I’m superstitious. Not crazy, black-cat superstitious, but hedge-my-bet, listen to the cosmos kind. For instance, when I play tennis and I win a service point, I won’t serve with another ball. I use the lucky one—at least until it isn’t lucky anymore. The point is, I believe in signs, fate, and all that stuff.
This brings me to my new book. I’m excited about it because I am actually working in earnest after a fairly unproductive year. The idea exists, the characters are coming into focus, my rear end is getting used to sitting in a chair for longer than an episode of Law and Order. Yet doubt lingers. Is the story substantial enough? Are the characters interesting enough? Are the turns I’m planning twisty enough.
I needed a sign that I was on the right track, and I got one.
During the pandemic the world has been hunkered down in a bear-cave. Sleep. Eat. Hibernate. Drink from the bottomless well of mesmerizing streaming television. I was right there baking bread and searching for the lost episodes of The Big Bang Theory as I fiddled with this new idea. Then something wonderful happened.
Two days after I penned the first word of this new project, I received an invitation from ATF, Los Angeles to a Zoom meeting. ATF is the Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Agency, and this was not a random invitation. I’m a graduate of the ATF Citizen’s Academy. I often join citizen’s law enforcement opportunities for research and adventure, but I graduated well over a year ago. This invitation was a surprise, and it was also a sign that my new book was on the right track.
The inciting incident of this story is fiery explosion. It detonates any number of dramas. For my detective, Finn O’Brien, the situation is personal not professional. He won’t be investigating, the ATF will. That email, that Zoom meeting and the things I learned during the hour gave me confidence in my story. The stars have aligned; Fate has given me the stamp of approval.
Hard work is needed to write a book, but sometimes a little sign is what it takes to go all in.
*(Check out The Bailey Devlin chic lit series where I pour out my superstitious little heart).
I was going through my travel pictures – some as close as another town in Southern California, others as exotic as China and Albania – and was reminded that my writing was richer for each experience. But it wasn’t just the places that fired up my imagination. By far, it was the people I met that made the journey unforgettable. Here are the five groups I seek out on every trip because meeting them always inspires my work.
Keepers of the Keys: A hotel maid, a waiter, a shopkeeper. The interaction with these people might be fleeting, but they know what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes the small details, the seemingly most insignificant secondary character, can make a good story great.
Merry Makers: Festivals, a local pub, a county fair are where people let their guard down. Join in. Experience the sights and sounds to enrich your descriptions. Festivals are especially fertile ground for romance writers.
Wise old Sages: A simple hello, an offer to help carry a package, a greeting in their language, will make an instant friend of the elderly. From them you will learn the history of the country and the person. Seeing through their eyes enhances the pacing of your work and the backstory of your character.
The Village People: No, not the singing group. These are the folks outside the mainstream. They are a wonderful contrast to city dwellers. Taking the time to go off the beaten path to meet them is invaluable to those who write family sagas or historical fiction.
Fellow Travelers: Some people travel out of necessity, others are running away from something and some running to their destiny. The traveler you think most humble might be a titan of industry. One of my favorite encounters ended up as a major character in one of my books. He literally inspired a complete novel because he was not what he seemed.
When the pandemic comes to an end, travel. Near or far, it doesn’t matter. Meet one or all of these five people. They will be an inspiration. If you take the time to truly connect, you will inspire them too.
Today I heard from a fan who, after having finished The Finn O’Brien Thrillers and the Witness Series, tackled my standalone books. Her comments have ranged from ‘wow, where did that come from‘ to ‘that was pretty dark‘. I admit it, before I started my series I was inspired by life experiences that were a little raw, so her comments didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was what she said next.
“I love that your characters are so flawed, and you never wrap an ending up in a bow.”
Beyond Malice’s Amanda annoyed her at first, but the character brought back childhood memories that made the story more compelling. She understood and appreciated where the character was coming from because I had touched on something personal. Amanda ceased to be annoying and became a character to root for. Tara in Keeping Counsel had tons of baggage but she carried that weight and more. She agonized to the bitter end whether to sacrifice her own life or her best friend’s future. Character Witness, Before Her Eyes, and The Mentor explore flawed characters and their gut wrenching choices. This reader’s appreciation of imperfection is the mark of a true thriller lover.
My genre does not lend itself to bow endings. I write about the law and justice, about individuals against the system, about people who try to do the right thing but sometimes fail. A thriller ending must always be a draw. If I write about divorce, it is realistic that each character will lose family, assets, and stability, but will gain freedom, relief, and self-determination. Neither will be perfectly happy, one might be hurt more than the other, but the story can end no other way. Happiness is still a promise down the road. Will that be perfect? Probably not, and that will be another story. A happy ending for me is when my characters keep trying despite the roadblocks. That determination makes them heroic, and that’s why I love them.
For me an many thriller readers a happy ending is only satisfying when it is a little messy.
My messy, almost-happy ending, thrillers are FREE for Kindle Unlimited- $.99 to buy. Click a cover to read more.
I love this time of year. Christmas. All the scurrying about, sending out cards, decorating our houses, shopping, cooking, baking —you know what I’m talking about. But what I really love is watching television, specifically watching Miracle on 34th Street and It’s a Wonderful Life. These are love stories told with a sprinkle of stardust, a sense that magical things can and do happen, all within the context of real life. After watching these movies, I am convinced there are happily-ever-after’s despite the everyday muck. There is nothing our heroes can’t overcome. You root for them through their trials and your heart bursts with their triumphs.
Which brings me to my new favorite Christmas story: Eternal Love by Louis Moore.
This book is really a long short story. The man who wrote it, Louis Moore, is ninety-eight years old. He is a Chinese-American gentleman who wanted to honor his late Japanese-American wife, Nellie, by writing their love story. I heard about this book in a round about way. It sounded very sweet, very nice, but I really didn’t have the time to read—I was working on my own book. But then I learned that what this book was about: Mr. Moore’s 74 years of marriage to a woman he adored. It just so happened I was celebrating my 44th year of marriage to a man I adore. So, instead of spending a couple of hours with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed in It’s a Wonderful Life, or working on my own book, I sat down with Eternal Love and read about a love story for the ages.
Lou and his wife faced prejudice on many fronts, rejection from his family. They built businesses and lost them, they moved more than once, they had professional set-backs, and Lou sometimes wondered if he had the ‘right stuff’ to succeed. Throughout the telling of this story, Mr. Moore shines a light on his wife with the wonder of a man truly, deeply in love. He writes about Nellie’s good humor, the kindness she showed to everyone who crossed her path, her intelligence, her beauty, and, the greatest gift of all, the love she had for him and the confidence she gave him.
What I am sure the author doesn’t know is that in the telling of Nellie’s story, Louis Moore revealed himself to be a man of manners, a hard worker, a man who got up even if he was pushed down. Above all, he was devoted to his wife and loved her beyond reason.
This book was shiny and bright because every word was chosen with care, every thought, observation, and aside moved the story ahead with purpose. Eternal Love was like opening a Christmas present I will use all year long. I will remember to write to my story, I’ll remember to write with verve, and I will remember—if I ever find myself peeved at my husband—to follow Louis Moore’s advice for a happy marriage. Be kind, be courageous, have eyes for no one else but your spouse because together you can accomplish anything.
Thank you, Mr. Moore, for a wonderful story of love written just in time for Christmas. Eternal Love is magical.
I’d like to give you a special Christmas present too. Check out my December newsletter for your FREE BOOK, the best recipe for Oreo pie and some other fun stuff. Wishing you all the best of the season.
*meat and potatoes-the only two German words my father knew
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