An Interview with Jeri Westerson

Today, we are pleased to present an interview with Jeri Westerson. A Southern California resident, Jeri has been a freelance reporter and has written award-winning short stories, some of which can be found on her website. Besides being a wife, a mother and an artist, Jeri is the author of the Crispin Guest Medieval Noir series. Crispin debuted last year in the hardcover mystery “Veil of Lies“, available in bookstores and on Kindle. “Veil of Lies” was recently nominated for a Macavity Award for Best Historical Mystery and the Shamus Award for Best First PI Novel. GB Pool’s review of “Veil” follows this post. Her second Crispin Guest mystery is “Serpent in the Thorns.”
Without further ado, Jeri Westerson.

“Serpent in the Thorns” is the second book in your Medieval Noir series. Most people think of Los Angeles when they think noir. What attracted you to 14th century London?

I am an L.A. native, as it happens, growing up on the “mean streets.” But I am of the mind that any place can have its noir-ish qualities. There are dark mysteries set in Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago. But aside from geography, I think noir is more of a state of mind. It’s the dark places in one’s soul; the depressed lives of those who move through the underbelly of society. And that can be anywhere, from Chandler’s Los Angeles of the thirties to the muddy streets of fourteenth century London.
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When I set out to write my own style of medieval mystery, I didn’t want to write the same thing that I saw on bookshelves. They say you should write what you can’t find out there to read, and so when the idea of creating a hard-boiled detective set in the Middle Ages came to me, it seemed a natural fit with the time period. When you concentrate more on the people of the streets rather than the velvet-gowned nobility, you have the makings of noir.
Fourteenth century London offered a great deal to write about for a disgraced knight who found himself trying to eke out a living as close to what he was used to doing as he could get, valiantly maintaining his chivalric code. In 1384, when the series begins, we have just come off of the Black Death some forty years prior. This is a dark chapter in Europe’s history where a third of the population was wiped out. Imagine, a third of farmers, craftsmen, nobility—all gone. That took a toll on commerce, making food, goods, and services scarce. Superstition, crime, corruption, the Hundred Years War—all good stuff! But on a happier note, it is also the time of Chaucer, when English was becoming the language not only of the people but of the court. It also begins the promising reign of Richard II only to have that reign end in tragedy. It’s rife with noir opportunities!

The Boston Globe described your protagonist Crispin Guest as a medieval Sam Spade. He’s a disgraced knight turned private investigator. We’ve seen disgraced cops before. What additional implications are there for a disgraced knight?

There is a lot in common with the cop who has to leave his badge behind, but also some differences. Crispin not only lost his knighthood, his lands, and his wealth, but taken all together, these were the very things that defined him. So it’s not just about losing one’s job as a cop. Crispin has no place in the world. All his life he was raised to a certain position, a certain expectation in a society in which everyone’s place was rigidly defined. To have been tossed out of his place—not allowed to even be succored by relatives—was the ultimate dehumanization of a person like him. Family and lineage was important to every aspect of society, but now Crispin had nothing of a legacy to leave behind. In a sense, he has no name.

But even though he was no longer allowed to be a knight with all the trappings, he can’t let go of the chivalric culture he was raised in. Crispin is a classicist and a snob. He contends that his nobility is “in the blood” and even though his rank has changed, he finds it impossible to overcome that which was ingrained in him, even to his detriment.

I thought it incredibly clever that you gave Crispin his own blog. What are some of the pluses and minuses of posting from your character’s point of view?

The pluses are that readers get to know Crispin more deeply. I write the blog in first person, but the books are in third. It actually gives me a deeper insight into the character when I have to think in first person.

The downside is that I have to be careful not to give away plot or get ahead of the current book (I’ve actually already written the first four in the series, but we’ve only got the first two released or soon to be released).

I only post once a month because I want to save something for the novels. It’s only supposed to serve as a bridge between books, just to keep in touch with Crispin in a new and sort of interactive way. Some people have left comments but not many. I don’t know if they realize that Crispin will reply.

Reviewers praise your attention to detail and your ability to bring medieval England to life. What are some of the strangest facts you’ve run into while researching your time period?

There is the odd fact that an inordinate amount of men in London met their doom by falling out of windows. That in and of itself isn’t much, but it was how they fell out that was the most interesting part. It seems that waking up in the middle of the night, probably groggy from too much drink, men were too lazy or thought it too hazardous to relieve a call of nature by climbing down rickety ladders and stairs to use the privy outside. So they’d open the shutters (remember, no glass), positioned themselves accordingly, and…well…misjudge. Talk about getting caught with your pants down!

