When a murder happens, the ramifications of that act affect everyone in its immediate circle. It spreads out like concentric circles in a pond, touching people who never even knew the victim. You see it every day on television. The little boy kidnapped on a walk home from school. The wife and mother who inexplicably disappears. The beautiful model killed, left in a dumpster and burned beyond recognition.

Murder changes everything. It is an assault to the system.

And sometimes, there is murder that seems to have no motive. But we know there’s always some kind of motive, if we look hard enough.

There are some in this world who cast a cold, hard eye on the innocent, and use them for their own aims.

Think about JSOC, the Joint Special Operations Command, which flourished under Vice President Dick Cheney, where CIA operatives, in conjunction with Blackwater LLC, trained assassins to kill al-Qaida operatives–the ultimate outsourcing. Who cares about al-Qaida? I don’t know about you, but I’d like to see them all dead. So why should that give us pause?

Maybe because once you start down that road, it’s hard to get back off. Maybe, if you can take care of certain problems, cleanly and efficiently, you begin to extrapolate the desired results to other situations, and before you know it—

The Shop by J. Carson Black

There’s a domestic version of JSOC.

My political crime thriller, The Shop–about a group of young people killed in a house in Aspen–is, I hope, a rollicking good story. But it serves another purpose. I see it as the canary in the coal mine.

There are people who will do you harm at the drop of a hat. They don’t even need the hat. And there are unseen forces behind governments that seek only greater riches, greater power, and to consolidate what power they have so it will never be threatened. So much of what is happening in the world today is the result of the Unseen. The oil pipeline nobody hears about on the news. A secret pact between two countries–and suddenly hundreds are dead. The undermining of a legitimate government. Backroom deals with Wall Street firms. And money–billions of it—lubricating it all like a fine machine.

There’s the increasing feeling in this country, that no matter what he does, the Average Joe is getting nowhere. Because, he feels, the game is fixed.

Brienne Cross and the young people with her in the house in Aspen had no idea what was coming for them, and they would never have guessed why they were slated to die. They were as lambs to the slaughter.

While their story as told in The Shop is fictional, it reflects larger truths.

For my part, I felt compelled to return to the story after I wrote it, and explore their lives–the lives of the victims. So now I give you the Story behind the Story.

— J. Carson Black

Categories: Cyril Landry The Shop

This caught my eye. A piece in the newspaper regarding what people are allowed to bring in to the Republican Convention and what they can’t bring.

For one thing, it’s fine to carry guns. Ohio is an open-carry state, so have at it. They can bring concealed firearms but they have to have licenses to do so.

But this is what they may NOT bring:

Explosives
Large knives
Gas masks
Umbrellas with metal tips
Air rifles
Paintball guns
Blasting caps
Switchblades
Blackjacks
Swords
Sabers
Projectile launchers
Hatchets
Axes
Slingshots
Metal knuckles
Nunchucks
Mace
Water guns…

And tennis balls. tennis ball at the RNC Convention

Okay, laugh if you will about tennis balls. But my character, former Navy SEAL Cyril Landry can use one to great effect.

Here’s the opening scene from Chapter 2 of my third Cyril Landry thriller Spectre Black:

Chapter 2
San Clemente, California

“Tennis balls.”
“Cool, huh?”
Cyril Landry hefted the lime-green tennis ball, aware that he was not hefting it with confidence.
Which was unlike him.
“Don’t worry,” the cricket-like man in the gaudy Hawaiian shirt said. “It won’t go off on its own. Has to be activated by the racket.”
“Not any kind of racket,” Landry said. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
The man in the Hawaiian shirt nodded and his gray ponytail nodded right along with him. “That’s correct. You’re right as rain. Otherwise…”
He left it open to conjecture.
Landry had gone out for a day of paddle-boarding, but as the sun dropped low over the water, he’d stowed the board and paddle into his Subaru and wandered in to downtown San Clemente for a bite to eat.
Even at this early hour the restaurants were crowded, so Landry ducked in to this cubbyhole of an antique shop, with an eye on the Beachcomber Bar and Grille across the street, hoping a table would open up.
A friend had told him about the old hippie. Landry wasn’t in the market for anything right now, but tennis ball diagram showing the  maximum impact area in the center of the ballcuriosity had finally gotten the better of him. His friend had said, “You won’t believe this guy. He was in Viet Nam. Some elite squad, what I heard. He sells knickknacks and the occasional hellfire missile.”
Landry’s friend had been joking about the hellfire missile. At least Landry thought he was.
But once Cricket Man, aka Terrence Lark, knew he was for real, he’d shown him some nice stuff.
Amazing stuff.
“If you’re interested, let me know,” Lark said, before tucking the tennis ball reverently back into the box with its mates.

