Goals for 2020

Educational Goal:

Below are craft books I own that I have not read or partially read. Kind of sad, and more than a little embarrassing. My goal this year is to read one of these each month, not necessarily in this order:

The Secrets of Story by Matt Bird

GMC: Goal, Motivation, and Conflict by Debra Dixon

Story Genius by Lisa Cron

Wired for Story by Lisa Cron

Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

Creating Character Arcs by K.M. Weiland

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

Plot and Structure by James Scott Bell

Revising Your Novel by Janice Hardy

The Art of Perspective by Christopher Castellani

The Last Fifty Pages by James Scott Bell

Write Your Novel From the Middle by James Scott Bell

Blog goal:

I want to post 20 in 2020.  Hopefully, I can do a short post regarding what I’ve learned in each month’s craft book and then eight other posts throughout the year. 

Project goals:

For my latest work-in-progress, It’s Raining Men, I want to have it beta-reader ready by March 1. I haven’t selected a next project, so I’ll have to do that by March 1, while my other works are in limbo. 

In the realm of goals I can’t control, I hope to find an agent for The Color of Trauma this year. 

I’ve got high hopes for 2020!

Gratitude

Writing is a solitary act. But being a writer doesn’t have to be. I am so lucky to be surrounded by such an awesome writing community. Here are just some of the groups that made my year:

The Fictioneers

This is my critique group. Susan, Dani, Carolyn, Meg, and Rae. Without these women, my work would be a shadow of what it is now. They always tell me the truth but with kindness and support. It’s hard to make adult friends, let alone friends as kick-ass as these guys. When I feel lost, when I feel like an imposter, when I’m unsure where to go in my writing, these are the first people I approach, and they’re there for me. Love these women!

OCWW

Off-Campus Writers’ Workshop. Almost every Thursday from September to May, there is a speaker. Some are “famous” like Stuart Dybek and Rebecca Makkai. Some aren’t as well known. Regardless, I learn something every week! It’s a pain in the ass to get up to Winnetka by 9:30 a.m., but I don’t regret the hassle. I’ve gotten great inspiration and notes that I can look back on later and hone my writing craft. And I’m finally at a point where I know quite a few people, and it’s more like family than indifferent colleagues. Large groups are hard for me, but I know enough people now that I’m comfortable. It’s been a great source of socialization and learning. 

Just Write Chicago

Almost every Friday since October of 2013 I’ve met writers at New Wave Cafe for a few hours of independent writing and an hour of discussion. I took about a four month hiatus when my son was little, but other than that, I’ve been a consistent attendant. I’ve been running the Friday meeting for a while now, and I’ve loved the flux and flow of people. My favorite thing is when people become regulars. We’ve got quite a few, and it’s inspiring to see people progress in their projects. It’s been a wonderful support system and a great way to give back and help other writers. I’m often amazed at all the insight members have for one another. No matter how much I struggle alone for the rest of the week, it’s a comfort to have this group every Friday to keep me connected to the community. 

Sisters In Crime

I recently re-joined this group this year. What a great organization! They have so many free events, free classes, and an excellent support system. The Chicagoland chapter kicks ass! Their Annual Writers’s Workshop was so informative and fun…and free!

Brainstorming/Accountability Group

Susan, Tracy, and Sheri. It was an honor to help weed through the problems and choices in all our stories. And the food was excellent. 

Family

No gratitude post would be complete without my biggest supporter ever, my husband, Randy. I’m beyond lucky to have him in my life…my alpha reader and biggest cheerleader (except for maybe Susan). And my son, Quinlan, who though he is not yet six has informed me that I’m a great writer. Also, a big shout out to our parents and siblings who’ve stepped in on numerous occasions to watch Quinlan so I could do writerly things. My family rocks!

I hope all the other writers out there have found their writing community–even if it’s only via the internet. Writers, in my experience, are very gracious and supportive of one another. Support others and let them support you. Find your tribe!

NaNoWriMo 2019

For this, my seventh NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) project, I struggled with choosing a project. Then I struggled with organizing the story. I wanted to do some plotting and planning. This is a frequent endeavor I try, ignoring the fact that it has never worked for me. It feels like it could work, though. So, I tried. Some of the research was fun.

