An adventure in research

I’m currently working on my next full length novel. Some people will tell you that  writing gets easier with each book. The  writing aspect does, I have a better command of the language, it’s easier to hit my writing goal (which at one time was a mere 300 words or a short page a day). I know if I get side barred that I will sit down at the page again the next day. I trust myself, if I’m tired take a nap and go back to the page. I keep track of my word counts every day on a calendar.

What isn’t always easier is staying on track when doing research.

For example, when I do research it’s easy to follow a trail and squander huge blocks of time. I can look up reference material for dead zones for cell phones in the mountains and find myself searching for a new phone.

I find it necessary to write a list of what I need to check or research go to it and then get offline! Do not pass Face Book in or out which means no playing Candy Crush saga… (sorry to my friends who need lives and extra moves.)

Research is a critical part of your book. It can be as simple as finding out the name of a high school in another city, or checking out the lay of the land by Google Earth. If you want your book to be credible, research is nearly impossible to avoid. After all, you want your story to ring true to the reader.

I once read a story in which the writer failed to do her homework. After the first three chapters, I was angry and frustrated. A short way into the book, my editor hat was on and I was looking for mistakes. Not a good reading experience. (I sent along the revisions to them and that is another story altogether.)

People spend good money on books, and it’s our job as writers to educate and/or entertain. It isn’t supposed to be about them finding mistakes that need corrected or being irked by flawed information.

The very word research conjures up all sorts of dry, dusty images, doesn’t it? Really, it’s more of a learning adventure. For my first novel, it was important that one of my characters learn to properly handle a gun. Research for that: I took a class that trained me in gun mechanics, how to load, properly handle and shoot, and the most important thing: knowing when to shoot. They also covered the legal ramifications should it become necessary to pull the trigger and hit or kill someone with bullets.

It added an amazing amount of credence to the story and added to my credibility as a writer. And, it turns out, I’m a pretty good shot. Not all research is time intensive; you may need to know the miles between cities, or how long it takes to travel from one point to another.

Your book may or may not hit the mainstream market, but if you write about a shootout and it lands in front of someone who knows, say, about guns, you want them nodding along in agreement with what you’ve put down on paper, not writing you a nasty letter about how you need to do your homework.

How can you make research an adventure?

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Paying attention to people around you

Whatever you’re working on, keep going.


I talk a lot about showing up to the page. It’s kind of like a train going from station to station. It runs a course, stays on track, gets to destinations. Of course, sometimes they get derailed and so do we.

But if you don’t show up, you probably aren’t going to write anything. My favorite  time to show up to the page was after my daughter left for school. Coffee freshly poured, breakfast over, dishes clean and a walk in before 9 a.m. I ran with that for a long time. I wrote a lot. But then,after a period of years, boredom had set in. I needed character studies. I took a job. Then another. And another. I met interesting people.

All of the jobs I took offered me something in the way of character and scene development that you just can’t get by visiting an office or store. I love to write vignettes. You can do this too. It’s a sketch of someone you see in real life.

Where will you be today? What interesting person might you run across today? In one place, there was a disturbed woman who would go through the parking lot taking pictures of license plates. If you looked at her, not confronted her, looked at her, she’d start screaming. I don’t know what her issues were, but at some point, she might come in handy…

If you work with the public, you have a treasure trove of people to pull characters from. What might you see on your way to work? Running an errand for a former boss, I pulled up to a stop light. In the bright, bubblegum pink car next to me was a bearded dude with tattoos, smoking a cigarette with a cap on who looked like a bouncer in the tough section of town. I don’t know if the car was his or not, but clearly, he was secure driving it. I wish I knew the real story. I don’t, so I can make one up.

Occasionally, I see a one man band. If you can, a conversation adds interest.

Keep your eyes open for facinating things like this that are “prompts from real life”. They’re great warm-up exercises and a kickstart if you’re circling writers block.

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Where do you find your characters?