So maybe tennis balls are dangerous after all.

Categories: Cyril Landry Spectre Black

Ideas are everywhere in real life. Here are some of the ones that made it into my books:

SPECTRE BLACKSpectre Black book cover

What was going on at that time? Militias. In Texas, there was “Jade Helm” which sounded like a true conspiracy, but wasn’t, and got the usual suspects all alarmed. Even before that, the Bundys in New Mexico had a stand-off with the United States government. They won the battle, but it only encouraged them to act out again at a wildlife refuge in Oregon. This time, after they started running out of Cheese Doodles and Pepsi, they eventually surrendered, but not before one of them was killed after pulling a gun on the Feds.

I liked the idea of militias so much that it came naturally to me. Cyril Landry encounters a militia in SPECTRE BLACK.

THE CARS BURIED IN AN OKLAHOMA LAKEj-carson-black-new-york-times-best-selling-thriller-author

I was enthralled by the story. Two vehicles, years apart, went off the dock into a silty Oklahoma lake. They were discovered, side by side. A man and his wife (missing) found in their circa 1950s car. And right next to them, a Camaro containing three high school kids who had also disappeared. This gave me the idea for the death of a woman in my Laura Cardinal novella, CRY WOLF. Cry Wolf by Thriller writer J. Carson Black

DEAR ABBY COLUMN: A woman who complained of her son-in-law, who was a pathological liar. He never told a straight story. He was the smartest person in the room, and spun magical stories about his prowess in all things. He tried to fix his in-laws’ car, and made a mess of it. I liked the idea so much I wrote the character (victim) in CRY WOLF. Someone just got sick of his lying ways.

CHARLES SCHMID, THE PIED PIPER OF TUCSON

Charles Schmid

Charles Schmid

This s.o.b. brought national shame to my home town. He killed three girls. Girls he knew—which was pretty damn stupid. Three lives snuffed out by a creep who crumpled up beer cans and stuffed them in his boots to make him look taller. The serial killer nature of the story attracted Life magazine, which took an unflattering shot of East Speedway Boulevard and called it the Ugliest Street in America. My first Laura Cardinal novel, DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN, was loosely based on the hysteria that resulted from those long-ago murders.

Categories: Darkness on the Edge of Town Spectre Black

One of the most fun things to do when you’re writing crime fiction is . . wait for it . . The Research Trip. Sometimes it’s an excuse to go on a trip some place really cool, like the Painted Desert in Arizona or the high mountains of New Mexico, or New Orleans, or even another country because you’ve just got to keep it real (and tax deductible).

Since the next book of mine is set in and around Tucson, Arizona, Glenn and I stuck closer to home.

culvert

What I pictured was a dead guy in a culvert. We’re coming on to summer in the southwest, so my character, Samantha Stark, will be shading her eyes against the intense sunlight, and will be grateful for the shade the culvert offers and cars go whizzing overhead. I knew what I wanted, and pictured it, but what the hey….

RESEARCH TRIP!!!!!!! So Glenn and I went looking. We found our culvert and proceeded to take photos of it. We had to dodge whizzing traffic on the road before clambering down into the dry arroyo, and got great photos of our crime scene. I’d already written the scene, but now I had the frame for it. And I could place it properly, too, within the context of the story. Samantha Stark is a sheriff’s detective, I wanted the crime scene to be outside the city limits, even if only a little bit.
culvert and road
The victim is a young guy, a “sign-spinner” who advertises businesses outside shopping centers.

I’m thinking that since River Road is the demarcation line between city and county, the kid in the culvert could be half on one side and half on the other. At this point, just at the beginning, I have options. One way or the other, here’s my crime scene.

