From the Blog
If we are lucky, there comes a time in a writer’s life when we realize that, although we love our readers, we can no longer write simply to try to please them. Writing for other people can be a strangling experience, one where the hidden demons of self doubt creep into our subconscious and whisper crippling innuendos of fear and incertitude. “They won’t like it if I turn my character into this.” Or “They don’t want me to start another series, they want more of this one.” Or “This book is no good, the reviewers will tear it apart.”
Those thoughts generate the greatest excuse not to write known to man; the fearsome “writer’s block.” In reality, I don’t believe in writer’s block, and neither do the men and women who write thousands of words day after day, writing through their hesitations and fears. What I’ve come to understand is that they don’t write for their fans or for a large audience of potential readers. Those writers have learned to write for no one other than for themselves. They have an audience of one.
And yet even with that audience of one, doubt and apprehension try to wriggle into the writing process. A true writer has to push those doubts way down into the dark recesses of their mind and simply put pen to paper, writing word after word after word, and always coming back the next day to resume the process. There is no place in our writing for doubt. We have to believe that the stories are within us, that the gift of words we’ve been blessed with will coalesce into brilliant, wonderful stories that will transport our readers into another world, another time, or another dimension.
The best advice I can give any writer is to put away your doubts, your fears of your audience and your fear of failure, and write. Remember, the best audience you have is an audience of one.
I absolutely love this time of year. The idea of dressing up my house with beautiful lights and wonderful smells is something I’ve looked forward to ever since I was a small child. I remember my dad pulling down box after box of tree decorations while my brothers, cousins and I worked to shove the tree stand onto the trunk of our newly cut Christmas tree. Our decorations certainly never looked like the designer trees you see in stores today. We were happy if the red puff-ball nose we’d glued onto our cardboard toilet paper roll reindeer stayed on and the strings on the handmade popcorn garlands didn’t break.
Fast forward to our busy hustle and bustle lives of today. So many people don’t have the time to make homemade decorations or to bake gooey double chip chocolate chip cookies. Heck, as writers, we’re lucky if we even have time to go gift shopping let alone do all the little extras that make Christmas so special for your family.
I know I sit at my computer eight hours a day, sometimes more, where I live in whatever fantasy world I happen to be creating that day. When people ask me “What do you want Santa to bring you?” my response is usually a blank stare and a mumbled “Can I get back to you on that?” Which brings me to the reason for this post. I thought I’d give my writer friends a list that they can print out and give to their friends and family of various items that might be appreciated by a writer. Some are whimsical, some are practical, but I hope something here might tickle your fancy. I’ll try to add three or four ideas to each new blog post I put up before Christmas.
1. The first item on the list is this wonderful clock that doesn’t let us procrastinate, get distracted, file our nails, walk the dog or any of one hundred other excuses we find to get ourselves out of putting words to the page. I personally love this clock…
2. One of my personal favorites are these coasters that make my imaginary friends legitimate.
3. And here’s one for the more practical minded. I have learned an incredible amount from reading Dean Wesley Smith’s blog over the years. He is considered one of the most prolific writers working in modern fiction. If you really, really want a gift that your loved one can consider a great investment in your life’s passion, ask them to buy you one of the many available lectures in his WMG Publishing Lecture Series. You won’t be disappointed. http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/lecture-series/
4. How about some help with your writing? Here’s one that I found especially helpful whenever I write about a character’s emotions. The Emotion Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide To Character Expression Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi have done an excellent job of illustrating the importance writers taking their innate skills of observation and transferring them to their characters in ways that are compelling to read.
I know holidays can be stressful, but try to look at the positive rather than the negative and most importantly, keep on writing!
One truism I’ve found as a writer is it’s easier to let life get in the way of writing than to let writing get in the way of life. I’ve decided to turn that trend around and get back to the business of writing. Five years ago, I was easily writing up to 3000 words/day. My writing business was thriving, life was fantastic and I didn’t have a care in the world. Then, insanity struck. I bought a 100+ year old house intending to do a quick 1 year renovation while continuing to write. Five years later, I own a beautiful turn of the century home, but where in the time prior to my madness I wrote three novels in two years, I have only written one novel in five years.
Right now, right here, I am publicly declaring that my writing hiatus is over. I intend to write more now than I ever wrote before. The madness, the insanity that has been my life for the past five years is over. I’m a writer, damn it. I’ve known I was a writer from the time I was a child. The written word is my chosen form of communication and I WILL write.
So, anyway, if anyone is still out there…. I’m Baaaack!!!!
Thank you for visiting with me as I’m touring with one of my Alex Wolfe Mysteries, Credo’s Hope. I’m traveling across the country as I write this, meeting wonderful people and enjoying the many different cultures and personalities found in each of the charming regions I’m traveling through. Have any of you ever noticed how incredibly friendly the people of the Midwest can be? A total stranger in Oklahoma spent almost an hour of her own time helping me find a pet friendly hotel while a young man in Missouri ran through a farmer’s field after my Chihuahua who’d decided she wanted to take her own tour of the Show Me state. As I drove through the southern states, people with wide smiles and heavy southern drawls were only too happy to repeat themselves as many times as necessary to make themselves understood by my uninitiated ears.
One side benefit to meeting such an eclectic group of people is the shear number of interesting personalities and quirks I can use for new characters in my novels. Take for example the waitress in a small town in northern Texas. We’d pulled into a Mom and Pop cafe on the main street of town. What made this town unique was there were no McDonalds, Subways or Taco Bells lining the main thoroughfare. We had the choice of this clean little place with sky-blue naugahyde booths, old-fashioned music players on each tabletop, and hand printed, laminated menus or a dirty little greasy spoon across the street. We chose the Mom and Pops.
