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.

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Errata

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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Writer’s Rewards

The postscript to my novel Ice Fire predicts that we will be hearing a lot more about methane hydrate, an alternative energy source currently being studied by nations around the world. I was right in my prediction, but not in the way I imagined.

Last week I tuned in to the first episode of the new TNT series, Dallas. The series opened with Bobby Ewing’s adopted son Christopher sitting at a country club table with potential investors. He pulls from a pressurized container a clump of ice and lights it on fire. Methane hydrate. Ice Fire. His pursuit of alternative energy sets him on a collision course with John Ross, J.R. Ewing’s full-blooded (hot-blooded?) son, a wanna-be oil barron. Let the internecine family rivalries begin.

Though not the first – and obviously not the last – to incorporate this exotic and potentially dangerous form of energy in a work of fiction, it was rewarding to get an idea out there that others also find interesting.

On a different but no less rewarding note, this small vignette was recently passed on to me by a friend. She was discussing my book with the manager of her local book store. After she left a woman who had overheard  a part of their conversation asked the manager which book they were discussing. She was told and bought my book. She liked it so much that she came back and bought the audio book which she plans to introduce and incorporate into her ‘friendship club’ over the next few weeks.

Both of these occurrences are small matters, perhaps insignificent in the larger scheme of things. But they are one writer’s rewards, part of what keeps a writer toiling at the computer hour after hour, day after day. Writers, keep your eyes open and treasure your own rewards whenever they occur, however small they may be. The stuff that dreams are made of, they are sufficient unto themselves.

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Reading and Writing; The Worst and Best Advice I Ever Received

First, the worst advice.

When my first stab at a novel was accepted – and by a well-known and respected U.K. agent – I thought I’d better learn something about writing. I was living in London, went to the nearest bookstore and bought a truck load, small truck, of books on how to write. I don’t remember much about them with one exception. I recall a published author stating that he never did any reading for pleasure while he was working on a novel, for fear another writer’s work might somehow influence his own. Novice that I was, I thought this well-intended advice had a certain logic. So while working on my own creations in those early days I eschewed the work of others. I did not read fiction. It was, for me at least, terrible, terrible advice.

What was I thinking? How did I expect to learn? By osmosis? I could write a rather lengthy book merely expressing the state of my ignorance about writing at the time. I did not know what tools of the craft I lacked because I did not know what the tools of the craft were. Et cetera.

The first to disabuse me of this self-defeating notion was Stephen King. He said he read constantly. He didn’t need to say he also wrote constantly, his extraordinary output was evidence enough of that. So I thought I maybe should read. Something.

But where to start? I had done very little reading for pleasure for years. I was a lawyer and it’s not uncommon for lawyers to experience a sort of reading ‘burn-out’ after their years of law school. But fate dropped a jewel into my lap, a memoir of a life spent traveling and reading by the writer beloved for his western tales, Louis L’Amour. One of his last books was a look back on his younger days called ‘Education of a Wandering Man.’ There was a pot of gold at the end of this rainbow, a list of the books he read and the years he had read them as he traveled the world. I was also wandering at that time of my life, living in Austria and tromping into Eastern Europe; renewing my love affair with France. I had copied L’Amour’s reading list and carried it with me everywhere I went. It contained classics from ancient Greek to contemporary. I was roaming through non-English speaking countries, but was surprised to find that even in the smallest bookstores in the smallest of villages, I was able to find classics on Louis’s list. In English. It sure added to the education of this wandering man. Thanks, Mr. L’Amour, Sir.

Fast forward a few years. After experimenting with several genres, a friend suggested I write a thriller. Once again fate took my hand. A dinner conversation with friends. Asked what I was working on, I said I was writing a thriller. A gentleman in the group was an avid thriller reader. He gave me names. Said I should start with Robert B. Parker, who had learned from Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. Then he shared names of his current favorites and I noted them on a napkin. Oh, the places I went. Lee Child. Michael Connelly, John Connolly, John Sandford, Greg Iles. I stepped back in time and reread Ian Fleming. Kept up with John Grisham and met Vince Flynn and Brad Thor; Nelson Demille and Daniel Silva. And others like Graham Brown, Andrew Peterson and Brian Freemantle.

And I could go on and on. And as far as reading these authors, I’m sure I will.

As for my writing, these gentlemen have set the bar high, but they encourage me each morning as I face my computer. I’m inspired to work and work harder. Must meet my daily quota.

So I can get back to my reading.

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