Categories: The Writing Life

1. I lived in Bisbee. Why is that important? Because one day a lawyer friend who lived in the apartment next to us introduced us to another lawyer friend—her name was Laura Cardinal. The moment I met her, the first words out of my mouth were, “If I ever write a female detective, I’m calling her Laura Cardinal.” I had no idea at the time that the fictional Laura Cardinal would come to life in three novels, The Laura Cardinal Novels, and two novellas, Cry Wolf and Flight 12.

Laura Cardinal is now the presiding judge of Cochise County.

2. I had the help from some wonderful TPD and DPS guys. A dear friend, John Cheek, suggested I write about a very difficult subject: child depredation. It was important to let parents know how bad it was—how kids could be lured on the internet. And let me tell you, the idea of writing such a story scared the hell out of me. As the Wicked Witch of the West would say, it had to be done “delicately.”

3. I think I managed to reach that bar. The story is harrowing, but over the years, I’ve learned how to write with mercy. By that I mean, the dead at the beginning of a book are fair game. You just have to be very careful moving forward. Especially when it comes to children and animals. There are plenty of bad guys to kill.

Darkness On The Edge Of Town by Thriller Author J. Carson Black

Darkness on the Edge of Town is the first book in The Laura Cardinal Series.


4. Darkness on the Edge of Town was the book that made me the writer I am today. It was a personal best.

5. I spent a lot of time preparing for this Laura Cardinal book, the first in The Laura Cardinal Novels. I even dredged up some scary stuff from my childhood in Tucson. I learned a lot from the good people at the Department of Public Safety. I learned that a detective with the Department of Public Safety could assist on homicide investigations anywhere in the state—which would always cause problems. Laura Cardinal would be an outsider and treated as such. Without him, I don’t know if there would be The Laura Cardinal Novels.cover of The Laura Cardinal Novels

6. I tried to be fair and make the story real, but I did not GO THERE. I went close, but I DID NOT GO THERE. I came close to the edge, but there has to be some trust between the writer and the reader, and I did not break that trust. I got them as close as I could to the danger, but I did not cross that line.

7. But the story is harrowing. It even scares ME.

8. I drew on a few terrifying stories from my own past in my town. Tucson was predated upon by an evil home-grown killer, Charles Schmid. He killed three young girls.

creepy car, 1955 Chevy Bel Air

A creepy car, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air


9. Another time, I was chased by a guy in an old orange 1950s car. I was fourteen. I wrote it down, of course. That’s the way I roll. I found it when I was coming up with this book, that obviously has deep meaning to me. The guy was scary as hell and chased me for blocks, right out of a horror movie, coming up one street and down the other in his crappy old car. I was so scared, because even running up to one of the houses and knocking would have taken too much time. I was lucky that I knew the neighborhood, and one of my best friends happened to be outside watering when I reached their house. The bad guy drove away.

10. So yes, I have the imagination, but I keep a lid on it. I try to be truthful but not delve too deep. However, everyone has their own depth, everyone has their own fears, everyone has that line that they will not cross.

You can read all three novels of the Laura Cardinal series in The Laura Cardinal Novels, a 3-in-1 edition, now on sale for $0.99 through June 6, 2016 at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and Apple.

Categories: Books Laura Cardinal The Laura Cardinal Novels

The FREEDOM ON-THE-MOVE tactical surveillance system

The FREEDOM ON-THE-MOVE tactical surveillance system

You never know when you’ll find something that will not just fit into a story, but might GIVE you one. One night, a number of people from Start Up Tucson were gathered at an open-air bar in downtown. Start up Tucson is a non-profit organization that fosters entrepreneurial ventures. I was sitting with one of the staff, Greg Teesdale, under a summer moon, and he told me a story that intrigued me.

He described a ride-along with the sheriff’s office and a Tucson company called Strongwatch. On that particular night, police used a Strongwatch vehicle to patrol a desert area down near the U.S./Mexico border, looking for border crossers or drug runners. The vehicle had a unique selling point: an infrared camera that goes up on a telescoping pole that could catch movement in the darkness of the desert. People, animals, any living creature that could be seen in the dark.

