Hey! I’m Organic!

A friend and fellow writer, Doug Danielson, recently asked if I minded him referring to me as an ‘organic writer’ in his blog. I told him I’d been called worse and gave my assent. Then I looked it up, not having a clue what it meant. Turns out the term was accurate as applied to me; an organic writer is one who writes without an outline, following his story where it leads him. It is often called ‘writing by the seat of the pants.’ That’s pretty much my style. I find no fault with those who prefer to outline their fiction before writing, and I can see a good deal of merit to the method. But it’s not for me. Not in the least.

I write thriller fiction. That requires of course at least a loose conception of a plot. And to insert a theme which may certainly invite debate  – and a future blog – I believe that a thriller by its nature is plot driven, not character driven. The characters are revealed and enriched by their reactions to dangerous deeds done by dastardly dudes, but the plot drives the action. Opposing opinions invited. 

But back to the organic stuff. When I begin a novel, I have an idea for the premise. If the premise involves science, technology or geopolitics, I will have researched the topic to know something about it and to make sure it will serve the plot. Beyond that, I generally am fortunate to have a very clear image of the beginning – the first five to ten pages – a general idea of the end, but little or no idea what will happen between the two. For that great fuzzy 300 – 400 pages of in between, I rely not on ‘seat of the pants’ but rather ‘keeping butt in seat.’ It’s discipline. It’s working daily to reach a word count. Some days the work is easy and productive, other days it’s pure hell to drag out a thousand words. Maybe outliners avoid the hellish days. I wonder.

With the organic method, you don’t have a road map and may write yourself into a corner, or worse, a dead end. Well, that’s what re-writing is for. Maybe outliners do less re-writing. I wonder. 

Let me give you a ‘for instance’ of organic writing working well for me.

I’m at work on the second novel in my Jock Boucher series. If you’ve read Ice Fire, the first in the series, you know of the friendship between our hero Judge Jock Boucher and Detective Fitch of the New Orleans Police Department. Early in the second novel, Fitch picks up Boucher at his home to take him fishing. There’s a hubcap missing on Fitch’s car. I had no idea why I included that detail. Pages later Fitch, who lost his wife to Katrina, tells Boucher he has met a woman. In a parking lot she pointed out the missing hubcap, he cursed, she chastized him for his foul language, he apologized and asked her for coffee. I had no intention introducing this minor character beyond giving the crusty old cop a little human interest, then it turns out the sweet, innocuous matron he’s just met plays a major role in tracking down an assassin. No one was more surprised at her role than I, and I can’t conceive how she might have appeared in an outline. But then I’m no good at outlines.

But I can tell you what a pleasure it is when such revelations come; those turning points you were writing toward guided only by your subconscious. For me it’s one of the highs of the creative process and I don’t want the surprise ruined by some dry, mathmatical outline that I’m following like a soldier slugging through a muddy field.

I know not what course others may take, but I’ll take the organic route. Every time. 

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My Cat Can Read!


Look. You can see for yourself. Not only can she read but she has great tast in literature, my novel Ice Fire.

She has every right to read over my shoulder. My muse was there from conception of the plot and characters through every phase of creation.

Most of the time she slept on my desk next to my computer, except when the computer was in my lap, which is of course was where she decided she wanted to be. Between her and the computer, she always won or at least tied. You wouldn’t think a lap could hold a nineteen inch laptop and a cat at the same time, but with extreme care, using the armrests of a desk chair and contorting into positions a yoga master would envy, it can be done.

She was so generous and considerate to me through all those hours, weeks and months. Whenever I was stuck for words or ideas, she let me stroke her, never complaining, actually purring through it all. How selfless is that?

I owe her a lot. I adore her and am so grateful for her company. I wouldn’t be surprised if, on some other-worldly plane, she was transmitting thoughts and suggestions to me throughout the creative process. Perhaps in the after-life we’ll meet again and she’ll say to me, ‘The idea for that plot twist in Ice Fire, where do you think THAT came from?’

Maybe that was what she was looking for in the pictured reading session. The photo was taken just before she asked me to turn the page.

Now I have to confess to you that she does have one fault. Yes. My muse. One tiny flaw. Now don’t tell her I told you this, and I know it’s hard to see in a snap-shot and I didn’t shoot a video. But if you look carefully you might spot it. When she reads, her lips move.

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Meet Jock Boucher, the Renegade Cajun Federal Judge in Ice Fire, A Thriller

Only in New Orleans.

Let’s face it. Certain locations are known for the idiosyncratic behavior of their locals and if one were to compose a list of cities where unique personalities abound, The Big Easy would be found near the top. Why? Certainly the rich mixture of its cultures and cuisine, its history and traditions are formative elements of character, in the sense of personal standards and moral fiber, and characters, in the sense of true individualists who march to the beat of their own drummer.

Federal Judge Jock Boucher is a renegade because he does not limit the search for justice to his courtroom. In Ice Fire he gets to the bottom of things in the most literal sense, going almost five miles down to the bottom of the ocean in a three-man submarine to confirm facts to his own satisfaction – and almost loses his life in the process.

He’s a renegade because though a judge, when he’s threatened he meets force with equal force, dispensing justice with his bare hands when necessary – and not hesitant in the least to enforce the death penalty. And bad guys who make the mistake of threatening Jock’s life while trespassing on his property? His beloved antebellum home in the French Quarter? You can be sure there will be no mercy for these guys from his court.