With so much detail, do you write your first drafts and then fill in the research details later? Or do you research as you write?

I usually take a solid month or two before I begin to write to do some detailed research. I already have a lot under my belt to get me going. These new details usually involve real people I plan to write about, or occupations I haven’t researched in depth before. Then, as I write, if I come across something I need to research, I usually stop and research right then and there. The problem with just passing over it to look it up later is that sometimes what you thought and what you discover are two entirely different things and the new information could end up radically changing the plot! So I find it’s just better to stop and find out right away. Sometimes it gives me more insight into some other aspect of the plot I hadn’t thought of before, so it’s always valuable.

Do you have any advice for aspiring historical novelists?

Well, there is a difference between the historical novel and historical mystery. The latter is a much wider market (which was why I switched from writing straight historicals to mysteries). I think it might be easier to get published in the latter, but mysteries come with their own set of problems. For one, mysteries pretty much demand a series with the same characters. There are exceptions but I wouldn’t count on those. Writing a series character was a new experience for me. I was writing and trying to sell stand-alone historical novels for well over a decade before I switched gears and worked on developing my mystery series. I couldn’t get arrested let alone published with my historicals (the historical market is very tough. Currently, editors seem to want female protagonists. And the Tudor era is golden.)
My best advice is to write what you love. Write what you can’t find out there to read. And keep on writing.

Can you tell us what’s next for you?

Crispin will return in his third adventure in 2010 (I’ve signed a contract for books three and four and I’m currently working on books five and then six). The third in the series is called A CONSPIRACY OF PARCHMENT and pits Crispin against a child killer and a mysterious creature that might be a Golem.

And then I am also working on a second medieval mystery series. It’s in the thinking stages right now but promises also to be another subgenre of medieval mysteries, something a little lighter in tone.
Thank you, Jeri, for taking the time to talk with us.

If you would like to check out Jeri’s website, click here .

And if you would like to read what Crispin is blogging about, click here .


You can find “Serpent in the Thorns” at bookstores or by clicking on the book cover.

"Veil of Lies" Review by GB Pool

Noblesse Oblige

Veil of Lies is a fourteenth Century tale told with Chandleresque pacing. Author Jeri Westerson centered her intriguing tale about former knight, Crispin Guest, who earns a meager living as a tracker (think private detective with a dagger). The story is replete with damsels in distress, court intrigue, holy relics, and a man’s honor.

The period detail is neither boring nor scholastic, with just enough pictures painted to set the stage for sword fights and dungeons and scurvy knaves. The dialogue is just contemporary enough to give you an occasional laugh, right before you hastily turn the page, because this is a page-turner.

Crispin Guest is hired by a merchant to follow his beautiful, young wife. The wife seems up to no good, then the husband is found murdered in a locked room in the fortress like home of the rich merchant. And the wife isn’t a highborn lady. She had been in service in the home before marrying the man.

Then the mystery of the veil comes to light. It’s a holy relic that seems to cast a spell over anyone in its presence, forcing them to tell the truth. But sometimes the truth can be a problem. Secrets abound. Truths are revealed. And Crispin Guest confronts his own prejudices.

A great tale, well told. The plot could have taken place in a 1930s Noir movie or in an episode of Magnum P.I. A good story is still a good story. This one just happens to have wonderful atmosphere and situations that only a former knight could experience.

Loved every page.

Building a Platform – Day 1

Bullet Points for Building a Successful Platform

Day 1 –

Who are You? Before you can really start building a platform of skills to promote yourself and your work, you need to know who you are and what you do best. In other words, what is your niche? If you were a book, where would you be in the bookstore? Mystery section, Short Story collections, Mystery plays. When you meet people, do you say, “Hi, I’m Agatha Penwrite. I’m a mystery writer.” Or are you still not sure what you want to be or write? If you can’t figure out what it is you are, you won’t be the only one.

Look back over the things you have already written and take inventory. At the California Crime Writers Conference in Los Angeles (June 2009), Gayle Lynds (The Book of Spies) said that you will probably have five novels under your belt before you sell your first one.

So, what do you primarily write?

The other half of knowing who you are is this: What other skills do you bring to the party? Were you once a cop, a private detective, a chef, a hooker? Hey, all of these are the basis of a good storytelling. What skills do you already have that will add credibility to your writing?