The story I finally chose was tentatively called Cursed, a novel about a half-witch, half-demon woman who’s been under the pall of a bad luck curse for almost a decade. It’s a road trip novel. The woman’s been called by the magical Council to return to Chicago. The Shifter-Sorcerer Enforcer sent to issue the summons breaks her protection charm while under the influence of a bad luck jag. So, he’s got to escort her back to Chicago. As part of my research, I looked up what problems can befall someone on a road trip. Conflict gold! I worked on the heritage of my magical characters. I had a rough outline of major plot points. It was more prep than I usually do for NaNoWriMo. The start was good, and I always kept ahead of my word goals. However, the story lacked spark, and it took me forever to get the characters moving. About twenty days in, I really wanted to switch to another project. This one wasn’t exciting. Flat. I made myself persevere. I think the issue is that I didn’t feel a close connection with the main protagonist.

Overall, though I made my 50K word goal, I think of the overall project as more failure than success. All words written help further the craft, so it’s not a fling-myself-on-the-bed-and-cry sort of failure. In fact, I learned a very valuable lesson about the importance of not just character development, but character attachment. Other writers might be able to write perfectly well without an intimate connection, but I know now that it doesn’t work for me. It’s also opened me up to some of my other works in progress. I have another project where I’m iffy on the plot but have a great feel for the character. Now I know to work on that project next. Sure, a 50K+ lesson is a bit steep, but valuable nonetheless. 

Writing is a loooong process, and there are plenty of ups and downs. The key is to keep going, keep moving forward. I’m looking forward to taking a break in December to shore up the lessons for the January Savvy Authors class I’m teaching, “Unsticking Your Story.” Then, instead of cleaning up or continuing my NaNo project, I’ll turn back to It’s Raining Men, then when that’s ready for beta readers, I’ll work on my next novel, The Kybalions

4 The Words 4 the Win

I thought I wanted to write a blog post about cultivating a daily writing practice. But, what I really want to write about is my own daily writing practice.  Maybe I would have been able to do it without 4 The Words, but I’m still going to give them credit. It would have been a much harder habit to form without all the support of this website. 

4 The Words www.4thewords.com is a web application that basically makes a role-playing game out of writing.  There are monsters to battle (word goals with timed limits), quests to complete, wardrobes to acquire, and goals to be met.  According to the 4 The Words standards, I have to write 444 words a day to consider it a complete day of writing. Lucky for me, I’m a quick writer, so this isn’t a monstrous goal. If you’re a slow writer, you could always write in Word and then paste into the specific file in 4 The Words.  It’s not cheating if it gets you where you want to go. 

It gets better.  4 the Words counts the writing days and tallies my streak of consecutive days writing.  As of today, I am on an 859 day word streak.  That’s really motivating, because who wants to break a streak that long?  Not me!  After a one year streak, you win a pair of gorgeous angel wings.  They are bigger at the two year streak.  At the three year streak, I can win fire wings.  Fire wings!  For some people, that might not be a big deal, but for me, that’s motivation!  There are items called stempos that can be bought or won that can cover a missed day (it takes two per day covered), so an actual missed day of writing won’t kill a killer streak. In the past three years or so, I’ve used less than ten. In 2018, I missed only one day, and that was one where I wrote some, but was at the Writer’s Police Academy all day and was too exhausted to finish the 444.   

According to expert Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, the cornerstones of habit forming are: cue, routine, and reward:

“If you want to start running each morning, it’s essential that you choose a simple cue (like always lacing up your sneakers before breakfast or leaving your running clothes next to your bed) and a clear reward (such as a midday treat, a sense of accomplishment from recording your miles, or the endorphin rush you get from a jog). But countless studies have shown that a cue and a reward, on their own, aren’t enough for a new habit to last. Only when your brain starts expecting the reward–craving the endorphins or sense of accomplishment-will it become automatic to lace up your jogging shoes each morning. The cue, in addition to triggering a routine, must also trigger a craving for the reward to come.”

