Category Archives: Brett Battles

Mouth Watering Creativity

By Brett Battles

Creativity comes in all forms, and can be seen in almost any walk of life. Of course, the obvious examples are art and books and dance and movies and music and plays. But these are nowhere near the only places there is creativity.

We see it in the gardener who chooses the plants he grows carefully, arranging them in ways that can make a yard beautiful. We see it in the teacher who isn’t content to just mindlessly repeat what’s in the text book to their student, but instead finds interesting ways to make the subject come alive and be memorable. We see it in the store owner who finds a new way to package on old product, and make that product more that it was before. And we see it in an airline that allows its employees to have a little fun when interacting with passengers (a la Southwest).

Everywhere there’s creativity – the arts, science and medicine, education, construction, the law, religion, parenting, the home and anything else you can think of. One of the things that really excites me – turns me on, if you will – is seeing something creative, and seeing the passion the particular creator has brought to it. I don’t have to necessarily understand it, but to know that someone used their mind to make something, or make something better…wow. Too cool.

What I wanted to share with you today is a brand of creativity that’s really cropped up in the past couple of years, that I am totally loving.

I’m talking about the lunch truck.

Yes, the roach coach.

There was a time when you could never get me to eat at one of these – primarily white paneled – trucks. Which is actually kind of odd given the fact I have no problems eating from the street carts in developing countries. The truck, though, they just weren’t for me.

But there’s been a revolution, and it…is…AWESOME.

The lunch truck has gone specialized.

I first encounter this when visiting my friend Bill Cameron in Portland, Oregon, a couple of summers ago. There was a place in town where every night five or so lunch truck would take over a parking lot and serve up chow. But these weren’t the hamburgers and slop type of trucks. Each served it’s own brand of specialty food. I can’t remember the choices from that night, but I do remember wishing the phenomena would hit L.A.

Well, I’m here to tell you my wish came true. Big time. In L.A. we now have trucks that specialize in: Korean Food, Thai Food, Grilled Cheese Sandwiches, Nachos, Indian Food, Specialized Hot Dogs, BBQ, Juices, Ice Cream Sandwiches, Deli Sandwiches, Vietnamese Food, Cajun, Pizza, Dim Sum and so many others.

Even cooler than that? They usually gather together in certain spots, so eaters have a bevy of choices. And I’m lucky enough to have one of the main lunch time spots a seven minute walk from my front door. It’s located on Wilshire Boulevard right in front of the LA County Museum of Art and the La Brea Tar Pits. (Chandler fans, this would be right on the Miracle Mile.)

Wednesday, when I walked over, I counted thirteen different trucks. That’s actually below normal. I’ve counted as many as seventeen and know there is usually at least fifteen around.

 

The food is creative. The trucks themselves are creative (as you can see from the pictures), and this whole new way (which is really a supercharged old way) of eating is creative. I LOVE the fact that they gather in bunches. I LOVE the fact that most are on Twitter so I can sometimes plan what I’m going to get by seeing who’s going to show up that particular day. And, most of all, I just LOVE the food.

I know not all of you have this kind of thing in your city or town yet, but no matter where you are, if you do get the opportunity, I urge you to check these trucks out. It’s a sight to seen, and treat for your taste buds as well!

I sacrificed myself on Wednesday, and, in the theme of crime fiction, I had the “Felony” from the Grill Cheese Patrol truck. I meant to take a picture of my food. But I ate it instead. Oops.\

Anyway, hope you enjoy these photos. And I love it if you’d share with us in the comments some of the places you’ve seen unusual creativity.

The Grill Cheese Patrol

Korean BBQ

Nachos!

BBQ

Juice Truck

Thai Food!

Cajun

Hot Dogs

Brazil

 

Read Me A River

by Brett Battles

I just finished the draft of my latest WIP, and am feeling a little tired. Make that a LOT tired. Since November 18th, I’ve actually written two books (one all the way through several rewrites, the current one with no rewrites at all yet), and did a thorough rewrite pass on a YA novel I wrote last summer. Yeah, I write fast. The thing is, we all write a different speeds, and have different amounts of time we can dedicate to the process. So it’s not a “wow,” or a “how do you do that.” It’s just an “is.” That’s all. To achieve this though, I keep this insane schedule (not my words, I’ve been told by many people.) The result is that I basically wipe myself out, day after day. Not great for the old social life, but works well on the writing front.

