Category Archives: Art of Writing

Still Writing…Sometimes and Getting the Machinery Ready for Heavy Lifting

The shoulder is still recovering, I can get about two or three good hours of typing each day before it just hurts too badly to continue. I’m 1/3 to 1/2 the way through three books and just getting started on one of the most exciting writing projects I’ve ever done (more about that at another time).

I had to miss the Natchitoches – NSU Folklife Festival in July because it was still in pretty bad shape. I couldn’t autograph books at that point and, even more importantly, I couldn’t carry the boxes of them into the facility.¬†

In the meantime, Karren has dragged me all over the US in August to see the total eclipse. Apparently to a science geek it is worth the 14+ hours of driving and the heat so you could get an extra 30 seconds of a total eclipse.

Without question it was cool, and it was a “check off” of her bucket list, so it was worth it.

Over the next few weeks I’m going to be posting about some trips we’ve taken, things I remember from the kids growing up, and anything else I can think of to help loosen¬†the writing muscles up again. I was afraid the concussion might have been worse than I originally thought because I lost most of about two or three weeks there and have little gaps still, but I’m back into being able to recover minute trivia quickly and I’m sure I’ll be okay.

So, please bear with me as I get rolling again. I’ll try not to bore you and if you have anything you would like to har about, just let me know!

Working Atmosphere for Me

When I visit with people at the various book signings I attend, some new authors or people who want to try their hand at writing are always curious about the environment in which I write.

In his book, On Writing (which I highly recommend), Stephen King mentions that he normally and prefers to write in a room with the door closed but with some type of classic hard rock (AC/DC) blasting from speakers.

I'm a little different. I have a multiple monitor setup and often when I'm writing I will have some movie or television show playing on one monitor while writing on the other. Whatever I'm streaming is usually something I've seen before, often a series where I particularly like the writing or characters. An example of this would be Showtime's Shameless since I've seen all of the episodes repeatedly and I think 90% of the work on the show is genius level (by everyone involved from the writers to the actors).

Sometimes I feel like listening to music and so I will imagine that the novel I'm working on has been turned into a movie, and try to pick out some songs which would fit on the soundtrack. For instance, I'm working on a book about a supernatural or weird western twist on the Doc Holliday story. My playlist for that one includes the songs in the list below (in case you don't know them I'll also put the YouTube video for it and then the link to where the song can be bought on Amazon if you'd like) as well as some others. If you'll notice, the genres are mixed but each of them fit a scene I have in my mind. Often, if I know I'm going to work on a certain book on a day, I'll listen to the playlist songs to get me in the mood and to start the ideas flowing.

A Story Without an Explanation

As I've mentioned before, I think some of the best writing taking place now is for the premium channel series like HBO, Showtime, etc. (I'm particularly looking forward to Ash v. the Evil Dead premiering Halloween night).

One show I was happy to see return was The Leftovers on HBO. The premise of The Leftovers is that 2% of the world's population disappears in an instant and no one has any explanation. Of course, the immediate thought is that The Rapture has occurred but that appears unlikely since serial killers, child molesters, etc. disappeared along with children, every day folks, etc. 

The show has a lot of unanswered questions but I suspect the writers are never going to answer the question about what happened to the people who disappeared. I haven't read the book on which the series is based but my understanding is there was no explanation offered.

Generally, when I'm writing (or reading) I like to have all the questions answered and the premise tied up in a nice little bow. However, many of the books don't do that. Stephen King, in particular, doesn't always feel a need to explain why something happens in his books and short stories (by the way, King's books are, for the most part, great, but where he really shines is in his short stories and novellas, The Mist being just one example). 

What about you, my readers? Do you feel frustrated if there are unanswered questions in what you're reading or are you okay with leaving some things open to interpretation?

Words Have Power – More Power If You Forbid Them

I am absolutely tired of being told you can't use this word or that word as you're writing. 

The simple fact is that a word alone is nothing. It doesn't call down Satan, start Ragnarok (South park reference here), or mean that you subscribe to the meaning someone else assigns to that word.

My book, The Bottle Tree, is rife with the use of the word "nigger". Why? Because it is the word used in the time period and with the people who are the subject of the story. The book has an object lesson involving the term, unintentional though it was, and to use any other word would have been the equivalent of what the courts do when they want to rule a certain way, intellectual dishonesty.

