Posts Categorized: Writing

Today I read an article in The New York Times: “Hands Up, It’s Showtime.” In it, columnist Kurt Andersen explains how MRAPs and paramilitary stuff have grown in the police departments across the country—and many people, including some law enforcement, think it might just be over the top, and possibly dangerous.

The really crazy thing? The TV cop shows are taking their cues from the SWAT teams throughout the country. From police departments big and small. The movies and TV shows apparently didn’t influence the police departments. They influenced themselves.

All this military-grade hardware stuff that goes BOOM! is now the norm for most police departments.

A moment of silence for Sheriff Andy Griffith and Deputy Fife’s one bullet.

This is what I wrote in my Cyril Landry thriller, Spectre Black:

Probable Cause, these days, in certain towns, in certain counties, in certain states, in certain regions, could be stretched beyond recognition. Stretched, wrung out, hung on the line, ironed, folded, spindled, and hung up in a closet. If they’d been playing by the rule of law, they would have had no Probable Cause to arrest him. And they certainly had no basis to let him go, after he nearly pulped Earl to puree.

Police in this town were a law unto themselves.

He wondered how Jolie had fit in to this brave new world in Playa County.

The police here had become paramilitary. Police departments and sheriff departments across the country were getting more and more hardware that they didn’t know what to do with. And it did not dawn on them that they had everything they needed to fight a ground war in Afghanistan.

Army Surplus was king. They had everything they needed: SWAT gear, tactical vests, Armor-plated vehicles called MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle), tear gas, M-14s, and probably a grenade launcher or two.

Considering the fact that municipalities liked to get their money’s worth, Landry was lucky to be alive at all.

****

Police Forces are a paramilitary entity and always have been. But now they’re going Full Rambo. I can just picture a woman sneaking out a bag of potato chips from Krogers into her cart, suddenly being over-faced by SWAT, weapons all trained on her.

“Hold the grocery bag high, Ma’am. Turn around and walk back toward me. Don’t make any sudden moves, and everything will be all right.”

For a limited time, all three books in the CYRIL LANDRY THRILLERS are on sale now!
* * *
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Categories: Books Cyril Landry Spectre Black The Writing Life Writing

One of my dearest friends is a thriller writer I met back in 2003, when I ended up selling two books to the same publisher. (We met at a local Tucson bookstore.) Michael Prescott is a brilliant thriller and suspense writer.

Oddly enough, his protagonists are usually women.

Most authors write in the Third Person, so they can jump around in other people’s heads. I do it, and so does Michael Prescott. I have never worried about portraying a male character —it seems to come easily to me —and it’s believable to the reader.

There was something liberating about writing from a male point of view, just as writing from a female point of view was liberating for my friend.

I admit to being less buttoned-up when writing a male character.

Which led to Cyril Landry.

Cyril Landry was just a walk-on part. He was a killer and had been dispatched to a house in Aspen where he was supposed to kill a celebrity. If I hadn’t given him a name, he would have been Assassin #1.

But Cyril Landry had other ideas.

Outside the house of the target, he spoke to another operator who had just gone into the house-

He waited for Jackson to report in.
“Upstairs clear.”
“How many?”
“Two. The couple. They were laying in bed.”
“Lying,” Landry said.
“What??!!”
“Lying in bed. Not laying.”
A pause. Then, “Roger that.”

Cyril Landry didn’t want to be a walk-on part. He didn’t want to be Bad Guy #1 or Operative #2.

I understand him. I don’t like everything he did, but I like him. I liked him so much I put him in three books: THE SHOP, HARD RETURN, and SPECTRE BLACK.

There’s something freeing about writing the opposite sex. I’ve had many characters that I’ve loved, but Cyril Landry takes the cake.

I love him best of all.

For a limited time, all three books in the CYRIL LANDRY THRILLERS are on sale now!
Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Kindle Book Deals – You can find them here: https://goo.gl/7DUvbe

Categories: Books Cyril Landry Spectre Black The Writing Life Writing

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

The first book I ever wrote was a horror novel. Darkscope was inspired by Stephen King’s books, which I’d been reading for years. I can still remember going to the library, picking up The Shining, and driving home with the book on the seat beside me—the anticipation I felt. I’d waited for months to get my hands on that book.

And I wanted to write a novel—set in Bisbee. Because I loved Stephen King and Peter Straub and Dean Koontz, I aimed for a horror novel. It took me a year to write and three years to sell, but at the end of that time, I had Dark Country — which, after it sold to Zebra Books, became Darkscope.