The waitress who met us at the door wore blindingly white polyester pants and blouse with a sky-blue trim that matched the color of the booths. She had a pretty, round face and a sparkling gleam of mischief dancing just behind her greenish brown eyes. Our conversation went something like this:
I pointed to the menu and asked, “So, what do you recommend?”
The waitress smiled, and instead of answering my question, asked one of her own. “You’re not from around here, are you?” She didn’t have the typical small town Texas accent, and if I had to place her, I would have said Valley Girl from California.
“No, We’re from Arizona. Why?”
We were the only ones in the dining room, but she still glanced around to make sure we were alone. Looking back at me, she raised carefully plucked eyebrows, silently expecting me to get her meaning. I raised mine in return, telling her I didn’t have a clue what she was trying to say. Very slowly, and with exaggerated meaning, her eyes slid to the greasy spoon next door. I followed her gaze, and for the first time noticed their parking lot. It was filled with cars and trucks and people standing around both inside and out laughing and jostling each other.
Just about that time, the owner/chef of our clean little diner stepped into the room and all of us turned toward him. The portly man had the same round face as the waitress, except where hers was open and laughing, his was pinched with an angry scowl and lowered, glowering eyes. He didn’t say anything to the girl, just motioned with a little waving flick of his hand for her to hurry up.
“Be right there, Uncle Brett.” She turned back to us as he retreated into his kitchen. Standing there with her pen poised over her notepad, she smiled conspiratorially at me, pointed across the street with her chin and said sotto voiced, “So, that’s what I recommend.” Her eyes sparkled. “They’ve got a killer chicken fried steak and Ms. Porter makes the most wonderful gravy in the world.”
I looked across the street at their full parking lot, then glanced at our lone car sitting in the lot of the cafe looking like a lonely fourth cousin at a family reunion. My attention shifted back to our waitress. “Uncle?”
She looked over her shoulder toward the kitchen, then leaned in to whisper, “He takes all my tips and keeps them for himself. I’m only here for another two weeks then I’m outta here.”
I nodded, stood up thanked her quietly, then sauntered over to the crowded restaurant where I had the most mouth watering chicken fried steak and gravy I’d ever tasted.
And that my friends, is exactly where I get the kinds of characters for my books, such as Credo’s Hope, that have my readers writing to say they wish they could actually be friends with my main protagonist, Alexandra Wolfe and her friends who help turn Alex’s everyday life as a detective upside down.
Sure a detective gets to go to crime scenes. But what about the hours and hours it takes to bag and tag the evidence? And every single type of evidence has to be processed a certain way. Guns are processed differently than drugs which are different from blood samples which are different from samples of vomit, etc. etc. etc. Each and every piece of evidence has to be photographed, collected and identified on a property sheet.
Then once that’s done, the detective has to take the evidence and sort it, either for the crime lab, or the evidence section. Does it have to go into the crime lab refrigerator or can it just go into the storage locker?
THEN, the if the detective is lucky, he’ll have time to sit down and write a report detailing every action he took. Who did he talk to? Where did he gather the evidence? How did he gather the evidence? What about the different times the evidence was gathered. With some evidence, the detective has to note the weather, i.e., temperature, wind velocity, wind direction, cloudy or sunny. Who entered the crime scene. Why?
I realize such minutia could really bog down a good story, but what about putting in just one or two of the aforementioned details to make your story more realistic? Go to your local police records section and see if they will allow you to go through an old homicide case. They might not, but maybe they will. See exactly how much paperwork is generated by a case. Then spice up your work! How easy is that?
As a retired cop, and as a writer, especially as a mystery writer, I’ve been privileged to be able to see the lives of some of my characters from both sides of the fence. One fun question I get to play with while I’m populating my stories is whether my fiction is going to mimic real life or do I get to write the real lives of my characters as though they mimic fiction.
There were many, many times when I was handling a call where my partner would turn to me and say “You know, even if we put this into a book, no one would believe it really happened.” I’ve found that to be true. For example, during a writing seminar, I had the opportunity to discuss my books with one of my readers. She was teasing me about what a vivid imagination I had when it came to one of the chapters in the first book of my Credo series. My protagonist, Alex Wolfe, had to go undercover as a prostitute and my reader refused to believe that all of the situations my character found herself in had actually happened to either me or to some of our undercover vice detectives. This is a perfect example where fiction mimics the eccentricities of real life.
On the other hand, I’ve had more than one of my police colleagues ask me whether I’ve ever heard of internal affairs because many of the antics of the detectives in my novels would obviously get a real officer fired. My answer always brings a knowing smile and a wistful nod of their head. For twenty years, I had to toe the line. Heck, I was a sergeant in Internal Affairs for part of my career. One of my great joys as a writer is allowing my characters to act like most officers wish they could act if they were living in a fictional world. It’s very difficult to have to be polite to jerks or to have to call a sweating, foul mouthed idiot sir or ma’am.
What I enjoy even more while I’m writing, is allowing Alex to get even with “superior” officers, i.e. sergeant’s, lieutenants and above, who are less than a credit to their profession. Being a cop on the street is a little stressful but it’s also a lot of fun. Being a cop who has to put up with idiots for bosses is a lot stressful, and no fun. I love allowing my characters to mouth off, or to act unprofessional or even downright juvenile at times. I consider it one of the perks of the writing profession.
So what do you think? Should fiction always mimic real life or should we allow our characters to be a little off the wall and perhaps a little unrealistic? I’d love to hear your opinions on the subject.