For me, 4 the Words covers all three items.  The cue is sitting down to my computer, and checking out my questbook (lists of monsters to beat in order to win a certain prize or prizes). Then I select which monsters I want to fight in order to further my quest goals and reach at least 444 words.  After that, I start writing! Once I’ve defeated my monster, I go back the questbook to admire the progress I’ve made (the site gives a percentage for how close you are to completing the quest).  There’s my small reward.  When I can actually complete a quest, that’s a bigger reward.  After hitting certain benchmarks, I get even bigger rewards. In addition to my wings, the site gives prizes for streaks, so I can check and see what prizes are on the way. 

The site also has special promotions and quests throughout the year.  The biggest, of course, is in November for National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), but they also run special events for both camp NaNos in April and July, Valentine’s Day events, Halloween, Pride, something for their anniversary.  All of these give me an extra push every so often.  That’s motivating too. 

The site isn’t free, but it’s pretty cheap and priceless for me. They give a free month for people to see if it will work for them, so I encourage all writers to take advantage and see if it motivates them. The support staff is fantastic, too.  They’re constantly upgrading and making changes, and if anything goes wrong, they are very responsive.  It’s also got a great community.  If you’re having struggles or questions or just want to be goofy, there’s a forum for you to post. They also have a section where you can post your work, but I don’t use that feature, so I don’t have much to add about it. 

Anyway, 4 the Words has been my path to building a consistent writing practice.  There are many paths to get there, so don’t be discouraged if this one doesn’t work for you. Still, if you’d like to try, 4 The Words also offers rewards both ways for referrals with crystals, which is how the site is paid.  My code is YHOFN16526.  If anyone out there reading this wants to write every day, I hope you’ll give this a shot.  For me, it’s been an inspiration and a vehicle for success.  

Here’s my current character avatar:

My avatar has a serious more-is-more attitude. Check out all my bling and flair!

Critiques

Another blog post so soon? It’s almost as if I found a blog post I’d written over a month ago and just found it now…

Feedback is essential for good writing.  Sure, there is a “freak” segment of the population who can create in a vacuum, but this isn’t about those aberrations.  The trouble is, not all feedback is equal.  In fiction writing, there are so many elements:  plot, character, pacing, language, rhythm, and grammar.  All of it is subjective.  Even the grammar.  There’s this thing called “poetic license” which means a good writer can bend or even ignore grammar rules in service of an effect.  A good writer can play with punctuation, make a sentence run on and on, and form sentences without a noun or a verb.  Of course a bad writer can do all those things, too.  The difference is that a good writer can be forgiven for it—possibly even exalted for it. 

So, in the land of subjectivity, what makes a good critique?  For me, it’s a critique that improves the writer’s piece.  That can be accomplished in many ways:  finding grammatical errors (both intentional and unintentional), discovering holes in plots, moments that are confusing or boring, dialogue that doesn’t sound right, flow issues, underdeveloped characters, and the list goes on.  A given piece can have any number of problems and even more ways in which it could be “better.”  I put “better” in quotes because what makes something better for one person, might make it worse for someone else.  All of this is subjective.  

In my own work, there are so many elements to track, that I find it impossible to see everything with my own eyes.  I need those outside eyes and perspective, someone looking into the stories I write.  It’s always amazing to find out that something I thought was so clear wasn’t actually on the page.  It was still locked in my head.  Knowing that means I can work to try to make it clear, find a way for others to see a little bit more of what is in full bloom in my brain. 

I’ve gotten so much good feedback over my short career.*  Sometimes, someone will give me a specific critique and it opens up all these possibilities or gives me an insight as to how the story needs to change.  Sometimes, I get feedback, and I roll my eyes at myself.  Another comma splice, Hollie?  Seriously?  

There is also feedback that is worthless. General comments like, “I don’t care much for stories about angels.” Even positive feedback can be unhelpful. “I liked the writing.” Um. Okay. 

Then there is the feedback in middle. Sometimes, feedback that doesn’t ring true or doesn’t work for the author. Say I have a story I’m trying to write, and some gem inside is my inspiration. No matter how true or specific the feedback, asking me to change that core is something I’m going to reject every time. That’s someone else’s version of my story. Maybe my funky style of grammar doesn’t work for someone. I might change it. I might not.  

But what I really want to talk about is dark feedback. Every so often, a critique feels razor sharp, personal. My first instinct is to say, “Screw you.”** This is in my head (or out loud, but when I’m alone). My chest tightens; my stomach rolls. Every fiber of my being says “no.” It hurts.  

