My writing is  moving along better than I hoped for. Working on chapter 56 and can see the ending  it site – of course I’m using binoculars!

I’ve some ‘honey-do’ items on the schedule, so I am cut down to just two days of writing this week. Thought it went good today and if I can hold onto that feeling I might be tempted to write on the weekend.

Some good dialogue, I think.

When I write dialogue, I write it as quickly as if it was being said. I want to capture the moment and good dialogue seems to flow, whether you’re writing it or reading it.

When I go back  over the pages of dialogue what I find is that each person I’m quoting sounds the same as the others! I know that’s gonna happen. If I stopped in the middle of writing to correct that I fear I’d never get it done. I try to capture the idea of the dialogue and then I go back and re-write it. Each person that’s talking has to sound original. That also helps keep the tags at the end of a quote to a minimum.

When I go over the dialogue I take the idea of the sentence and compress it. Add the flavor of the person talking so the reader knows who it is without have to say “Norm said . . .” You get the idea.

Norm, as an example, will refer to Mick as “Hoss” at different times. When the reader sees Hoss he/she knows it’s Norm. Or, at least, I hope they do.

Putting too much of a dialect into a character’s talk will slow down the reader and may even turn him/her off. In a number of my books I have Irish characters. The Irish tend to drop the H in words. Thousands becomes Towesands.  The idea is you mention it once or twice and forget it and hope the reader understands.

I have an intermitted character from Louisiana. The few times he refers to his state I write it “Loos e anna.” If  you traveled in that area that’s they way many residents call the state.

Other characters in my books don’t want excess talk and try to bring whatever conversation around to the point, eliminating the fluff. Burt twirls his bush mustache when he talks and maybe mumbles too often.

The final test is to read it out loud. If it sounds off or mixed up, it usually is and I need to go back and re-write again.

Back to normal – whatever that is!

I arrived back from Dublin, Ireland last week on Wednesday night. I went from 6 weeks of cool weather to HOT! The Keys have been seeing 90-degree temps and it looks as if it will continue for a while. Right now, as I write this, the tail end of the tropical storm hitting Tampa is dumping rain with winds on my house. Welcome home!

Dublin has always been a good place for me to write. Maybe my Muse lives there and waits for me to visit. I wish she’d stop being so elusive!

In the three and a half weeks before Celine arrived, I wrote about six chapters. I took the few remaining days of last week off and started writing again today – and only watched about 15-minutes of Morning Joe. I finished chapter 52 that I began in Dublin and almost finished chapter 53.

When I say I took days off, it doesn’t mean the story didn’t ramble around in my head. I have the ending, a good twist (I think) and pretty sure I know how to work up to  it. Will the characters let me, is always the question. Will one of them say or do something that will force me to change my direction?

I wrote from about 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. a little longer than usual, but the story and dialogue flowed and I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes that’s how it happens. It all falls into place and there’s no need to sweat blood. Wish it was like that all the time.

I’m reading Don Bruns’ new book, Thrill Kill, set in New Orleans. This is the 2nd in his new series and it’s fantastic! Reading helps clear my head and it also shows me how other writers present situations. If you can’t borrow from other writers, why write?

By that, of course, I mean when I see some fantastic writing I will re-read it. Go back and see how  the writer worked up to it. It’s a learning process I go through. Learning is the secret of writing. Reading is the secret of learning.  Learn everything you can. I even learn when I read bad writing. I try to find out where the writer went wrong and hope to avoid the problem in my writing.

If you see my Muse, send her home!

                           Below are the friends I left behind in Dublin. I miss them.



If there was a rule it would be WRITE

While I don’t have MSNBC’s Morning Joe to distract me, my wife arrived in Dublin last Wednesday (plane came in at 4 pm & was scheduled at 11 am) and I got to spend most of the day at the airport. Two terminals, lots of places to eat and drink.

I did get well into chapter 51 and each morning while Celine is still sleeping, I do a little tweaking of the pages. I can see the end in sight but it will have to wait until I’m back in Key West.

When I start a book, I don’t have an outline, only what I think is the begging,  middle and end might be in my notebook. So far, I’ve been lucky with the beginnings. Middle and end always change as the characters develop the story line.

The ending, as I see it now, wasn’t even in the cards when I began. But my ‘what if?‘ bug kicked in while watching Morning Joe’s exposes on the Russian involvement and people involved in the White House.

I remember sitting here in Dublin at the cottage. My writing for the day done, but I had to re-think the ending and then my ‘what if?’ came into play. I had a number of new scenarios but liked the Russian one! See, my hours watching Morning Joe wasn’t a waste of time.