Union Pacific Train, Pantano Arizona

Union Pacific Train, Pantano Arizona

He told me how bad guys robbed freight trains. This kind of train robbery is sneaky, smart, and oftentimes the engineer has no idea that part of his train has been decoupled–hijacked–left behind in the desert where the bad guys could crack it open like a tin can and get away with the contents. A slick train robbery.

My author wheel started turning. I knew this would be a great beginning to a crime fiction thriller. And so I took some notes and set up the scene. I found a great character in detective and sharpshooter Samantha Stark, put her on the board, and started the story with a train robbery.

Categories: Books Samantha Stark The Writing Life

In The Devil’s Hour, Laura Cardinal finds herself enmeshed in a cold case—a very cold case. A young girl went missing many years before, then surfaced as a young adult. She returned to her family, but she was a very different person from the child who disappeared.

Department of Public Safety detective, Laura Cardinal, meanwhile, was looking into a string of cold cases regarding missing and dead girls. Back at the time of Micaela Brashear’s disappearance, two other girls had gone missing and were found dead. Did the same killer take all of the girls? And if so, how did Micaela survive?
The Devil's Hour
Detective Laura Cardinal wondered how Micaela had survived such horrific circumstances.

Now, a similar story has turned up in real life. Richard Wayne Landers Jr. was only five years old when he disappeared. He turned up nineteen years later, living in Minnesota under another name. Cases like this inspired me to write The Devil’s Hour.

Did his grandparents spirit him away from his family? They were prosecuted on a felony charge of kidnapping, but the charge was dropped due to lack of evidence. Nineteen years later, Richard Wayne Landers was found in Long Prairie, Minnesota. How was he found? Through his Social Security number and matching birthdate.

The question that intrigues me most: how was the path taken different from the path that young man walked as a child? How did that bear on the personality of the man he had become?

Regarding the return of Michaela Brashear—and the other girls who were killed around the time she disappeared–you’ll just have to read The Devil’s Hour to find out how it ends. A story ripped from the headlines.

Categories: Laura Cardinal The Devil's Hour

Last time, I talked about dialogue.

To be successful (if you’re writing a genre book), the dialogue should sound real. And by “real,” I mean real for your genre. Dialogue approximates speech, and different genres cater to their own audience, and that audience is attuned to words and phrases and style that belong specifically to that genre. Unconsciously, a reader checks off a few boxes that are important to them. Does the book sound like other books in the genre? Readers like familiarity, which is why they favor one genre over another.

In fact, the best way for your book to find an audience is to place that book solidly in a genre.

There are different requirements for narrative and dialogue. Fantasy has a lot of description–it describes a world. Fantasy can be flowery and polite. Crime fiction is more to the point. Thrillers are most often driven by a strong narrative.
street scene narrative
Good narrative is a like a swift-moving river that carries you along.

Every time you choose to slow down for dialogue, everything slows down.

Dialogue pinpoints something important. This is where the rubber meets the road. People facing off, talking to each other. Revelations come from dialogue.

But a book that is mostly dialogue may leave the reader feeling logy, as if they’re been eating a big meal and are being force-fed another. Dialogue spotlights important scenes, but narrative is the swift river that carries you along. You need narrative and dialogue, and you can see the demands of each genre in the better authors in those genres.

I used to write books heavy with dialogue. My books were a lot longer then. Dialogue takes up a lot of space. As I started to write thrillers, I learned to use narrative more and more, because narrative can cover so much ground. GOOD narrative can carry you a long distance. And then comes the roadblock, when you bring it down to something that signals real importance: dialogue.

You need both. By reading the best authors in your genre, you will get the rhythm of their writing–the choices they make regarding narrative and dialogue.

Categories: Writing

Different kinds of books have different kinds of dialogue. There’s a shorthand to dialogue that sends a message to the reader that this is the kind of book they want to read. They vary according to the kind of book you’re writing. Romance is different from fantasy and fantasy is different from crime fiction, and crime fiction is different from thriller. In the writing, they all signal what kind of story it will be.

But there is one basic rule that spans all genres. Dialogue has to make you think you’re looking in on a conversation in real time. It has to be real.

