George A. Bernstein is the retired president of a Chicago appliance manufacturing company, now living in south Florida. Able to retire early and looking for something to do besides play golf, he leaned on a life-time flair for storytelling and turned to writing novels. He spent years attending writing seminars and conferences, learning to polish his work and developing a strong “voice.” Bernstein is acclaimed by his peers as a superb wordsmith.

His first novel, Trapped, was a winner in a small Indie publisher’s “Next Great American Novel” contest, and received high praise, gaining many mostly 5-star reviews at Amazon (reaching their “Top 100”) and Goodreads. His 2nd novel, A 3rd Time to Die (A paranormal Romantic Suspense) has also garnered mostly 5-Star & 4-Star reviews, with one reader likening him to the best, less “spooky” works of Dean Koontz & Stephen King.

The Prom Dress Killer is the third of his Detective Al Warner Suspense series, with the first, DEATH’S ANGEL, and the second, BORN TO DIE, already garnering rave reviews. Bernstein has the fourth Warner novel already in the works, to be published in 2017. Readers have likened Bernstein’s Detective Al Warner to Patterson’s Alex Cross.

Bernstein works with professional editors to ensure his novels meets his own rigorous standards, and all of his books are currently published by small indie press, GnD Publishing LLC, in which he has an interest.

Bernstein is also a “World-class” fly-fisherman, setting a baker’s dozen IGFA World Records, mostly on fly-rods, and has published Toothy Critters Love Flies  (www.pikeflyguy.com), the complete book on fly-fishing for pike & musky. 

Book description: The Prom Dress Killer: A psychopathic killer lurks in Miami’s shadows, snatching and murdering young auburn-haired women. Strangely, they are killed without trauma and left clad in frilly prom-style dresses.

Miami’s crack homicide detective, Al Warner, is on the case, but the killer has left few clues. Why were these girls taken and then executed? Was he intent on killing redheads, or was there some other connection? And why were their bodies so carefully arranged in peaceful repose, wearing prom dresses?

Warner’s hunt for this clever psycho is stymied by a lack of clues as he desperately searches for the latest victim. The suspense ramps up when the murderer finally makes one tiny error.

As Warner and the FBI doggedly zero in on their fleeing prey and his newest captive, the action escalates. Unlikely players are drawn into a tense, deadly game. As the stunning climax plays out, Warner is trapped in a classic Catch-22. In order to snare this lethal psycho, he must make a decision that may haunt him forever. 

Why don’t you begin by telling us a little about your writing background?

I’ve always been a good story-teller, something I often used to keep out of trouble as a kid. My essays were frequently the ones read in English classes. When I decided to become a fiction author, my normally driven personality pushed me to learn and excel. I began attending several good writer’s conferences, which are replete with classes on all the facets of writing, and I quickly learned that just being talented wasn’t enough. Great writing takes work and attention to detail. I admired the wordsmith beauty of writers like Dean Koontz and Stephen King, and became obsessed with writing elegant prose, and the classes showed me the need to really develop continuing tension in the story. 

When did you decide you wanted to become an author? 

When I was ready to semi-retire pretty young, my wife, Dolores, said, “What are you going to do to keep busy? You don’t love golf that much. You are a great story-teller. Maybe you should write a novel.”

Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for. But once I began writing, I was hooked. I get totally involved in my plots and the lives of my characters. I HAVE to see where they are going! 

Do you have another job besides writing? 

Not a paying one. When I’m in need of some aggravation, I play golf. My 3-car garage is a full-blown cabinet shop, where I’ve built 28 unique wood-paneled and French glass doors for my house, plus all the cherry or mahogany cabinets and much of the furniture. 

Tell us a bit about your latest book, and what inspired you to write such a story. 

The Prom Dress Killer is the third of my Detective Al Warner suspense series, with at least three others already outlined. Writing this and future Al Warner novels is a natural progression in building a series. The main thing is to keep the fresh with unique plots. My wife, Dolores, is a frequent inspiration for new story lines, but the idea for The Prom Dress Killer was mine alone. 

How would you describe your creative process while writing this book? Was it stream-of-consciousness writing, or did you first write an outline?

First I envision a story, trying to find a unique plot-line, something I seem very good at. Then I imagine my characters: the heroine (in my first 2 novels. Warner becomes my hero in my 3rd and subsequent novels); who will be her hero; an anti-hero or villain (sometimes more than one); and various enablers (both good & bad). Each character has their own 4 x 6 index card, with physical appearance, likes, dislikes, traits, and backgrounds. As the story develops, anything new gets added to their card, like what car they drive. New characters that appear get their own cards.

Next, I outline the entire story, chapter by chapter – just a few sentences for each, as a guide. Then the writing begins, and soon the characters magically take over the action, often plunging off into uncharted directions of their own. They often speak to me at night, while I await sleep, telling me things about themselves I never expected. The outline becomes a flexible tool, not an iron cast mold. I pretty much write the entire story straight through, only reviewing each chapter for glaring mistakes and to be sure of where I’m headed, before I move on to the next one.

After I complete the 1st draft, I begin several edits. First, I correct spelling, grammar, and sentence structure. I always find something I missed, no matter how often I do this. Next, I look at overall flow & pacing. Often, chapters are moved around to improve structure and increase tension. Then I go back and look at prose for more powerfully descriptive words. It can take many minutes for me to find the right way to say something in an elegant way, and I’ve been rewarded with praise by my peers as being a superb wordsmith.

