By Mark W. Danielson
I was flattered when Shamus Award winner Paul Marks tagged me to join the Writing Process Blog Hop. I encourage you to check out Paul’s books and writing methods at www.PaulDMarks.com. At the end of this post I will tag mystery romance author Terry Odell who will post about her writing process on her blog on June 9th. Every author's responses are unique, so please take a moment to read and enjoy them.
What am I working on?
Spectral Gallows, the second in the Maxx Watts detective series, was released in October, 2013. Since then, several personal drawn-out medical issues gave me a taste of what our wounded warriors experience on a daily basis. Although my back surgery wasn’t so bad, hand surgery made me appreciate having all my limbs. But physical challenges of are only part of what our returning soldiers experience. The cost of their emotional and psychological pain is staggering, and the damage unknown. I explored this element with a Vietnam veteran in Spectral Gallows where he is ignored when speaking of a decades-old murder in Fort Worth’s haunted Scott Theater because he is a society drop-out. Based on a true incident, it was fun exploring the paranormal in this twisted cold-case novel.
Although I was well into a sequel, I have put it on hold so I can focus on my colorful grandfather, Maynard Owen Williams. While working as a foreign correspondent to the Christian Science Herald and the National Geographic’s first foreign correspondent National Geographic, Williams was a true Indiana Jones having dined with T.E. Lawrence of Arabia, witnessed the first shots of World War I in the Ottoman Empire, served as a military attaché in China, and was among the first Anglos to enter King Tut’s tomb. He claimed that those who entered the tomb were all cursed with death, and true to his word, he passed away – decades later. He passed when I was eleven, but I’ve gotten to know him through his writing and photographs, which are still available on line. Whether I can do him justice in a biography remains to be seen. Regardless, it will be nice getting to know the man behind the lens and typewriter.
How does my work differ from others of its genre?
Every one of my fictional stories uses real situations and settings because it helps people relate. In Day Stalker, a map of Redwood Regional Park helped readers follow where things were happening. Oddly, numerous coincidences have occurred over the years. A tree I wrote about in Day Stalker actually fell as I had described years later. In Danger Within, I needed to ditch an airliner near southern California’s Channel Islands because salvage divers had to find out why the plane went down. Years later, a real airliner crashed within two miles of where I wrote about. Considering how large the ocean is, the odds of that happening seem quite small. In the early 90s, I wrote about an Air Force general who was murdered, but left to appear a suicide. Two weeks later, the actual Chief of Naval Operations took his own life. (For a variety of reasons, I never sought publication on this book.) While these and other coincidences have led some to believe I am psychic, I assure you that isn’t the case. However, each occurrence is uniquely interesting.
To better answer the question, though, everyone’s life experiences are different so our writing styles reflect that. Over the past twenty-five years I have written over twenty novels, but only chosen to submit five. Two of my unpublished stories concern actual wildfires and earthquakes, and while fascinating to research and write, the publishing world generally frowns on Mother Nature as the antagonist. I’ve also found it more interesting writing new novels rather than invest time in numerous re-writes. As with so many things in life, it is better to move forward than look back.
Why do I write what I do?
Whether made up or real, everything I write has been churning inside for a long time. When I do sit down to write, the words flow naturally. As for topics, I never search for them. Whether they come from media bombardment or my dreams, my stories allow me to vent and resolve problems that could never happen in real life. I will add that my stories are often very personal and the result of frustration. As an active airline pilot, I am offended at how the media reports aircraft mishaps. When passengers are involved, their coverage is non-stop coverage, even if the information is unverified or erroneous, but when a cargo jet goes down and pilots are lost, it barely rates a mention. Danger Within was the result of a poorly handled investigation, as was The Innocent Never Knew, which boldly tells the story of the cover-up of President Clinton’s Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown’s crash in the Balkans. Day Stalker was the hardest to write because it involves a missing child, and yet this story of hope came to life through a very real search and rescue. In Writer’s Block, I killed off a publisher, which is something many authors would love to do. As mentioned earlier, Spectral Gallows discusses war-torn veterans and the paranormal in Maxx Watts’ attempt to solve a cold-case death. On occasion I will put a story on hold if another piques my interest, but I never forget where I was. Normally, one sentence or idea is all I need to write a story.
How does my writing process work?
Two words – subliminal thoughts. I say this because when I sit down to write a first draft there is a direct connection between my subliminal thoughts and my keyboard. I prefer writing in a quiet room to avoid distractions. A ringing phone scares the hell out of me because it brings me back to reality. Most of the time I get back into the zone, but there are times when I must walk away.
I am much more prolific on the road than at home. I once wrote 148 pages in four days in Almaty, Kazakhstan, because there were few distractions. Of course, airline layovers are normally a day or less, but in this case, writing was a great way to pass the time.
While some authors outline their stories, I let my characters tell their side with no restrictions. The first draft is always fun because is I have no idea who lives, dies or gets lucky. This approach keeps my stories fresh, and since I never know who committed the crime until the end, I doubt anyone else will.
I switched to series writing because it is fun expanding characters and sub-plots. I have no idea how long the vicious Skinheads in Writer’s Block and Spectral Gallows will torment Maxx Watts, but it is always good having unresolved elements in a story. The best thing about protagonist detectives is their plots and locations are endless.
Thank you, Paul Marks for including me. Now I’ll turn it over to romance mystery author Terry Odell.
From childhood, Terry Odell wanted to "fix" stories so the characters would behave properly. Once she began writing, she found this wasn't always possible, as evidenced when the mystery she intended to write turned into a romance, despite the fact that she'd never read one. Odell prefers to think of her books as "Mysteries With Relationships." She writes the Blackthorne, Inc. series, the Pine Hills Police series, and the Mapleton Mystery series. Her latest work is Deadly Puzzles. You can find her high in the Colorado Rockies—or at terryodell.com.