How do you make it real? Listening to people talk will help.
Two people having a dialogue

Less is more, unless you’re in a genre where the dialogue is more flowery. (This could be due to the time period.)

I have a few rules of my own for the kind of dialogue I write, which can vary slightly between genres.

Here’s one I keep at the front of my mind when I’m writing dialogue: Less is More. When people talk to one another, they usually don’t make big speeches.

Kind of like this:

“You going to the store?”
“Why?”
“Would it kill you just to say yes or no? Just this once?”

Three lines, no attributions, and you can tell that one person is miffed at the other.

One thing that helps dialogue is getting rid of almost all of the attributions to each person talking. Those attributions slow down the reader:

“I love you,” he said softly.
“And I love you,” she replied coquettishly.
“Are you just toying with me?” he asked dubiously.
“No,” she said, batting her eyelashes. “I mean it,” she added.
“Sometimes, I feel left out of your life,” he ground out.

All those attributions do is bore the reader. There’s no flow there.

(This also depends on the kind of book you’re writing. The best romances know how to move the dialogue, so that you flow through the story, not get slowed down by attributions.)

The fewer attributions, the better. And if you need an attribution, use “he said” or “she said.” Or sometimes, “Asked.” These are virtually invisible. Sometimes you have a long dialogue and it’s good to stick in a “he said” or a “she said” because it improves the rhythm. What you want is seamless dialogue that sounds real.

Like this:

“So what were you doing there? You were at the lake. We can put you there, so don’t bullshit me.”
“I told you, this is all a big mistake!”
“That’s not what the guy at Ron’s Boat Rentals said. You know, the guy with the gray ponytail who rents the boats out there?”
Darrell shook his head.
“Okay, then. What’s this?” Jerry flashed the boat rental agreement in front of Darrell Tevis’s eyes. “Now what do you have to say?”
The man’s face shut down. One minute he was arguing, and the next, he was gone.
“I want my lawyer,” he said.

Categories: Writing

If you look at my floor-to-ceiling bookshelf, you will see a lot of journals, spine out. They’re easy to find. I pick mine up at Ross Dress for Less—they usually have some hardbound journals, many of them very beautiful. (My current one is embossed with a peacock).Peacock journal for writing in longhand

Most important, though, they have ruled pages where I can write my thoughts. When I start a new book, I always go there, past the inexpensive clothes, past the purses, past the boots, past the toilet articles, and find that special shelf where they (sometimes) sell journals.

Why I’m bringing this up? I just read an article about something I already knew: writing in longhand makes you learn better. Check out this article from Business Insider.

Bottom line: it slows you down. The act of writing by hand slows you down and helps you to assimilate what you are writing.

I have always tried for a personal best. There have been breakthrough books. My first breakthrough book, Darkness on the Edge of Town, came after I did a serious self-assessment after a failed supposedly “easy to sell” mystery novel. Journal page writing in longhand

And so I talked to myself – writing in longhand. (Thanks, Dad, for bequeathing me your beautiful Palmer method writing style.) (Thanks, Mom, for bequeathing me many great things, like a love of writing, but sadly, not among them, your writing style).

I wrote in the journal, at the same time I was reading the best of the best: Michael Connelly, Robert Crais, James W. Hall, T. Jefferson Parker, John Lescroart, J.A. Jance, etc. And I knew that my home was in crime fiction and crime fiction thrillers.

And so I wrote. I talked to myself. I figured out things I needed to learn from the books of the great ones. I gave myself a good talking-to, as well. It was pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps time. But mostly it was just writing in longhand and going from one place to a NEW place, just by the flow of the pen and the wandering of the mind.

Here are some examples:

“5 people who defined her. The bullies. Her friend in high school who was kidnapped. Her parents. An influential superior in the cop shop? A mentor?”

And:

“Already, I’m seeing a difference. Seeing more clearly. I’m starting at the beginning, with character, I’m thinking bigger.”

And:

“Mystic? No. Is Bob a mystic? No, he’s a Sherpa.”

And over the years, I’ve had to do that again and again to get better or explore unknown territory. That is my safe place that I can control—but also expand on. My journal for Darkness on the Edge of Town was the turning point for me as a writer.

Categories: Books Darkness on the Edge of Town The Writing Life