When I first started to write seriously, I wrote three long spy novels. The length alone said they wouldn’t be selling anytime soon. My dear husband said to me, “You were a private detective once. Why don’t you write a detective novel?” Duh.

So ask yourself, “What actual expertise am I bringing to this novel?” If you are a great cook or professional chef, you might center your stories around cooking. (Jerilynn Farmer’s Perfect Sax). If you are good at research, you might tackle an historical novel. (Jeri Westerson’s Veil of Lies) If you are a doctor, lawyer, or police officer, you have case studies by the score from which to draw stories.

All the people with the above job descriptions have something to talk about when speaking to an audience besides their great new novel. They have real life experience in the subject matter. They bring credibility and great insight to their latest book. Sue Ann Jaffarian (Booby Trap) is a paralegal writing about paralegals. Sheila Lowe (Dead Write) is a real life handwriting expert. Her protagonist has the same job. Doug Lyle (Forensics for Dummies) is a heart doctor. They each write about what they know best.

Not only does Sue Ann have actual knowledge of her subject matter, but she can also go speak at a paralegal convention or a lawyer conference. Her expertise carries weight. It’s a great draw.

So, what is your biggest asset?

Not a doctor or lawyer? You still have resources. Mari Sloan (Beaufort Falls) comes from a long line of Southern eccentrics and visionaries. Her storytelling skills make her book fascinating. Did you hear some good family tales growing up? Bruce Cook (writing as Brant Randall) wrote a novel that incorporates some of his family’s stories in a knockout book, Blood Harvest.

Now ask yourself again: “What am I bringing to the party? What else can I talk about that shows I just might have credibility in the subject matter of my book?”

Write a one-paragraph biography about yourself listing pertinent accomplishments and skills. You’ll need this when an agent asks: “Give me a brief bio about yourself that I can send along to the publisher when I submit your manuscript.”

Are you getting the idea what a platform is? Good. Come back next week for more.

Whether reading Bonnie’s chilling short story, “Intervention”, or perusing her novel, “Remember to Breathe”, you’ll meet characters who can make you laugh and cry at the same time. So we asked her:

Your writing is known for its emotional depth. Is it difficult to reach this far into your characters? Are their experiences drawn from your own, or are you simply a master of empathy?

Gee, you mean all those years of therapy haven’t been wasted?

Seriously, I’ve always been fascinated by human nature. What motivates people? What makes them happy or sad or mad? Several years ago I decided to take a few psychology courses to deepen my insight, so I enrolled in L.A. City College and went through basic psych, physiological psych, and abnormal psych.

Warning: do NOT take abnormal psych unless you’re prepared to imagine you’re suffering a range of symptoms – kinda like watching “House” and then thinking you have the Disease of the Week.
And of course I’ve read tons of books and articles on the crafting of characters and getting into their hearts and heads. One of the best is Linda Seger’s Creating Unforgettable Characters – it’s not just for screenwriters.

Since I’m blessed (?) with a hyperactive imagination, I use it to put myself in a character’s shoes and tune in to how they might be feeling in a given situation. One good piece of advice I stumbled on in my copious how-to reading is that the key to showing a character’s emotions is to tell the reader what the character’s thinking, because thoughts reflect feelings. And combined with physical gestures and actions, it’s more effective than simply typing, “Fred was mad.”

Many of my characters’ experiences and feelings are, of course, drawn from my own life, but mangled and modified to suit the story. I’ve lived long enough to experience a fair range of human emotions: I’ve lost loved ones to illness and accident, I’ve been married and divorced, I labored in the trenches of Corporate America, and all those things have contributed to my slightly warped perspective on human nature. And as some smart writer (I think it was Philip Roth) once said, “Nothing bad can happen to a writer; it’s all material.”

Can it be painful to experience a character’s grief or rage, or to remember when I felt that way? You bet. But when I come across a scene I’ve written that brings tears to my eyes, or makes me want to slap another character’s face – or makes me laugh – then I suspect I’ve tapped into something real, something maybe even universal – and that’s one of the biggest rewards of being a writer.

An Interview with Sheila Lowe

We are proud to present our Monday Guest Series, where we will be interviewing authors, web mavens, personal coaches, and other professionals who can bring you valuable information about writing, whether it’s enthusiasm, encouragement, tips, or advice.

Our first guest, Sheila Lowe, is a court-qualified handwriting expert who testifies in forensic cases. Sheila’s handwriting analysis practice, Sheila Lowe & Associates, covers a wide spectrum, from personality evaluation to handwriting authentication, to lecturing, teaching, and writing about handwriting.