Anyway, this is a long way around for me to say I’m going to go with an easy one today. Something fun.

It thought we could talk about recent reads. I’ve read a string of winners since the holidays, which is not always the case. I’m on number six in a row, and have at least three more lined up that I have high hopes for! This makes me very, very happy.

First up: THE HUNGER GAMES/CATCHING FIRE/MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

Several years ago, I read the book BATTLE ROYALE by Koushun Takami (translated by Yuji Oniki) about a group of school age kids that get picked against their will by a fictional oppressive government in the future to partake in a game of sorts where they have to kill or be killed and the winner is the last one standing. I absolutely loved it. Have read it twice. Well, over the holidays, I finally read THE HUNGER GAMES, about a group of school aged kids that get picked against their will by a fictional oppressive government in the future to partake in a game of sorts where they have to kill or be killed and the winner is the last one standing. Yep. There’s no denying that the plots are…eh…similar, down to the fact that two of the last players standing are in love (or appear to be in one of the two books.) But even so I loved this book, too! And the plot similarity didn’t bother me. I think both books rock. (One of the big differences is that in THE HUNGER GAMES most of the deaths occur off screen. Not the case in BATTLE ROYALE.) Anyway, I loved Collins so much, I rushed out and bought both of the sequels (CATCHING FIRE and MOCKINGJAY) and devoured them, too. The first was the best of the series, but the others were good, too. Big recommend from me. (If I find out BATTLE ROYALE has a translated sequel – and yes, I know there was a sequel movie, I’m talking book – I’d read it in a heartbeat.)

Next: THE REVERSAL by Michael Connelly

How can you not enjoy anything Connelly writes? I loved the combo of Haller and Bosch in this one. Well worth the read.  

And then: THE SENTRY by Robert Crais.

Yep, I went from one L.A. based series to another. That was actually kind of fun. In fact there were scenes in both books set in areas that I frequent a lot. I always love that. As far as THE SENTRY goes, I just have to say I would never want to have Joe Pike on my ass. You might as well purchase your grave marker right away. Not surprisingly, this was another page turner.

And, finally: THE WANDERING GHOST by Martin Limon

This might be my favorite of the bunch. It’s from Limon’s Sueño & Bascom mystery series about two Criminal Investigation Sergeants in 1970s era Korea. They try to do the right thing, but are also great at getting themselves into trouble. WANDERING GHOST is no exception. I love this series, and Limon is such a good writer that I can’t wait to pick up another one of his. Couldn’t recommend this series more.

There’s six recommendations (seven if you count BATTLE ROYALE) from me to you. So whatca’ got for me? 

Jersey-licious with Brad Parks

by Brett Battles

 

Next week my friend Brad Park’s latest novel, EYES OF THE INNOCENT, will be released. This is the second in his Carter Ross series, the first of which, the award winning FACES OF THE GONE, will be available in paperback the same day. Thought today we’d get to know a little bit more about Mr. Parks and Carter Ross and the state of life in New Jersey.

First, if you’re a author wondering how you might raise your profile, and have considered doing a blog tour, but are unsure how to make that happen, here’s something you might be interested in. My good friend Dana Kaye will be hosting a webinar TOMORROW on just how to do that. Click here to find out more information. (http://blogtour101.eventbrite.com/) Murderati readers can receive a $5 discount by entering the discount code: murderati

Now to Brad…

Brad, welcome to Murderati, and congratulations on the upcoming release.

Most authors, if not all, started off as huge readers, and each seems to have had one or two favorites that really influenced their desire to write. So, who is your gateway author, and what was it about their work that grabbed you?