Here’s the thing, though, even mean, nasty, ill-intentioned feedback (or something perceived that way) can be valuable. Even if I like my run-on sentence, it’s valuable for me to look at it with a critical eye when someone is bothered by it. Maybe the way I like to paragraph isn’t the way my critiquer wants it paragrahed.*** If I consider their changes, sometimes, it makes it better, more clear. A person who hates the premise of my story, can still offer me ways to improve the premise I love.  And even more painful is the feedback that rings true. 

I do have issues sometimes with active voice. So, though I still mutter “Screw you”**, I re-work the sentence. My grammar is more intuitive than calculated, so I sometimes  forget to hyphenate compound adjectives or capitalize or don’t capitalize a proper noun. I make mistakes. Lots of mistakes. Having them discovered by someone else, a witness to my incompetence, is rough. 

The trick is to work past the pain and resentment. I wish I knew how to do it beyond just pushing it aside every time it flares. It would be nice to be the kind of person who could look at the information objectively and ignore the barbs. I can’t do it, so I solider on. The other trick is to not let the feedback stop me from writing. I’m as pain-avoiding as the next person—maybe more so. But, growing pains and blah, blah, blah. When the work is what’s important, what’s a little pain?  

At least it doesn’t hurt as much as eyebrow plucking. 

*Can I call what I do a career? Huh. I’m going to say yes, under the umbrella of poetic license. 

**I don’t actually say “screw”, but I’m trying to save my hardcore profanity for my fiction.

***Maybe you think “paragraph” can’t be turned into a verb. It totally can!

Oh Shit, It’s Due Tomorrow

Nothing like coming up to the end of the year to discover that I’m not coasting up to my goal for 2019, but lagging behind. Blog posts. Ugh. Still, eighteen was a good goal, 1.5 blog posts a month. And it’s early December, so welcome to the blog post cram!

So…how about some updates. 

Pitch Wars:  cue the “wah, wah” losing game show sound bit. Crickets. I didn’t hear a peep from anyone, and it was a pretty sad affair, too, because for the first two weeks, I cyber-stalked all my would-be mentors on Twitter, like, compulsively. Last year I pitched and got a nibble, but even then I was pretty chill about it. This year, for whatever reason, I really, really wanted to be picked. I’m talking jr. high levels of want. But, it was not to be. I panicked at first, as It’s Raining Men is my most marketable project by a city block. If nobody is interested in this little gem, I thought, I am completely screwed for life (I’m overly dramatic like that at times). In retrospect, I think I spent so much time getting the pitch and the synopsis ready that I didn’t consider the first ten pages enough. I’m re-working the beginning. So, though it was a disappointment, it made me look critically at the project and spot a weakness. This is a good thing. AND, it got my project close to ready for beta readers. The outside impetus to hit a goal was very helpful. Yay, me?

The Color of Trauma: I actually started pitching this bad girl to agents.  General consensus is to cool the pitching over the holidays, so I’m done for the year. I sent out eight queries altogether. So far, I’ve gotten three rejections (all form letters too, which is discouraging). These were all heavy hitters, though, so the rejections are expected. Still stung, though. There is a thing that writers sometimes do where they celebrate their rejections. I’ve never felt the appeal of that attitude, though I do understand it.  Personally, I just flinch and move on. Rejections are a part of writing…a big ol’ part…so this is the pain that will make eventual victory so sweet. After we’re a couple of weeks into January, I’ll start pitching again. 2020 is going to be a good year!

All right, update done.  Five more posts to go!

Pitch Wars

They say waiting is the hardest part—at least according to Tom Petty. But I think he’s right.  I submitted my newest manuscript, It’s Raining Men, to four potential mentors for Pitch Wars.  The struggle to get the novel up to snuff was overwhelming.  There were several days when I just shut down—no progress made, despite a hard deadline.  I’m typically motivated by hard deadlines, so this was unlike me—and not in a good way. Overall, I’m a very disciplined writer.  I write every day—holidays, my birthday, my kid’s birthday, vacations.  I write, and I like to write.  But, even though I broke everything down into manageable bites, my brain was not having it. How did I get through it?  Manhandling myself.  And giving myself permission to phone it in for several days.  I made the pitch deadline with, like, four hours to spare, overachiever that I am. Of course, the manuscript itself wasn’t there yet.  Close, but not there.  

