Retired Dallas police officer turned detective novelist, Anita Dickason, is sharing the good news about her debut detective novel series, featuring strong female lead characters.
To kick things off we’re highlighting Sentinels of the Night, which puts FBI Tracking Agent Cat Morgan on the trail of a brutal serial killer.
Cat teams up with town police chief Kevin Hunter to accomplish one crucial goal: catching the sadistic killer before he strikes again. Although Cat and Kevin soon recognize that the romantic tension between them is undeniable, both hard-working, dedicated professionals know that catching the killer comes before anything else. Cat and Kevin must set aside their personal feelings to put a final end to the killer’s reign of terror.
This week, Dickason is showing up around the Book Blogosphere with some guest posts. We’re happy to have her drop by this little patch of cyberspace with these writing tips and a giveaway. Click here to enter.
My Top Five Writing Tips for New Authors
I came across a website that ran a short story contest. The theme was based on a picture posted
on the site and was limited to 500 words. The image caught my attention. A tattered and broken
doll stood in a barren, run-down old room with spider webs and torn and stained wallpaper. I
later learned the doll did exist and was used in haunted houses. While it was designed to be eerie,
there was also a sense of tragedy.
I thought what the heck, its only 500 words. I wrote my first fictional story titled Not Dead, Not
Dead. To my utter amazement, I won third place. I was hooked. I now have two published
books, Sentinels of the Night, and Going Gone!, and am working on a third.
I have learned a lot about the craft of writing along the way and would offer these suggestions.
1) Write! Now that seems like a simplistic answer to a complicated question: how do I start?
However, it is so true. I enjoy talking to writing groups about writing and publishing.
Someone will always ask this question. Most everyone who has a yen to write has ideas
rolling in their head. Start putting them down on paper, just start writing.
2) Start with the challenge of a short story. It is a fun way to learn the dynamics of writing.
When limited to 500 or 1000 words, you cannot ramble. Once the story is complete,
submit it to a short story contest or magazine.
3) Don’t worry about perfection in the first draft. Get the ideas and flow of the plot down.
Trying to get a paragraph or dialogue 100% perfect will only slow down the creativity.
Write, get it all down, then go back and edit.
4) Keep a notepad by the keyboard. It helps to keep track of character names, dates, times
and other pesky details that can get lost. I use multiple changes in POV (point of view) as
I shift between agents and locations. The technique can get complicated, and I use the
notepad to keep track of who knew what and when.
5) Edit. There are software programs that can be invaluable. I use Grammarly and
ProWriting Aid. Each has several great features to catch not only errors in punctuation
but also sentence structure, overused words, etc.
For more information on Sentinels of the Night and the second Tracker novel, Going Gone!,
please see my website or the book trailers.
The Delicacies of Writing Non-Fiction:
What to Leave In or Omit and Why Asking Permission Is the Greatest Hurdle to Telling a Great Story
Luck Favors The Prepared is a collection of nonfiction short stories. But, that ‘nonfiction’ part has been a tricky business. Nonfiction is rarely flattering. Seldom does its characters move about as gracefully or as tactfully as we believe we move about our own lives. Most people long for privacy—while the goal of nonfiction (as is the goal of any writing) is the opposite of privacy, to reach an audience. Additionally, the claim (and the sting) of nonfiction is that these are stories which have actually happened, concerning people who actually existed—people with feelings and, possibly, access to legal counsel.
What if I get it wrong? What if I muddy up the dates or fail to nail the dialogue verbatim? These, while valid points, were the least of my concerns. The ultimate hang-up was whether a person would be not flattered by the character I’d made of them.
The conclusion I always reached (which was no) held up the writing of these stories for many years, until, at long last, I was able to call a truce with my inhibitions and get to writing.
What explains the shift?
For starters, these are good stories so they were not easily dismissed. Given time and pressure, eventually their persistence forced me to reconcile this seeming insurmountable hurdle to nonfiction: the spectre of fairness.
Readers of Luck Favors The Prepared will notice I traffic in some incredibly unsavory characters. Was it fair of me to write them so? Probably not. People, however, have had more than enough time to get along without fairness. Indeed, we’ve lived in a dearth of fairness since time immemorial. It is audacious of my characters to demand fairness would make a historically rare visit just to save their hide.
The best we can do is be proactive, and behave ourselves. If you’re good, most assuredly, nobody will write about you.
