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Thursday, 20 March 2014
Costa Rican Writing

Admittedly, the writing has been slow on this trip. On the one hand, travel has often been inspirational to me and actually upped my productivity. There's something about being in unknown places that gets the creative juices flowing.

On the other hand - I am on vacation. And I do have a short paper to write for my night school class that, alas, I had hoped to do before I left but did not get done. Thus, tomorrow evening, in our rented Caribbean home, I will put that puppy to bed, hopefully. It's not due until Sunday and already that nagging little devil voice is saying "You've got lots of time."

But in the interest of at least some creative writing, here are teh three haikus I wrote on the beach. I'm not much of a poet but hey - I'm on vacation!


Sand everywhere

Riding the surf and the waves

Costa Rican life


Five o'clock wake up

What the hell is that bird doing

No sleeping in here


Staring at butterflies

It is hard to remember

Must write my paper

 Next week: who knows? I may have emigrated by then. It may include a rant about how I desperately need to change blog/web service provider. I can't get any formatting to work on my iPad, which is what I travel with. Accept my apologies for whatever font and formatting this week's column takes on - it is of its own volition.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 13 March 2014
Coming Soon

For some time, I have been toying with the idea of actually producing a trailer for Deadly Lessons instead of just producing a written pitch. I figured I could save up a bit of a production budget and maybe get some student filmmakers and friends to work on it. This plan seemed especially plausible when my nine year old daughter and her friend produced a fake movie trailer using nothing more than her iPad Mini and iMovie. Hmmm....maybe the production budget won't need to be that big.

Thus, below is what a trailer, albeit a long-ish one, might look like. If you've read the book, I'd be especially interested in what you think of my attempt at cinematically capturing elements of the book I wrote (it should be easy, shouldn't it?).




School classroom.  WINSTON PATRICK is standing at the board, obviously giving directions.


    Winston Patrick gave up the courtroom     for the classroom.


    ...remember it’s in section 10(c) of the     Charter that a defendant is guaranteed     the right to habeous corpus. 


WINSTON (cont’d)

    Does anyone here actually remember what     habeous corpus is?

Blank stares from the students.


    ...until his old life caught up with his     new.


INT. Classroom.  Later.  CARL TURBOT is leaning against a desk in Winston’s classroom.  The students have left.


    I just need this conversation to be         confidential.




    I’ve got a problem and I’d like your         advice.


    Is this a teaching problem?


    Yes and no.


    You know how new I am at this. Maybe         you’d be better off talking to another     teacher, or the principal...


    No! We can’t talk to the principal or     anyone else. I don’t need your help as a     teacher. I need your help as a lawyer.


    Carl, are you in some kind of trouble?


    I don’t know. I think so. There’s this     student. This girl. She threatened me     this morning.


    She threatened you? To hurt you?


    No. It’s just...she threatened to go to     the principal. She was going to tell him     we were sleeping together.


    Holy shit, Carl.  What the...


    It’s not true, Winston.  It’s a complete     lie.


INT. The gymnasium. Winston is talking with TRISHA BELLAMY, Carl’s student.


    I need to talk you about one of your         teachers.  Mr. Turbot.


    What about him?


    He’s your biology teacher, right?


    Holy shit! He told you, didn’t he?


    Told me what?


    Cut the bullshit. Carl told you about     our relationship. After all he’s done to     me, what a prick.


    After all he’s done to you? What do you     mean?


    He broke up with me.


EXT. The park. We work our way from a wide pan shot until we slowly close in on TRISHA’s body in the centre of the field.

INT. Winston’s apartment. Winston answers the telephone. On the phone we hear the voice of another teacher, Ralph Bremner, on the phone.


    Yeah, we’re calling all the staff.         There’s an emergency staff meeting in     the morning.


    What’s going on?


INT.Ralph Bremner on the telephone with Winston.


    Geez, Winston. I’m really sorry to tell     you. It’s about that student you were     talking to this afternoon.


INT. Winston’s apartment.


    What about her?


    She’s dead.


INT. The school. Carl is being handcuffed by two detectives.


    Winston, this is crazy.  I didn’t kill     Trisha. I loved...