Since the pitch for Pitch Wars is the first ten pages, a query, and a synopsis, the hard deadline was only hard for those three items.  After the deadline, I pushed myself to get the entire manuscript finished.  Luckily, I got a big push by my critique group.  My turn just happened to be right at the time submissions were due.  The feedback gave me a major push of inspiration, and I cranked out a fresh climax and spruced up the ending.  It took me about a week to get it ready, and I haven’t looked at it since.  

Me being me, as soon as the novel was truly ready, I was like, “Hey, why hasn’t anyone requested the full manuscript yet?”  And the whole time, I’ve been stalking my four potential mentors on Twitter. Several times a day, I’m checking on any hints of progress.  I submitted late, so it makes sense that my stuff would be at the bottom of the pile.  That’s what I tell myself when I’m feeling optimistic. Unfortunately, there’s another side of myself that thinks the story I thought was brilliant in concept, maybe isn’t as brilliant as I thought.  Or maybe what I did with the concept isn’t good enough. 

Knowing that insecurities and anxiety are normal doesn’t really help. The problem is that people are incapable of seeing themselves objectively—and that goes double for a writer’s work.  Sure, we can have an inkling, and it gets more accurate with experience, but true objectivity is impossible. So, I can’t really pep talk myself logically or kick sand in my metaphorical face. All I can do is keep writing, keep learning, keep improving.  It isn’t easy, but I suppose that’s what makes it worthwhile in the end.  Success won by hard work and tenacity is much more satisfying than luck or even talent.  That’s what I’m telling myself.  

The show must go on.  Still, wish me some luck, will ya?

The Good, the Bad, and the Embarrassing

When I first won the Soon To Be Famous Illinois Author Manuscript contest (try saying that ten times fast), I was jittery with excitement to have the novel edited and a cover designed. It took me two weeks to take my already finished manuscript and make it the best I could. I printed it out and read it out loud, making changes. Then I contacted the contest people. They said in a few weeks they would be ready. 

Fast forward to August (over three months later). When they said they were almost ready, I was not at all excited. Then, suddenly, they were good to go. Even at that point, I wasn’t all that stoked. There was a form to fill out that required work on my part–a synopsis, adjectives to describe my work, things of that nature. The activity was stimulating, and I finished everything needed over the weekend. 

Then I submitted it. 

I expected to wait six to eight weeks, but I was told it would be finished by the end of the month. And it was!  

The cover was finished first. When I got the email, I was sitting at a coffee shop with two of my writing buddies. We were meeting to support one another on pitch preparations. It’s an awful task, so the accountability and dedicated time really helped. I got to show them the cover. 

We all agreed that it was amazing. And, though this will probably sound stupid, I’m going to say it. It was so professional looking! The cover totally looked like something you’d see at a bookstore. It was invigorating. 

Then yesterday, I got my copy editing feedback. By and large, it was very positive, which is always a relief. Pacing was good, characterization good, tone and style good (though some extra words could be deleted, which is always nice), dialogue authentic and in character (score!), and then there was grammar. 

Uh oh. 

Now, my grammar isn’t awful. I know the difference between to, too, and two as well as there, they’re, and their. However, I, apparently, don’t know the difference between convince and persuade (or rather, I use convince when I mean persuade). And I REALLY don’t know when to capitalize and when not to capitalize. I REALLY REALLY don’t know when to hyphenate.  Seriously, the poor editor probably got a headache from all the eye rolling while deleting and adding hyphens when needed–or not needed. The worst, however, was my insistence on the word “like” instead of “as if”. Kind of glad the whole thing was done via email so I didn’t have to look Ray (my editor) in the face as he explained when to use “like” and when “as if.” 

Of course, there were other errors of grammar/style, too. When I was in high school, I took a shorthand class–which sounds like a waste of time, but it enabled me to cuss out bosses right in front of their faces. Just doodling, nothing to see here. Anyway, at that time, the rule was that any number ten or under was written out. Larger numbers were depicted with numerals. This is for business correspondence, so it might still be the rule, but The Chicago Manual of Style says to write out numbers under 100. 