To confess, there’s an element of vengeance in his judgments – especially when someone he cares for is in danger. He’ll single-handedly take on a gang of gorillas outside a Zydeco roadside bar to protect his lady, and when innocent women who have trusted him end up killed by villains who will stop at nothing to achieve their aims, his retribution knows no bounds. He’ll get them; even if it means he has to set himself up as bait. Fear is not a factor with Jock Boucher.

Fearless renegade though he may be, he is not a rock. He can be brought down by his girlfriend’s failure to call him on the phone. A woman’s harsh word can hurt him more than a crashing fist – or a well-aimed bullet.

He’s a man’s man, a former competitive boxer who stays fit and whose best friend is a New Orleans Detective. Their conversations involve mostly blood and bullets. But his passion is collecting antique furniture for his historic French Quarter home. Huh? What’s that about?

He’s a ladies’ man because he’s attractive, successful, intelligent and thoughtful. But he’s conflicted. He’s torn between commitment to a relationship, and commitment to doing in dirt bags. And the latter seems to be a full-time occupation.

OK, so maybe such a character can be found in many places. But the manager of perhaps the finest hotel in New Orleans told me that Jock Boucher reminded him of many of his clients.

That’s good enough for me.

Posted in Action/Adventure, African American, Favorite Posts, Legal, Professional, Suspense, Thrillers | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment


I made a couple of mistakes in my last blog and want to thank alert readers Don from Denver and Lois from Louisville for bringing the most blatant of these errors to my attention.

I misspelled enchilada, and believe me I should know better. I spelled it with two ‘l’s.’ In Spanish, two ‘l’s is pronounced ‘y’ which would make it’s pronunciation enchi-YADA, which might be fine for an old Seinfeld episode, but does not sound nearly as appetizing. I should have edited more carefully. Mea Culpa. Which is Latin for ‘I thought nobody would notice.’

My second error was a bit more subtle. I was addressing the topic of rewriting and said that a manuscript is written and rewritten in its initial creation. That could be misconstrued and since I feel it a matter of some importance I’d like to be a bit more precise.

My actual practice is quite the opposite. When I begin a novel, I do not backtrack and check for errors and I do not rewrite along the way, not in the first draft. Yes, I will often start a writing session going back about five pages before my stopping point, but that’s just to read and regain the feel of the pacing I had when I stopped – not to check for errors. I feel it is very important to begin at the beginning and end at the end and write at the most consistent pace possible from one point to the other.

I have known people who agonize and rewrite through every phase of their writing. They rarely finish their work.

One of the reasons I favor writing to the end and completing the first draft before going back to the beginning to rewrite, is that the ending you first imagine may change drastically from your original conception as you get deeper into your story and your characters develop. That third chapter you spent weeks fretting over may wind up having little or no relation to the new conclusion. All that time, lost.

They say there’s time enough for sleep beyond the grave. There’ll be time enough for rewriting when you get to those two welcome words, The End, though you’ll find them to be imposters. When you first arrive at ‘the end,’ you’ll only discover that you’ve really reached a whole new beginning.

Savor the journey.

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On re-re-rewriting

I was just reminded (re-reminded?) that Hemingway rewrote his ending to A Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times (or forty-seven times depending on the source).

Considering that a novel-length manuscript can be re-written any number of times during its initial creation, then again before giving it to first readers for their impression, then again after taking into account their comments, at least a few more times before submission to an agent, a few more times before the agent’s submission to a publisher, then if accepted, a number of times with a content editor, then again when the manuscript is in production and the fine tooth comb of a managing editor’s staff is brought into play. Let’s see, that’s a process of several years, so, thirty-nine times? Forty-seven times? Yep, that sounds about right.

But wait. That’s not for just a memorable ending phrase, that’s the whole magilla; no scratch that. The whole ball of wax. No, that’s not it. The Big Enchillada. We’ll go with that. What I mean is, in the years that it takes to go from the first words written on the first page of a first draft to a published novel, I would not be surprised to find that I have re-read and re-written the book forty times before the public sees it.

That’s not to say that I have changed every word, and in effect written forty distinct novels, but that there are changes with each and every edit, and the end product may look quite different from the original. I remember an author saying, ‘if you can’t write a three-hundred page novel then have the courage to scrap it entirely and start over at page one, then don’t bother.’ That’s a bit extreme, but he makes a point.

I remember completing my first novel. I had it stuffed into an envelope and mailed to agents before the ink was dry. It was replete with typos and grammatical errors and I didn’t have a clue about proper manuscript format. And it was accepted immediately by one of the top literary agents in the U.K.

How delighted I was to be invited to have tea with the owner of the agency at her London office in the neighborhood where Charles Dickens had once walked. She praised my work and suggested a few changes. A few WHAT?? Perfection was not achieved on the first pass?

Re-writing was painful in those early days. I believed my first draft to be so sacrosanct, I would print out the whole thing and preserve it, keeping the original draft in hard copy as a reference when making subsequent changes on later computer files. The man hours involved in the organizational process alone was so very tedious, and the boxes of draft manuscripts filled a garage.

I’m all grown up now. Cut, slash, delete, and often add. I do all of the above to the original draft thinking not of the beginning, but the end product. I guess the downside is that no anthology of my work will ever include a reference to my thirty-nine re-writes, or forty-seven, depending on the source.

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