Next I review each scene, to be sure it’s as tense as I can make it. In Donald Maass’ seminar, he asked “What’s the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?” After coming up with that, he then asked “What can be even worse than that?” and then, after some serious head-scratching, “What can be even worse than THAT?” Without tension, no one stays interested in your novel very long. Traumatic events need to be much more than just a half-page long.

On a final edit pass, I often break longer chapters and paragraphs into shorter ones, a trick I learned from, among others, Dean Koontz and James Patterson. It keeps the reader more engrossed.

Finally, it’s reviewed by my small critique groups of fine published authors who always supply great input, and then it goes to a copy editor to double-check for spelling and grammar. It always amazes me that, even after that, any subsequent edits will find things missed on previous passes. 

What type of writer are you—the one who experiences before writing, like Hemingway, or the one who mostly daydreams and fantasizes? 

 I’m an imaginative writer, although sometimes things from my life have gotten into my books. A neighbor we knew, who was in a coma from an anesthetic accident, was the germ of the idea for the Locked-In Syndrome heroine, Jackee, for my first novel, Trapped. And my wife’s horse jumping experiences were an important part of A 3rd Time to Die. 

Agatha Christie got her best ideas while eating green apples in the bathtub. Steven Spielberg says he gets his best ideas while driving on the highway. When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is? I often get some of my best ideas, while in the midst of a novel, at night, before falling asleep. I often solve characters’ problems, and think of new things for them to be involved with. As for story ideas, my wife, Dolores, is a fount of those, and she’s actually responsible for my first novels, and my highly regarded nonfiction book on fly-fishing for pike and musky, Toothy Critters Love Flies. 

From the moment you conceived the idea for the story, to the published book, how long did it take?

It usually takes 6 to 8 months to write and edit a novel. Then maybe another two months to polish it. Getting it published is another matter, if one is seeking traditional publishers. It took twenty years, with lots of revisions and the total removal of a side plot, before Trapped won “The Next Great American Novel” contest and was published by TAG Publishers. Of course, self-publishing is an option, but the majority of books so published have never seen the hand of a good editor, and that shows in the finished work. 

They say authors have immensely fragile egos… How would you handle negative criticism or a negative review?

I have a strong ego, but accept criticism as a positive. An author who is unwilling to listen to an expert, like his editor, is doomed. My editor at TAG for Trapped made several suggestions that required a lot of work from me but made the novel stronger. On the other hand, they also wanted me to change the ending, which I argued (successfully) against. I felt it was a strong part of the book, and most readers agree. One wrote me she read it three times, she loved it so much, and I still get emotional when I reread it … for the hundredth time!

As for reviews, you take the good with the bad. If most readers don’t “get” your book, that’s the author’s fault. If a few don’t, that’s too bad. I’ll only contact a reviewer if he/she has published a “spoiler,” giving away the ending. The few times that’s happened, they have always changed their review to eliminate that. 

What is your opinion about critique groups? What words of advice would you offer a novice writer who is joining one? Do you think the wrong critique group can ‘crush’ a fledgling writer?

I belong to a small critique group of four other successfully published authors. We send each other 10 – 15 pages each month, so we each have time to digest the work and make editing suggestions. One is an expert line editor, and she usually catches all the spelling and grammatical errors. We each get a lot of input on structure and content, and the others rely on me for better ways to say things – something I excel at.

However, critique groups are only as good as the people in it. You need some experienced authors to provide really valuable input. Not all are good at that, and one must find one they are comfortable with, and that challenges your writing in a positive way. Groups of more than six don’t provide enough time to get real personal inputs. 

How was your experience in looking for a publisher? What words of advice would you offer those novice authors who are in search of one? Finding a traditional publisher is an author’s most daunting task. Few agents and even fewer publishers are very open to new, unpublished fiction authors. Your best chance to avoid the dreaded Form Letter Rejection is to attend writers conferences that feature agents and editors that schedule “pitch” sessions. If one asks you to submit material, you know it will at least be looked at. A few mid-sized presses still accept direct submissions from unagented authors. If you write non-fiction, it all depends on your platform. 

What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received? 

 From Donald Maass, top fiction agent, at his seminar: “What’s the worst thing that can happen to your protagonist?” After we came up with that, he then asked, “What can be worse than that?” Wow! That was tough, but eventually we figured it out. And then he asked, “What can be even worse than that?” The whole point was, if you characters aren’t in extreme and very protracted danger, who would be interested in reading about it? If the gun fight and chase is over in a half-page, there’s no real tension. 

Do you have a website/blog where readers may learn more about you and your work?

http://suspenseguy.com

and http://pikeflyguy.com for my non-fiction fly-fishing book

plus all my work, including my new audio book versions, can be seen at: http://amazon/com/author/georgeabernstein

Do you have another book on the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects? 

The fourth Detective Al Warner suspense (currently unnamed) is in the works, hopefully ready for publication by the end of 2017. I have outline for two others.

As an author, what is your greatest reward? 

Reading reviews from readers who loved the book and, especially, who love my “voice.”

 

 

 

 

 

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