I got hooked by a wizened Florida boat bum named Travis McGee and the man who created him, John D. MacDonald. My Dad was a big John D. fan and, by some coincidence, the “M” part of the family bookshelf was just about eye height to a 13-year-old. I’m not sure what grabbed me as a kid (other than perhaps Travis’s talent with the ladies), but as a grown up I marvel at MacDonald’s ability to imbue his work with sense of time and place — you really feel what it’s like to be in South Florida in the 50’s and 60’s when reading his stuff. But you probably wouldn’t appreciate something like that, Brett, inasmuch as Quinn never leaves his living room.

Ah, yeah, I’ll let you bring that up with Quinn yourself. But I’m with you on Travis McGee. Think I’ve read the series all the way through at least three times. So where did Carter Ross come from? He’s certainly is completely the opposite of you…oh…wait…

Yeah, we’re quite different. For example, while we’re both stiff, starchy, khaki-wearing WASPs with identical physical traits — 6-1, 185, brown hair, blue eyes — it turns out Carter is not left-handed, whereas I am. So, as you can see, any similarities between me and my main character are…

Oh, hell, fine. You got me. I guess the funny thing is, I never really gave much thought to what I was creating in Carter. During my days as a newspaper reporter, I always knew I wasn’t the story, and I think that sensibility was strongly in place when Carter Ross began forming. I was more interested in the story he had to tell than in who he was as a storyteller. So I figured if I made him like me — the most boring white man alive — the reader would find the story more interesting, too. It never occurred to me readers would latch onto the guy. (And, in truth, most of them haven’t — by ratio, Carter’s cat, Deadline, enjoys a 5:1 advantage in reader mail).

A series, was that always the plan?

Definitely. New Jersey in general — and Newark in particular — are dream locales for a crime fiction writer. Virtually every ethnic group, ethnic mob, street gang and category of malfeasance can be found somewhere in the great Garden State. Might as well keep using it. I can’t imagine ever running out of stories for Carter to cover.

Every time I see you a conference I always get the feeling you have a team up in your hotel room making sure you’re looking as sharp as you can before you step out the door. True or false? If true, elaborate. If false, explain yourself.

The BradParksBooks.com crew really does a great job, doesn’t it? I have Manuela on hair — I’d be lost without her. Stephen picks my outfits. And for my money, Hector is the best traveling manicurist in the business (I hired him away from Patterson, take THAT Jimbo!). Unfortunately, budget cuts at the publishing house necessitated letting go of Johnny, my trainer and nutritionist, so if I look a little soft around the middle, that’s why.

I mean, what, you think I want to be one of those authors who rolls out of bed and stumbles down to the conference bar in jeans, sneakers, a long sleeve T-shirt and… oh, hey Brett! Looks good on you, though.

Nice dropping in of the website, very subtle. So I’m told you’re the first person to win a Shamus and a Nero Award for the same book…can’t remember exactly who told me, but…Congratulations. Has that helped you get any respect from your friends and family? Or is it business as usual?

Yeah, every once in a while my wife wanders by the Nero Award — a very handsome brass bust of detective Nero Wolfe — and mutters, “Couldn’t they have given you a check instead?” No, seriously, it was very gratifying to win those awards. And I think it has given me a little extra credibility, not so much with friends (who pretty much know how full of crap I am), or with family (who taught me how to be full of crap in the first place), but with booksellers and librarians and folks of that ilk. It’s a very crowded marketplace, as you know, and awards help you stand out a little bit. Besides, I like how the Nero Award looks on the mantel.

Give us a little lowdown on EYES OF THE INNOCENT. Was there anything specific that inspired the story?

Yes and no. As a journalist, I did a lot of reporting on the subprime mortgage crisis, and the story starts with a character who gets in trouble in part because of a subprime mortgage. I also did reporting about house-flipping and political corruption, and those are in there, too. But it’s not so much anything specific — like one particular story I covered, as was the case in my first book — and more an amalgam of real-life things, which I then chopped up and turned into one big fictional stew.

What’s up next for you? More Carter?

Carter Ross Nos. 3 and 4 are written and waiting to go. I also have a Young Adult that my agent is shopping (it’s called “Secrets High School,” and I promise there are no vampires in it). Once I’m done with my tour for EYES OF THE INNOCENT, I might try a stand-alone. Or maybe I’ll start a series about a guy who I’ll call a “cleaner.” He works for this agency and, well, I don’t want to get into details, but do you think that’ll work?