    Carl, stop talking!


INT. The school, the principal’s office.


Why are you defending him? He slept with a student.  He killed her.


    He may have killed her, Don. We still     have a presumption of innocence in our     legal system. And I happen to believe     him.


    You’re not a lawyer anymore. That’s not     how you make your living anymore. You     need to be careful.


    Are you threatening me?


    No, I...


    I’m going to defend my client, Don. He     deserves that much.


EXT. The cemetery. Winston is waiting to talk to the messengers who have left him a note. He looks around but is surprised by the strangers who approach him from behind. They grab hold of Winston and punch him in the stomach.


    What is the matter with you? Why are you     defending this child killer?


    Who are you?

They kick Winston while he’s down.


    The police have done their job. You will     leave this alone.





    What makes you think there’s more to         this than your client trying to silence     the kid he’s sleeping with?


    Because I know him.


    Apparently not as well as you think.


    What about all these people who keep         beating me?


    I can think of any number of people who     would want to beat you. You were a         lawyer. A defence lawyer.






    I’m sorry Winston.


    I wanna see him.


    You really don’t.

ANDREA (cont’d)

    Yes, Andy. I do. I need to see him for     myself.

We see a shot of Carl lying dead on the floor next to the bed.


INT. WINSTON’S APARTMENT. Andrea is talking with Winston.


    This is bigger than you thought.


    So what am I supposed to do?


    You need to leave it alone.


    I can’t do that.




    You were told to keep your nose out of     this.


    I’m a slow learner.


    That’s not good enough.

Intersperse series of cuts. The music builds throughout.
















    You need to be stopped. You would have     figured it out eventually.


    I’m not that good a lawyer. You don’t     need to do this.


Winston is lying on the couch. Baseball Cap is leaning on him, his gun inside Winston’s mouth.





Next week: on the road again.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PDT
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Thursday, 6 March 2014
Outline to the Future

There are plenty of areas in life in which being premature is problematic or undesirable, to say the least.

I pause now to give you a moment to flesh out all of the double entendre possibilities whose doors I have just flung ajar. This break was brought to you by the Comedy Writing College of America.

On the flip side, I like to think that some of my premature actions might prove to be useful in the future: premature outlining.

There are writers I have met who are very careful planners. A couple of months back I wrote about a conversation I had with renowned Canadian lawyer-turned-mystery writer William Deverell about whether he had ever gotten part way through writing a novel or script and found that the story wasn't working to such an extent that he simply abandoned the story altogether and moved on to something else. I was, of course, hopeful he would answer in the affirmative, essentially giving me permission to do likewise, given how I was feeling about the book I was currently writing. He did not. Of course, I had had similar inclination when I had been writing Last Dance, a book that, at least according to reviewers, turned out all right, so I'm glad I didn't give in to the whim.

But Deverell's answer in itself was instructive: the reason that he had never abandoned a story part way through the writing was that he had done so much preparation in advance of actual writing that he had already identified potential plot problems and was thoroughly outlined as to know exactly where he was going by the time he initiated the prose production.

How utterly depressing.

Because, as I've no doubt mentioned before, planning, at least as it relates to writing, has traditionally not been my thing.

Which isn't to say that I don't do any. I do work from a rough outline, that in the case of W3.doc, includes index cards with individual scenes written on them, thus allowing me, the theory goes, to post the scenes on a bulletin board and move them around to suit the story. Hasn't worked so far.

And yet, I am already excited about Winston Patrick's next anticipated adventure in what I can only assume I am tentatively referring to as W4.doc. And in service of that story, I've begun to develop plot points, not quite concrete enough to be considered an outline per se but enough that I'm beginning to get an idea of where the story is headed. Certainly spending some time (weeks? months?) on developing a thorough, detailed outline of the next book would be a departure from my current much more organic process, as I'll charitably describe it. But given the struggles I've had getting past the middle literary hump both with Last Dance and W3.doc, it's an approach to which I'm giving serious consideration for the next project. I like to think if I can just get focused enough to really undertake some concrete planning, I might be able to maintain a better flow when it comes to the actual writing. It's as good a theory as any for now.