None of us know if what’s going on in DC is real or not, but, as I’ve said before, the premise would make a great Robert Ludlum thriller!

I write down chapters ideas and quotes, etc., in a notebook I keep for each book I writer. Often much of it goes unused. Other times I am amazed when I re-read my notes and the section of the book I am working on changes.

I know writers who outline chapter by chapter and work from that. I am not sure how they do it. It wouldn’t work for me. And that’s one of the things that makes writing great, the diversity in styles, voices and approaches to doing it. What works for me might not work for you. There are no rules, only guidelines.

I guess if there was one rule, it would be WRITE.

Photo: Amy & Aodhnait, twin sisters & friends of Sheila Cullen, my friend in Key West. O’Donough’s Pub, Dubin

Writing in Dublin to keep warm

It’s kind of good to know the weather forecasters in Ireland are no better than the ones in the States. There have been a few good days (warm in Ireland seems to be the mid-60s) but more cloudy and cold days. Yesterday was the first time since arriving that I went without a sweater and actually carried my coat downtown. A sidewalk lunch day! And I took advantage of it. The weather can’t dampen my love of Ireland. That’s why I keep returning!

The chilly, stay-in weather has been good for my writing. I finished chapter 50 today. I seem to get up, chilly cottage, make espresso and get to work on the computer. Almost like the good old days before my addiction to Morning Joe and the political bruhaha out of Washington.

Without the distraction of news programs 24/7 on what’s happening, I am enjoying the writing/editing again. However, in chapter 50 I’ve worked in the Russian/Cyprus banking scandal into my book. If nothing else, out of months of TV new viewing, I did get to use that information.

Earlier in the week I took the train to Bray and had lunch with Darrel Darker and JJ Toner (who, unfortunately, is no relation to the people who own Toner’s Pub in Dublin). It was nice to get out and about a bit.

I am about to head out to the Temple Bar district to meet Laurence O’Bryan, who was one of the first writers I met in Dublin. It’s almost too chilly for a pint. Almost! Anyway, I’m going to wear my Irish sweater, so that should help keep me warm.

Chapter 51 tomorrow. Kind of like the old bar in Key West that had a sign hanging outside: FREE BEER TOMORROW.

Photo: Darren (left) JJ and a bundled up me!

24/7 the writer is on call

In the time I’ve not blogged, I have written three chapters (40-42) and am half done with chapter 43. I should have written more  . . . a lot more! Of course, I’ve been watching too much MSNBC. But I’ve found that it has actually helped me in coming up with a new ending of my book, Mistaken Identity.

In  my opinion, a writer of fiction is on call 24/7! What’s that mean? It doesn’t mean living, eating, sleep  in front of your computer, the screen always on waiting for that moment of clarity and/or brilliance.

I  my case, it means no matter what I’m doing when I am away from writing, editing, my mind is still buzzing, looking for some sharp dialogue, a piece of unique scenery I can work into the story, seeing a character that catches my eye and find a place for him/her in the story. Day dreaming, my wife tells me!

I find a lot of what will end up in my stories in the bars and restaurants of Key West. (Try explaining that to  my wife). It’s a tourist town but it has also become a destination for the wealthy. They’ve driven prices up for everything from food to rent. However, some of the real colorful characters of the island have hung on and seeing the two cultures mix is interesting and note worthy.

I’m at a nice restaurant and at one table are a few divers just off the boat and I can tell that from their dress and conversation; a table over are two couples with creased pants and tailored shirts, whispering; another table has a rag-tag couple of sailors who have stopped on their trip to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean.

Was it Billy Shakespeare that said, All the world’s a stage? Well, whoever said it was right. Unless you’re writing sifi the real world is swirling all around you. Everything you need for the background of your story is right there, you just have to stop and observe  it. Because writers are observers and recorders of cultures and time.

My point in all this (yes there’s a point) is that in watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe recently, I was hit one morning with a new twist ending to my book and it came from the news! I’d explain it in more detail but then I’d have to explode your computer, or whatever you’re reading this on, like in the  opening of the old TV show Mission Impossible, but bigger.

The discussion on the TV focused on something that had been talked about before but the other morning, after some self-editing and wondering about the ending of my new book, the conversation between guests and Joe took on a new meaning. “What if,” I thought to myself, “I used that?”

How to twist the story in that direction came to me instantly! The more I thought about it the more fun it became and easier too. I took my small notebook I bought last year at Eason’s in Dublin and wrote down my thoughts.

