Category Archives: Art of Writing

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!"

The Magic of Writing

As I write this, and as I was writing on Second Chance this morning, the wife is watching the first Harry Potter film on television (for the umpteenth time) but I was struck by how close the writing process is to being "magical".

For instance, the way things come together.

Early on in the book I had one character give the other characters a mojo bag to wear for protection. I knew that somehow it was going to play a part in the book but didn't know how. Yesterday, I decided to take a break and grab a shower and when I was walking to the bathroom suddenly the explanation popped into my head. I was thinking about an entirely different part of the book, the mojo bags not anywhere in my conscious minf and then BOOM! suddenly there was a solution. It happens like that all the time.

I know I've told this story before but back when I was writing Junebug and the Body I was stuck on a part and had no Idea where it was going to go. We were returning from a trip to visit my mother in Louisiana and Karren was driving, the kids in the back asleep, I was dozing in the passenger seat and BOOM! the rest of the story tied together with only a minor amount of rewriting the prior pages to get there.

I always wonder if mu subconcious (or my muse) knows the endings to the books already and just dribbles them out to me a little at a time. That would explain why things are in the story already that are necessary to get to the ending.

Until I started doing this a lot I thought writing books was magical anyway, then I realized that mostly it is just a lot of chair in the butt working time but, even so, there is a little magic every now and then.

Saying Goodbye to a Family Member and Building a Character

Last Sunday, our family had to say goodby to my wife's mother (my mother in law). She passed away suddenly and without any warning. Ellen had a severe heart attack and a stroke some years ago, was in the hospital for months first in a coma and then trying to recover from the effects. She seemed to be doing well lately and we were totally floored to get the news.

Like many son in law / mother in law relations, ours wasn't always great. I freely admit it was as much my fault as hers but over the years the relationship had improved and I can genuinely say that she will be missed by many. I was extremely touched to find that all the copies of my books we found at her house were all well read, marked by creases and other signs of use that a book which has been read and reread should contain.

However, this post isn't as much about our loss as it is about my discovery.

In my wife's process of going through the many papers and mementos left behind we quickly discovered that even though we may know someone well, we often forget little things about them that make them such a well rounded person. Ellen was a meticulous "keeper" of old newspaper articles, letters, photos, and other things which show what a unique character she was. 

It's the little things that make a person so memorable, both in our lives and in our books.