself what it means to be a Southern writer.

Bio: Cathy’s first mystery, SOUTHERN FRIED, won St. Martin’s Press Malice Domestic Award for Best Traditional Mystery.  In her other lives, Cathy has been a lawyer and business professor at Queens University of Charlotte, former president of Sisters in Crime, on the MWA national board, and president of the regional Forensic Medicine Program.  She now consults with businesses and artists on developing their own creative process.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

James O. Born

Today I'm on my way to Columbia, South Carolina for the South Carolina Book Festival.  My biggest assignment is on Friday afternoon when I teach a two hour class on "How to Write a Novel". I've taught the class before in Columbia and else where.  My blogs over the past 18 months have helped me put my thoughts into a better focus.

Nex week we will continue our look at different genres as we explore southern fiction with Cathy Pickens.  I met Cathy at this very book festival many years ago.  She made the error of laughing at my stupid jokes and now I follow her around like a dog.  It doesn't hurt that her husband, Bob, is an expert on college football.

Just thought I'd catch everyone up and give a little preview of next week.

I have been very impressed with our guest bloggers so far.

What are some of the genres you'd like to see discussed?

Leave a comment or email mail me.

Here's the SCBF listing.  This way it looks like the blog is a little longer.

Have a great Thursday.


Friday, May 15, 2015
1:30 – 3:30 p.m.

Faculty: James O. Born
Carolina Meeting Room A
Or call 803-771-2477 to reserve a space.
The class will deal with general concepts of writing fiction. From idea to publication, this class looks at the elements each writer should consider as he or she prepares for the arduous journey of self discovery and trials of doubt and rejection as a story develops. The class will offer a simple guide to structuring a novel, developing characters and creating suspense.   Thriller writer James O. Born shares his first hand experience and lessons he learned the hard way.  Learn tips such as the easiest way to plot out a story and ways of making a word processor work for you while starting the Great American Novel.
James O. Born is a graduate of Florida State University and received a Master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in Psychology.
Born started his career in police work as a US Drug Agent (DEA) and was part of the late 1990’s Miami drug war. He then moved on to become a Special Agent with the elite Florida Department of Law Enforcement, working undercover and spending eleven years on the agency’s Special Operation’s Team (also called SWAT).
Born has taken his career in law enforcement and love of writing and blended it into a new life as a novelist. After advising numerous writers and TV shows on realism, Born spent years working on a novel of his own. In 2004, Putnam published his first novel, Walking Money. Of all the attention garnered by the novel, Born is most proud that one of his literary heroes, W.E.B. Griffin, picked Walking Money as one of his all-time favorite beach books.
The darkly comic series continued with Escape Clause, which won the gold medal in the inaugural Florida Book Award in 2007. In 2009, he won the Barry Award for short fiction at the International Mystery Writer’s Conference in Indianapolis.
In 2014, Born coauthored the popular Border War with TV commentator Lou Dobbs. His current series is a realistic view of police k-9s. The first novel in the series Scent of Murder, due for release in April of 2015, follows the pursuit of a serial kidnapper and showcases police service dogs.
Each novel strives to bring realism and entertainment together for fans of crime fiction.
Born has delivered talks to a number professional writing organizations as well as taught writing at conferences across the country. He has written articles for magazines and newspapers. In 2009, he was chosen as one of Florida’s 21 most intriguing people by Florida Monthly Magazine.
Born has also received a proclamation from the Senate of South Carolina for his efforts to advance literacy.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

Legal Thrillers

Robert Dugoni

Bob is a lawyer and a bestselling author.  His first in the Tracy Crosswhite series was released November 1, 2014 by Thomas and Mercer and became a #1 bestselling title on Amazon, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal.  .-Jim Born

I recently attended Left Coast Crime in Portland and was asked, “What makes a good legal thriller?”
            I responded, “Take out the word ‘legal’. What makes a good thriller? In fact, take out the word thriller. What makes a good book?”
The answer, Tension.
Stephen King advocates tension on every page, which, of course, is easier said than done. It’s sort of like the writer’s proverb, “Show, don’t tell.”  Really? Are you really going to write a 400 page novel without doing any telling?  Not possible, in my humble opinion. If you try, you’ll have 400 pages of metaphors and similes, most not very good.
Tension is a tricky thing. Too often I read manuscripts in which the writer has interpreted tension to mean, action. So the writer ends up with a manuscript that is filled with action on every page. This can be as monotonous as the book that has no action at all. In other words, action without tension is boring. It’s also exhausting for the reader. They don’t have time to catch their breath. More importantly, they don’t have time to care about the character’s well-being. The reader expects the protagonist to survive. Where do you go after your protagonist has climbed along the outside of a moving plane, parachuted 5,000 feet using a blanket, and survived shark infested waters?
So here’s my tip for creating tension. It doesn’t start with the plot. It starts with the character. First, if the writer doesn’t take the time to create a living, breathing character on the page that the reader cares about, then all the action scenes in the world won’t matter because the reader isn’t invested in the character’s life. They don’t care.
Think of these two scenarios.  A friend calls you up to tell you that a college friend you haven’t seen in thirty years passed away. You may feel some regret, some sorrow, some nostalgia, but probably not much pain.  Now a friend calls you up and tells you that your college roommate and best friend passed away. That pain is real, deep and pervasive. Why? Because you have invested in that friend’s life. You know his or her spouse and kids. You have the same friends. You vacation together and know all of his or her quirks and wonderful qualities. You cared about that person. You have to make the reader care about your character in some way so that the reader cares whether your character survives the ordeal you will put them through. When you do that, then the action scenes create tension because the reader anxiously wants the protagonist to be okay and come out the side perhaps injured, but still alive.
Try something less morbid. You’re watching March Madness. Two basketball teams from schools you are not affiliated with are playing. How much do you care who wins or loses?  Now you’re watching your alma mater in what is the biggest game in school history. You live and breathe Stanford Cardinal sports. Are you watching the game? Is your leg shaking? Are you biting your nails? Yelling at the referees? Why? Because you’re invested. You want the reader to be just as invested in your protagonist. 
Second, make the character care about their own well-being. I call this giving the character self-regard. This is often overlooked by writers. Think about the books where the action hero really doesn’t seem to take note of the fact that he is doing dangerous things or that people out there are trying to kill him.  He just goes from one bad situation to the next with seemingly little concern. If the character has no self-regard, then it’s hard for the reader to care. So give your character those quiet moments before the battle and then after the battle or before and after a particularly difficult conversation with someone to reflect on the dangers inherent in what they are about to do (physically and/or emotionally), or just survived.

It is in those moments that the reader gets the chance to care about the character and when that happens, you are primed to create a nail-biter of a novel.