The Aftermath of Writing a Crime Fiction Novel

Write what you know is the first lesson a
writer learns in writing classes. While I was growing up, my father liked
action movies (he called them “shoot ’em ups”). My mother didn’t care for them,
so my father took me to all of the shoot ’em up movies.   I spent my formative years watching Clint
Eastwood, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and Gene Hackman movies.  I loved the car chases and the fights.  I later developed an interest in crime
fiction novels.

The
inspiration for No Brakes: On the Wing
came from a client who consulted with me on a nearly-impossible dilemma. The dilemma
changed my thinking about a particular recurring issue in my adoption practice.
I decided to take the dilemma to an extreme and write it in the genre of crime
fiction.  I knew the basics of criminal
law, but needed to learn more. It was important to me that my novel
be as accurate and authentic as possible, while leaving a bit of room for
storytelling.  

A fundamental
element of any novel is conflict. Good stories require conflict. Who wants to read a book where there are no problems to solve, no arguments to
settle, and everyone is happy? Even children’s stores have conflict. Will
Goldilocks get into trouble for trespass, theft and destruction inside home of
the Three Bears? Will one of the Three Little Pigs figure out how to thwart
the Big Bad Wolf?

To enhance the
conflict element of my book, my protagonist needed some personal
challenges to overcome. Lucy Prestipino is a high school dropout, recovering
from alcohol and drug addictions. She’s a bicycle messenger who races against
the clock. She gets involved with a gang member and challenges a prosecutor.

One of my first
research topics was teenage addictions. I attended a seminar and immersed myself in internet research. Within a day, I
was bombarded with e-mails advertising rehabilitation services. Faster than I
could hit “unsubscribe,” I got more e-mails from different rehab centers.  Within a week, my residential mailbox was stuffed with hard-copy
advertisements. It still hasn’t stopped.

My internet research took
me into the dark world of crime. I found gangs that had their own websites. I researched crime scene
investigation, forensics, bullets, handguns, interrogations, trafficking, and domestic
violence—just to name a few topics. All are saved on my internet server’s
“favorite places.” Here’s a photograph of some of my favorite places. 

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I read the frightening
and heartbreaking book, Finding Chandra:
A True Washington Murder Mystery
by Washington
Post
reporters Sari Horwitz and Scott Higham. When Chandra disappeared, one
of the first actions taken by police was a forensic search of the young woman’s
computer. It made me wonder: if I suddenly disappeared, what would police find
on my computer? I shuddered at the thought. I told my husband, “If anyone
needs to look at my computer, make sure to tell them I’m a crime fiction
writer.” I didn’t want anyone thinking I’m an armed gang member who traffics in drugs. 

Soon afterward,
there was the reported case of Patrick Wayne McLaw, a middle school teacher in
Dorchester County, Maryland. Initial news reports stated he was also a writer
of science fiction. School officials became alarmed when he wrote a novel, set 900
years into the future, about a mass school shooting. He was put on leave
with pay and taken for a medical evaluation. The internet went berserk. Was he
being persecuted for his imagination? He hadn’t actually done anything.  The Baltimore Sun later reported that the
actions taken by the school system were based on a series of writings, including
a possible suicide letter, and a gigantic
model of a school he’d built in his backyard.

I don’t know what
happened to Mr. McLaw. I look at my “favorite places” and wonder if, one day,
I’ll be whisked off for an evaluation. 

It’s time for me to get my mail. I’m sure I’ll
find plenty of addiction rehab letters. 

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Rockin’ in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

Several weeks ago, I visited the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, Ohio.  I arrived when the museum opened and left when it closed, enthralled by every minute in between. The museum’s layout follows a chronological path from the origins of rock and roll to current times. The first hall explores the music genre’s roots – country, jazz, gospel, folk, and blues. It was fascinating, but left me curious: none of the music resembled what I thought was rock and roll.

My curiosity lasted only until I entered the next exhibit. A single, brightly-lit word hung on the wall and explained everything. 

