From HS Creative Writing Assignment to Debut Novel: The Evolution of Matty Redd
by Ryan Steck
|*image from Pixabay|
|*image from Pixabay|
by Janice Cantore
In every novel I write, I try to incorporate something I’ve personally experienced or a real-life event I’ve read about. The idea for my first book with Tyndale, Accused, grew from a very sad real-life event. A sixteen-year-old had been arrested for killing a crossing guard and stuffing her body in the trunk of a car. I was working juvenile at the time, and I remember seeing the kid and wondering what made him into a killer. He looked so normal. Later, more and more what-ifs strolled through my mind, and I landed on the story idea. “What if he didn’t do it?” Then, “What if the only person who believes him is the cop who books him?” Accused was born.
Catching Heat, the third in the Cold Case Justice series, one of the story ideas was born after I watched an episode of the TV show Cold Case Files. It was about Kristen Smart, a college student in San Luis Obispo who disappeared in 1996. Everyone in California who was alive then probably remembers the name. Her photo was everywhere as her frantic folks begged witnesses to come forward. The last person to see her alive was a guy who claimed he simply walked her home. There were holes in his story and circumstantial evidence pointed to him, but his parents shut down any police inquiry, and the case went cold.
Sadly, it’s very plausible for a college student to go missing from her college campus. Making up a parallel case for my novel, I had my cold case detectives travel to San Luis Obispo to work on the case. In this case, the boyfriend was the suspect and everyone involved in the cold case knew he did it; they just couldn’t prove it. My fictional detectives worked their way through the evidence and found a way to trip up the boyfriend and solve the murder.
As an interesting side note, the detectives handling the Smart case never gave up. In 2016, police in San Luis Obispo announced they had new evidence. By 2021, the guy who walked Kristen Smart home—and his father—were arrested and charged with her murder.
In my latest novel, Code of Courage, real-life riots spawned the story. I’m certain most people can remember the riots last summer, images of stores burning and large angry mobs confronting police. I was horrified by it because it brought up memories of the riots I experienced while a police officer in Long Beach in 1992. I wanted to tell a story about riots and their impact on a community, from the perspective of a police officer dealing with the danger of an out-of-control, rioting mob.
Incorporating real life into a novel is more than single events. Often in my novels I include minor details that I remember from patrol work. Things like how the leather in my belt squeaked when I would get in and out of the car, or how hard it was to secure a combative suspect in the back seat, or how bad a drunk smelled at two in the morning. Sometimes the odor lingered long after the drunk was gone. I also try to convey how wonderful it was to belong to the brotherhood of law enforcement, the thin blue line. The feeling of family makes working in law enforcement special, and I hope readers get that sense from my books.
Yes, it’s fiction, make-believe, but the more real you make a story sound, the more easily readers will get lost in the fiction. I love to get lost in a novel when I read, and I hope people reading my stories will feel that way about them.
Janice Cantore is a retired Long Beach police officer who now writes suspense novels to keep readers engrossed and leave them inspired. Her twenty-two years of experience on the force lend authenticity to her stories. She has penned thirteen novels: the Line of Duty series, the Cold Case Justice series, the Pacific Coast Justice series, Critical Pursuit, Visible Threat, Breach of Honor, and Code of Courage.
School ended yesterday. Today is the first day of summer vacation, so I promise you won't have to read middle school-inspired posts for a while after today.
But today, we do have one more. I recently read Lord of the Flies with my 8th grade class. The book is old (older than me!) and a lot of people don't like it, but I have so many activities that we do with it, that the book really comes alive. I'm always stunned when students tell me it's one of their favorite books we've read.
This year, after we finished, I asked them to reflect on this quote by the author William Golding.
When asked about the meaning of his book, he replied:
“There have been so many interpretations of the story that I'm not going to choose between them. Make your own choice. They contradict each other, the various choices. The only choice that really matters, the only interpretation of the story, if you want one, is your own. Not your teacher's, not your professor's, not mine, not a critic's, not some authority's. The only thing that matters is, first, the experience of being in the story, moving through it. Then any interpretation you like. If it's yours, then that's the right one, because what's in a book is not what an author thought he put into it, it's what the reader gets out of it.”
I love this answer so much.
I was thinking about it with two different caps on my head - as the teacher who asks students to consider the meaning of the story, but also as an author who is in the business of making meaning out of words.
I was really interested to hear my students' thoughts - both as their teacher and as an author.