It 's also giving me pause about pushing through to the end of W3.doc. Considering the burst of creative energy that accompanied the coming of the new year has long since dissapated, I may take some time on our Costa Rican retreat to focus on planning and outlining the remainder of this book if it will help me to push to the finish line. I know, I know. I planned to be taking the first draft with me for its initial edit while lying in a seaside hammock.

The best laid plans....

Next week: The Deadly Lessons movie trailer.

ps. Some of you may have noticed that a gap in the weekly columns finally came, after more than 60 consecutive weeks. I guess that's an indication of just what kind of week it was. As a bonus - probably more for my psychological well being than an outcry from readers - I'm going to post a 'best of' column in a couple of days - probably a previously published piece that will help me tell myself I've got enough volume of columns to continue constitute calling it 'weekly'

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 20 February 2014
The Wall
Topic: Writing

Every marathon runner reaches that point in the physical and psychological journey of the race when he or she hits the proverbial wall, that moment in the competition in which exhaustion hits so solidly that it can feel like a physcial barrier more than a metaphorical one.

At least so I've been told: I get tired driving twenty-six miles, never mind running them.

Last week explored the topic - again - of writer's block, an all too real affliction with which I have been suffering on and off for some time, the better part of a year and a half, really. Lasat week was my clumsy metaphor of writers' block as recovering addict model. I'm hping that this metaphor might be more apt and somewhat less controversial. Because I've hit The Wall.

In running, The Wall is a barrier that, despite the training that's been undertaken, makes it seem insurmountable that one could continue to the finish line. Different runners offer different strategies for overcoming The Wall,and the startegies variously describe moving over, past, around and even through it, though the last strategy sounds the one to cause the most pain in its effort to thwart the pain experienced by encountering The Wall in the first place. Likely there's no silver bullet that works for everyone but The Wall is a common enough experience among runners to warrant a great deal of research and writing on the topic. In common is the intensity of the phenomenon and that it tends to occur in the latter half o the journey, often when the finish line is darned near within sight.

In writing, more specifically, in my writing, The Wall is perhaps not in the latter 'half' of the journey per se - I'm probably in the second third of W3.doc - but it parallels the running experience as I understand it in that a significant portion of the journey is completed when we encounter The Wall. And it doesn't matter how strongly one starts. The first part of the race may have gone off like gangbusters, continued at a steady, consistent pace, been well planned and was flowing and on track to a timely finsih,maybe even a personal best. But despite those primarily positive conditions, I have hit more than just writer's block but what could more accurately be compared to the marathoner's Wall. It feels real. It feels tangible. It's visceral. At times I'm sure I can actually see it - that very real sense that I could amost reach out and touch it with my hands.

This isn't even the result of heavy drinking.

Thus, again, despite how fired up I appeared to be with my twenty minutes per day regiment, I am stalled. And this stall feels like a big one. Because like the marathon runner, I know exactly where the finish line is. I've seen it. I've planned for it. I know what happens and have a very good idea what my characters and story line will look like when I get there. I know that just beyond The Wall there may still be some bumpy parts on the road that I have yet to experience, but this damned Wall won't even let me head down the path.

In practical terms, I just killed someone. Don't get me wrong: I think he needed to be killed. I created a character that I found kind of charming, enough of a threat to my protagonist that frankly, he had to go. But also his death really does propel the story forward, created a plot point that seriously increases the stakes for Winston and adds legitimacy to the actions he has been taken. And it's thrown a nasty Wall in front of me.

So for now, I'm going to be revisiting some writer's block exercises, reviewing the outline of the story and the scenes I've already created and see if I can find the way over, under, around or through this barrier.

If you hear a loud bang, I've either resulted to the Wile E. Coyote school of demolition or my brain has exploded.

Next week: premature outlining

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 19 February 2014 8:55 PM PST
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Thursday, 13 February 2014
Wither Thy Perseverance?

It is an acknowledged fact that once an addict, always an addict. That is, there really is no such thing as a "recovering" addict. The recent death of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, once clean and sober for a period of over twenty years who was found dead from injected heroin, is evidence enough of that truism.


