Tag Archives: novel

Writing pic download

In a previous post dated January 8, 2014, I stated that every aspiring author has been told to write about what you know.

Yet, some focus only on their existing knowledge, which is usually limited to their day jobs. Even though they might want to create the next great American legal thriller, they don’t believe they’re qualified to do it if they aren’t parading through courtrooms every day, hypnotizing juries with skilled wordplay. So they get stuck and never start. Or they force themselves to write about things that doesn’t excite them as much. Which means people won’t be excited to read them, either.

In case you find yourself in that situation, I’d like to save you some time. My previous post shared some things I learned as I wrote my first novel, Partners In Crime. The first step I outlined was to start with Data Research. Obviously, this is crucial, especially if you want to write about something in which you have little to no daily experience. People who don’t know what I do for a living usually think I’m a cop after they read my detective novel. Some express surprise when I tell them I’ve never worked in law enforcement. So gathering tons of data certainly helped me.

But that’s just the start.

Next, you have to:

      I.           Do your People research

  • This is hard for introverts like me, but you need to socialize. Suppose you want to write that legal thriller, but you work as an aircraft mechanic. So how do you find out about life as a criminal defense attorney? Well, you could always commit a felony and meet one that way, but a better option is to find out where they hang out. So…

a)    Ask around! In this example, start by asking friends and coworkers if they know any attorneys or paralegals. Someone always knows someone who knows someone. Ask for referrals or contacts if you can’t access your targeted people directly. Some of the best leads will come from those you least expect (it was an unexpected lead that helped me interview homicide detectives, go on ride-alongs, and visit crime scenes).

b)    Join a local writer’s group. They are filled with people just like you, people yearning to share their colorful stories with the world. Every writer’s group I joined had someone who knew someone who I needed to talk to. You can find them on the internet or through sites like Meetup.com.

c)    Go to writer’s conferences. These present an incredible wealth of knowledge. They will have workshops devoted to helping you improve your writing in your particular genre. They’ll have various subject matter experts serving as guest speakers and they’ll tell you what you need in order for your book to sound authentic.

d)    Find trade shows or conferences where your subject matter experts are likely to attend. For example, I’ve met police officers at gun shows, martial arts and Brazilian jiu-jitsu tournaments, etc.

e)    Find professional groups. If you’re that aircraft mechanic wanting to be the next John Grisham, network with attorney’s groups. There are a billion lawyers in this country, so you should be able to find some legal group nearby. Many of them have charitable functions, fundraisers, and other events open to the public that you can attend.

f)     Be Honest. When you meet the people you need to, get them talking about themselves first. That warms them up. Then simply tell them you’re working on a book about ______ and you’d love to take them out to lunch to pick their brains. You’d be surprised at how helpful people are once you start talking to them. I haven’t had anyone turn down a free lunch yet.

    II.             Understand it’s all about the characters, not the research

  • This is important. As a first-time published author, I initially felt I had to prove my research by stuffing my book with a billion details. But as I kept writing, I realized it was less about the details and more about the character interaction, plot, pacing, suspense, etc. Realistic details are important, but you don’t need all of them. Sprinkling a few authentic details here and there will do. While you still need to conduct your research and know these things, putting the right details in the right places at the right times will work wonders.

Now these are just the things that I’ve found to be helpful for me. There are plenty of other things that people can do to gather insight that helps them create great stories and smash the boundaries of their everyday lives. For those who have finished books, what are some ideas you’ve found helpful?

We build them up, We tear them down

Social media is great. It gives a voice to millions who otherwise wouldn’t be heard. Unfortunately, it also gives a voice to mean, angry, and hypocritical people. And when they get going, the nastiness spreads like wildfire, usually for things that really aren’t that serious.

We adulate and hate our celebrities at the same time. We indulge in hero worship but God forbid they make a mistake or do something that reminds us they are human. Then we turn on them in a rabid fury.

The NFC Championship between the Seahawks and 49ers is a perfect example. Cornerback Richard Sherman, a Stanford graduate and intelligent guy, went Clubber Lang on Michael Crabtree. Sherman was so hyped in a postgame interview, he virtually unloaded on Crabtree, probably spraying some spittle on Erin Andrews, who didn’t know what the hell to do after that.

His outburst was uncalled for and unprofessional. Everyone saw that. But what got me is the reaction to it. People vilified him and called him a thug. On cue, racist trolls infested social media like roaches, pouncing on the opportunity to call someone the n-word behind the safety of anonymous screens. I presume it made them feel better about themselves for some reason, but their hypocrisy was hilarious. They were so upset because a mere football player, who does nothing to put food on their table or pay their mortgage, yelled and talked trash to an opponent? And the only way they could express themselves was to hurl nasty remarks and threats at a guy they accused of having no class or tact?  Clearly, self-reflection is in short supply these days.

Besides, isn’t that raw fire what NFL fans ask from the players, anyway? No one likes it when an athlete or coach like Bill Belichick talks to the media in boring sound bites and clichés. “Give us more,” people say. “We want to hear the raw stuff!” People love the ‘mic’d’ up segments, where we hear the trash talk from players. But when Richard Sherman fired off at the end of the game, while still overloaded on adrenaline, people ripped him. They got what they wanted and couldn’t handle it.

The media knows what it is doing. They seek these guys right after the game to get their raw emotions. And Sherman is already known as a fiery guy who talks trash. They knew they were going to get something juicy from him. They got what they wanted.

He definitely needed a timeout before he got within a mile of a microphone, and clearly, his display was unnecessary. Hell, his team had won. But he also did not bash the fans, the viewers, nor did he fill our living room with a stream of profanity. It was pretty tame, as far as outbursts go. And does anyone remember a guy named Muhammad Ali?  The Greatest is revered by everyone. But he ran his mouth just as much and said FAR WORSE in his prime. He made Joe Frazier’s life hell with a slew of nasty racial insults. Frazier hated him for years and only forgave him decades later.