Buick Hearse

After seeing this car, I’m tempted to write another horror novel.

Here’s why:

For our wedding anniversary, Glenn and I reserved an old travel trailer, a 1951 Spartan Royal Mansion, at The Shady Dell campground in Bisbee, Arizona. It was October, two days before Halloween, and the weather was cold and gray.

Buick Hearse

Both of us couldn’t fit on the same pull-out bed, so we had to sleep separately (some “Happy Anniversary”).

Not only that, but I was scared.

In the evening, before going out to dinner, we’d walked up on the hill above the Shady Dell, under the cold lowering clouds. The owners had some old stuff up there that they would use for the campground, like those old iron chairs from the forties.

But up on the hill, we saw—

Buick Hearse

Okay, best way to describe it? Jackson Pollock could have painted the thing on his worst day. The old hearse looked as if it had been stretched longer than it should have been. When we peered through the window at the long bed, we saw three petrified pigeon corpses.

I have never been the type who gets scared by this kind of stuff, but I was scared then. The thing just grabbed hold of my imagination, and I could see it driving down the hill and cruising through the little Shady Dell campground, looking for us — a la Christine.

So I didn’t sleep well. One ear was tuned to the sound of an engine. It would have that big old car growl, punctuated by misfiring cylinders.

We made it to the next day. The sun was out. We took a walk alongside a line of trees delineating the campground from its neighbor. It didn’t help that the neighboring property was Evergreen Cemetery, known as the Bisbee city cemetery. Darkscope is a ghost story with scenes I set in that very cemetery.

Buick Hearse

Of course.

The trees were like saplings, all of them very close together like a fence, and they were matted with vines. And an odd thing happened. Something—a small animal, screened by leaves, ran up one of the trees. Maybe it was rat. Maybe it was a squirrel. Maybe it was a mutation of a rat or a squirrel. There was something odd about its movement and how fast it zipped up through the leaves—so fast it promptly disappeared.

I didn’t need a witch doctor to tell me it was just more bad mojo.

Ever since, the story has stuck to the back of my mind. I’ve written a book and a novella since then, but it keeps coming back.

Like reflux.

Like a reflux-colored car hellbent on finding an unwary victim to lay bare, engine growling, tires squealing, bumper crumpling.

Categories: Darkscope Writing

People ask, “Where do you get your ideas?”

To write a novel, you need a whole grab bag full of potential ideas, because you are about to embark on a long journey. Or, put another way, you’re dealing with a machine that has many separate and working parts. I am sure there are novels about one thing, but even that one thing has several facets. Otherwise, there would be nothing for the reader to follow. No Superhighway, no meandering scenic route, nor even bread crumbs.

So where do I get my ideas? I try to come up with some sort of theme for the story. Often, it’s fuzzy and I have to fill in the blanks. For The Survivors Club, I lighted on the idea of a family of adult children who were bad to the bone. Pure, unadulterated evil.

Ruby building

A ruined building in the ghost town of Ruby, Arizona


I had to kill a man to start the story off, and I wanted the right place for it. I decided a ghost town would be pretty darn cool. I’d been to a few, but one stood out. A few years before, I’d taken a tour of the ghost town of Ruby, perched on the border between Arizona and Mexico. I took a few photos, heard a few stories, roamed through a few ruined buildings.
Ruby building

Old, weathered building in Ruby Arizona


Fast-forward to killing the guy in my book. I had the perfect place. I changed the name of the town to Credo, and moved the furniture around a bit.

And Tess McCrae had her homicide case.

Mining facilities in Ruby

Mining facilities in Ruby


From The Survivors Club:

Chapter 5

They split up. Danny would be testifying at a homicide trial just before lunch, and would probably be gone for most of the day.

Tess followed Ruby Road to the end of the blacktop and her plain-wrap Tahoe clunked over the washboard road. It was a long, bone-jarring drive.

This was Border Patrol Country. It was rare for Santa Cruz County to send anyone out here—certainly not on patrol. She was alone.

She passed the gate to the ghost town of Credo on the left. The gate was a continuation of wire fence. A wire loop held the gate post and fence post together. The ranch gate could be unlooped and dragged across the road to make way for cars.

Tess noticed a van from the Medical Examiner inside the fence. She decided to come back when they were gone. When she went back to the crime scene she wanted quiet and a chance to think. She drove around the bend and up another hill.

Around another bend there would be a couple of trailers and an even more primitive camp.