I fear those suffering from writer's block may have the same condition in perpetuity: we may get past it and find periods of creative productivity but are prone to relapses of literary inactivity, potentially increasing in frequency.


Now before you protest my equating what some would label a frivolous lack of written output with a serious, mental illness that is at the root of addiction...relax: I am simply drawing an analogy. And clearly, I'm drawing from a frustration borne of a resurgence of a condition that regular readers of this column (I know you're out there) have heard me discuss before: I'm behind the wall of writer's block again.


But wait, you might be saying, wasn't it just into the New Year you were claiming your resolution, and a simple one at that, was showing real signs of productivity increase, that your commitment to a mere twenty minutes per day, totally manageable, said you, was seeing twenty minutes sessions in the neighbourhood of six to nine hundred words?


All true.


Late in December I read an article posted by a friend and writerly colleague about committing to just twenty minutes per day. How hard could that be? Turn off the email, the social media, the desire to research picayune pieces of fact needed for the story,  and just write. And for a period, however brief, it was pretty effective. Coupled with the Jerry Seinfeldian calendar approach to motivation, it certainly appeared to be working. And I wasn't alone. Many's the article and blog post that have been written extolling the Seinfeld virtue. L.A.'s The Writer's Store even sells a wall-mounted, year-long calendar to support the writerly resolution.


Alas, it didn’t last.


What sells Seinfeld, apparently, is the satisfaction of seeing the unbroken chain of ‘X’s on the calendar, prominently displayed where he does his writing (the obsessive compulsive in me wants to know if he takes the calendar off the wall and takes it with him to post in hotel rooms when he travels, which he does a lot). And while my calendar was just a monthly one and I had yet to post it on a wall – maybe I do have commitment issues – I did take satisfaction in seeing the continuous chain of unbroken X’s.


Until I broke it.


To be fair to me (hey, someone’s gotta be), I got some kind of nasty stomach flu or food poisoning. I mean…nasty. I simply was not able to get myself beyond the square footage of bathroom or bedroom (too much information?). I even wrote “sick” with my Sharpie in the calendar square where my X ought to have been. But you know what? The damage was done.


For me, anyways, there is something about breaking that chain that, well, gives me permission to break it another day, and then another, and another…. Suddenly two weeks have gone by and I haven’t worked on my novel at all. Not a word. None. Zero. Zilch.


The litany of things getting in the way of my twenty minutes of writing include, but are not limited to:

  • Work
  • My university course
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of writer’s cardigan
  • Desire for a wood-burning fireplace
  • Ambivalence
  • Concern about the Middle East
  • Global Warming


So here we are, middle of February with a nearly blank calendar and not much of a plan. In theory, I’d like to start in March and regain the satisfaction of filling in the squares. I’m even planning on bringing the calendar with me to Costa Rica to keep up the pace.


I mean, it’s only twenty minutes a day, right? How hard can that be?

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 6 February 2014
Is There A Guess Who Song For This

For more than a week now, my website and blog have been down, just following last week's column. Hopefully, it wasn't the content that knocked it off line. It was the second part of my look at the origins of Winston Patrick - check it out - you be the judge.

Since I had no website, I didn't write a column on writing this week. Alas, now that we're up and running again, I do have this freelance piece, an essay/op-ed I pitched to a few publications in late December to no avail. Waste not want not. This week, in a departure from the regular writing column, I give you...


Whatever latent nationalistic stirrings lay dormant within me were shaken and stirred as we ventured south, braving the torrential rain, the traffic-soaked I-5 freeway, and the holiday-week crowds (mention Boxing Day down here and you get quizzical looks and questions about it maybe being Mohammed Ali's birthday) to the bustling metropolis of Linwood, Washington, whose principal raison d'etre (don't try that terminology either) seems to be the existence of Alderwood Mall, where we found the shrine at the end of our pilgrimage.

The American Girl store.

For the uninitiated, American Girl dolls are one of the latest high-end toy fads to strike consumer crazed pre-adolescents for the "we have more money than sense" crowd. Base cost: $110 for the doll.

To the best of my observations - and I confess I may not have been paying as close attention as I could have from my pink pleather covered bench on the sidelines with other dads - there were no American Boys available for purchase.