It turns out that the line that most spoke to them was "The only thing that matters is, first, the experience of being in the story, moving through it."
One student, in explaining how she had moved through the story stated, "Through the characters, I got to experience the chaos, the peace, the sadness, and the thrill of everything that happened."
Another said: "In some parts of the book, I felt like I was actually in the book and moving through it. But there were parts where I did not get this feeling. An example where I did not get this feeling is when the hunters went hunting I didn’t really feel the story moving. The part where I felt the story moving along was when everyone was working together and not fighting."
But a third said "There were parts of the book where I felt as if I was really going through the motion of everything and other parts where I was left confused. Some parts that I really connected to were the murders. When both Piggy and Simon died I truly felt like I was there watching it happen."
Another: "I felt like I was on the island with all the other boys I felt like I was one of the little ones watching everything fold in itself, watching Jack become a brutal savage and watch Ralph losing control and seeing Piggy get killed I really felt part of the story I was reading."
They were also really eager to tell me the meaning they took from the book. I think William Golding would have been proud of the range of thoughts. They took his words to heart: "If it's yours, then that's the right one."
I think this book was about how people can get insane and out of control with an obsession with a passion, they have while others try and prevent it but end up getting hurt in the process.
What are we really without manners and common sense? Savages? That would make us no different than animals. We hide behind a mask of intelligence and basic knowledge to separate how similar we are compared to animals. Without all we have learned, we’re basically just a vessel driven by emotions of hatred and greed. Would we really know right from wrong if we didn’t have common knowledge or at least look like we have the brains? It really felt overwhelming to interpret so much. Then again, it would make sense. The only difference is that we are more evolved than animals. We have the common sense to just go around killing people, there are usually reasons behind it. But sometimes, there isn’t a reason behind it. Does that make us unstable to live in such a “perfect” society? If we compare ourselves to savages, then killing would be completely normal right? Or would it?
I believe the book is really about the true nature of us. How we act when theres no adults or rules around. When we can do anything without being punished since theres no boundaries.
This book is about nothing more than boys trying to survive on their own and trying to keep their insanity (sic) in the process.
While the topic of change was a big message of the book, I do believe there is another main message. Lord of the Flies also shows us the importance of rules and civilization. Once the boys turned away from Ralph all humanity and civilization were lost. They began to become too accustomed to Jack’s uncivilized methods. Without any rules or grasp on humanity boys such as Roger turned from normal kind kids into animals. It was because of this lack of civilization and order that Piggy and Simon died so tragically. It was also why it was so hard for the boys to look at themselves once the navy found them. They knew they could never truly return home because a part of them would always be on that island.
So why am I talking about this today?
Because as a teacher, I am privileged to have the opportunity to really talk to readers about their reading, and that is invaluable to me not only as their teacher, but as an author. Hearing what matters to them as readers, learning how invested they were in making their own meaning from the books gives author me something to ponder.
As authors, are we trying to impose our meaning on our readers? Are we heavy-handed with our message, or do we wield our pen delicately, giving the reader options, offering a chance for them to create their own message from our books. Especially if it's a message they need in their lives.
As I was pondering this, I was also thinking about a book I had recently read. Because I could really relate to the widowed character, I probably took a completely different meaning from the book than a different reader would - and I appreciated the nuances of the character that allowed me to do so.
And that leads me to thinking about craft and how we make our books the best possible experience for readers because, to quote another student,
He didn't write the book to give it a specific ending (message) but to entertain the readers.
And of course that is what we have to keep at the forefront as we write.
One of my students was rather succinct in describing Golding's craft.
Mr. Golding used good words to set the mood for the story.
As writers, that is our task, to use good words to entertain.
If only it could be that easy!
But easy or not, it is the responsibility we assumed when we chose to write stories. Our good words have the power to affect readers.
One of my students commented: "The experiences of reading books helps us to open our eyes to different wonders in imagination. It leads us to creating our own works and maybe inspiring others."
And to finally quote a wise student - "That is the great thing about reading."
And we get to inspire that. How lucky are we to be writers???
I'd love to hear your thoughts - as readers and writers.
*Photos courtesy of Pixabay
I have never needed to make a big splash with my work.
It didn't matter if I was waiting tables, selling bridal gowns, running a Tupperware business or changing diapers and teaching ABCs to preschoolers, it was never about the splash.
It was always about content.
I take that same mindset into writing.