I should have also written out thirties and seventies and such, too. Times. My previous grammatical nemesis, the comma splice, made a few appearances. It’s particularly embarrassing when I’m making errors in areas I actually do know the rules about. 

There was a part of me gleeful at the grammar lesson, but I am equally sure I’ll forget most of it. This is why a professional editor is so important, especially for writers, like me, who intuit grammar. I’m so relieved that when I submit my manuscript, it won’t be perfect, but at least it won’t embarrass me. 

Let the pitching begin!

Next post: My plan is to break down some of the grammar errors I love to employ. Mostly, this is to help drive in my own head the rules so I don’t keep doing it. Prognosis: Fair. 

The Process

I had the pleasure of attending a Janet Burroway lecture this week. It would have been even better if I’d been on time.  For the second time this year, I had a time set in my mind that was a half hour off.  It’s correct in my calendar–both on the fridge and in my phone.  But, my stubborn brain didn’t bother looking it up.  I hope this is the time when I learn a lesson about scheduling.

Anyway, it’s always fascinating to hear about other author’s practices.  It amazes me how many ways there are to write and create.  My favorite quote of the night was, “Know thyself.”  You’ve got to love any kind of Shakespeare reference.  But, beyond that, the concept exactly nails down what I’ve been thinking about lately. 

As human beings, I think it’s natural for us to compare everything.  When I hear someone else’s writing philosophy or practice, I can’t help but hold it up against my own.  People who work like I do give me a nice, comforting feeling–they reinforce my inclinations.  Conversely, when I hear of someone who has every beat plotted before they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing it all wrong.  How nice it would be to sit down and just execute what I’ve already worked out. That’s how I want to be! I forget, for a moment (or several moments), that every time I try to outline, my brain gets itchy. 

I had the pleasure of attending a Janet Burroway lecture this week. It would have been even better if I’d been on time. For the second time this year, I had a time set in my mind that was a half hour off. It’s correct in my calendar–both on the fridge and in my phone. But, my stubborn brain didn’t bother looking it up. I hope this is the time when I learn a lesson about scheduling.

Anyway, it’s always fascinating to hear about other author’s practices. It amazes me how many ways there are to write and create. My favorite quote of the night was, “Know thyself.” You’ve got to love any kind of Shakespeare reference. But, beyond that, the concept exactly nails down what I’ve been thinking about lately. 

As human beings, I think it’s natural for us to compare everything. When I hear someone else’s writing philosophy or practice, I can’t help but hold it up against my own. People who work like I do give me a nice, comforting feeling–they reinforce my inclinations. Conversely, when I hear of someone who has every beat plotted before they put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing it all wrong. How nice it would be to sit down and just execute what I’ve already worked out. That’s how I want to be! I forget, for a moment (or several moments), that every time I try to outline, my brain gets itchy. Why are we sitting here making an outline? Let’s write. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to every method. And what works for me, works for me. Most importantly, it works. Discovering a process is really an exercise in acceptance. And everyone knows that life is so much better when living in acceptance. Now if I could just be the kind of person who confirms times in their calendar.

Why are we sitting here making an outline?  Let’s write. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to every method.  And what works for me, works for me.  Most importantly, it works.  Discovering a process is really an exercise in acceptance.  And everyone knows that life is so much better when living in acceptance. Now if I could just be the kind of person who confirms times in their calendar.

Story and Truth

Research was key in The Color of Trauma.  For one, I really wanted the police part of the story, the part that’s “real”, to be as accurate as possible. Lucky for me, I’ve got a Chicago police source close to home as an alpha reader (first person to read my work).  He was invaluable, because what I think I know about police procedures comes mostly from fiction books, films, and TV.  It turns out, that stuff is often wrong.  I received a lot of “that wouldn’t happen” and “he’d never say that” or “he should ask about…” comments. I was also able to talk to a Sergeant who works in the Detective Division, though not Homicide, specifically. That man was a gold mine.  He dropped lingo everywhere, and I was like a kid who just got a pony for her birthday.  Most of it made it into the book.  