Tess slowed at the sight of an old travel trailer backed into a rocky hill. It sat on a spur off an old ranch lane.

Thirty yards beyond the trailer, where the road bottomed out in the streambed, a couple of tree-limb posts were strung with two strands of wire across the wash. Tess noticed that tin cans had been stuck on top of the limbs, and they’d been shot to pieces.

The travel trailer was shaded by a camo tarp. The sixties seemed to be a theme here: a faded Game & Fish truck, pale green, stood out front, the emblem painted over. A campfire ring and a makeshift table made out of scrapwood kept a cheap kitchen chair company under the tarp.

There was a stake and a chain, too–for a dog.

She had a bad feeling about this, partly because of the way the place looked, but also because of Danny’s Bladerunner comment.

Categories: The Survivors Club Writing

When I came up with Arizona Department of Public Safety homicide detective Laura Cardinal, it was like setting up a train set built to my specifications. I put her in a beautiful place—a ranch outside Tucson. After some research, I decided to make her a DPS detective, because she could go anywhere in the state of Arizona to assist on difficult homicides.

This made her an outsider, which meant plenty of tension with the locals every time she went to a crime scene out of town. I already had a story in mind. So I was ready to rock ‘n roll but then I had to do one thing: I had to start writing the darn thing.

So I did. But as I started typing—

THIS happened:

“Francis X. Entwistle showed up in Laura Cardinal’s bedroom at three in the morning, looking war-weary.”

WHAT? Who was THIS guy?

Turns out that Francis X. Entwistle was a ghost. Furthermore, he was the ghost of her former partner on the homicide desk. And he was there to warn her that “A bad one’s coming.”

Peg Entwistle photo

Actress Peg Entwistle


I’d already decided that Laura would have a crusty old detective for a partner. I just didn’t know he’d show up in her bedroom in the first sentence on the first page—as her DEAD partner. I’d just met Laura Cardinal’s sidekick.
Hollywoodland sign

Hollywoodland, before it was Hollywood.


I should have known he’d have spooky underpinnings, though. When I chose his name, I wanted something a little bit spooky, so I thought of the sad story of a young aspiring actress in the 1930s named Peg Entwistle. Peg Entwistle wanted a career in movies, but Hollywood was unkind to starlets, even then.

On September 18, 1932, a female hiker discovered a woman’s shoe, jacket, and purse at the base of the Hollywood Sign (at the time, the letters spelled HOLLYWOODLAND). The woman found a suicide note inside the purse. She looked down and saw twenty-four-year-old Peg Entwistle, sprawled on the rocks and brush below.

(Reverse POV: woman above clapping both hands to her cheeks and screaming)

It was a memorable and spooky story, and I was in a spooky mood, so I named Jolie’s sidekick, homicide desk partner Frank Entwistle, after Peg.

No wonder he turned up as a ghost.

Categories: Darkness on the Edge of Town Laura Cardinal Writing

Years ago when I was in between books (in fact, I think I’d given up on fiction for a time and spent my days writing magazine articles for actual money), I was sent by Tucson Guide Quarterly to Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada in the desert east of Tucson.

La Posta Quemada used to be a stage stop and postal station back in late 1800s. Sadly, it acquired the name after the daughter of the station master died in a fire. La Posta Quemada in Spanish means “Burnt Post.”

The area’s past ostensibly includes a gold robbery. Legend has it the robbers cached their stash of gold in a cave. The cave itself was discovered (sans gold?) by Solomon Lick in 1879.

I can vouch for the fact that the cave is really cool beans—and the Civilian Conservation Corps in the thirties fixed it up and helped make it a wonderful tourist attraction. Now Colossal Cave Mountain Park is under the aegis of Pima County. It is also a home to bats, a very good thing for the area.

Laura's Cardinal's home at La Posta Quemada

Laura’s Cardinal’s home at La Posta Quemada


I fell in love with the ranch, and realized that Laura Cardinal would just have to live there. This required research—-of sorts. I spent time just soaking up the ambience that spring, down in the shallow mesquite-canopied valley, which was green with six-weeks grass, swapping stories on the porch with the women who ran the shop. I knew I’d found Laura Cardinal’s house, the first and most important piece of the puzzle. And so I put her in the house and gave her a home. I even blew up some stuff there (fictionally).

So my time off from book writing led me to Colossal Cave, which in turn led me to the ranch, just at the time I was ready to write another book.

So, thank you, Colossal Cave and La Posta Quemada. You will always have a special place in my heart.