I'm not jealous of bestsellers.
I've read some that suck....
And I've read some great ones.
It taught me that some things are subjective.
And that I can only control so much.
I'm not envious of big buck contracts.
I'm not broke. I can pay my bills. I even started an IRA. To me.... that's rich. As rich as I care to be.
I don't lust after fancy cars.
I drive a 2017 Chevy Traverse, a big SUV that drinks a lot of gas. Remember what Obama said in his book? "Americans like big cars and cheap gas..."
In my book, that just makes us smart. But then I'm a conservative.
I drive that 2017 Traverse for our farm.... I drive it for grandkids. I drive it on research trips now that the world has come to its senses and reopened. I drive it because I spent over a decade driving tiny cars (Neons and a Chevy Cruze) and saving my money to drive an SUV.
I always wanted an SUV... I couldn't afford it. So I waited. Because it wasn't worth being broke for, right? It's a car.... But it's a big car and I can fit over a hundred pumpkins in the back of that bad boy.
I call her "The Tank".
And I love driving it.
But that's not the same as envying others' successes.
I love seeing people succeed. It's a good thing! Most of the time, that is.
Sometimes they fall down. Sometimes they mess up. Mess up contracts, don't write the books, don't get it done for whatever reason.
There's something to be said for waiting your turn at the watering hole. For waiting in line at the playground. For studying the textbook before the exam. Preparation. Preparation is key. It's clutch. It matters.
Ruthy's latest Love Inspired Book, her third "Kendrick Creek" story!
If you skin your knee a few times, you hang on tighter to the bike. Or you take the curve slower.
If you get bit up by skeeters ten ways to Sunday, you start putting "OFF" on earlier in the day.
If you've been passed over for contracts a few times you realize how important, special and amazing they are.
I trust in God.
I trust in His timing.
But nowhere in the Good Book does it say that we should rest while waiting for good things to happen. And that whole Mary and Martha deal?
I'm a Martha and proud of it. Not because Martha was better than Mary or vice versa, but because they should both be celebrated.
So I work hard.
I laugh. I cry. I help others. I bake lots of good stuff, I write great stories and I grow a lot of pumpkins with a lot of help from others.
Yes... I am blessed. So blessed! And smart enough, old enough and wise enough to know it.
So bring on the contracts.... bring on the indies... bring on whatever opportunities God has in store for me because as long as I'm breathing, living, laughing.... I'll be writing.
Because there's nothing like having to wait to have your dreams come true to make those dreams even more special than you ever in your life thought they could be.
Oh.... How blessed!
http://ruthloganherne.com or friend her on Facebook.... or email Ruthy at firstname.lastname@example.org. She loves to hear from readers!
It's a saying we use up north and it's usually uttered cryptically, sarcastically or candidly ..
"Got through another winter."
There may be a wry note or a hike of expectation. It might be a declaration of success or an anticipation that no matter what you do, winter will come again.
"Got through another winter."
It's funny... and sometimes sad. Sad because not everyone makes it through a rough winter. It's not a guarantee.
I was thinking of this the other day as we were organizing the attic. My attic is finished. It's got two finished rooms, long before the advent of "bonus rooms" in houses up here.
FYI: Bonus rooms are a clever way of getting around a bigger septic system because the size of your septic system here is governed by the number of bedrooms in your house. So a 4 bedroom house must have a bigger system than a 3 bedroom or 2 bedroom and septic systems here are five-figure investments... So that adds up really quick. So houses have begun incorporating "bonus rooms" so that they're not flagged for a bigger, pricier septic system.
I love my attic. At least I will love it again when it's cleared out, so between yesterday and today we organized, filled totes, labeled and moved all those books to the big shed. The sales shed is 14' x 36' so it's like a small house. :) We love this shed. Built by a formerly Amish family in Pennsylvania, they trailered it up last spring and I honestly don't know what we did without it! But I digress, the two-room attic had become a hidden harbor for books.
So many books! My books! The generosity of publishers meant I had hundreds of books to give away every year so even if I had 50 books that didn't get given away, over 11 years, that's 550 extra books. :) That's a lot of books. So we've been doing book giveaways for assisted living centers, nursing homes, senior apartments or neighborhoods, fundraisers... we've been making sure that we're getting them out there, but there were still enough to fill 14 plastic totes of varying sizes, but we got smart.... We sorted them, got appropriately sized totes, labeled them and they're all living in their own spot in the big sales shed... My goal to reclaim my attic is near at hand. :)
What does reclaiming the attic have to do with writing or books or winter?