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The handsome, young man with the magical hips somehow tied the roots together and became the King of Rock and Roll. I watched old Elvis performances on a large screen, and chuckled, along with many others, at his 1956 hips-obscured appearance on the Ed Sullivan show.

Soon I was touring the British Invasion exhibit. The mid-1960’s invasion took place during my elementary school and high school heydays. Beatles, Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Kinks.  Check out the poster advertising tickets for a 1966 Beatles concert at the Cleveland Stadium. The tickets prices ranged from $3.00 to $5.50. Who could predict that ticket prices could rise ten times those amounts? 

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I strolled along the Motown Exhibit and reminisced to my favorite songs of the Supremes, the Four Tops, and the Temptations.  Aretha Franklin was in a class by herself. Her powerful voice spoke to the young women of my all-female Catholic high school. The feminist movement was finding its way. Bra burning? I didn’t understand the symbolism. At that time in my life, I was praying for the appearance of my own bra-worthy breasts.  But being respected by boys? That was something to get fired up about. Aretha nailed it. R-E-S-P-E-C-T! It was an anthem we shouted in the hallways. Nearly fifty years later, women are still shouting it.

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The 1960’s were robust years for music. Different genres of Rock and Roll flourished around the country. Haight-Ashbury was the home of psychedelic rock. The Beach Boys represented the California Sound. There was Southern Rock, Latin Rock, and the San Francisco Sound–just to name a few. 

Time advanced with each exhibit. The 1970’s brought progressive rock (Pink Floyd, Queen), Punk Rock (Patti Smith, Blondie, Talking Heads) and Funk & Soul (James Brown). There was also Disco, which I had never considered to be rock and roll. I was wrong. Donna Summer, the Queen of Disco, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013.

I was in college during the 1970’s and listened to the Latin Rock of Santana. Jump forward 30 years. After watching Santana on television, my mother said, “Ellie, that’s a nice band.” She was shocked when I told her I’d listened to them in college. A few months later, I took my 8o+ year-old mother, in a wheelchair, to see Santana at the Verizon Center in Washinton, DC.   

By the time I meandered over to the 1980’s music exhibits, I was bone tired—just like I was in the real 1980’s. That’s when my children came along. The 1980’s and 1990’s are a blur to me. Unless an activity or event involved my kids, I probably don’t remember much about it. Even the music flew by under the radar.   

I moved on to an exhibit of costumes. Fun, fun, fun! I was particularly taken with outfits worn by Beyoncé, on stage and in music videos. My first thought was “Hmmm, I wonder how I’d look in that?”  I’m attending a gala this month and will see colleagues I haven’t seen in more than a year. Do you think this attire will impress them? 

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Throughout the day, I wondered why one artist was inducted into the Hall of Fame while another was not. According to the museum’s website, “Artists become eligible for induction 25 years after the release of their first record. Criteria include the influence and significance of the artists’ contributions to the development and perpetuation of rock and roll.” Where were Chicago, Doobie Brothers, ELO and Zombies? Moody Blues aren’t in? Say it ain’t so!

Do you know the name of the only artist inducted three times into the Hall of Fame? Keep reading—I’ll tell you at the end of this post.

I was worn out after visiting the costume exhibit. I settled on a bench in front of a huge screen and watched non-stop performances by inductees to the Hall of Fame. The energy of the music and performers brought me back to life. Before long I was tapping my foot, bobbing my head, and dancing in my seat. Metallica popped on the screen. I listened to it for the first time. The band was magnificent. Why didn’t I know that before? Oh yeah, it was a 1980’s band that emerged during my child-rearing years. Now I have Metallica on my I-pod.  

The stream of performances triggered a memory of my mother’s kitchen. It was in the 1960’s. Mom was washing the dishes; my little sister and I were drying them. The radio was playing. My sister and I took frequent breaks to dance to our favorite songs. My mother didn’t mind. “What’s the name of that song?” she’d ask. “What band is that?”  Many months later, Christmas arrived. My mother gave each of us a stack of 45 rpm single records—all the songs and bands we’d been dancing to for months. Little did we know that Mom had been keeping a list. Even as a teenager, I was touched to the point of tears by this loving gift.  My mother’s been gone for over ten years. The memory triggered by the montage of rock and roll performances brought back the tears.  

