From the Blog
We had several chicks arrive today. They’re barely three days old and already I can tell the timid from the bold, the strong from the weak and then, there’s this tiny little one that I have tucked up under my shirt because she needs just a little bit more warmth and extra care. Her eyes are closed, her wings are limp, and her breathing is almost nonexistent. She’s nestled in close to my chest, fighting to live as I write. Every now and then I feel her adjust a wing or reposition her teensy toes. I wonder if she’ll pull through, if she has that intangible ingredient that gives her that extra little oomph that I’ve seen in so many other wounded or weak animals throughout the years. I’ve found that the trait I’m hoping to encourage in this little Silver Laced Wyandotte, that intangible will to survive and to thrive, is found in all aspects of nature. It runs true in successful human endeavors as well. It’s the difference between a very talented shower crooner who is too afraid to sing in public, and, say, someone like Barbara Streisand, who ignored the naysayers of her youth and rose to the very pinnacle of her profession. Why does someone like Cesar Milan triumph while thousands of other wannabe animal trainers languish in obscurity? And, along those lines, since I love to write, I wonder why some people dream of becoming a writer “someday” while others crank out novel after novel after novel. Why do negative reviews completely derail certain authors to the extent that they never write again, yet others laugh at the negative comments and publish another book on the heels of that negative review? I think it has something to do with whether or not this little chick is going to pull through. If she has that drive, that little extra belief in herself, combined with the will to live—to succeed where others have failed and died. At some point, will she tell herself she’s just too tired to try anymore? Will she decide that the three days she’s been in existence have simply been too difficult to even want to go on? Over the years, I’ve spoken to many people who have a thirty page manuscript tucked into a drawer that one day they’ll pull out and dust off and hopefully crank out the other two hundred and fifty pages necessary to complete their book. But it’s just so hard to find time to write. It’s not fun waiting for inspiration to hit. It’s easier to simply say, “Maybe one day.” The successful ones are the people, and chickens, who shout out to the world, “Just let me write one more word, take one more breath, finish one more page, and swallow one more dropper full of sugar water.” They believe, unequivocally, that they’re going to make it no matter what. Nothing is going to keep them from their success.
I just heard a few tiny peeps out of this little chick. As I pull her out from under my shirt, her eyes are open again, her wings are tucked in tight and she’s telling me she’s ready to live. I guess she has that little extra something that all truly successful creatures possess. How about you? Are you ready to pull out that dusty manuscript and finish it? Do you have what this tiny little chick obviously has in abundance? Of course you do. Now get out there and put that one more word into your story, finish that next page, and start that next chapter. Decide to succeed. It’s really as simple as that.
Alexandra Wolfe has been trying to stay out of trouble. Honest! But with budget cuts being what they are, Alex and Casey find themselves putting on a uniform twice a month to help out the officers on the street. The ladies are right in the middle of rescuing an errant emu when their sergeant, Kate Brannigan tells them to meet her at the Rillito Race Track. There’s been a fire in one of the barns and a body has been discovered buried in a shallow grave. The tricky part comes when Alex discovers that the barn belongs to her mafiosa friend, Gianina Angelino. Tightrope walking is one of Alex’s specialties and when she begins digging deeper into the cause of the fire and Gia’s activities, well, let’s just say her balancing act is about to be tested to the limit.
I’ve been practicing a new technique that I learned from my friend, Harvey Stanbrough. If you are a writer, Harvey’s website is full of excellent material he’s written and collected on everything having to do with writing. He’s a great writer himself, but as a resource, I highly recommend him.
The technique I’m talking about is called “Writing Into the Dark.” It’s a wonderful way of writing that actually frees up writers to do what we’re meant to do—write. When I’m writing into the dark, I’m not planning the story—any part of the story—I’m simply following the characters around and reporting on what they’re doing. I’m listening to their accents and trying to write them so they make sense to the reader. I’m watching the street they are walking down and reporting on what I’m seeing.
This technique is so freeing I wish I could convince every writer I meet that they should at least give it a try. If you’re interested in looking into it, go to Dean Wesley Smith’s website here and check out number #24 of his lecture series. (No I’m not getting a commission for recommending it)
But that’s not the main topic of this post. I realized something after being hit over the head with it by Harvey the other day.