Thankfully, the doll itself at least comes clothed so it is theoretically possible to retreat following doll selection. Practically speaking though, one most engage in outfitting the new family member in outfits ranging from cheerleader to cyclist to party girl or, because it's holiday week after all, indulge in a $90 special that includes three outfits that can be fashionably mixed and matched.

Some of the accessories include pets (goes well with the fall walking attire), skis or, as in the selection my daughter made, perhaps leading toward future career ambitions, the injury ensemble, including crutches, cast and other accoutrements indicative of her chosen doll being less than proficient at the aforementioned skis.

Full disclosure, because I don't want to be seen as a member of the more money than sense crowd, our acquisition was financed by our nine year old herself, an accumulation of modest weekly allowance, birthday and Christmas money gifts, along with the sale of toys no longer in use. It's practically an economics lesson unto itself: are you sure you want to spend all your money in one place, Honey?

If a prospective American Girl purchaser is feeling particularly glamorous - and flush with cash - spa treatments for AG are available where your new or returning friend can indulge in a new hairstyle or, wait for it, have her ears pierced.

If all this spending is draining more than just the wallet, young shoppers can relax and recharge in the adjoining café where AG treats, including high tea sittings in the afternoon requiring reservations. Seating, of course, is also available for AG dolls themselves alongside their, what, owners? Parents?

I wanted to be disgusted or at least 'tsk' down my nose at this flagrant display of crass consumerism. Looking around it's easy to see middle class excess but instead I saw opportunity.

If part of the pull of these mysteriously popular dolls is their appeal to patriotic virtue, why not a homegrown counterpart? Thus, I present to you Canadian Girl, trademark pending, replete with all those assumed elements of Canada sure to draw domestic and international visitors alike.

Our stores will be tastefully decorated in plaid. All our Canadian Girl dolls will have the ardent glow of being well exercised, spending time in the fresh air and regularly visiting publicly funded health care. Each will come standard with a t-shirt that offers an apology for any offence, real or perceived.

Want to buy additional outfits for your CG? We'll have plenty. There is the obligatory Red Serge for the RCMP-GRC-CG. An assortment of Canadian NHL hockey jerseys will be available, with special discounts offered to encourage the purchase of Edmonton Oilers apparel. Clothing lines will also include red mittens, down vests, and t-shirts proclaiming the purchaser's choice of admiration or disdain for Rob Ford.

West Coast CG's will come standard with umbrellas, while those from east of the Rockies will have a toque, though for American visitors we'll have to explain what that is.

Accessories will be an important feature of our product line up, including the sure to be popular Timbit carry box and double-double. If your doll-lover is transportation minded, you can take home the CG Zamboni, dog sled, or the always fun, inadequate, underfunded CG public transit.

Canadian Girl will show the world we too, have the entrepreneurial spirit to combine love of country with love of spoiling our kids.

Next week: A New Year...a new block

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 30 January 2014
A Protagonist Grows Up...Kind Of
Topic: Writing


Last week began the journey of the creation of the hero of Deadly Lessons, Last Dance, and the in-progress W3.doc. As I talked about, Winston Patrick was originally conceived as a private detective named Mickey Jones.

The evolution of Winston from detective to teacher was in some part due to the nature of the story that had developed as I thought of Deadly Lessons' plot. One way or another, the story was set in a school and, working in a school at the time as a teacher, creating a character whose job I was pretty familiar with made a whole lot of practical sense.

But apart from Winston's apparent similarities to me, he owes a lot of his characteristics to my original conception for my private eye protagonist. Both Mickey and Winston have made significant career changes as the reader first encounters them, Mickey from accountant to private eye; Winston from lawyer to teacher. Originally, I fancied this newness to the profession aspect of the character because I enjoy the reluctant hero perspective it gave me to work with: if Winston is new at his job it's totally acceptable for him to make mistakes, even significant ones. Subconsciously, perhaps, I may have been giving myself permission as a first time novelist to make significant mistakes as well.

Dealing with change is thematically something I find fun to explore as well. In both characters' lives, the men were single; Winston was newly divorced, Mickey perennially single. I like the idea of my protagonist bumbling through changes in relationships as much as he is in his crime fighting.