Categories: Laura Cardinal Writing

When I wrote Darkness on the Edge of Town, I incorporated some of my own childhood and young adulthood years in the story. I tapped into the memory of the somnolent farms along the Rillito River. (Now gone, replaced by a complex of medical buildings, banks, and shops.)

Speedway Boulevard, Tucson Arizona. The Ugliest Street in America.

Speedway Boulevard in Tucson–“The Ugliest Street in America”–as featured in Life magazine, 1970.

I tapped into another time and brought it into the present.

I also resurrected a homegrown loser named Charles Schmid—the boogeyman of Tucson.

Schmid might as well have been born with the word LOSER stamped on his forehead. He thought he was hell with the ladies, but he was insecure, too. He slipped smashed-flat beer cans into his caballero boots to make him seem taller.

Schmid decided he wanted to kill girls to see what it was like. And stupid is as stupid does: he targeted girls he knew.

He killed three teenaged girls.

A few years later, I met the surviving family of two of the victims and their youngest girl. This was at Cottonwood Farm where we both had riding lessons. And there they were, this family that had lost two daughters, carrying on, moving forward, loving and appreciating the daughter they had.

Charles Schmid

Charles Schmid


My mother wrote. She kept clippings on Schmid’s tragic crime spree and prepared to write about it, but ultimately, she couldn’t. I remember the chill it gave all parents, who kept their kids indoors or watched us with an eagle eye in the aftermath of the murders.

As I was preparing to write Darkness on the Edge of Town, I took a look at my mom’s clippings—and another puzzle piece clicked in to the story I was writing.

Old stories, unearthed and dusted off. And changed.

I was, and still am, haunted by the yellowed clippings about Charles Schmid, the preening loser who managed to destroy the lives of good people. I have always felt that homicide cops—the good ones—try to make some sense of the death if they can for the families. People are meaning-making machines and they need something to hang their hat on, no matter how tenuous. Some comfort, no matter how inadequate, for the stunned and bleeding families.

Like DPS detective Laura Cardinal in Darkness on the Edge of Town, they can’t fix the insult to injury, the deep injury. All they can do is catch the guy—

And make him pay.

Categories: Darkness on the Edge of Town Laura Cardinal Writing

One day when I was fourteen, two of my friends and I walked to a riding stable. On the way back, we got into a fight. I huffed off and shall we say, “went in another direction.” Literally. A friend of mine lived in a housing division near the desert along lonely Pima Street. Walking by myself, I didn’t notice the creepy old car until I heard it pull up on the side of the road behind me.

Here’s what I wrote:

“I was walking down Pima after turning off Wilmot. An orange (dull reddish orange) and white 1955 Ford pulled off the road directly behind me. Being in a venomous state of mind and rather nervous, I started running, because I didn’t care for the look of the occupant of the vehicle. I took to the desert, which I thought would give me more of a chance than the roadside, dodging brush, scrambling through gullies. I was very sure-footed when I needed to be.”

Note the English syntax. My mother came from England, and I must have adopted that somewhere along the line. I went on, “My heart collapsed.” “I’d thought I’d seen the last of the car…” “I starting running again, a wild animal in the desert.”

What happened: the car followed me as I ran into the subdivision. Every street I hit, the guy would turn the corner and I could see the front of the ugly old car creeping toward me. No one was outside. I didn’t have time to run up to the houses to ring doorbells. The car kept dogging me. The creepy guy looking… really creepy. I headed for a friend’s house in the neighborhood, and luckily, my friend and her mom were out front watering.

The car sped off.

creepy car, 1955 Chevy Bel Air

A creepy car, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

Fast-forward to the more recent past. When I started writing Darkness on the Edge of Town (having lost the English accent by then), the car came back, now a 1955 orange-over-white Chevy Bel Air. This was because I hadn’t yet found the creepy little story I’d written all those years ago, and that’s what I thought it was. And this time, the victim in the story wasn’t so lucky.

Here’s a short little bit of a small newspaper article I put in the story:

CAR USED IN ABDUCTION OF LOCAL GIRL FOUND

“A hiker named Jerry Lee noticed an old car that had rolled down an embankment into the brush and cactus. He bushwhacked down to the car, a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, and was shocked by what he found. The backseat of the old car was covered with blood.”

What’s good about personal experience if you can’t use it?

 


(Photo:  Flickr – DVS1mn – “55 Chevrolet Bel Air (19)” by Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA – 55 Chevrolet Bel Air. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Categories: Darkness on the Edge of Town Writing