I could write volumes about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, but could never do it justice. Each visitor’s experience reflects his or her unique relationship to music. I urge you to visit this treasure.

Here’s the website for the museum if you’d like to learn more.

 http://rock.hall.com

Thanks for visiting my blog! Ellen 

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QUESTION: Who was the only artist inducted three times into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame?

ANSWER: Eric Clapton. In 1992, he was inducted as a member of The Yardbirds; in 1993, as a member of Cream; and in 2000, as a solo artist.

 

Oh No! What’s a Woman to Do?

When my husband retired, we sold our home of thirty-five years and moved to Deep Creek, Maryland. Leaving a lifetime of neighborhood friends was too painful to think about. We also couldn’t leave the care of doctors we trusted. Our solution was to buy a small condo not far from our old neighborhood. We travel back and forth as need be, sometimes together and sometimes apart.  

I frequently make the trip with my dog, Davy. He’s a people-loving, fourteen-pound Bichon.

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The condo is one hundred-fifty miles from our home in Deep Creek. The drive is pleasant and is usually less than three hours–unless there’s bad weather, highway construction, holiday traffic, an accident, or something totally unpredictable.

I’m a woman of a certain age and–to put it delicately–I need to make a nature stop. This is a problem in the summer. I can’t leave Davy in the car. It’s hot. Putting the car windows down while I’m gone is not an option–I won’t risk him being stolen. I won’t tie him to a tree outside the rest room for the same reason.  

My solution? I stop at the public rest area on Sideling Hill and take Davy  into the rest room with me. He loves it! So many women to charm, new smells to sniff, and cool things to explore.  We even go into the stall together, which is no easy task, believe me.

Davy’s a good dog. He’s never used the rest room for his own needs. Only once did he duck under the stall divider to make friends with the woman next door. She laughed and said, “Well, hello!” They became friends at the sink.  

All was good. Until yesterday.

My daughter stopped at the Sideling Hill rest stop on the way to visit me. She texted a photograph of the new sign posted on the women’s room door. “They put this sign up because of you…Lol,” wrote my darling daughter.

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Oh no! What am I going to do?

I called the Allegany County and Maryland State Highway Administrations. After being passed around a bit, I spoke to Mark. He was sympathetic. “I’ve never heard of that situation before. I’ll look into it.” I’m anxiously awaiting the response of the powers-that-be.   

In the meantime, Davy’s going into the restroom with me. Tomorrow. You may see me on a crowdfunding website seeking bail money. This is a quality of life change I don’t plan to make without a fight.  

Oh No! What is a Woman to Do?

Oh No! What is a Woman to Do?

When my husband retired, we sold our home of thirty-five years and moved to Deep Creek, Maryland. Leaving a lifetime of neighborhood friends was too painful to think about. We didn’t want to leave the care of doctors we trusted. Our solution was to buy a small condo not far from our old neighborhood. We travel back and forth as need be, sometimes together and sometimes apart.

I frequently make the trip alone with my dog, Davy.

He’s a people-loving, fourteen-pound bichon. The condo is a hundred-fifty miles from our home in Deep Creek. The drive is pleasant and is usually less than three hours–unless there’s bad weather, highway construction, holiday traffic, an accident, or something totally unpredictable.

I’m a woman of a certain age and–to put it delicately–I need to make a stop. This is a problem in the summer. I can’t leave Davy in the car. It’s hot. Putting the car windows down while I’m gone is not an option–I won’t risk him being stolen. I won’t tie him to a tree outside the rest room for the same reason.

My solution? Davy goes into the rest room with me. He loves it! So many women to charm, new smells to sniff, and cool things to explore.  We even go into the stall together, which is no easy task, believe me.

Davy’s good. He’s never used the rest room for his own needs. Only once did he duck under the stall divider to make friends with the woman next door. She laughed and said, “Well, hello!” They became friends at the sink.