I like to view both men as, essentially, highly moral characters as well. Though they may not have showed the most competence as they tried to solve crimes - and I like to think that was part of their charm - they had strong values to which they adhered. Winston Patrick is torn in Deadly Lessons by his obligation to his new friend, who is accused of having an affair with a student and his intense belief that an inappropriate teacher-student relationship is entirely reprehensible. He is also torn between his devotion to the law, which he views as a sacred trust between the citizenry and the government, and his belief in the value of education. Similarly, Mickey, as I conceived him, would have taken great pains to ensure that no matter how difficult it was, he would always conduct his investigations within the confines of the law and individual rights.

And, of course, they're both Presbyterian.

I'm not entirely sure why I put the protagonist who would eventually become Winston Patrick in church, just as I had Mickey Jones. Heck, I even planned for Mickey to spend Thursday nights in a men's choir practice. Considering I'm not a regular churchgoer myself, it might seem an unusual trait for a crime genre protagonist. But I wanted my crime buster to really be the antithesis of the tough guy that inhabits much of the genre. So we don't see Winston preaching in the streets, I think his membership in the neighbourhood church adds a layer to Winston that make him hopefully more interesting.

Plus, I think Presbyterian is kind of a funny word: just stuffy sounding enough without sounding like zealotry.

Of course, one of the most prominent characteristics of Winston Patrick is his dual roles as teacher and lawyer. Not only did this permit me to write about things I knew about - teaching - and loved - the law, it was also inspired by a number of teachers I encountered who had, in fact, come from the legal profession. Admittedly, I frequently had envisioned going to law school, even after I had begun my career as a teacher, but I found it surprising how many I found who had gone the other way. It made me wonder if there weren't underlying personality traits in common that lend themselves to both careers.

As W3.doc progresses, Winston is no longer a rookie teacher so he can't fall back on his newbie status for how well he is or isn't doing in the job. It was those feelings of doubt that initially pushed him out of the legal profession and into teaching. By W4.doc, Winston may well have to decide which of the two professions he was better suited for - or at least which one he is least unsuited for.

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 23 January 2014
A Protagonist is Born
Topic: Writing

In previous columns I provided not only the genesis of Deadly Lessons but also the roots of the character that would become the protagonist of the series: Winston Patrick.

As my publisher describes him: Winston Patrick, a successful lawyer but dissatisfied with his career defending the downtrodden of Vancouver's criminal world, trades in the courtroom for the high school classroom.

But he wasn’t always thus. A long time crime reader, my original plans for the genre had me creating a character that was a private detective. Certainly, my formative years in the genre had me deeply involved with the late Robert B. Parker’s Spenser. My introduction to the literary version, who I confess to occasionally having to ensure I am only paying homage to, not emulating, in my own writing, was originally sparked by my interest in the television series, Spenser for Hire, a show panned by most Spenser readers – and originally Parker himself. Of course, I was also a fan of Vega$ and S.W.A.T. so it’s entirely possible I was actually suffering the effects of a man-crush on Robert Urich. Creating a sleuth as my protagonist was pretty much a natural.

But I live in Canada. As much as nearly every seventh person in the state of California is a licensed private investigator, most of whom are licensed to carry a concealed weapon (of course, isn't everyone in California carrying a weapon?), I didn't know any in my circle of friends or acquaintances. Not even a distant cousin of the ex-girlfriend of a friend, kind of connection. And I had a hard time imagining what kind of private investigating they did: trying to scoop the starting line-ups of a client's opposing hockey team? What really is poutine and is it all a ploy by the cardio-thoracic industry to drive up national blood pressure rates?

Still, when I started looking for Spenser's north of the border equivalent, I found Howard Engel's Benny Cooperman series, set in fictional Grantham, Ontario, where Benny, essentially your divorce-photo snapping gumshoe found himself almost inadvertently solving more serious and deadly crimes that landed on his office doorstep, almost through no fault of his own. And in Benny, an inspiration for my west coast private eye was born: enter, Mickey Jones, Private Investigator.