I have a feeling Crabtree will get over this well before a few decades passes.

And I hope others can get over themselves and their indignation well before that.

Because it just isn’t that serious.

What do you think?

Will Write for Food (but if you’ve got extra publicity, I’ll take that, too)

Before I published my first book last month, every published author told me that writing the novel is the easy part. The hard part is promoting it. It hasn’t taken me long to see that. And it wasn’t a surprise; I knew that going in.

Although my non-writer friends say I can be discovered by Oprah or a big-time Hollywood producer (“you just never know”, they tell me), I don’t expect to get that phone call anytime soon. There are a million books published each year. Behind every one of those books is a writer like me, fighting to be noticed. We’re like addicts, searching for reviews, referrals, and publicity to give us that next high. So when I hear my friends’ optimistic musings, I just smile, thank them for their positive attitude, and go back to working on my promotions platform and continuing to build awareness one reader at a time. That’s the journey facing every writer or entrepreneur starting a business. We just want to get noticed.

But there is a powerful force that drowns out our voices. It’s insatiable. It’s unstoppable. And it’s intensifying every day. What is it?

It’s the proliferation of silliness, stupidity, scandalous behavior, and “rachetness” (or whatever you want to call it) in traditional and social media. People are now famous just for being famous or stupid. Broken English, talking ‘country’, or crazy slang has become the default way of speaking for people who should know better. Outrageous behavior is glorified. And when everyone is inundated with things screaming for attention, absurdity is what gets noticed.

We writers and entrepreneurs know it can take years of constant work to gain traction for our publicity efforts. We know this is a marathon, not a sprint. But when a silly video or Facebook meme goes viral in 15 minutes, I start wondering how we can make this unstoppable force work for us.

How about I post a video of someone in a thong, twerking with my book and reading my blog at the same time? That will get some publicity! Or what if a business owner creates a Facebook meme that shows someone screaming obscenities while using his product? Better yet, if he takes a screen shot of a real celebrity or a child actor and attributes some silly and obviously untrue quote to the person, people will toss and share that baby around like a Frisbee! Instant viral publicity!  

Luckily, I have a friend who is also trying to drum up awareness for her business. She is a voice of reason and talked me off the ledge. That’s why she’s good at what she does. I had to remind myself that we can’t forget our niche audience for the sake of getting fast eyeballs on our books or products. Good things are built over the long haul, not in 15 minutes. So I commit to building my platform the legitimate way, one reader at a time. No twerking, obscenities, or silly stuff for me.

I just tell myself to be patient and keep the faith over time.

Even if Oprah doesn’t call me in the next 10 minutes…

Write about what you DON’T know

Every writer has heard the adage: write about what you know. It’s sound advice. It gives your words confidence and credibility.

But what if you want to go beyond your expertise? I’ve met aspiring writers who want to do this, but they limit their scope to what they do for a living. As a result, they get stuck figuring out how and where to start exploring new territory. This isn’t a problem for everyone, but if you’re glued to the starting blocks, I’d like to help.

Over the next few posts, I’ll share some things to keep in mind as you dive into writing something new. These insights helped me with my first novel, Partners in Crime. After reading it, people who don’t know me usually think I’m a cop. Yet, I’ve never been in law enforcement. They ask me how I captured the emotions of a homicide detective and vivid forensic details without living in it every day. Here was my first step:

Read and accumulate data

This screams “no-brainer”, but many people don’t do enough of it. Fiction must read as truthful as non-fiction. So if you include a terribly inaccurate detail in your story (such as having a positive DNA match convict someone years before DNA was actually used), readers will hate you. Okay, they might not really hate you. But you’d better believe someone will know you’re wrong and you’ll lose credibility.

  • Comb through the internet, articles, and reference materials

For Partners in Crime, I studied forensic investigation, reviewed Georgia statutes, ordered criminal law textbooks, and even watched autopsies online. But how did I know what I needed to research, if I never worked as a homicide detective?

It’s an easy answer but not an easy task. Let’s say you want to write a legal thriller with corporate espionage, but you know nothing about that world. You can just start with Google search terms, such as “legal information” or “corporate espionage”, and you’ll find information about trademark and patent laws, sites with free legal information like http://www.nolo.com, actual examples of companies stealing secrets and how they did it, etc.

Easy? Yes, but the key is to keep searching, to keep reviewing things beyond the first page of results, and to keep tumbling down that rabbit hole. This generates more questions and subjects to investigate. You’ll come across things you never considered but need to know. In another post, I’ll talk about actually finding people you need to meet, but before that happens, you need your facts. Folks are more likely to help if you’ve done your work.

  • Prepare for the long haul

It took me almost eight years to complete my book and I had to discipline myself to research even minor details for the entire time. Some days, I spent 100% of my writing time on it. In fact, I gathered data for months before I even started the book. Depending on your subject, your data will likely change from when you first reviewed it to when you write about it. For that legal thriller, you’ll need to be up-to-date with the law if your story is set in the present day. So don’t expect to surf Google for a couple of hours and think that’s enough.

  •  See what other writers are doing

You should be reading other books in your genre already. It will help you understand what works and what doesn’t.

  •  Don’t go 100% Hollywood

Never rely solely on movies or television. While they can be good resources, theyre notorious for fudging real-life authenticity to appease audiences. If you want to write about things outside of your realm, you’ll need to be as authentic as possible to stay credible to readers.

The more data you come across, the more it sparks those creative ideas for your story. These are just things I’ve found helpful. For those who’ve broken through their boundaries, what are some things you’ve found helpful when gathering data?