We’ve developed many ways to live well, even in this absence of fairness. Chances are you’ve had a brush with Christianity, the founding tenets of which warn we should (to paraphrase a number more eloquent passages) watch our ass. If you feel exempt from the offerings of Christianity, the scientific community has an equally potent formula coined by Newton’s third law: every action has an equal and opposite reaction. There are some still who feel left behind by both Christianity and science, for them I can only hope they have a magnanimous sense of humor. After that, you’re S.O.L.
The idea is, in a world where what goes around, comes around—fairness is a red herring.
It took me longer than it should have to come to this conclusion. When I did, it was like a fresh breath of air. Which is why I am now gleefully submitting Luck Favors The Prepared for publication, just under the wire, during this lapse in the Universal Calendar when fairness seems to have checked-out.
If nothing is fair, what then, will keep the world from coming apart?
In this supreme absence of fairness, Christianity, science or humor implores us to act with kindness, beauty and grace. It is, you could say, a last-ditch stopgap to prevent everything from going to pot. This is an idea I can get behind in a major way. It has allowed me to finally locate my voice—and write nonfiction to my heart’s content. But to do so compassionately, in spite of appearances to the contrary.
In the spirit of kindness it is important to note: while I have not shied away from capturing a character at their very worst, that unfortunate snapshot is strictly happenstance. I am not aiming, specifically, to capture a character at their worst. Though, to be fair, I am not straining to capture a character at their finest either. One should not aim to catch a character behaving any which way. They should only aim to capture the story. Kindness should be, above all else, a commitment to the story.
While many of my characters found themselves illuminated in such a harsh light, kindness suggests that (hopefully) they were just going through a rough spot. Their only real crime (in the universal sense) was they experienced a fevered lapse of judgement in the company of someone with such an impeccable memory.
Kindness forces us to consider the angels of our better nature, that people are great, complex creatures. We are brimming with contradictions. Sometimes we are terrible and evil. Other times, we are beautiful and reaffirm all of the wonderful things.
How does one know when they’re writing from a place of kindness? Crap stories are usually unkind. We’ve all heard an embittered divorcee seethe about their poisonous ex-wife or husband. It’s nothing you would treat yourself to after a day’s work. That’s what red wine is for.
Nonfiction without kindness reads flat and vindictive. Any too-thin story is so obviously a sad revenge-vehicle to facilitate a tantrum. It is painfully uninteresting. Yes, sometimes unkind nonfiction is fun to read. But it’s a dirty, bitter pill and should be enjoyed sparingly.
Are the stories objective?
Just because I am the narrator, doesn’t mean I am exempt from the critique of these narratives. To lean faithfully on the story’s foundation means I should just as freely throw myself on the same pyre to which I’ve thrown these poor characters. Could I have been more critical of myself, the character? Maybe, but that’s above my paygrade.
Writing nonfiction is to shoulder into unfairness. So the very least a nonfiction author can do is make well and sure they’re writing from a place of kindness and objectivity. Or, at least, try real hard to do so. This is why I still write with boundaries. Very strict boundaries in fact. There’s much more I could write, but it’s a waste of time if there’s no redeeming story.
I am forty years old now. Does an inability to understand and reconcile the dueling perspectives of fairness and kindness explain why it’s taken me so dang long to offer Luck Favors The Prepared? Probably not. But lay off, I’m short on time. I suppose I could try harder, to completely throw myself at producing books, which is a lot like working a second job without pay. Try explaining that to a wife and a daughter.
A friend started talking about this book last week, and it sounded pretty interesting. Actually, when I said “talking,” I should’ve said “raving.” Anyway, it’ll probably be a few months before I can get around to reading this, and the author’d probably prefer something sooner, so my friend is allowing me to post her review instead of mine. Thanks, Erika!
by Stacy Nelson Kindle Edition, 83 pg.
BadAss Publishing Co., 2016
Practical Magic for Alchemists Who Like to Play in the Esoteric Sandbox
by Erika Nall
(I had the privilege of reading this book before it was released to the masses.)
The “Who Is Your Reader?” section is the MOST IMPORTANT section. It stopped me dead in my tracks!
I’ve bought countless courses and trainings but something always felt off. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. All of them had me “start with the end in mind.” I was painting these beautiful pictures of my days, my 3 months from now, my 1 year from now, and beyond. It was so yummy. It tapped into my superpower of visioneering. It satisfied my romanticism. It validated my idealism. Then I reversed engineered to create that in the present.
However, when it came to my readers and clients the “guru” always had me start at the beginning of their journey. “What are her pain points?”