So it’s no surprise that her protagonist, Claudia Rose, works in the same field, though with more deadly results. In Poison Pen, the mystery begins with the suicide note of an ex-friend. In Written in Blood, Claudia is asked to prove that the signature on a will is a forgery. This time, Claudia is headed to New York in Dead Write, where dating can be hazardous to your health.

And now…author Sheila Lowe.

Sheila, you have been a qualified handwriting expert with the California Court System since 1985. Your first venture into publishing was non-fiction with “The Complete Idiot’s Guide — Handwriting Analysis” in 1999 (which I’m going to purchase and use on my fellow WinR’s). When did you decide it was time to move on to fiction? Was there any particular incident that edged you in that direction?

The fact is, it was the other way around. I always wanted to write fiction, but got busy raising three kids on my own, and scratching out a living. It wasn’t until the kids were grown and on their own, and I had finally succeeded in creating a successful handwriting analysis practice, and had my two non-fiction handwriting analysis books published, that I came back to my first love, mystery.

In your third and most recent book, Dead Write, Claudia is hired by a world-class matchmaking service for the rich and powerful to screen their applicants. This seems especially relevant in the wake of the recent Ryan Jenkins tragedy. For those who don’t know, alleged murderer Ryan Jenkins was a contestant on the VH1 show “I Love Money”. How did the idea of a graphologist vetting matchmaking applicants come to you?

Having Claudia work for a matchmaker was a natural for me. For about fifteen years I had a client who was herself a high-priced matchmaker. She used my analyses to help her understand the members of her introduction service better, and often said it helped her to create successful marriages (she is not Grusha, however!). If everyone would use handwriting analysis as a tool, it could help avoid many unhappy relationships (this is a not-so-subtle plug for the non-fiction book I’m writing now on that very subject—Rotten Relationships, why we choose them). I don’t know anything about Ryan Jenkins, but the sad truth is, unless the client listens to any warnings about red flags in the handwriting, it doesn’t help. My own daughter is a case in point. She was the victim in a murder/suicide by a man whose handwriting contained some major red flags which sadly, she chose to ignore.

Dead Write takes Claudia out of California and into New York’s Manhattan. What was it like taking Claudia out of her usual environment? Was it an enjoyable experience that you plan to repeat in the future? Or was it difficult to create both a new mystery and a new environment?

I think it’s a good idea to change environments from time to time, or readers will begin to think I’m writing cozies J (I consider my books psychological suspense). Claudia lives in the almost fictional beach town of Playa de la Reina. In Poison Pen there are scenes in Palm Springs, and in Written in Blood, Claudia goes out of state. New York was a bit of a challenge because I haven’t spent a lot of time there. But Google and Youtube, are my friends and provide lots of good, usable stuff: sights, sounds, local color. Of course, there were a few missing senses, but a writer’s imagination can make up for that, and some of the smells I could do without anyway. I was lucky enough to make contact with a police detective in the precinct where the story took place, and he kindly filled in some of the blanks.

If you were to analyze your protagonist Claudia Rose’s handwriting, what are a few of the characteristics that would show up?

Claudia’s handwriting would have strong rhythm, a balanced spatial arrangement on the page, be moderate in size, with well developed lower loops, good simplification, and a few angles. Now you’ll have to look all that up in the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis to find out what they mean (will the BSP never stop?!).

What is the strangest assignment you’ve had?

Having analyzed well over 10,000 handwriting samples over my career, that’s a really hard question to answer. I recently provided Graphological input on a company logo. I’ve been asked by foreign police to examine the handwriting of a potential copycat serial killer. I’ve had genealogists ask me to prepare a Graphological autopsy on their ancestors. But mostly my work is fairly humdrum and involves analyzing handwriting for employers who are interviewing applicants, and on the other side of my practice, authenticating handwriting in cases of forgery.

Do you find that you subconsciously analyze the handwriting of everyone? Your agent, your mother, your friends?

I certainly get impressions about handwritings when I see them, favorable or otherwise. Way back when I was a beginner (in the 1960s), I would sit down and properly analyze them. Like Claudia, I don’t do that anymore, unless I’m getting paid for it. These days, although I do still maintain an active handwriting analysis practice, I’d rather be writing about Claudia Rose analyzing handwriting than doing it myself. Like I said, more than 10,000 samples…

Is there one obvious trait or set of traits that would make you just walk away from a person or situation?

