Question: What do you do when you get stuck in a story?
Answer: I run in circles screaming like my hair is on fire and then I drink heavily. My friend Jack Daniels comes over and after a few minutes, it doesn’t matter if I’m stuck. Jack comes up with some wild and crazy ideas, we laugh, and then I take a little nap. It doesn’t usually fix anything, but it passes the time until I can approach the problem rationally.
While most of the things I discuss with my friends don’t make it directly into the books, some things do. When working through the idea of The Embassy Guards, I was struggling with exactly what it was the terrorists wanted from my arms manufacturer. I had a conversation with my friend Dave Dingley who offered the suggestion of a tactical thermobaric weapon utilizing nano fuel. It was perfect. I had no idea what it was, but it sounded impressive as hell. That was a case where an answer raised a lot of questions and I had to go do some research.
In the same conversation via email, Dave then told me exactly why a terrorist organization would love to have that type of weapon. His explanation was anything but politically correct. With his permission, I let my character Boomer share some of Dave’s words. Boomer and Dave have the same attitude.
Talking the problems through often brings me not only good ideas but great insights into my characters. By the time I’d hit the fourth book in the Blood Link series, my friend and beta reader Jennifer Sasnett knew my characters as well as I did. She didn’t hesitate to tell me when I got off course with Essie in a scene. Jennifer reminded me that Essie was a lady from a different generation and was unlikely to curse unless furious or frightened and that the men would respect that and curse less in her presence. She also reminded me that Essie would carry a purse. My characters are rarely dressed in anything other than utilities, battle dress, or blue jeans. When would they carry a purse? As Jennifer pointed out, though, Essie isn’t one of my usual characters. It might seem small, but this discussion stays with me and reminds me to keep my character’s words and behavior true to the character.
In my current work in progress, I’ve been struggling with the bad guy who’s a member of a drug cartel. The story brushes on border security issues and the presence of cartels in the U.S., things that I’m only slightly familiar with. I live in southern Arizona; you’d think I’d know more about those things. But I’ve preferred not to. They’re ugly and frightening to me. Which makes them perfect for writing about. I like writing about the things that evoke a strong feeling. But, writing about them means I have to educate myself on the problem. I started with a great series of article by journalist Brady McCombs and then moved on to more in-depth information. I was amazed at some of the things I learned and at the deep divisions between the organizations who are responsible for border security and the people who live on the border.
Then I spent time talking to my friends. People who were born and raised here and came to the conclusion that no one can agree on exactly how the problems of border security and immigration should be fixed. I eventually found a way to address the issue in the book, but as you can see, my freaking process is not really solitary. Without input, I’m flying blind.
The way you go about it works because your characters are believable; likeable when they’re supposed to be, and detestable when they’re supposed to be. So, keep doing what you’re doing.
Thank you, Annette. Keeping them real is frequently the hardest part.