Last week we talked about showing up to the page and those people you might see on your way to work, or during the course of a day. Another thing I liked doing was going to some place and eavesdrop conversations. Some people have an inflated view of how important their stories are and talk loudly as if wanting others to hear, another group really doesn’t intend to be overheard. I find the latter far more interesting.

When blue tooth was wildly popular and seemed to be everywhere, I frequently visited a particular coffee shop with comfy chairs and sat next to a woman fairly regularly who always seemed to be mid-conversation. She had a gorgeous head of fluffy dark hair and I was never one to stare. I sat in the next chair over from her, plugged in my headphones and started writing.

What she didn’t know was that I didn’t always turn on my music. I thought she was a counselor of some kind, because she seemed to be advising, repeating questions and statements back to a person on the other end of the line. She sounded thoughtful and kind. Rarely emotional, never loud. She often looked as though she concentrated on every word the caller spoke, in order to glean some insight. She would pause, nod her head slowly and say, hmmm. Mhmmm. She seemed so caring, a great listener, very stoic.

After months, I finally introduced myself hoping to learn more about her coffee house phone counseling sessions and even then, I didn’t notice. She never had a phone, or a Bluetooth.

You bet a wrote a vignette about her. It was a great exercise to capture the essence of her. Not so much what she said, because I don’t remember the words of her one-sided conversations; mainly her demeanor, and that–if you counted her drink cups–the table next to her looked as though she’d camped out there most of the day.

So, What people do you remember from your summer vacation or travels? Where are you hanging out? Where do you find your inspiration? What interesting characters have you discovered?

Message me, I’d love to hear about your observations.

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We now return you to this blog already in progress…

Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys, Typing Away Madly

Butt in Chair, Fingers on Keys, Typing Away Madly

I’ve been missing in action. I should have warned you that my daughter (also a writer) was about to have the most beautiful (translation: first ever) grandson in the whole of my universe. I got sucked into Nani-hood (yes, I am waaaay too young for this.) We are smiling here and so enamored that I forgot about life outside this bubble.

My life has always been a bit of a whirlwind. Lucky for me, I’m married to a man who can handle the high and low tides of such an adventurous life.  Lots of positives lately. I also celebrated an anniversary with my husband and best friend (another writer), Jack. To be so loved is truly a blessing.

I was out there, doing summer, which is all too short in my book, especially here in the great Midwest. If ever I thought there was a time when people might not be paying attention to a blog, it’s summertime. Unless you live in the Southern Hemisphere. Please let me hear from you.

All that to say… I have been a less faithful blogger since I took up fiction writing. I’ve been trying to reconcile the two (blogging and fiction writing) as if they are split personalities of the same voice. What do I know? But, I realize how much I miss touching base with those 500 or less words a few times a month, and your insightful feedback.

Lately, I’ve been coming across some great information that I’d like to pass along to you, let you in on how I write, since I get a lot of questions about my process from various other writers and encourage you. I’m recommitting to writing here once a week (it could evolved to twice a week, fair warning). Also, this will be the place to find out when I’ll be doing book signings. (Still a hazy concept…) and this will gel at some near future point.

I have not failed to write, however. I have notebooks everywhere, slips of paper everywhere, and despite the summer whirlwind, have managed to finish another book, the first in a series, and get a novelette to paperback proof status. (The Great Divide: A Novelette should be available in paperback on Amazon by the end of September.)

In the meantime, BiCFoKTAM is my primary process. Doesn’t that look absolutely profane? It means But In Chair/ Fingers On Keys/Typing Away Madly. Show up to that page same time, everyday. Set a timer and write whatever comes into your head for twenty minutes. It’s a great warm up. Or, pretend you’re writing a letter to someone, your future self or your past self. While you’re laughing about BiCFoKTAM, write 500 words about why YOU want to be a writer. Go!

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Please Welcome Our New Arrival!!

ImageSo, the waiting is over and we welcome the new arrival! When Jack got home last night I had celebratory offerings next to a headscarf on the kitchen counter. He almost lways welcomes an adult beverage in the evening. He even noticed the head scarf. I encouraged him to pick it up and when he did…

“The book? How WONDERFUL!” He was all smiles as he picks it up reverently and holds it like a father with a newborn baby; eyes wide with awe–just like mine. Oh, he gushed over it and me for at least five minutes. It was bliss! Then we left it on the counter between the two of us just gazing at it, admiring it. I felt like Geppetto, the puppet maker, when his doll finally becomes a real boy.