Stories are created in a step-by-step fashion. They're never a single entity, they're a blending of setting, characters, plot, angst, desire, goals, conflict and resolution, and when an author finishes a book... when we do that last round of edits, that final polish, that slice-and-dice to tighten the laces on a really great new pair of boots, it's like clearing out the attic. Or a closet. Or a pantry. It's that feeling of success and satisfaction. Only--
At least at Blodgett Family Farm--
No one pays me to clean a closet or an attic or a room or anything, LOL!
But they do pay me to write books, and that's a wonderful reason to finish the book, wrap it up, take a deep breath and move on to the next one.
In my life there's always another room to clean and in my professional life (so far)...
There's always another book to write because it's a lot like getting through another winter. The truth is that I love writing stories...
And I actually like winter because there's nothing like the anticipation of spring and color and grass and flowers and warmth once you've mastered winter. It's a natural high...
So I'm happy to say...
"Got through another winter."
And we're mighty glad it's spring!
by Jill Kemerer
It’s been five weeks since your book released. The months leading up to it were exciting and, yes, chaotic. You did whatever you could to get the word about that bad boy out there. You poured time and energy into making the launch as impactful as possible, and yet, you wonder was it enough? Reviews trickle in—some good, some not-so-good. You can’t seem to shake this deflated feeling.
Everyone’s moved on from your book. Everyone except you.
Now you’re sitting on your couch, sipping tea, trying to figure out what to do next. You mentally tick through what you should be doing.
Writing, duh. But the thought of getting back into that manuscript sends a cold shiver down your spine. You have forty-three pages written.
They are not good pages.
The urge to post on your social media sites hits you strong. You need to stay relevant, right? But what would you even post about? You’ve spent so much time and effort promoting the book, it feels weird to go back to normal.
Maybe that’s the problem. You don’t want to go back to normal. Can’t every day be launch day? Can’t every day be special and exciting and full of celebrating a book you wrote?
You wish there was some way to check your numbers. Or, if you self-published the book, you check your numbers. All. The. Time.
Are my sales good? Bad? How do they compare to other authors in my genre?
You don’t know. You won’t know. You will never truly know how your sales compare to your peers.
Did I earn out my advance? What happens if I didn’t? Will this contract be my last?
Frowning, you take another sip of tea. And lunge for the nearby muffin.
Slowly it hits you that this is it. You’re back to the same you before you had a book launch to plan. You splashed in the happy waters of a book-release summer, then slid into the autumn of ongoing promotion, and now you’re staring down the writer’s winter.
Work lies ahead, and this winter is cold.
As you sit there, you force yourself to block all those pesky thoughts about sales. You ignore Facebook. And you breathe. A sense of relief tickles the edges of your funk. For it is a funk.
But it’s one that can end at any time.
After brushing off the muffin crumbs from your fingers, you finish your tea and turn on your laptop. You open a file containing that dreadful draft, all forty-three pages of it. For a moment, you close your eyes and say a prayer. Then you start to read.
But ten pages in, you’re kind of digging it. You clean up a few paragraphs. Jot down some notes.
And there you have it. You’re writing again.
You start thinking ahead to when this book will release. Then you chuckle and shake your head. You have to write it first. And it hits you. This is the fun part, too.
Do you struggle with the feeling of letdown after a book release? How do you deal with it?
Leave a comment to be entered to win a copy of Jill's new release, The Prodigal's Holiday Hope (paperback for US, ebook for international)
But can he prove he’s changed?
When Sawyer Roth is hired to work on his childhood ranch, he knows he has a damaged reputation to repair. Tess Malone, the new ranch owner’s daughter, is the hardest to win over. But as Christmas approaches, Tess and her toddler son find a way into Sawyer’s heart. He lost everything the last time he put his trust in love. Can he risk it all again?
by Mindy Obenhaus
Congratulations! You’ve labored for months (maybe years) and, finally, your manuscript is complete. It’s out of your head and on the page. You can’t wait for your editor to read it. But, slow down. Before you hit Send, have you made sure your shiny new manuscript truly shines? Or could it use a little polishing?
This is where I currently find myself in the writing process. I’m almost ready to send off another manuscript, but not until it undergoes a little polishing. This means I have to read the story in its entirety with a few specific things in mind.
