So I have this tattered yellow notebook of the spiral variety from high school, the kind which sheds chads of paper at the faintest rustling. As an aspiring author, I used to write down snatches of dialogue, plot ideas, and my first clunky attempts at scenes. There might be a few opinions in there as well about unattainable girls and other matters social, the dark nights of the soul that a prep school kid believes he’s suffering through.
But one scrawled thought stayed with me all these years. It asked: What if there was some group devoted to cleaning up criminals who got off due to loopholes in the justice system?
A cool, high-concept idea. But high-concept ideas are a dime a dozen. It’s when they collide with the right character that they actually have the legs to turn into a story. And writing a tale about another off-the-tracks loose cannon? Well, it seemed banal.
So I finished high-school. Went off to college. Studied in England while completing my first thriller. I was fortunate enough to sell that book. I published a second. And a third. And then, one day, I met the character to go with that decade-old scrawled note.
I don’t recall the precise moment, but I remember the thoughts striking, one after another: What if there was a guy who was one of the most ethical law enforcement officers you could imagine? Maybe his father was a con artist and this guy spent his life craving the straight and narrow the way a preacher’s son might crave a card game. And then, what if something awful, truly awful knocked him off course? Wouldn’t that be a vigilante we’d be more interested in? One who started from a position of vigorous moral authority? One who doubted his actions at every step, who never gave in fully to the dark urges, who might even, at some point, change his mind?
And Dray. Dray was my answer to every annoying cop’s wife I ever read in a book or saw on TV or film—the hysterical ones who always complain that the job’s killing her husband. That’s he’s taking too many risks and why can’t he just stop caring so much, damnit, and focus more on home.
Andrea Rackley, she ain’t like that. She’s a sheriff’s deputy, tough as hell, a resource in her own right. Quite often, she’s more level-headed than her husband. Their relationship is one I admire, and it taught me about marriage before I was married. They banter and argue, fight and make up, but always, always get a kick out of each other.
I wrote four Rackley books: The Kill Clause (2003), The Program (2004), Troubleshooter (2005), and Last Shot (2006). They’re old friends of mine now, Tim and Dray. They’re family. And I’m glad that you’ll have a chance to see them arguing through the particulars of a case, staring down danger, doing what they do.
The Tim Rackley e-books will be available for $2.99, but only for a limited time:
This is an email response I wrote to an acquaintance who, having survived a personal crisis, was debating turning some of her writings into a book. I thought my response to her questions might prove helpful to other folks out there debating if they should write a book.
Strung together journal entries won’t work. They might make for a blog, but not a book. To write a book you have to write a book that is clearly a book and adheres to all the conventions and requirements of being a book. This is a shit-ton of work and will take drafts and time and sweat and blood until it’s either good enough to submit or you give up. As one of my writer buddies says: One of these will happen first.
Unless you’re Whitney Houston’s daughter or the guy who cut his arm off with a pocket-knife, no publisher or agent will be interested in talking to you until you’ve written a manuscript. Since you’ve never written a manuscript, how good that manuscript is will be all that matters. So. Go to your bookshelves and look at all the novels or memoirs or inspirational/self-help books that you’ve read and loved, pick the appropriate format for your story, then start to create a manuscript along those lines. Set a high bar. It will have to be as good as your favorite books on your shelves, the ones that changed your life. As for what angle to take or how to approach it – that’s on you. It’s your life, your book, and your vision. No one else will care to tell you how to approach it, and even if they did, they probably wouldn’t be right since it’s your (highly personal) story to tell. Some jackass might tell you it must be second-person haiku but in your gut it’s a first person memoir. Which are you gonna write? Also, people who have experience don’t necessarily know what’s right for you. Your job is to have vision and to realize that vision in ink and paper in a fashion that will make that particular order of words on the pages the one in five hundred collections of words on pages that an agent will stake his or her livelihood and reputation on that month. And then that an editor, from the agent-culled collections of words on pages, will pick from worse odds to stake even more on. This may sound discouraging, but if you’re really a writer, it won’t matter. If you’re really a writer, you don’t have a choice anyway. Be bold and venture forth. And good luck.
One of my favorite things about attending book festivals and touring in different countries is that there’s always a good amount of overlap with other authors. Books, for me, are one of the best ways to gain entry to a new culture, to understand a country and its quirks and history. I leave in a few days for New Zealand and Australia and in preparation for numerous panels and interviews and on-stage conversations, I’ve received over the past few weeks a steady stream of books written by the authors who will also be in attendance at the various events and venues. What’s cool is some of these are not books I would come across on my own, so I’m getting a view of a new cross-section of lives and voices – stuff I wouldn’t normally get to dip my hands into. Most of these books aren’t available in the US – must be ordered through amazon NZ or the like, but I can’t emphasize enough how stimulating it is to spend a few days reading books from countries I’m about to visit for the first time.
So…I read five books in the past couple days.
THE DEAD PATH by Stephen M. Irwin about a man who, after his wife’s tragic death, starts to see ghosts. Everywhere. He returns to his home in Australia to confront the woods that have always been a source of dark allure for him.
ICE by Louis Nowra, an incredible story that tells two parallel stories. One is a biography of Malcolm McEacharn, the man who towed an iceberg to early Sydney and introduced electricity to Melbourne (before becoming its Lord Mayor). McEacharn was obsessed with his first wife, and his tale of longing is interwoven with the present-tense story of the husband of McEacharn’s biographer, a woman who lies in a coma after a random attack. The husband has finished writing the biography as an homage to his wife, who like McEacharn’s first wife, remains frozen, suspended in time.
BLIND CONSCIENCE by Lateline journalist Margot O’Neill, which tells the incredible story of the people who fought to get the asylum seekers out of detention during the Howard government. It offers insight into the political struggles of a country – struggles which are at once distant and familiar.
SHOTS by Don Walker. This guy is a legendary songwriter and musician in Australia, and this memoir of his childhood and rise – his story, really – is told in half- to one-page “shots,” poetic riffs that are gorgeous and haunting and shot through with a wild Beatnik energy. I loved this book.
And finally…Lisa Unger’s DIE FOR YOU. Lisa will be a fellow American over at the Brisbane book festival. I’ve heard much about her (all of it good) and we’ll be sharing a stage at one point, so this was a good excuse to finally read her. It’s a great thriller, really focusing on family relationships and the ways they strain and break under incredible pressure. She’s a real talent.
Now I feel nicely read and ready to fly out to experience some of this firsthand.