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. I start there my stomach clenches and my heart shrinks. Inside I feel small and powerless. I get confused and lack clarity. OUCH! It’s painful.
I can hear it now:
Guru: “Lean into your discomfort. Just push through it. This is good for you. This is an opportunity to grow.”
Me: “Um, I don’t think you understand this is not uncomfortable like my shoes are a little too tight or I have a bit of indigestion from the pepperoni pizza I just ate. This is killing me inside.”
Guru: “Well, that’s just a thought. Notice the thought. Let it go back from where it came. Back into nothingness.”
Me: “I don’t think you heard me. THIS IS LITERALLY KILLING ME INSIDE! I avoid death as much as possible thank-you-very-much.”
(And as an alchemist, I know I can excel in the dark art of manipulation to get what I want. I always felt like I went there when I started with pain. “I can help you. Or, better yet “I can save you.”)
Why do I die inside when I start with pain?
My reader is me. I am her. When I talk about her beginning, I am talking about my beginning. When I talk about her insecurities, I am talking about my insecurities. And believe me, they like to show up and be a part of the show anytime they can.
Now, I understand why the beginning is a terrible place to start. Brains are pretty clueless. Whatever it’s thinking, it perceives as reality. That’s its job. And, mine does it very well.
Now I understand that those sensations. That experience is also what happens when I am insecure.
When I wanted to share my message through writing, my self-assurance, my self-confidence, my self-trust was nowhere to be found. Frozen, I just stared at that incessant blinking damn cursor for hours as the insecurities played and had their fun in my head. Frustrated and feeling rather poorly about myself, I would give up. I’d walk out of my office thinking, “What’s wrong with me? How can I usually write so freely and unabashedly with great perseverance one minute, but not the next.”
I wrote the answer, “who is your reader going to BE at the end of the book?” (Honestly, I wasn’t sure if this was going to work.)
And, I felt it. For the first time I felt that what I wrote was coming from a deep place inside of me and not my head. I expected the sensation to be like a blast of, or at least a pulsating, bright light. (Well, that what I thought was suppose to happen when you are passionate and empowered.) Instead, my stomach was relax and I felt a gentle pressure across my chest. It was a constant glow and warmth like after the fire burnt up the firestarters -the tender and the kindling- and it’s just being a fire, doing what fires do. Sure there was an occasional popping of pitch, but I didn’t stop. My fingers just pounded a bit harder on the keyboard.
My breath deep and long. Every once in awhile tears would run down my face. My mind quiet. There was no judging. I just typed. I didn’t set a timer like I usually do to keep me on track. When I felt like I got up into my head, I paused, looked out the window and watched the birds for a little bit, took a few deep breaths, and went back to writing. When all that I had inside was out in black and white -unedited and raw- I looked at the clock and only 50 minutes had passed – talk about flow, baby.
I took a deep breath, exhaling slowly, coming back to my surroundings. Then my intuition said, “Is this making her BE EMPOWERED?” And, I cried.
Several times since then, I’ve tapped back into empowered and I’ve cried every time. Not because I am sad, or happy, or relieved because now I can feel the glorious ginormity of it. How badly, how passionately I want that for my readers AND for me.
You see, I was asking the wrong question. I was starting in the wrong place.
Now when I begin with the energetics of empowerment, I write within the place of security. My assurance, confidence, and trust will be front and center. And, when the writing gets hard and there is a call to perseverance, THIS is what will pull me through the challenges of spreading my message in whatever form I choose.
Magimakía – the quest for Merlin is the first book of a contemporary fantasy series for Young Adults that explores the universe of RPG and MMORPG. In it, Oliver, a naive young virgin bullied 15 year old boy, without any knowledge of magic, trying to find the mage Merlin and save the Order of Mages and Witches of undoubted extinction, ends his journey victim of a magnificent and at the same time terrible event.
From a young age I always wanted to write a fantasy novel, because of my experience with (MMO)RPG games like Diablo and World of Warcraft. The magical universe, the battles and the powerful characters fascinated me. But writing a fantasy book is not something simple. So, after five books published and feeling capable of a foray into this universe, I finally wrote Magimakía – The search for Merlin.
The first step was to choose about what would be the story, and what kind of races and powers I would use in it. Since I always liked fantasy movies, and there was no way for me to escape this influence, I took Tolkien’s idea of introducing demons as non-religious entities (from Lord of the Rings, the battle between Gandalf and the Balrog). Alongside the demons, I brought angels, who resemble paladins, also not religious, and mages, witches, elves, trolls and goblins.