An important fact about handwriting analysis is, there is no “this means that” relationship. The handwriting must be seen as a whole, as the context can make a difference to the interpretation of the individual parts. But some ‘red flag’ characteristics that can add up to potential for pathological behavior are extremes in pressure (heavy or light) plus extremes in slant (left or right); too many angular formations, extremely tall upper loops. Heavy, filled in punctuation. Many tiny hooks (seen under magnification). In fact, extremes of any type can usually be interpreted negatively.

What’s up next for you?

I’m madly working on the next Claudia Rose mystery, Unholy Writ, for release next year. Claudia’s friend Kelly Brennan is approached by her estranged younger sister Erin to help her find her missing child, who has been taken by her husband. Claudia and Kelly go “undercover “ in the religious cult of which Erin and her husband are members and where things are not always what they seem. And, of course, there’s that non-fiction book on relationships waiting to be finished.

Many thanks to Sheila for coming to us on this Monday moring.

Dead Write is available in bookstores or by clicking on the book cover to the right.

You can find out more about Sheila Lowe and Claudia Rose at Sheila’s web site.

Buiding a Platform Introduction

Building a Platform

Platform: 1. a raised flooring 2. the flat area next to a railroad track 3. a set of principles

Now is the time to add another definition to your Webster’s. If you are a writer, or you would like to be a writer someday, definition #4 is essential.

Platform: 4. an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public

Building a Platform in the 21st Century

It isn’t enough for today’s writer to merely write the novel or short story, or for that matter a non-fiction piece, newspaper article, or screenplay. Today’s writer needs to get noticed. Does that mean be a flaming exhibitionist? Yeah. Sort of.

As described in definition #4: a “platform” is an accumulation of skills along with various methods of broadcasting that information to the publishing world and the reading public. And this can be started before you have a book in print. In fact, it should have been started before you are knee deep in trying to promote a published book.

If you have visions of your future publisher footing the bill for your world-wide book tour or arranging your multi-city American book tour, wake up, sweetheart. More than likely, you will be doing this yourself.

But, if you have developed certain skills and have laid a foundation (a.k.a. platform) for getting your name out in front of the public, you are ahead of the game. But a “platform” isn’t just a website or a blog. It’s a plethora of things.

If people (agents, publishers, booksellers, and librarians) know they can count on you to get a job done, you build your credibility. Sometimes that means just showing up at a literary event and helping out. If you exhibit this type of capability, your agent and publisher will consider you a professional, especially if you have this part of your budding career taken care of before you drop your first manuscript in their laps. And let’s face it, when you sell your book, you won’t have time to learn these new skills. Take the time now, while you are still polishing that second or third draft, to get yourself up to speed.

Now you might say, “But, hey, I just want to be a writer.” (Boy have you got a lot to learn.) Unless you actually have the next Harry Potter book, or Twilight series stacked up around your computer, you have things you need to do now. Both Ms. Rowling and Ms. Meyer have people to handle this. Unless you have “people,” you will have to do this part yourself.

For the next few weeks Writers in Residence will Bullet Point many of the ways you can build your own platform. This will include creating a web presence, getting your face out there (short of on the Ten Most Wanted list), and discovering who you really are in the first place.

Roll up your sleeves and join me as we polish the gems that we are inside.

Please note: I am primarily a mystery writer, so I will use examples based on writing mysteries. But a writer is a writer. These skills fit all shapes and sizes.

Gayle Bartos-Pool, mystery writer

Outlining: Necessary or Not?

An Outline. Some writers depend on its structure; some writers consider it the death of creativity. Do you outline? In detail? Why or why not? First we’ll hear from some of our WinR’s, then we’d love to hear from you!


Jackie Houchin

Yep.
And nope.

For me, outlining is crucial for writing FICTION. I need to see the story, or at least the plot points, all neatly displayed. It can be a literal A-B-C outline in a ruled notebook or Word.doc, or a tabletop covered with index cards or Post-its.

Seeing everything together at once helps me identify potholes, traffic jams or major disaster areas, and I can easily shift, shuffle or scuttle what doesn’t work.

In my “Great American Novel” (Ha!) that is currently residing half-finished in a bottom drawer, I have three major characters. Each of these girls gets a color. As I lay out my “deck” of index cards that represents their lives, I can see clearly where they cross, collide and ricochet off each other as they each push towards their individual resolutions.

If I’m writing a mystery, I map the paths of the victim and the killer in one color, then the sleuth and the killer in another. In these bare bones of the story I check for illogical leaps and inconsistencies.

