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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Odd Jobs

I was thinking today about all the various ways writers develop. not just through classes on composition and structure, but through real life experiences. I have been asked several times about my characters, whether or not they are based on real people, and I am always happy answer that yes, I know each and every one of my characters very well. Most of the time, they are amalgams of several people I've met through the years. Some are hyper versions of real people I know or have read about, enhancing certain characteristics necessary for the story.

But just exactly how did I meet these people? Well, the truth is I haven't always been a writer, or a therapist for that matter. I actually spent a lot of time working for a living, doing an odd assortment of jobs that exposed me to "the human condition", (a fancy term for saying I have kept my eyes open during my working life). And as a direct result, I have the framework for most all of the characters I use in my stories. The following are the jobs I consider my source material:
- Hanging aluminum siding with my Dad and uncle
- Teaching guitar lessons
- Page at the local library
- Babysitter (and that was while I was in college)
- Warehouseman and line stocker at an aerosol plant that made breath spray and perfume
- Warehouseman in a liquor warehouse (still have my Teamsters card)
- Limo driver (during a period of intense character development)
- Bouncer at a campus bar
- Ergonomics and Safety Consultant

I left a few things out, like collecting garbage and mowing lawns as part of the maintenance crew in college, setting up and breaking down for YMCA bingo every Sunday night for 6 months, and other glamorous positions. My point is we all have a treaure chest of characters in our past, and all of them have a story to be told, and are dying to be part of yours. So now that I've shared my odd jobs, I'd love to hear about some of yours...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Interview With Henry Gravelle: Changing Channels

Henry Gravelle is one of the most prolific and talented writers I have had the good fortune to meet in my career, and I recently had the opportunity to ask him some questions regarding his recent foray into Westerns with Doc Jacobi and his Apaloosa, Belle.

1. Henry, most readers know you for your crime and mystery writing, so it comes as a little bit of a surprise that you have a new western series featuring Doc Jacobi. Tell us a little about the good doctor?
I’m not sure about being a “good” Doctor, well, not completely. He does offer his Confederate trained doctoring to local towns lacking in medical needs, but will be the local law as well, and in however he has to.  His Appaloosa, named Bell, shares thoughts with the Doc concerning their latest predicament and is his trusty sidekick. Their relationship is what I think solidifies the characters and brings a twist to the usual western yarn.

2. What prompted the shift from the mean streets to the “wide open spaces?”
I guess it was out of boredom with crime, so I put it aside for while. I feel remaining in a Genre for long makes a writer stale. One should try every outlet available, you never know unless you dive in. I always liked westerns, having grown up with the Cartwrights, Marshal Dillon, Rowdy Yates, and the Virginian. Mix that with a fascination of History and the “real” West, and presto - Doc Jacobi.

3. You've got two books in the series so far, "Black Knife" and "Garrison Creek." What can you tell me about them?
In “Black Knife” the first in the series, the Doc saves an Indian who names the Doc “Black Knife” for his black handled scalpels. He and Bell are also involved in the tracking of two men who brutally murdered a storeowner and an Indian woman. The Doc has to find them before the local Indians begin retaliation raids against the towns.  Garrison Creek is one of the towns the Doc covers. Here he deals with swindlers selling worthless mine claims. They have also stolen a prize stallion from a wealthy rancher who is hunting them. I liked this story for the wonderful ending that is really a beginning. 

4. Will you be keeping up with the adventures of Doc Jacobi?
Yes, I have four more I work on between a short foreign language film I am planning called, “der Vordere Platz” (The Forward Place), a TV pilot for “Bogieville”, a feature film script for HOBO, and I am involved with the pre-production of a feature film, “The Igloo Boys” derived from another of my novellas  – Giddy up!

5. Lastly, "Gunner's Rift' is the latest of your stories to make it to film. Congrats, and please tell the readers all about it.
Gunner’s Rift is adapted from my novella of the same name. I co-wrote the script in pre-production now in NYC. This crime story is one of my best, hopefully to be filmed this summer. Fingers crossed.

6. Where can we check out the trailer?

The trailer for Gunner’s Rift is available on Face Book, the “Gunner’s Rift” page, my Face Book page, or on my web site at  There are also a few other videos of upcoming films and books.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Questions All Readers Ask

When a reader picks up your story, or opens the cover of your masterpiece breakout novel, they truly want to like it. They want to root for the characters, feel the setting, and be transported and entertained. There is a sort of honeymoon period that you enter into with your readers. It generally lasts for the first few paragraphs in a short story, and the first few pages in a novel. Within that short honeymoon phase, you need to answer the three questions all readers ask unconsciously as they advance through the story.

1.      Yeah? So what?

Why should the reader care what’s happening in the story? Why should I invest my time in your story and not go turn on the television? I’ve seen this thing happen in books thousands of times, so what makes this any different?

2.      Really?

That isn’t the way things happen in the real world. I don’t know anyone who would do something like that. How dumb does this guy think we all are? This writer doesn’t have a clue…I’m done with this story.

3.      What?

What’s happening here? I have no idea who’s talking to who, no idea what just happened. When did that happen? Either this guy can’t write, or I can’t read. It doesn’t matter, this isn’t worth my time.

Your job, as the teller of the tale, is to answer the questions your readers have. When they say so what, you have to give them a reason to care about the characters. When they ask really, what they need to know is that the plot is feasible and makes sense, and persuades the readers to suspend their belief system enough to allow your story to unfold. And when they ask what, it’s your job to provide a clarity that allows them to follow the dialogue and action to the next event in a way that propels the reader through the story. The ability to answer these questions will allow you to make a great first impression on your audience, and hold their attention as they trust you to deliver the story you promised them.