It’s nearly a pound, 6×9 trade paperback and 365 pages! Three dimensional pages that you turn by hand, with a real ISBN number and a cover!  I’ve heard writers say that there’s no feeling like seeing their book, all those hours of work, the polishing, the edits, the rewrites, “in the flesh” if you will.

ImageAnd now, I have joined their ranks as author, novelist. Wow. Amazing. Just amazing. When I got home today, he’d already called Barnes and Noble about a book signing! As soon as I know more about that, I will let you know too.

Okay, I just wanted to update you. I’m going back to work in the next book, working title: A Dancer’s Tale. It’s always great catching up with you.

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Tick, tick, tick…

Have you ever had to wait for anything? It seems the more you want it, the longer it takes. I’ve been writing for years, and seeing my first real book in print was something I could barely imagine. It also took a lot longer than I ever imagined.

My very first book proof is being printed as you read this. This is the final hurdle to make sure that the book looks right. It’s funny, when I started writing, I never thought about all the things I’d need to learn along the way. There are different facets to getting your book out there. Writing a book is just the beginning.

Revisions, formatting, e-publishing, Kobe, Mobi, E-Pub Kindle, Nook… What an education. But I’m glad for the knowledge.

I discovered that I can format books in all sorts of ways. Though I never considered myself  an editor, I did a fair amount of it. In the end, I decided that the reason I was afraid to print the book  was because I needed a real editor. A real editor requires real money. It’s an investment. If the book is out there for 5 to 15 years, it needs to be right. To me, Sean Patterson was worth the cost.

The cover became another hurdle. I used an image I took while I was in New Mexico and with the help of my husband Jack, who is quietly a photo retouch-er, we were able to modify it enough to fit the story. Then, Ed Coles and Gene Tenbrink helped me with title lettering and sizing the cover respectively. Thank you men, for a job well done! I’m glad to know them because I’m not done writing. I intend to keep going with this, and these gentlemen were professional all the way. I look forward to working with them again.

Publishing is a huge step obviously and had to be done in some way that will get the book to your readers. And that leads me to marketing. That’s something I’m working on myself.

The trick to being successful, I think, is to keep learning, while you’re waiting.

The good news: I can begin taking preorders (if you’re interested send me contact info–it will not be published–in the comment section after this post.

And now, with a little advance notice, I can do book signings and sell books! Wow! I’m going to have an adult beverage to celebrate this milestone, and then, I’m going to go write on the next book that’s been simmering on the back burner for a few days. Thanks for tagging along, I always like talking to you.

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Excerpt From Book in Progress

“Is it really your last night?” Uli asked.

“Yes it is.”

“It won’t be the same around here without you!”

“It’ll be better,” another girl joked. After the laughter died, she put a hand on Callie’s arm. “Really, Echo. I wish you all the best in your life.”

“”I hear you’re going into films,” another one said. She looked like a beach girl: long blonde tresses, evenly tanned and smooth skin. Callie didn’t remember ever telling anyone that. In fact, she certainly had not.

“Cinematography,” she corrected.

The girl looked her up and down and cocked a brow. She slowly nodded her approval.

“Yeah, I can see that. You got what it takes.”

The remark threw Callie, but she thanked her all the same and strode quickly down to her door. She closed it behind her and sat in front of the mirror while the music thumped beyond her dressing room. Last night. Finally.

After her last set, she considered taking the name from her door and maybe, press it in a scrapbook. Life here would go on as always here without her. The names and faces would change, the dances and routines would be the same. She had come to a point where it all felt cheap and tawdry and she wanted out while she was still anonymous. She felt almost certain that she would be able to return to her real life and put this to rest. It wasn’t fun or exciting after Trish died. Callie was all too glad to box Echo up with the rest of her costumes and move on.

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