All was good. Until yesterday.

My daughter stopped at the Sideling Hill rest stop on the way to visit me. She texted a photograph of the new sign posted on the women’s room door. Her text said, “They put this sign up because of you…Lol.”

Oh no! What am I going to do?

I called the State Highway Administration, was passed around a bit, and eventually spoke to Mark. He was sympathetic. “I’ve never heard of that situation before. I’ll look into it.” I’m anxiously awaiting the response of the State Highway Administration.

In the meantime, Davy’s going into the restroom with me. Tomorrow. You may see me on a crowdfunding website seeking bail money. This is a quality of life change I don’t plan to make without a fight.

Novel Gardening

Welcome to my blog! This is my first post. Let me introduce myself. I’m a wife, mother of two adult children, author, attorney, walker, dog lover, and gardener.  I became a Girl Scout at age forty, survived breast cancer at forty-two, walked in a sixty-mile fundraiser at forty-seven, and learned the Thriller dance at fifty-seven. I’ve always been a writer.      

My debut novel, tentatively called No Brakes, is now being offered to publishers by my wonderful literary agent, Dawn Dowdle of the Blue Ridge Literary Agency. My stomach is doing flips. I check my e-mails every hour and keep my phone in my pocket. I’ve been told the best way to make it through this anxious time is by writing the next novel. By coincidence, my new perennial garden is ready for planting.

In many ways, starting a new novel is like starting a new garden. When I wrote my first novel, I took the “seat-of-your-pants” writing approach. There was no plan, no thought. I sat and wrote, letting my novel take me wherever it wanted to go. By the time I tapped “The End,” I had a 136,000 word monstrosity. It took me a year to straighten out the mess.

I started an herb garden in the same haphazard way. The first herb was mint, planted straight into the ground, with Mojitos dancing in my head. A rookie mistake. The mint transformed into a wild beast. I sprayed, yanked and cursed.  Eventually, I slayed the beast, along with my taste for Mojitos.

These messes taught me a valuable lesson: I’m a planner not a seat-of-your-pantser. Believe it or not, one of the writing courses I took devoted a whole session to figuring out your writing style.  My daily to-do list should have given me a clue I’m not a pantser.   

Now I’m planning both my new novel and my new garden. Where do I start?  Foundation planting? The protagonist’s backstory?  This time I won’t plant perennials that spread through the garden like a virus. I’m determined not to introduce a subplot that twines throughout the novel, but goes nowhere. I don’t want to excavate either kind of mistake.

Each plant must contribute to the whole design. Each character needs to advance the plot. Otherwise, there’s no choice but to eradicate them later. Getting rid of hard work is a heartbreaker, whether it’s in the form of a plant or a fictional character. 

No more selecting an unfamiliar plant just because it’s pretty. This time, I’m researching each plant—sun/shade requirements, hot/cold tolerances, soil and water needs. Otherwise, my once-pretty plant will likely end up dead, dead, dead.  I learned this lesson with No Brakes. My protagonist, Lucy, pursued a path of investigation based on an intriguing fact I assumed was true. Oops, I was wrong. A week of Lucy’s life got deleted and she had to start her investigation over. My assumption caused me and Lucy a lot of trouble. This time I’ll research first—no matter how sure I am of an intriguing fact.

I’ll be saving all the identifying tags that come with the new plants. After many years of tending my first perennial garden, I had no idea what some of the plants were. Dawn, my wise agent, requires a list of every character mentioned in a novel, no matter how fleeting the character’s part. The list includes the full names, ages, occupations, and physical descriptions. I constructed my list after my novel was written. Oh my! Characters’ names had inconsistent spellings and physical descriptions varied. Sometimes I gave different characters the same name. It’s hard to keep it all straight as your writing thousands of words over a course of months. This time I’m making my character list as I write.

Here’s the beginning of my next novel:

 

Thanks for visiting my blog. I hope you’ll visit again. I’d love to hear about your gardening and writing mistakes.

Ellen