Flow. Does the story move smoothly, or does it feel disjointed? Sometimes I’ve got the right stuff, it’s just in the wrong order. By shifting around a couple of scenes or even approaching the scene from a different POV, things feel more organic, like they were meant to be that way. Sometimes I have to delete things. Flow is important. If something trips you up or doesn’t feel right, then some tweaking might be in order.
Continuity. Things sometimes change as I’m writing.
Tightening. Do I have repeated words? Can sentences be rephrased to be more succinct? Do I really need all that description of something in chapter six after I’ve already talked about it in chapter two?
Hooks and chapter endings.This is important. We don’t want a reader to sigh with contentment as they close the book at the end of chapter seven, set the book aside and go to sleep. No, we want to leave them hanging so they can’t wait to move onto chapter eight. Some of the greatest compliments a writer can hear are things like, “I couldn’t put it down,” or “You kept me up late because I couldn’t stop reading.” Save the satisfying ending for the end of the book. But hook the reader at the end of each scene so they want to keep reading.
Completing your manuscript is always something to be celebrated. But don’t be so eager to send it off that you overlook that all important polishing process. Remember, the hard work is already done. So you may as well take just a little more time to make sure it shines.
Writers, what tips do you have for polishing your manuscripts? Readers, what makes a book one you can’t put down? Leave a comment for a chance to win a copy of my upcoming release, Their Yuletide Healing (print US only, digital for international). And check out the book trailer HERE!
As her plans unravel, can she give her children what they truly need?
Foster mom Rae Girard’s determined to make her children’s first Christmas with her the best they’ve ever had—and she’s shocked when the town scrooge, attorney Cole Heinsohn, offers to pitch in. Rae’s young charges have melted Cole’s heart, and he wants them to experience the special day he never had. But when disaster strikes, an imperfect holiday might bring them something better: a family…
by Lisa Jordan
I glanced at my calendar to see what today’s to-do list entailed. I saw I had a blog post due for Seekerville. I’d been pondering a topic, but nothing concrete had come to mind. I decided to work on something else and then I’d go back to the blog post.
As I began working on my characters’ backstories for my new novel, I sneezed, reached for a tissue, and realized I had grabbed the last one. So I broke down the box, tossed it in the recycling and went to retrieve a new box. But along the way, my dog needed to go outside, so I took her to the door. On the way back to get the box of tissues, I noticed an empty dish in the living room. I grabbed it and took it to the kitchen. I set it in the sink and realized I had started to brew a cup of tea but never finished it. I carried the reheated tea back to my writing chair and started to sit when my dog scratched at the door to come back inside. I let her in, gave her a treat, then refilled her water dish. On the way back from the kitchen I glanced at the few dishes in the sink and decided to put them in the dishwasher. But first I needed to empty it. As I emptied the dishwasher, a puddle of water from an upturned bowl spilled on the floor. So I grabbed a towel and wiped it up. I tossed the towel in the bathroom hamper and noticed my hair brush still on the counter. I put it away, then decided to give the bathroom a quick wipe-down. I returned to the kitchen, finished the dishwasher, and reloaded the few dirty dishes. I gave the counters a quick wipe, then headed back to my computer. I sat, grabbed my cup of tea, and then sneezed again.
I had forgotten to grab the fresh box of tissues.
Okay, I admit not all of my days go like this. I can be pretty linear with my to-do list—I focus on one job until it’s done. However, there are days when my mental train of thought would be a good plot for Laura Numeroff’s If You Give… series. And the same goes when it’s time to write. If I’m not focused on that day’s particular goal, I’m as distracted as Dug in Up.
So how’s a writer to distance himself or herself from distractions when the writing needs to get done?
Many of us who frequent Seekerville on a regular basis have multitudes of distractions every day. We have spouses, families, careers, additional day jobs, church responsibilities, pets, community engagements, and extracurricular activities to manage.
I’m the kind of person who needs to plan out my day. If I don’t, then I don’t have the right focus to get things done. I also like a routine, and that goes for my writing as well. I don’t thrive in chaos. So when life throws curveballs, I do try to be flexible by rolling with flare-ups need to be dealt with that day.
These habits, while not perfect, have helped me to establish the necessary boundaries and writing routine in order to grow my career.
Your Turn: What do you do to distance distractions so you can get words on the page.
Mindy here. Lisa is giving away a copy of her new release, The Father He Deserves, to one lucky commenter (US mailing addresses only, please).
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