You just try it, Mr. Parks. I’ve already done the research, so if you go missing you’ll never be found. Just saying…

Thanks for stopping by Brad!

Thanks for having me. And, hey, if you want Stephen to, you know, work on your wardrobe a bit, I’m sure he’d be happy to help.

Appreciate the offer, but I’ll pass for now.

All right, Murderati, if you have any questions for Brad, let ‘em rip!

(Reminder to anyone in Los Angeles on Monday. It’s Mystery Bookstore’s final day, and there will be a party starting at 6 – if not earlier – and going until whenever. Rob, Steve, Alex – I believe – and I will all be there along with a lot of other writers and fans. Hope you show up too.)

The Mystery Bookstore

By Brett Battles

(Ingrid, Bobby and Linda at the front counter of the Mystery Bookstore)

 

On Tuesday, word spread across the Internet about the closing of the Mystery Bookstore in West Los Angeles.

The news hit me particularly hard – as I’m sure it did for most L.A. based authors. The Mystery Bookstore has been our “local”, to use pub terminology, the place we think of as our home store. Every single one of my books so far has had its launch signings there. In fact, until the announcement, my upcoming March release of THE SILENCED was also to have its launch signing there. But, sadly, is not going to happen now.

But this post is not an obit for this fantastic store. It is a remembrance and a flickering candle that maybe this is not the end.

Those of you who have been to the Mystery Bookstore know that its strength is its incredibly knowledgeable staff headed by Bobby McCue and Linda Brown. Tell any of the employees there what kind of books you like, and you’ll get recommended more choices than you know what to do with. They are just that good.

The thing that has been most important to me, though, is the store’s support, not just of myself, but of the whole mystery and thriller community.

But, if you’ll allow, a quick memory…

The first time I walked in the store was right after New Years, six months before the release of my first novel, THE CLEANER. I was a nervous first timer, and I almost left without introducing myself. Thankfully, I did. Bobby and Linda were immediately excited for me, and told me to make sure my publicist at the publisher contacted them about a launch signing. We talked books, and the industry, and the community. I didn’t walk out of there, I floated.

(My daughters and I at my very first signing at the Mystery Bookstore.)

 

I can’t tell you how many authors I’ve met because of the Mystery Bookstore, both in person and through recommendations, but it’s a lot. And the wonderful readers I’ve met, too, the true backbone of the community, happened because of the Mystery Bookstore.

To think the store won’t be there after January 31st for me to drop in on is incomprehensible.

Yesterday, I took a break from the book I’m working on, and drove over to the store. Bobby wasn’t in, but Linda was there, as was Pam who owns the store with her husband Kirk. Since purchasing it, they have been as diehard supporters of the genre and of me as the rest of the staff have been, and I know they have worked tirelessly to try to make things work.

I could see the strain of the decision in Pam’s face. I could hear it in her voice. This was not something that came easy.

I knew this wouldn’t be my last time at the store before it closes, but it would be one of them. I expected it to be a sad experience. But, on the whole, it wasn’t . Yes, they are closing, but all hope is not lost.

Pam and I talked for, I don’t know, maybe fifteen or twenty minutes, and I learned that they are still trying to figure out ways to make the store live on. No, not as it currently exists. That’s over. As Pam said, and I won’t get this quote correct, the business model for the independent bookseller just doesn’t work anymore. At least, not in their case, and I have a feeling not in most.

But given that, she also thinks that doesn’t mean a viable model can’t be found. She and her husband Kirk have been racking their brains to come up with creative solutions. To that end, author Lisa Lutz, has grabbed the bull by the horns, and has been trying to come up with some ways to make things work. I’m told in the past 48 hours, she and Pam and Kirk have been trading ideas, and looking for alternatives. If you haven’t already read what Lisa has posted on her own blog, you’ll find it here

I told Pam that I was going to blog about the store today, and she said to let people know that this is hopefully not the end, and that if anyone, ANYONE, has ideas that might help them find a viable way in this new book world order, to let them know.

Who knows? One of us may have a solution that will not only help the Mystery Bookstore today, but other of our favorite bookstores that may be facing now or will face in the future similar issues.