I am someone who is focused on putting out the best, cleanest book possible. By cleanest, I mean one with very few grammatical errors. I’m also very precise with my words because I know exactly what I want to convey, even with a single word. Now, I have always been very aware as a reader, that there are times when I’m completely immersed in a story and then, wham, I’m jerked out of it by something. For this post, it doesn’t matter what that something is. Suffice it to say, it happens.
What I never realized before, is that the same phenomena can happen to a writer. When I’m focused on the grammar, or the punctuation, or on finding just the right word, I’m jerking myself out of the story. I stop what I’m writing and do something else. That was an epiphany for me, and Harvey’s whack with a metaphorical stick is what it took to allow myself to write. If I come to a word that doesn’t work, I type the wrong word in caps so I can find it easily later, and I move on. Punctuation? Same thing. I’ll bold the sentence and move on.
The result has been a 1/3 increase in word count per day. Before this concept I was struggling to fit 2000 words into my writing time. Now, 3000 words fly off my fingertips, and the key thing I’ve noticed, is that my writing hasn’t suffered a bit! It’s still tight or edgy or funny and well written. The only difference is that writing is no longer a struggle!
I highly recommend trying this process to any writer out there who is struggling with perfectionism. I still go back at the end of the day to find the right word or the correct punctuation, but I don’t do it in the middle of my creative process.
Let me know if you try it and how it works for you. I’m really interested to see if it helps your writing as much as it has helped mine.
Writing mysteries comes easily to me since most of my adult life has been spent unraveling true to life mysteries as an officer in a large metropolitan police force. Solving cases is really nothing more than methodical fact-finding and taking the time to follow-up on every tiny scrap of evidence you can find. Can three words a four-year-old lisps while you’re trying to talk to her mom break a case? Of course! Well, if she says, “Daddy did it.” that’s a no brainer. But what if the mother is telling you the mailman did it, and the child whispers to her pink elephant, “Thath not twru.” A good detective would hear her and make note of what she said. A great detective would ask the mother to excuse them a minute, get down on the floor and start playing with the girl to see if he could get her to talk.
The Alex Wolfe Mystery series has been fun to write because Alex is like a dog with a bone. She digs and digs and gnaws and chews until she begins to drive everyone around her absolutely crazy. She does and says things to her superiors that would get me or any other officer fired in a heartbeat. I’m the type of person who comes up with the perfect comeback about two hours after the fact when I’m driving down the road playing back the conversation in my head. Not Alex. Her comments to her bosses are witty, biting or just plain outrageous and they’re constantly a source of contention between her and her fellow officers. Her methods are definitely not found in the regulation police manual, but they work.
One of my favorite by-products of writing books is the chance I get to answer questions from other writers. I love to teach authors how to write realistic police scenes or dialogue. Most people are pretty well versed now on police procedures because of all the reality police TV shows. At a seminar in Arizona, I was asked how one officer could handle a particular call so differently from another. In other words, how can Alex be successful when she’s so definitely “not by the book”?
Within the confines of the law, there is no one “right” way to do police work. There are many, many different ways to handle the same situation. For example, a cop walks up to a local gang member on the street and asks for identification. The gang member takes off running down the street. If the cop has twenty years under his belt, he’ll probably watch the young man running away and think to himself “Tomorrow’s another day.” He knows he’ll run into the kid again.
Now take the same scenario, but make the cop a twenty-one year old rookie fresh out of the academy. Everyone knows, the chase is on. The rookie keys his mike while he’s running after the suspect, breathing heavily while giving his location and making sure everyone in his division know he’s chasing a bad guy. Alex on the other hand might run to her car, drive around the block and be leaning up against her car with her arms crossed waiting for the guy to run out of the alley. Three very different responses, all of them acceptable. “How can the grizzled old veteran’s response be acceptable?” you may ask. Actually, they did ask at the seminar, along with about a hundred other questions that turned into a fun discussion on how these fifty and sixty year old writers could best capture a fleeing suspect.
