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November 27, 2013

Bestselling Author Mary Burton Shares Secrets of Her Success

A few days prior to the release of her newest romantic thriller, NO ESCAPE, bestselling novelist Mary Burton captivated the members and guests of the nonprofit Florida Writers Foundation’s (FWF) one-day workshop. For the next three days, she kept the attendees of its sister organization, the Florida Writers Association (FWA), spellbound throughout the annual conference.

Ms. Burton’s I’M WATCHING YOU gives the reader an adrenaline rush; Mary Burton, the woman, is no less breathtaking. Although it was difficult to determine whether they are blue or green, Ms. Burton’s eyes sparkled and mesmerized during the weekend in October when she began her reign as FWA’s Person of Renown. Her smile lit every room she entered. By the end of the conference, she had convinced me that she is as beautiful on the inside as she is on the outside.

Wife and mother Mary Burton lives in central Virginia. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys yoga, hiking and cooking. In THE UNION STREET BAKERYa cozy mystery written under the name "Mary Ellen Taylor," Ms. Burton treats the reader to a pinch of the paranormal and a few recipes --- a yummy addition to a scrumptious read!

Everyone in the romantic suspense field knows her name. The prolific author sold her first manuscript to Harlequin Historicals. Since the initial sale, she has written 22 novels, including eight suspense thrillers for Kensington Publishing, four novellas and a nonfiction book.

Recently, Ms. Burton shared the secrets of her writing success with participants of the one-day annual FWF workshop in Lake Mary, Florida, nibbled breakfast the next morning with high-bidders from a silent auction designed to earn money for the nonprofit’s literacy fundraiser, answered interview questions, smiled patiently for numerous photo ops, and kicked off the annual short story writing contest sponsored by the FWA. As part of her duty as the Person of Renown, she will write a 1,200-word short story and judge the entries in the upcoming contest. Additionally, she dined with the FWA’s Youth Writers, encouraging the next generation of wannabe professional writers.

In her workshop for the FWF, Ms. Burton explained that her chart-topping romantic suspense novels are labors of love. Her procedural details, red herrings and spine-chilling plots don’t pop magically from her head. They leak from her pen one draft at a time.

According to Ms. Burton, the key to a successful story begins with believable characters and a strong story structure. She creates romantic heroes and heroines the reader cares about. In NO ESCAPE, readers relate to Jo Granger’s angst and self-doubt as her ex-husband, Texas Ranger Brody Winchester, reenters her life, requesting she travel with him to interview a psychopath.

Ms. Burton’s villains have a soft spot for something or someone. None of her characters are all bad or all good. The unnerving Harvey Smith shows concern for his foster son, Robbie, and one other person.

From which point of view will the story be told? Ms. Burton’s flash into characters and what drives them gets the ball going, but first she must determine from whose eyes the reader will see the plot unfold. Her romantic thrillers begin 30 seconds before the big problem erupts.

One day at a time for six months, one step at a time chapter by chapter, one draft at a time, Ms. Burton introduces her characters and their conflicts, and raises the stakes by increasing problems for her hero and heroine. In her presentation to the FWF, she outlined the six drafts each of her novels goes through during her writing process.

Ms. Burton’s rapt audience listened as she revealed how she creates. She begins with the first draft, letting the story flow from her head to the page without stopping to make corrections. Sans outline, she works chapter by chapter, act by act, using her own tried-and-true storyboard structure that she keeps taped near her desk. Color-coded Post-It notes allow her to visualize (and adapt if necessary) how much time she has devoted to each character as she ratchets up the tension incident by incident.

Draft by draft and one step at a time, Ms. Burton polishes her work until she reaches her last draft checklist. In this version, she weeds out weak words, replaces passive verbs with active verbs, incorporates literary language techniques, removes clichés, crafts sentences with strong last words, and eliminates dialogue tags.

When she has perfected her manuscript, the result is a Merciless book. She grasps the reader’s attention on page one, and keeps him or her up all night gasping and exhaling one breath at a time until the last word. It’s Senseless for the reader to attempt to close her thrillers until the final page has been read. You’re Not Safe! Beware of her red herrings.

Read Melody’s blog at Her young adult novel, SILENT SCREAMS, is available at