Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Christine Susmann and Her Reincarnation

Some readers have referred to Christine's appearance in later books as her "reincarnation." While I don't personally have any opinions regarding reincarnation, when I first killed her off in Beyond a Reasonable Death LOTS--We're talking BIG LOTS--of my readers sent me correspondence objecting to her death. They loved her, they said, and she was too valuable a character to let go. So...yours truly re-wrote that part of Beyond and Christine, in the re-write, went unharmed. For those earlier adopters of my books with earlier versions, I sincerely apologize if you have been troubled by this. How about letting me send you a complimentary copy of The Mental Case as a way of showing how sorry (but happy) I am that Christine is still with us. Just drop me an email and reference Christine and you will get your copy when the new book is released. Welcome back, Christine!!!

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ten Steps to Writing a Best-Seller: Step 2 - The Foil

Everybody needs a best friend.
In fiction the main character's best friend is often called a "foil." The purpose of the foil can be many things: I use a foil to get information to the reader that can't get to them otherwise, and I use a foil to suggest things to the main character, maybe a course of action, say, that I couldn't get to him or her otherwise. Many writers also use foils as "interesting" characters to give their book some flavor. I would caution you to be careful about doing this because what the writer considers eccentric or quaint or interesting about a character can, to your readers, be downright boring or, worse, plain dumb. Certain lawyers have written foil characters in their books and those foils get some pretty obnoxious reader reviews, the kind that all writers cringe to get. So...be careful about the look, smell, sound, and feel of your foil character. Don't let them speak gibberish, it will only confuse your reader.
In The Defendants I use a foil character and her name is Christine Susmann. Christine, as you might remember, is ex-Army, a weightlifter, ex-MP, and knows her way around the streets. She takes the naive young Thaddeus under her wing and teaches him how to shoot a gun--which saves his life--and teaches him a few things about how to manipulate bad people and, most important, as his paralegal she teaches him quite a bit about the practice of law.

When I was a new, young lawyer, I luckily had a legal secretary/paralegal a lot like Christine. I didn't know what a contract for deed looked like, so my Christine went around to other lawyers and gathered samples, then she made one for me to use. When I didn't know how to do other things she would always get on the phone and ask around her friends, who worked for other lawyers, how to do this or that.

When I was just starting out I also had a lawyer who was four years ahead of me, who I could bounce things off of. While I was in law school he paid me one summer to do some work for him, God bless him, which gave me enough money to live on that next year in law school. He also taught me which books I would need and how to use them, once I was setting up my own office.

A foil like Christine or Quentin (Thaddeus' DA lawyer in The Defendants) can be an invaluable tool. Remember to give them enough qualities and personal characteristics to make them real so you, the author, aren't just speaking through them, and then let them show you the way. If you've done it right, they will shoulder some of the load for you and give your main character a hand when things get really bad.
Thanks for reading!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Ten Steps to Writing a Best-Seller: Step 1 - Ordinary/Extraordinary

I have several books on the Amazon "Best-Seller" Charts at any given time, usually in the sub-category of legal thrillers. Nobody is saying these are NY Times best-sellers or USA Today best-sellers. No, I'm simply repeating what Amazon calls them.

I want to share with you what I have learned about writing best-sellers. I am going to do this because I know that lots of my readers are people with a book or two inside of them. How I wish someone had sat me down and shared with me some of the things I'm going to share with you. I can't promise great success with your writing, but I can promise that I will give you enough good direction that you will save yourself from making some of the huge mistakes in writing thrillers that I made when I was starting out. Want to give it a whirl? Please keep reading
1.Ordinary character in extraordinary situation
This is the starting point, finding a character, an ordinary Joe or Jolene, and putting him or her in an extraordinary situation. Think about the all the thrillers you have read. The good ones, like my book The Defendants always take an ordinary person to begin with, in this case a young lawyer who doesn't really know the first thing about practicing law. He's so new and wet behind the ears that every legal step he thinks he wants to take on case, he first has to run by his friend and older, experienced attorney, Quentin. This serves two purposes: first, it gives me the opportunity to show how inexperienced he is, when he has his meeting with Quentin and they discuss the defense of the young waitress while they're having coffee. They discuss a lawsuit and how and why it would be best to be filed a certain way. While this is a good scene for characterizing the young Thaddeus Murfee and his friend and mentor Quentin, it also is a top way of explaining why, legally, things are going to happen a certain way.
But even more important, Thaddeus Murfee, a common, garden variety lawyer, suddenly finds himself defending a high profile case for which he has no experience. What does this fact bring to the book? Two things: first, it engages the reader by giving him or her someone they can relate to, someone who finds himself or herself in a scary situation with only inexperience, but a good heart, to face up. The second thing this setup does is bring conflict into the book early. In this case the conflict is man against himself (his own inexperience), as well as green lawyer against legal system that's way smarter and way meaner than he ever imagined. So, we're got our setup. But what else is this setup doing for our story?
The defendant in this case is a young woman who went out for a drink with the wrong man on the wrong night. She wakes up hours later only to find she has been tattooed on her breasts with the man's name. Lots of young people go out drinking and have terrible things happen. Or at least very embarrassing things happen. Who hasn't gone out and hooked up with the wrong person and come to hate yourself for it later? Well, that's what our hero Ermeline does when she goes to Victor's office for one celebratory drink. Lots of people can relate to this character, Ermeline: again, an ordinary person (cocktail waitress) thrust into an extraordinary situation (charged with one count of murder). We are building up our conflicts with this and we are also hooking the reader by presenting another character they can relate to.
But please let me digress for one minute, then I'll conclude this Step 1.
Here's why I want to digress, to put up a red warning sign: which is this: Oftentimes I see new or inexperienced writers develop a new character like this. First, he or she is an ex-Navy SEAL. Can we relate to such a character? Really, how many of us are ex-Navy SEALS and thus can relate to such a character. We don't know if ex-SEALS feel fear like we would in a scary situation, we don't know if they kill without remorse (we would have great remorse if we had to kill, 99% of us) and we don't know how an ex-SEAL would handle this or that situation. So this is a mistake: don't give your main character super-human talents, skills, or experience. Why? No one will relate to him. It's true. Instead, give them Thaddeus Murfee, a nobody attorney in a nowhere small town with zero legal skills but a huge heart. That's why Dorothy's lion in the Wizard of Oz is a favorite: because he has heart. We can all relate to having heart because we all do. When faced with a hard situation we will always try to stand up to it and meet it. We may not want to at first, and we may hem and haw, but in the end we will give it our best shot. Which is what Thaddeus Murfee does in The Defendants
Next Step: The Sidekick. Check back for Step 2 in this Ten Step series of posts on writing a best-seller.
Now. Back to your own writing. About that main character....