Regarding the writing itself, to construct the history I used the Hollywood structure, with the characteristics turning points structure (10%, 25%, 50%, 75% and 95%). Also, took great care to develop the “arc of the characters”, and build well-marked voices for the three book narratives: Benjamin, goblins and Oliver. The scenes and sequels respect the international structure (Scene: objective, obstacle and disaster; sequel: reaction dilemma and decision), and wrote the entire text within the MRU’s technique (motivation and reaction units).
The story itself respects the dynamics of the RPG universe, with close attention to powers mathematics. This means that all races powers are balanced, as well as the most powerful entities. To a careful analysis, you can identify that in the mechanics of battles there are warriors, generals, mini-bosses, bosses, and world bosses. This engine respects the dynamics of RPG games, to appeal to the book’s target audience, who are young adult video-gamers aged 12 to 25 (and adults too, of course).
The book was originally written in Portuguese and published in Brazil by Editora Zap Book (eBook and print) and in Portugal by Editora Chiado (print and eBook), both in June/15. Availing the fact that I speak English fluently, I wrote the English version of the book, and introduced it to a US editor, for editing. I was fortunate to present the manuscript to Ravenswood, who did not hesitate to offer me a publishing contract.
About myself, I am a well-established Brazilian author with six books commercially published, being Magimakía – the quest for Merlin the latest. Recently the Oxford University Press bought a short story of my to use in their courseware as writing model for fiction short stories, already published in the book Portuguese language for 6th grade, by Oxford. Magimakía already is the best-selling book of my Brazilian Publisher, which is starting a national advertising campaign of the book.
We’ll keep it simple — to enter, leave a comment on this post between now and June 2nd at noon (MDST) and I’ll draw a name out of a hat. Obviously, make sure your comment involves some way to get in touch with you 🙂
Miles Bradshaw was my first billionaire. I’ve worked for a few millionaires, a good many thousandaires and, occasionally, individuals with negative net worths. When law firms take on a client from the latter group, it’s called pro bono. When a one-man detective agency does it, it’s called not paying your bills. Since I like paying my bills, I try to keep the negative-net-worth clients to a minimum. Lately, it’s been a mixed bag. Most recently, a guy who owned a string of radio stations had hired me to find out who was sending threatening notes to one of his on-air personalities, and after that, a five-year-old neighbor of mine asked me to find Snowball, her lost kitten. I’d been successful in both endeavors. Ed Willoughby had given me a very big check, and Samantha Jane had given me a very big hug. Both the check and hug were appreciated, and both, in my estimation, constituted fair compensation for services rendered.
Whatever else I may end up saying about this book, get this: Germaux’s prose is as smooth as silk, jazz, a baby’s tush, a criminal in a Michael Jackson song, etc. I don’t know how many times while reading this I was tempted to check his list of published works again — he doesn’t write like someone with less than 10 books under his belt (with at least one exception — I’ll get to that in a minute).
Jeremy “JB” Barnes is an ex-English teacher turned P.I. — he’s tough, into yoga, and making wise cracks. He’s got a gorgeous girlfriend (I liked her a lot), an old buddy who’s a cop (a fun character), one that’s a computer expert (not stereotypical in anyway — phew!), and so on. He’s the whole package when it comes to P.I. characters — I soon felt like I’d been reading this series of books for a long time. He’s a little bit Spenser, a little bit Elvis Cole, and a heckuva lot of fun.
Miles Bradshaw, multi-billionaire tech-giant, is the owner of Pittsburgh’s new NBA team. He’s down to earth, brilliant, generous and completely dedicated to his team. Frankly, I’d love to have someone like him in my life (no, really — all down-to-earth, generous, multi-billionaires that read this should give me a call, we’ll do lunch or something — the Whoppers are on me.). He’s concerned because people involved with the team are being harassed — either by people stalking them, vandalizing their cars, or by screwing up electronic communications between suppliers and ticket holders. Miles is convinced that since the harassment is so varied in nature, it has to be coincidental.
But because this is a detective novel, naturally, there’s no way that these aren’t connected. What neither JB or Miles can figure out is how they’re connected. Before they figure that out, they discover that the silly harassment of the team is really something on the fringe of a large-scale criminal enterprise involving organized crime, computers and spoiler-y things. I appreciated the friendship that develops between Miles and JB, something you don’t see enough of in Detective Fiction (P.I.s rescuing clueless clients, teaching them life lessons? Dime a dozen. Two professionals bonding over mutual interests while letting each deal with their strengths? Practically unheard of.). There’s a subplot that has nothing to do with these stories, that basically delivers the message that JB’s lady love is a knockout and he’s not to be messed with.