There are also details that few will appreciate, but they’re accurate.  Homicide, in Chicago, is broken up into three areas:  North, South, and Central.  My protagonist works in Area Central, which operates out of Chicago’s second district.  I was able to tour the detective room one night.  It did NOT look anything like I imagined, which was wood desks pushed up against one another for partnered pairs.  Kind of like Cagney and Lacey or maybe Barney Miller.  It was disappointing at first.  Just rows of long tables with computers and phones.  Detectives don’t have their own desks!  Still, I didn’t need them to have desks, so the description of the detective room is accurate to the best of my memory.  I got to see the interview rooms, too.  Tiny!  No desks.  No chairs. No one-way glass.  Not all of them with cameras.  For the book, I took liberties.  I also added a conference room completely from my imagination.  Accuracy was important, but not at the expense of the story.  

In that vein, in Chicago, Homicide operates in pairs of four, for a total of eight officers per team, but I cut it down to six.  I didn’t want that many side characters for readers to have to remember.  They rotate who runs lead on cases, and this I kept in the novel, as well as their schedule.  They rotate days off, 4 on and 2 off. I probably killed an entire tree printing calendars working out the timeline of the story. I marked on days and off days, using a few events in the story as markers. I even found that particular day-off group in the CPD calendar. Authenticity, yo. In total, it probably took me 4-6 hours just to work out the dates.

To keep it as timely as possible for, you know, future generations, I don’t ever specify the year, but, calendar-wise, it takes place in 2019. I first selected 2017, then 2018, before reaching 2019, which worked best because I could stretch the timeline out the longest that way. Because I was editing in early 2019 and the novel takes place in the summer, I had the weird experience of consciously living through the dates in my nov

Research was key in The Color of Trauma. For one, I really wanted the police part of the story, the part that’s “real”, to be as accurate as possible. Lucky for me, I’ve got a Chicago police source close to home as an alpha reader (first person to read my work). He was invaluable, because what I think I know about police procedures comes mostly from fiction books, films, and TV. It turns out, that stuff is often wrong. I received a lot of “that wouldn’t happen” and “he’d never say that” or “he should ask about…” comments. I was also able to talk to a Sergeant who works in the Detective Division, though not Homicide, specifically. That man was a gold mine. He dropped lingo everywhere, and I was like a kid who just got a pony for her birthday. Most of it made it into the book.

There are also details that few will appreciate, but they’re accurate. Homicide, in Chicago, is broken up into three areas: North, South, and Central. My protagonist works in Area Central, which operates out of Chicago’s second district. I was able to tour the detective room one night. It did NOT look anything like I imagined, which was wood desks pushed up against one another for partnered pairs. Kind of like Cagney and Lacey or maybe Barney Miller. It was disappointing at first. Just rows of long tables with computers and phones. Detectives don’t have their own desks! Still, I didn’t need them to have desks, so the description of the detective room is accurate to the best of my memory. I got to see the interview rooms, too. Tiny! No desks. No chairs. No one-way glass. Not all of them with cameras. For the book, I took liberties. I also added a conference room completely from my imagination. Accuracy was important, but not at the expense of the story.

In that vein, in Chicago, Homicide operates in pairs of four, for a total of eight officers per team, but I cut it down to six. I didn’t want that many side characters for readers to have to remember. They rotate who runs lead on cases, and this I kept in the novel, as well as their schedule. They rotate days off, 4 on and 2 off. I probably killed an entire tree printing calendars working out the timeline of the story. I marked on days and off days, using a few events in the story as markers. I even found that particular day-off group in the CPD calendar. Authenticity, yo. In total, it probably took me 4-6 hours just to work out the dates.

To keep it as timely as possible for, you know, future generations, I don’t ever specify the year, but, calendar-wise, it takes place in 2019. I first selected 2017, then 2018, before reaching 2019, which worked best because I could stretch the timeline out the longest that way. Because I was editing in early 2019 and the novel takes place in the summer, I had the weird experience of consciously living through the dates in my novel. I had a moment where I thought, “This is the day my protagonists meet.”  And maybe I took a few moments to imagine my book was real. Of course, I also had the dissatisfaction of having the weather not mirror my narrative. Seriously, Mother Nature?

I’m of the belief that reality and facts bow to the story. Still, it’s important to have as much truth as possible.