Next, using a third color, I slip in the other suspects and red herrings, making sure nothing is too obvious. Then – usually in gold – I hide the tell-tale clues that will keep readers a bare half step behind my crime-solving sleuth.

Lastly, I pack in points about the weather or setting (in green, what else?) if they are important to the story. (Yeah, I know, a virtual rainbow.)

And then, of course, I must write the fully fleshed-out yarn from these tiny scraps of data.

Now for NON-FICTION, I hardly ever outline.

My interviews and reviews usually come “pre-loaded” with their own paths to follow. Maybe I’ll clump facts into two or three vague sections, i.e. intro, main, conclusion, with a possible “research” column, but that’s all. I simply write these articles “from the seat of my pants.”

Or wherever else I’ve scribbled my notes.

***
The Great Debate by GB Pool

When I first started setting up author panels for Sisters-in-Crime at libraries and other venues in and around the Los Angeles area, one of the questions I asked the panelists was: “Do you outline? Why? or Why not?”

After asking the same question for about a year, I came to the conclusion that half the writers did outline and the other half didn’t. The half that did was fairly prolific in their writing. The half that didn’t outline was just as prolific. Both sides were very strong in their decision to do the outline or not.

Everything I have written to date was not outlined. I started with page one, wrote a little, edited and little, wrote more, edited more, and finally came up with a book. It took about a year to finish a novel, except for the spy trilogy. They took ten years, but they are long and quite detailed with historical facts and many locations, all of which required loads of research to get right.

So, after hearing some pretty good writers like Pamela Samuels-Young who is a lawyer and who outlined her books (In Firm Pursuit and Murder on the Down Low) and Bruce Cook who is a physicist and who also teaches screenwriting as well as an author (Philippine Fever and Tommy Gun Tango), I decided to try my hand at knocking out an outline.

In a matter of two days I blocked out the main plot points of the next in my Gin Caulfield Mystery series, Damning Evidence. I then started to write the story.

I can’t say I write any faster with an outline, but I know where I am going. And I don’t feel the panic of wondering where the story will run off the tracks or where I will have to plug up the holes. That alone was worth the two days it took to do the outline.

Another thing writing the outline prompted me to do was write out brief sketches of the main characters in the story. I now know exactly who the bad guy is. I know why he is doing what he is doing. And most importantly, I know the roadblocks he is going to be throwing up along the way to thwart my heroine.

Something I learned from examining one of my own stories was that the bad guy in a mystery, if he is going to play an active part in the story and not just do the crime and leave the scene until the hero tracks him down, is the person who runs the show. Every thing the protagonist does is basically a reaction to something the bad guy does.

Remember: if the crime hadn’t been committed in the first place, nobody would be doing anything about it in the second place. The villain now has a vested interest in not getting caught. He or she will do anything to stop anyone from discovering their identity.

By writing the outline, I know places where the bad guy will be waiting to set a trap for the hero. If the hero gets too close, the bad guy will throw a monkey wrench into the works. But the villain runs the show, always trying to stay one jump ahead.

The outline made it much easier to set those traps, throwing the hero off kilter, making the hunt a mental exercise. It will make for a story with more tension if it is plotted that way rather than letting the story flow in a more random pattern.

I’ll see when I am through with the first and second draft if this theory holds true.

Books have been written in many ways, so the best advice is to write the way you find that gets the job done. Finishing is the goal.

***

Jacqueline Vick

I’m afraid I’m going to be wishy-washy.

When I first tackle a novel or short story, I always have the plot in mind. I doodle questions on a pad of paper. What would this character do in that situation? What else would he do?

Since I write mysteries, I want to know the crime, why it was committed, and how. I’ll assign possible motives to the other suspects, building the relationship between them and the victim.
That’s a sort of outline.

It’s after the first draft that the outline comes in handy. A brilliant writer I know (initials GBP) suggested that I outline the story once I’ve got it all on paper in order to show what’s missing. It works like a charm. I pretend I’m preparing the outline for an agent or publisher, so it has to be detailed and it has to spell it all out.

The canyons of missing information, the stuff that doesnt’ make sense, it all becomes clear in that post-first draft outline. It’s too embarassing to tell you what I’ve discovered missing. It’s like looking down in a crowded room and discovering that you forgot to button your shirt. And not in that hot-body-on-display kind of way. In that threadbare-bra-exposed-bellyroll kind of way.

I’m too arrogant to believe that my characters speak to me and that they’ll move the story in the direction they see fit. I speak to them, and it’s usually to say, “Move your fanny!”