If you’re a writer in any stage, stop and look around you. Pay attention and see things you’ve seen forever and look at them with new eyes and ideas. I’ve driven up and down US1 to the mainland and back too many times in the last 20 years, but I still stare out at the vista and wonder how Mick Murphy would react to such-and-such situation out there on the water or on one of the mangrove island. A good place to hide a body? It makes the ride a lot more interesting.

The opening chapters of Right As Wrong Can Be takes place coming southbound on US1 and the whole ride at night is true . . . accept the bodies and terrified teenage girl.

Keep your eyes open and look around like it’s the first time. You might be surprised.

Now, for the next two days, I will be following the drama playing out in DC. Maybe someone will say something that will kick-start my brian to work toward my ending.

    (I look forward to hearing from you and welcome any comments and suggestions)

Two sides of editing

I finished chapter 37 last week as well as chapters 38 & 39. For me, it wasn’t a productive week!  I didn’t even get much reading done and I feel a writer must read.  Three to five chapters a week, five-thousand words a week,  would be good and that’s what I used to be able to write before all the drama came about in Washington. I have cut back in my watching of cable news. Somewhat.

Re-reading and a lot of self-editing took place in the afternoons and early evenings last week. It amazes me  the small things I miss when I write and often after my first read through. That is the reason I am big on getting my story to as many eyes as possible and to a professional editor. I am sure the punctuation errors in my blogs prove my point.

Once at a newsroom in Key West, when I worked as a journalist, the publisher (son of the paper’s owner) was looking at cost cutting. One of his suggestions was doing way with copy editors! Why couldn’t reporters edit their own work, he asked.

After about fifteen-minutes of comments by editors and reports, he let go of the idea. That there weren’t more laughs when some thought he was  kidding, says a lot about the newsroom back then.

I know writers that are the other side of the coin. They would edit, edit, edit till the unicorn returns. I think it has to do with self-doubt and insecurity. Knowing when to stop editing, when to stop asking people to look at your work and not taking everyone’s advice to heart, is also important.

As I’ve said, I have a couple of friends that are mystery readers and let them have a look at my book before I send it to the editor. They have questions and suggestions. I listen to them but make the final decision on what to edit, cut out, rewrite on my own. Not even editors are always right. The writer must decide if his/her work improves from the advice. When it does, work with it. When it doesn’t, put it aside.

Now, back to chapter 40 and the twist I worked in began in chapter 39. I think my characters are having more fun than I am!


How’d that happen?

On Sunday I finished chapter 35 and all of chapter 36. Another good day of writing and avoiding television. I even got more than halfway through chapter 37. I’d spent most of Sunday evening going over the chapters, making changes and was satisfied with them.

As I said in the last post, my subconscious kicks into full throttle when I’m sleeping. Usually, when I wake in the morning it remains dormant but the result of its work are stored in whatever part of my brain I use for writing.

Usually, that’s how it works. Sunday night, probably more early Monday morning my subconscious shook me awake and helped me realize I’d put Pauly into chapter 36 and he didn’t belong there. I lay awake and thought about the chapter and knew I had done it!

I keep a reporter’s note pad next to my bed and got up and jotted down a note to make changes to the chapter. I do this because if I went back to sleep thinking I’d rembmer, I probably wouldn’t. I’ve proven that in the past and know something good had slipped away!

Today when I got to my laptop I checked chapter 36 and about halfway into it I somehow had Pauly making a comment. I went back and read from the beginning. Pauly hasn’t been on the scene for a few chapters, but there he was in the middle of a conversation.

Of course, it should have been Bob talking. It didn’t take much to fix but I did wonder how it happened. How’d I miss the mistake while going over the chapter Sunday night? Was I so caught up with the chapters that brought Padre Thomas back  into the storyline that I wrote Pauly because I knew he was coming up  in another chapter or that Burt had arrived and mentioned Pauly?

My subconscious knew! And thankfully got the message to me.

Sometimes  my thoughts about what’s coming gets ahead of me when I am writing. Kind of like I want to hurry and catch up. My editor and friends who read the chapters before the book is published would’ve loved to catch that mistake. And I am thankful when they do find something or question something I’ve written. It makes for a better story.

I am also thankful that my subconscious works when I am at play or sleeping and sometimes talks to me when I’m awake.

“What are you doing here?”

I was able to finish chapter 34 last Monday morning.

During the weekend I tried not to think about how I would end the chapter that brings Padre Thomas back into Murphy’s life. I think it was Hemingway who said (something like this anyway) “I quit writing in the late morning and try not to think about it until I begin the next day, leaving my subconscious to work on  it.” Well, if not an exact quote, you get the idea.