The griping about the word "thug" has my dander up now. Many people's ire was raised after Seattle won their Super Bowl and Richard Sherman went on his rant, causing many people to call him a thug. I personally thought that was an appropriate description of his behavior. Not because he was black but because he acted like a thug.

Recently I saw an op-ed on Huffington Post written by a college student expressing her awe at Richard Sherman and Marshawn Lynch, espousing how they were heroes, and then denigrating the use of the word. 

B.S.

Slapping down footballs, running with a football and being able to throw a football don't make someone a hero. It may make them an overpaid athlete, but performance on the field alone has nothing to do with whether someone is a hero or not. At least not to me.

But whether she regard various football players as heroes isn't my real beef, she, nor anyone else, has any right to say I can't use a word because their interpretation of it insults them.

I can understand it with the word "nigger". That is a word which is and always has been a derogatory term aimed at someone with a particular ancestry. However, as Whoopi Goldberg said when comparing that word to the current politically correct term "n-word", "this idea that taking it out makes it somehow better is ridiculous. It’s a part of the culture. Let us speak on it…the word is real, and if it makes people uncomfortable you have to deal with why it makes you uncomfortable." 

Before anyone gets all huffy or boycotts me, I'm not saying you should use racial slurs to refer to people. I'm just saying first, that censoring something gives it more power, and, second, you don't get to take words that are not racist and turn them into something racist.

Research and Writing

In addition to the other projects I have going I'm working on a non-fiction, true crime book right now (more details on the topic later).

Several people at the various locations where I've obtained research materials have asked how much time I research a book before I write it and the answer is always "as much as it takes".

As you know if you're a fan, most of my work is fiction but even in those there is so much research involved it is unbelievable. A historical fiction novel I'm still working on, Louisiana, takes so much research time that it seems like for every hour I write I spend 5-10 hours researching, and that's probably a low estimate. I have books scattered everywhere on various time periods in Louisiana history as well as piles of photocopies stacked within reach of my desk. 

The true crime book, however, makes the research on the others pale by comparison. I have over 30,000 pages of material in PDF format, with another couple of hundred to scan, and hours of video and audio on the topic. And that's just what I have right now. I still have Open Records Requests out to various government officials and agencies which could easily add thousands more pages.

Yes, I do read every line of every page of research. One of the lessons I learned back when I was a young lawyer was the importance of knowing your topic and the evidence inside and out. I remember one case where the other side produced 20k+ pages of documents and I read through everything 5 times before we got to trial. Very quickly it became apparent that the other side hadn't been as diligent since they had no idea what kind of a "gold mine" their disclosures were to our case. No matter what they said on the witness stand we had a document saying the opposite.

My legal background is helping a lot with researching this true crime book since it makes it easier to spot when something is missing or when it isn't what the "authorities" said it was. 

The other way the legal background helps is you are trained from law school onwards to enter any case with an open mind, letting the evidence take you to your conclusions rather than you deciding what happened and then looking at the evidence in that light.

I hope to have more for you soon on this book, since it is a really interesting, although tragic, case.

Listening to the Movie Unbreakable by M. Night Shyamalan

I don't work well with music in the background.

Unlike many writers who work with music either softly playng or blasting in the background, I find myself unable to slip into "The Zone" when AC/DC (or anything else) is blasting in the background, probably because I tend to sing along and get into the music.

However, I also do not work well with silence so my background muse of choise is the television or a movie playing.

Just recently I read an article which reminded me that Stephen King puts a lot of weight on the first sentence of a book and he mentions Douglas Fairbairn's novel, Shoot, as an excellent example. The first line of Shoot is "This is what happened."

That brings me to the point of this short post.

I've never seen the movie Unbreakable by M. Night Shymalan. Some of his work I like, some I love, and some I hate, but the first scene of Unbreakable caught my attention and now I am going to have to delay work to watch it or save it for later. The dialogue in the first scene of the move is absolutely riveting and raised my curiosoity to the nth degree.

Check it out sometimes and see if you agree. I don't know if the rest of the movie will hold up, but for the first scene I say, "Well done!"