I am so glad that when he gets to the nitty-gritty of computer crimes, Germaux doesn’t try to explain it in any kind of detail. JB just leaves his friends to it and goes off to do his thing. I’m tired of that kind of thing being explained like a technical manual, or with bad analogies while the tough-guy hero makes jokes about how he can’t understand them. Nope, we get plausible thumbnail explanations and trust that the experts know what they’re doing. Just like most of us do in real life.
There’s some violence (pretty mild, really), some sexuality (very mild, really), enough to let you know that this isn’t a YA novel, but not so terrible that you couldn’t recommend this to your mother. There’s nothing revolutionary to be found here — but Germaux doesn’t seem to be trying to do anything revolutionary. He’s writing a good, straightforward detective novel, and he does that well.
Okay, here’s my gripe: Germaux has clearly drunk deep at the well containing the advice about making sure you propel your readers to the next chapter with a plot development, cliffhanger or something else. Frequently, he does okay with that. But almost as frequently, what we end up getting is ham-handed and/or corny. You almost expect David Caruso to deliver some of his last paragraphs (no, not the cool NYPDBlue Caruso, but latter-season CSI: Miami Caruso).
I guess I have another one: the ending felt a little rushed. Not much though. Not enough to spend more time on. (making us even, I guess)
Both of these problems are easily overlooked and outweighed by the rest of the novel, and I have little doubt that in a few books (especially if they’re new Barnes books), Germaux will have figured out how to avoid both of these.
This book was a real pleasure to read — it felt like I was at least 4 books into a series. The relationships, the histories, the dialogue all felt like the kind of things that I’d been reading for years — I just hope this means I get to read more of them. Germaux knows what he’s going, and I heartily recommend them.
Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.
I’ve always loved mysteries, starting when I read the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books as a kid. As I got older, I enjoyed Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, and eventually I also got hooked on the characters of Spenser, Elvis Cole and Myron Bolitar, among others. When I decided to write my first full-length novel, there was no doubt in my mind that my protagonist would be a private detective.
How would you describe Jeremy Barnes, Bob?
There’s an old line about people you wouldn’t want to run into in a dark alley. Well, if you did end up in that dark alley with one of those people, JB’s the person you’d want covering your back. He’s a tough guy with a soft spot in his heart for life’s underdogs, and while he’d much rather diffuse a tense situation with his sense of humor, if push comes to shove, he’s more than capable of handling himself that way, too.
Is JB based on anyone in particular?
There’s a little bit of several people I’ve known in JB, but mostly he’s a product of my fertile imagination. Actually, other than the fact that he’s bigger, stronger, younger, smarter and better-looking than I am, we’re remarkably similar!
How do you come up with the plots for your books?
It’s a combination of finding subjects I’m knowledgeable about and things I have an interest in. For example, in Leaving the LAW, JB attempts to help a young man who’s involved with gangs at the school where JB used to teach. In the early 90s, I was teaching at a Pittsburgh high school that the local cops called Gang Central, so I had some personal experience with that whole scene.
Why first person narrative?
I can’t imagine writing about JB in any other way. When I write my Jeremy Barnes novels, I’m right there inside his head. At those moments, we’re one and the same. He’s definitely my alter ego.
You’ve said you can’t see yourself ever writing a character interview with Jeremy. Why is that?
Jeremy exists in the world I created for him, and I’m very comfortable writing about him in that world. But bringing him into this world just doesn’t work for me. It would be sort of like the literary equivalent of breaking the fourth wall in a stage production. I’m sure some authors can pull that off, but I’m not one of them.
Do you have a reading group?
Yes, and the group’s name is Cynthia. As soon as I finish writing a chapter, I give it to my wife. Cynthia knows my characters as well as I do, so I almost always end up using her comments/suggestions.
How important was it for you that Jeremy would have a love interest in the character of Laura Fleming?
I knew from the start that Jeremy would have a woman in his life, a soul mate. The scenes with JB and Laura are my favorite to write, whether they’re discussing one of his cases, talking about her kindergarten kids or just sharing a candlelight dinner at one of Pittsburgh’s hilltop restaurants.
Okay, Bob, last question. Are there other Jeremy Barnes mysteries on the horizon?
I’ve actually written three other books about Jeremy: Small Bytes, Speak Softly and the aforementioned Leaving the LAW. If there’s a demand, I will definitely publish them, too.