It seems my subconscious likes to come to the surface when I try to sleep. So, at  night I thought about how to continue chapter 34 and couldn’t come up with an idea I liked.

Monday, as I made my cafe con leche to take to the laptop I was really stumped. As I wrote  in the last post (a week ago?) more often than not the characters takeover writing the story. I gave in and figured I’d sit down, reread what I’d written and see what happens.

However, when the pages appeared on the screen, I thought to myself, “What are you doing here?” Here being Murphy’s house (Tita’s house he still considers it) and my question was directed to Padre Thomas (tho on the page Murphy asks it).

So, I wrote the question and then Padre Thomas started talking, between lighting cigarettes and sipping on a bottle of Bud!

I think when a writer is stumped with where the story line goes he/she should write, “What are you doing here?” It is a good sentence to put on the page  and to think about. It can be meant for a character, like in my case, but more importantly, it can be meant to question the writer. It might be you have to dump that chapter because you’re not meant to be there. On the other hand, your characters might explain what they’re doing there.

I finished chapter 34 and the characters were happy to keep talking and I got most of chapter 35 done! Believe me, I don’t get many perfect writing days were I can write more than 2,000 words. Wish I did.

After rereading the chapters Monday night, doing a little tweaking, I liked them.

Tuesday morning, still on the writing high, I began chapter 36. It was going pretty well too. Had lunch, read the newspapers, watched about an hour of Morning Joe as I ate.

The writing was coming so easy, I knew I’d finish chapter 36.

Back at the laptop, I reread the pages from the morning and was about to continue when I got an email news alert from NBC, CNN and the Boston Globe. Curious, I opened one and the president had just fired the head of the FBI.

There went not only the rest of Tuesday but my whole week! I turned on MSNBC and suddenly all the scheduled programing was about Breaking News!

Before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t about politics. This crisis (if it is) in Washington is a TV drama that could be written by my friend and political thriller writer Gayle Lynds. I recommend her books if you like political thrillers and she writes with first-hand knowledge of Washington.

Well, for the rest of Tuesday thru Friday I was glued to MSNBC and each morning drank my cafe con leches with Joe & Mika. Everything else in my life took a back seat to the drama unfolding on the TV.

No matter your political view (or even if you don’t have one) what’s happening on our TVs is exciting and scary. Like any good thriller, we don’t know how it will end, but there are certainly a few directions it could go. Like a good thriller, the reader keeps reading to find out what happens.

Hopefully, after this weekend, I will  get back to my routine and work on chapter 36.

If you want to write a thriller, you should be taking notes because, as the old cliché goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

I look forward to reading your comments.


Who’s writing this story?

If you read Right As Wrong Can Be, you know I left Mick & Padre Thomas at odds. Very serious odds. Some readers thought it was the end of the good Padre. No. I did it because at the time, and because of the story line, it had to happen. I knew I left myself with a problem, but it was unavoidable.

Believe me, I’ve spent many restless nights trying to figure out how to get Mick & the Padre back on the pages. No matter what the idea was, or how good I thought it was, when I sat down and typed, it didn’t work.

I have a small sign in my writing room that reads: Writers Block: When Your Imaginary Friends Won’t Talk To You. Mick & Padre weren’t talking to me. If they were, I wasn’t listening.

Some writers outline their book. Jeffrey Deaver told me his outline is often longer than his book! I usually know where I want to begin, where I think the middle is and how the ending will be. I am usually wrong about the middle and the end.

Mick and his list of friends have a history. I can’t change that history. I can certainly play with it. I can make Mick frightened of something. Or I can have Norm show a soft side. Both those traits would be out of character for them, but done right it could be believable.

What I did the other day was give up on the solution to my problem. Instead of me finding the reason or way Mick and Padre Thomas work things out (or not) was to let them show me. I sat down and wrote a paragraph that recapped the ending of the last chapter and then Padre Thomas showed up! Surprised everyone (including me).

Seeing the situation in my head, I wrote (with their input) almost 1,000 words and the chapter is only about half done. I’ve avoided thinking of what happens next. Who says what. I’ll be surprised Monday when I sit down, re-read the first part of the chapter and begin what I hope will be the end of the chapter.

Will their friendship rekindle? Will they argue? Fight? The only thing I know now is that Padre Thomas is in the forgiving business and Mick Murphy ain’t! I’m not sure what that means and your guess is as good as mine on how the chapter goes.

Now I need to read Reed Farrel Coleman’s new book, What You Break.  Reading keeps my mind from wandering and I need to let Mick and Padre Thomas work out their differences before Monday so they can help me finish the chapter.

By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve depended on the characters to help me out.