Anyway, I digress. If you go back to the original scenario, the cop simply walked up to a man who was dressed in gang clothes and hanging out on a street corner. The man ran. Nothing illegal in that. Suspicious? Yes. Illegal? No. The veteran has probably worked the same beat for fifty years. He knows who hangs out where, when, and why. If he didn’t know this particular gangster, he’ll know who he is by the end of the day, why he’s there and what drugs he specializes in. He’ll notify the undercover street narcotics squad who’ll set up several buys and get the man off the streets for good. It’s the difference between short-term and long-term thinking. Rookie versus Veteran.
To me, it’s these types of differences that make police procedurals interesting and I like to put all different types of officers into my stories. So like I always say—Pop some popcorn, curl up by the fire with Credo’s Hope and get ready to be entertained.
Being a writer isn’t easy. Most of us use our computer to write our great American novel. The trouble is, there are so many distractions on the internet today that many times what took us 3 hours to write ten years ago takes us six hours today.
We are distracted by
• Reading our email
• Answering our email
• Checking our social media
• Surfing the web
• Anything else that we can find to help us to not write
But honestly, there’s another, more insidious reason many writers fail to complete one book, one short story, or even one blog post. That reason?
THE SPOTLIGHT EFFECT
What exactly is this mysterious ailment? According to a study done by Cornell University, The Spotlight Effect is “An Egocentric Bias in Estimates of the Salience of One’s Own Actions and Appearance.” What does that mean in basic English?
• Most people think everyone is staring at them
When in Reality
• Nobody really cares or notices what you do, think, or say
How does this study relate to writers? Most writers freeze up when they start worrying about that next review. What will my readers think? I’ll be everyone’s fool. Everyone will say I should never have been a writer.
Honestly, take a minute and breathe. Now take a minute to set some goals. Decide to write 1000 words/day or 2000 or 3000. Then realize that if people don’t like what you’ve just published, that’s okay because you’ll already be off and running on your next project, on that next 1000 words, or half way into your next novel. Take control and silence your worst critics. Move beyond them, don’t listen to them, and don’t EVER let them stop you from attaining your goals and dreams.
I was talking to a friend of mine the other day who has worked patrol for the past twenty years. As usual, the conversation eventually got around to my writing. He asked me if I still wrote about what writers do that really bugs cops on the street. When I said I did, he said, “Let me tell you one of the things that drives me crazy every time I see it on some cop drama or read it in some book. I hate it when they walk up to a door to talk to somebody or to check on a possible victim, and when they touch the door, it just swings open.”
I knew exactly what he was talking about. Every time I see that in a movie, I involuntarily roll my eyes. It’s like a subconscious twitch, and when it happens, I have to keep my thumb from automatically clicking the “off” button on the remote control.
Writers, hear me on this, please. In twenty years of police work, there was only one time that I pushed on a door and it squeaked open for me. And honestly, that was on a house check a neighbor had called in and when I contacted the owner to come home to check things out, we discovered that her husband just hadn’t pulled the door shut hard enough when he left that morning.
I have however had to climb through windows, bash open doors (granted they were hollow core doors) with my shoulder, crawled in through the doggy door, and rooted around in the yard until I found the secret hiding place for the key. Use your imagination. It is so cliché for your character to push on the door, throw an astonished look at their partner, and slip in an already open door. Have fun with it. Have your detective do something outlandish or even illegal. But get your character into the house any way other than through an unlocked front door.
If you do, my patrol friend will thank you from the very bottom of his heart.
Now, as promised, I’ve been searching for some great gifts for families and friends to give to the writer in their life. I told you I would add a few to each post in the days before Christmas, so…here you go!
1. I love this one. There is nothing so important to a good book as a great first line! This mug features opening lines of some of the greatest works of literature from “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” to “Call me Ishmael” and 22 more. Check it out!
Great First Lines of Literature Mug
2. As an incorrigible tea drinker, this is an absolute must have, in fact, if any of my family is reading this, this is it!
Novel Teas contains 25 teabags individually tagged with literary quotes from the world over, made with the finest English Breakfast tea.
3. And there’s always the great chocolate inspirational flag. Who could live without this hanging in their front yard?