Unlike so many of the hard boiled private detectives in the genre's literature in the U.S., I did not intend Mickey to be a former police officer, tired of the bureaucracy and politics of the institution, going out on his own. That would look like too much skill. In one of my earliest iterations of the character, Mickey was, in fact, an accountant who lost his licence after failing to properly account for money being laundered through a small company for whose books he was responsible. Recognizing that without accounting he had few skills on which to fall back, Mickey determines that he does have an inquisitive mind and the ability to solve puzzles - he was addicted to crosswords and could, given enough time on a Sunday afternoon, even complete the Sunday New York Times variant - key ingredients to being a successful private investigator. Plus there was the added bonus that the industry in British Columbia was entirely unregulated so his lack of any formal investigative training and expulsion from the only professional organization to which he had ever belonged, made it seem logical. That and the fact that when he looked in the Yellow Pages (that's how long ago I created the character) there was only one other in the city. It seemed the industry was ripe for the picking.

The challenge for me as a writer - and consequently for Mickey as a detective - was that I knew very little about detecting beyond what I'd read in the genre. This is what the idea of working with Mickey intriguing: I quite literally wanted him to solve mysteries more or less entirely by accident, that he would reach satisfactory conclusions despite himself. It meant that creating clue for Mickey to find to solve crime had to be the wrong clues that someone had him stumble onto the right ones.

Additionally, I didn't want Mickey to be tough. Even though many of my favourite detectives, both private and on the police pay roll, are unmistakably tough guys like the aforementioned Spenser, Elvis Cole, Hieronymus Bosch, I wanted Mickey to virtually never be able to rely on brawn to get him out of a scrape.

And of course, he was Presbyterian.


Next week: Enter Winston Patrick Part II - the evolution of Mickey to Winston

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 16 January 2014
This Time It's Personal
Topic: Writing

I have previously talked about the questions I sometimes have about how much I ought to share of my protagonist's personal life.

It should come as no surprise that I am deeply invested in Winston Patrick. He is, of course, for the uninitiated, the protagonist in both Deadly Lessons, Last Dance and the soon to be completed W3.doc (see how confident I'm sounding? More about that later). And like I'm sure any writer feels, I want the reader to become more deeply invested in Winston Patrick as well.

I have discussed in a previous column the challenge of finding the right balance between deeping the readers' appreciation for and understanding of the character (hopefully) in addition to following the plot of the crime drama unfolding. Of course it is intended to develop interest in wishing to follow the protagonist on future exploits but also just because we want the reader to be as intrigued in our hero as we are. In theory, to carry this yen to his natural conclusion, we could publish a book just about the trials and tribulations of the character's life even without the crime plot.

Don't worry - I'm not going to do it.

In Deadly Lessons and Last Dance there were significant events going on in Winston's life that, while providing at least part of the foundation for the plot and certainly contributing to the story unfolding, were also about deepening our getting to know him and (again, hopefully) like him. Or at least not want him to die. Obviously, Deadly Lessons essentially served as the pilot for the series, so everything about the character is new and about getting to know him, give him layers and complexities and develop empathy for him. When we meet him he is undergoing a life change in that he is transitioning from the legal profession to the teaching, which puts him in the initial position to participate in the plot. But I also spend time getting to know his ex-wife, Sandi, how their relationship continues to transpire past their divorce and how she continues to complicate his life by, well, not leaving. Similarly in Last Dance some of the story focuses on continuing to develop our knowledge of Winston; his never-ceasing insomnia, for example, does little to specifically drive the plot, though in the first book, it sets up events that help to further the crime saga.

In W3.doc, as I've mentioned, I have set up a significant life event for Winston (no ladies, don't worry: he's not getting married) that, so far at least, has little to no bearing on the crime drama that is the central tenet of the plot, though I suppose that may change as I continue. I believe it deepens him somewhat, providing some substance and history that may be surprising or may make the reader question their initial understanding or impressions of him. It's not that readers won't like him, more that they may have more nuanced opinion of him at the end of this book than with the others.

I'm finding adding the personal storylines is doubly challenging in W3.doc: while I'm enjoying the added dimensions it's adding to the character, I have, as I've mentioned, experienced with this book more doubt about the story. I need to make sure that I don't overdo my 'B' story, so to speak, in order to compensate for any crisis of confidence in the 'A' story.