Also, if you are in L.A. on January 31st, there will be a party at the store that starts at 6 p.m. I’ll be there. I know a lot of other authors (including some here at Murderati) will be there, too. Join us, and let’s celebrate this icon of our community.

One last thing…

So this is how wonderful the Mystery Bookstore is. As I was talking to Pam, Linda was helping a customer who was looking for books for a friend that were similar to a certain author. He walked out with a copy of my first book thanks to Linda. And she didn’t do that because I was there. She would have done it anyway.

That’s all. No questions today, but solutions are always welcome.

I Wish, I Wish, I Wish

By Brett Battles

 

You’ll excuse, I hope, if I keep this brief. The New Year is nearly upon us, and I’m spending the week with family.

I have tons of goals for 2011 which will involve more hours than I want to think about right now sitting in front of my laptop. So instead of talking about those, I thought I’d share something I wrote for AOL News that is up this week.

I was asked to write about my wishes for the New Year…(not goals, but wishes)…please forgive me for asking you to click on the link, but I do hope you will read it, then come back here and share your wishes for 2011 with all of us.

My Wish for 2011 

 

Happy New Year, everyone! I hope 2011 is even better than you expect.

Oops…I did it again.

By Brett Battles

 

It seems like only a year ago I was finishing a book that experienced a few bumps along the way…to recap:

a) I was writing my first standalone

b) Everything was going well, then, when I’d reached around the 200ish page, I stumbled upon another book set in the exact same locale with a very similar plot

b2) it was by an author I knew

b3) …an author I’d already asked to blurb this book once I finish it

c) I then had to start basically from scratch (kept the locale, and the first line, but everything else was new)

RESULT: The whole experience from first page of the discarded story to last page of a semi-polished draft of the new direction all took place from beginning of September to end of December last year because I HAD to get it done.

Oh, so…yeah…it WAS a year ago.

Why do I bring this up? Because it just happened again.

Okay, not EXACTLY the same way, but the results were similar.

This time, instead of a standalone, I had this new series I wanted to start. The idea for the first book had been swimming around my head for months, and, for various reasons I’ll go into sometime in the future, the time to write it had come.

I did even more prep work than usual this time, creating a timeline using butcher paper and colored post its. I had characters named, and detailed back stories figured out before I put one word of the actual novel to paper. Then I dove in.

The action scenes were working out great, the settings were intriguing, and the interplay between the main characters was exactly what I’d hoped for.

In no time, I’d written 288 pages. I was going to have the first draft done before Thanksgiving, well ahead of my end of the year deadline.

The problem was, that 288th page? That was the last one I wrote on that version.

Why? Well, the next morning I woke up no longer able to ignore the nagging little voice in the back of my head. It kept repeating the question, “You DO know what kind of book this is becoming, don’t you?” The problem with your mind asking you a question like that is you usually already know the answer. And I did.

I hadn’t been writing the first book of a new series. I’d been writing a book that, with some name changes and a few additions, could easily be the fifth book of my Quinn series. That’s great for Quinn. I now have a massive start on his next adventure. But it sucked for my new guy, because having him be just another Quinn was absolutely NOT what I wanted. And his was the book I needed to write now.

This realization coincided with an out of town conference I had to go to. So I spent the time away letting my mind stew on a solution. My answer? The basic idea behind the story was still useable, it was just everything else had to change, starting with the point of view.

So the following Monday I was back at my desk, starting at the very beginning.

One big change was that instead of writing the story in third person, this new version is entirely in first. This helped me get into my characters head a hell of a lot better than the previous direction had. As for the rest, I thought at first I might be able to salvage some of the work I’d previously done, and use an adjusted version, but that didn’t end up being the case. Turns out there was only one scene I even slightly borrowed from.

But I’ve got to say, since this restart, things have flowed like crazy, and that nagging voice in the back of my head has not made a reappearance.

If everything sticks to my plan, I should be finishing a first, full draft tomorrow. I still have a lot of work to go. There are many things I know I need to add to the next draft, and a ton of things that need to be cleaned up. But I’m well on my way, and this should be done and ready to go not long after the New Year begins. When that happens, you’ll hear a big sigh from the West Coast.

