Tag: writing

crime scene tape

I couldn’t give you an exact date, but I can definitely nail down the general period when I decided I no longer wanted to write crime: late 2012.  At that point I’d enjoyed measurable sucess with The Borderland Trilogy (link), and there was significant pressure (which still hasn’t abated) for me to write more of the same.  Maybe not set in Mexico, but it had to be crime.  The thing is, I didn’t want to write crime, and I had good reasons for that.

Though I’m sure there are exceptions, I feel crime is a genre which revels in misery.  How many brooding, alcoholic detectives are there out there, listening to opera or jazz until they have to track down the next serial murderer or rapist?  How many tortured or mutilated women have you read about?  Or dead kids?  Or self-destructive drug addicts?  Wife-beaters?

You may notice elements from my own books in there, and that’s because I was hip-deep in the demands of the genre.  And I wanted out.  I wanted to be able to get up from the keyboard every day without feeling like I had to take a shower.  I wanted my characters to have accomplished something at the end of their stories, regardless of how much it might have cost along the way.  If crime is the genre of misery, then I was tired of being miserable.

This isn’t to say all endings are happy.  They certainly aren’t.  Over the last few months I’ve submitted a couple of manuscripts with decidedly dark (or at least murky) endings.  But, again, this is not the same as the nihilism posited by so much crime fiction.  There’s a point and purpose to whatever darkness exists in these fictive worlds.  It’s not noir for noir’s sake, in other words.

Will I never, ever write a crime novel again?  I wouldn’t say that.  But if I do, don’t expect what you read before.  I’m all done with that.


Scrabble tilesI really do.  Occasionally one will come to me, such as Camaro Espinoza (link), but that’s generally because my mind is wandering around and I start thinking things like, “You know, Shelby and Camaro both sound like girls’ names, even though they’re the names of muscle cars.”  It’s not because I have some specific use for them.  For the most part the process works like this: I’m outlining something, and I get to the point where I need a name.  Unless something pops into my head immediately, I use a random generator (link) and get what I need.  If a good name doesn’t appear in the first list, I just keep clicking until the generator either comes up with a combination I like, or I see a given name and a surname that go well together.  Name goes in the outline, and then I move on.

Similarly, if I’m writing the day’s pages, and I can’t think of a name to go into a slot, that character becomes XX until such time as I go back and fill it in.  I also tend to drop XX into places where I want to insert a specific piece of research, but don’t want to waste time tracking down at the moment.  Flow is important if you want to write as quickly as I do (link), and there’s simply no time for futzing around trying to figure out where I saw the name of some German dinner dish, or whatever.  There’s always an opportunity later on to find what I need, or name whatever or whomever I need to name.

I’m not saying this is a good technique for you.  It may not be.  I know some writers who can’t work on a piece of fiction unless they’ve created an extensive folio on their characters, specifying them down to the smallest detail.  To be frank, I don’t have the energy for that kind of thing.  As I have said before, people are very much like other people, no matter who they are or where they come from.  What’s important is what makes a character different from the norm, not the boring stuff which could apply to anyone.


A plate, fork and spoon.Famously quoted on the original, Japanese Iron Chef, Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.”  I guess I believe that, because food is a thing with me in my writing.

Granted, food is a thing for me in general.  I spent a few years in my early twenties with so little money that eating every day wasn’t always an option.  I never miss a meal now (if you know what I mean).  And my characters rarely miss meals, either.  Also, you may notice when they eat I tend to tell you what’s in those meals, occasionally in detail.

Once I was told by a beta-reader that I had a seeming obsession with chairs.  That’s more of a hangover from a weird piece of advice I got as a young writer.  By contrast, writing about food is a way of making character and situation come to life, and it’s such a simple technique.  Ian Fleming used it in the James Bond novels to show how Bond is particular about what he puts in his body.  Tolkien used it to make a cultural point about how hobbits live.  George RR Martin writes extensively about food because apparently he really likes food.

That’s not a fat joke, by the way.  There’s a Game of Thrones cookbook (link), so clearly he’s a food fan.

Are characters eating a fancy meal?  A plain one?  Is it junk food or something healthy?  A particular ethnic variety?  All of these questions and more reveal things about situation and character.  In Walk Away (link), Camaro Espinoza‘s sister makes a complicated dish in one scene because she has become highly domestic after a lifetime of doing things halfway.  You know that now, and all I had to do was show you how she cooks.

I’m not saying everyone uses food in this way, but the next time a character in a book you’re reading eats, pay attention.