On the plus side, I've been sticking to my writing resolution: 20 minutes per day without fail - with the exception of Tuesday, the 14th - and you really don't want to know why that exception occurred.

And as I've continued to push the writing, the story continues to develop in my mind. Indeed, it has become increasingly, well, complicated.

Next week: In the beginning…Winston Patrick

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
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Thursday, 9 January 2014
Doubting Thomas Drops By

On a few occasions, I have met one of Canada's leading crime writing authors, William Deverell, an author whom I first noticed when I was drawn in by the title of one his novels, Kill All the Lawyers. It seemed a bit harsh but having worked with a few of them I could certainly appreciate the sentiment. To be sure, the title was a borrowed line from Shakespeare's Henry VI but my likelihood of meeting the more contemporary William seemed greater, at least in the short term.

At the Crime Writers of Canada sort of annual Bloody Words conference held in Victoria in 2011, I cornered Deverell and asked him a burning question that a seasoned, successful writer would likely have useful insight into: have you ever written a significant portion of a book, only to determine the story turns out not be any good and abandoned the whole thing?

Bill's answer: No. He undertakes so much prepatory work, research, detailed outlining and scene building before he starts the actual writing that he would have identified those issues long in advance of having written anything of significant length. By the time all of that early work is done, he's well prepared to craft the actual writing of the novel.

Damn it. Trust a lawyer to be prepared to do all that careful work in advance. I was starting to relate to the title of his book.

It probably comes as no surprise that the reason I was asking the question is I was in the middle of serious nagging doubts about the story on which I was currently working. That story: W3.doc. Here we are, two and a half years later and those doubts have re-surfaced. There's probably a way to determine at what point in the story I was when I asked Bill the question. But honestly it's probably not all that long ago, story wise. The story that would write itself has been a long time in the making.

You may recall that when I returned from Europe in the summer I had experienced a bit of a story re-birth, taking to crafting the story by pen on forty or so handwritten pages while we traveled in the Mediterranean. That burst of productivity, coupled with resurgence in my understanding of where the story was taking me, ground to a halt almost as quickly as the vacation did. While I continued my weekly musings here, the level of productivity at W3.doc dwindled to a few sentences here and there.

And Doubt came back.

As I've continued to plod ever so slowly at the manuscript, I have experienced conflicting inner arguments: am I stubbornly sticking to a flawed story because I'm more than thirty thousand words into it and abandoning ship now would seem a waste of these years I've invested all this thought, if not as much as effort as I could have? Or is the story fine but my…ahem…literary laziness preventing me from the elements of discovery that the writing process itself often provides?

I admit there have been times I've been ready to toss the beast and move on to the next story that is just itching to be written - in fact two of them that are percolating in my head right now. On the other hand, starting from scratch now makes the potential gap between W3.doc and Last Dance all that much greater - and the possibility of not getting the next book published seems to increase.

Unless W3.doc is an unworkable piece of trash.

You see the fights I have with myself? Inside my head can be an unpleasant arena in which to be a spectator.

Fortunately, I've had another epiphany of sorts. I know I've had quite a few of those lately but I'm really trying not to make them a weekly event. Part of my struggle with the underlying premise of W3.doc is that the nature of the crime writing is a marked departure from Deadly Lessons and Last Dance in that it really isn't a 'Who dunnit.' In fact, so far, it's really clear 'Who dunnit'; what's not clear is what was done. And that's kind of a different sub-genre, really. And I think I'm finally starting to embrace it.

Thus, W3.doc will soldier on (remember that - when you read the book you'll laugh).

Next week: embracing the personal life of the protagonist

Sidebar: last week I talked about New Year's resolution: 20 minutes a day. So far, my OCD tendencies are satisfied with all the 'X's' on my calendar. And I've been averaging around 600 words each day. That means I've written more of W3.doc in the first eight days of 2014 than I have since school started in September. Soldier on!

Posted by davidrussellbc at 12:01 AM PST
Updated: Wednesday, 8 January 2014 10:19 PM PST
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