I’ve had a lot of conversations about the best way to write a book. I have long believed there is no one system that works for everyone. It’s whatever process works for you; whether it’s outlines, daily word requirements, black boards, however you frame your story and get a draft onto paper.
I write a story like you’d watch a movie, chapters being scenes, the end result being me as a director, assembling the chapter-scenes into a coherent story consisting of characters, conflict and resolution. Then I edit it. Someone asked me once, "How do you write a poem?" I told them I write it down and then I edit it for the next thirty years. This is a slight exaggeration, but there’s an elementary truth in it. Good writing requires good editing. Your imagination creates the story draft. Editing is where you shape it into a book. Working with a good editor is a real plus.
My idea for a first draft always begins with the characters. My protagonist Ray in Children of the Enemy was a man I saw who ran a salvage yard, which could also be described more simply as a junkyard. He was sitting on a chair outside of a house trailer, smoking a cigarette, with virtual mountains of scrap metal pieces and junk appliances surrounding him. I imagined in real life he was perhaps a cross between Dirty Harry and James Earl Jones. It was just how he impressed me. Once I have a few characters I like, I put them into a situation. This is the conflict. The next step is I frame in my mind how I intend to resolve the conflict. The rest of the book consists of chapters that point toward the resolution.
The underlying theme in my latest book, The Death of Anyone, poses the Machiavellian question: Does the end justify the means? I developed this story around an impulsive former narcotics officer now in homicide called Bonnie Benham. Bonnie is a no nonsense cop who describes herself as a blond with a badge and a gun. Bonnie has her own answer to the question, but the legality of it will be answered in a real life courtroom in the California trial of a serial killer dubbed by the media: The Grim Sleeper.
Lonnie David Franklin, the Grim Sleeper, was caught because his son’s DNA was the closest match to DNA collected at the crime scenes in the database. Investigating Franklin’s son led them to investigate Lonnie Franklin. But there was no direct DNA evidence that linked Lonnie to the crime scene until they obtained a sample from him after his arrest. Lonnie Franklin will be the first person in the U.S. to ever stand trial based on this type of evidence, and its admissibility issues in court will be thoroughly tested by defense attorneys. These are the very same issues that face Detroit Homicide Detective Bonnie Benham and form the plot of my story.
Thanks so much for visiting us today, DJ!
Guest Blogger Bio
DJ Swykert is a former 911 operator. His work has appeared in The Tampa Review, Detroit News, Monarch Review, Zodiac Review, Scissors & Spackle, Spittoon, Barbaric Yawp and Bull. His books include Children of the Enemy, a novel from Cambridge Books; Alpha Wolves, a novel from Noble Publishing, and The Death of Anyone is his third novel, just released by Melange Books. You can find him hanging out on the blogspot: www.magicmasterminds.com. He is a wolf expert.
Here is a brief overview of two of his books:
Children of the Enemy
Jude St. Onge is a man on the run. He is an addict who has stolen a large cache of drugs from Detroit drug kingpin Mitchell Parson, who is determined to retrieve the drugs and take his revenge on Jude. After the torture slaying of Jude’s wife, and the kidnapping of Jude’s daughter, Angelina, the last thing Mitchell Parson expected to hear when he picked up the phone was: “I have your sons.” Raymond Little, with a murder conviction in his past, and newspaper reporter Ted Rogers have become unusual allies with Jude in an attempt to rescue his daughter. Together they kidnap Parson’s two boys, hoping to secure Angelina’s release. Risks for both hostage-takers skyrocket as the two sides square off, while Detroit Homicide Detectives work the case unaware of all that is at stake in the investigation. Only Ray and Ted can save the endangered children in Children of the Enemy.
The Death of Anyone
Detroit homicide Detective Bonnie Benham has been transferred from narcotics for using more than arresting and is working the case of a killer of adolescent girls. CSI collects DNA evidence from the scene of the latest victim, which had not been detected on the other victims. But no suspect turns up in the FBI database. Due to the notoriety of the crimes a task force is put together with Bonnie as the lead detective, and she implores the D.A. to use an as yet unapproved type of a DNA Search in an effort to identify the killer. Homicide Detective Neil Jensen, with his own history of drug and alcohol problems, understands Bonnie's frailty and the two detectives become inseparable as they track this killer of children.