God, I hope this doesn’t happen to me on the next one! If there’s something a new novelist can learn from my experience, it’s that if you really want to be a published author, it’s all about persistence and constantly pushing yourself to be better. I could have just kept going with that first version. I could have been satisfied with a variation on a theme I’d already established. But I don’t want to just cruise or settle or repeat. I want to get better. Always. And sometimes that means going back to the beginning.

So, anyone have writing horror stories you were able to overcome that you’d like to share? Love to hear them!

In a Flash

So I’m neck deep in my current manuscript, and realized I had little time this week to really concentrate on my post for Murderati. Actually, the problem is my head is so in the book, I can’t think of a decent enough topic to discuss. So I decided I’d do something different…a little early holiday fun…

Several years ago I published a few works of flash fiction online. It’s been awhile since any of them appeared anywhere, so I thought I’d post one of my favorite today. Some of you may have read this already, so apologies. Those of you who haven’t, I hope you enjoy!

 

VENTI LATTE

By Brett Battles

 

“The large one.”

“You mean venti?” the barista asked. She was probably just barely out of high school.

“Sure. Venti. That’s the large, right?” the man asked.

“That’s the large.”

“Good.”

“Can I get your name?”

The man looked around. “Why? Is there a line?”

There was no line.

“Right. Sorry. I’m a little nervous,” she said.

“This your first day?”

“No. Third.”

“You’re doing fine.”

And she was, too. Her customer service was all he could have expected.

“How much?” he asked.

She hesitated for a moment like she hadn’t understood what he was saying, then shook herself and rang up his drink.

“Three forty-five,” she said.

“Annie.” It was one of her co-workers. The red-headed kid who looked like he could use a little sun. “Just give it to him.”

“It’s okay,” the man said. “I don’t mind paying.”

He pulled a five dollar bill out of his pocket and handed it to the girl. Once she had given him his change, he dumped it all in the tip jar.

While the rest of her co-workers and pretty much everyone in the coffee shop watched, Annie made the venti latte. No one offered to help, but she seemed to have everything under control.

Somewhere in the distance, there was the faint sound of a siren.

The man waited contentedly as she finished frothing up the milk and adding it to his cup. Once she was done, she put a lid on top and slipped a safety sleeve around the base. Her hands weren’t even shaking as she handed the drink to him.

The sirens were closer now, probably only six or seven blocks away. The man took a sip of the latte, then smiled.

“This is great.”

“Thanks,” Annie said.

“You have a good day,” he told her.

“You, too.”

Except for his footsteps on the tiled floor, the coffee shop was silent. Everyone’s eyes were on him, but he acted like he didn’t notice. The only abnormal thing he did was step over the dead body of the would-be robber lying in the middle of the floor.

The unlucky bastard’s gun was still in his hand. An ancient .38 special. God only knew how much damage the kid had done with it in the past.

As the assassin opened the front door, he glanced back at the counter. Annie was still there, watching him. As he gave her a little wave, she mouthed the words, “Thank you.”

He smiled and walked out to his car. A glance at his watch told him he was still ahead of schedule. That was fine. It was never good to kill someone when you were in a rush.

 

I, Juror or My Big Jury Adventure

By Brett Battles

So the week after Bouchercon I had jury duty.

The way it works here in Los Angeles, you call in the night before, punch in your juror number, and you’re told if you need to report the next day. If you go all week without being called in, you’re off the hook until the next time you get a summons.

But what about if you’re called in? Well, you’re now in what’s called the 1 Day/1 Trial system.

What’s that mean? It means you don’t get put on a jury that day you come in, you’re done for at least a year. Doesn’t matter if it’s Monday or it’s Friday. You’re done. Free. Obligation fulfilled. This is what is meant by 1 Day.

If you are put on a jury, or are in a jury pool from which a jury will be selected, you are now on the 1 Trial track. Those playing along who haven’t guessed already, this track means you’re on jury duty until the trial is over or you’re excused by the judge.

Going into jury duty, I was a little unsure of how I felt. The last time I was called in, I was excited and wanted to get on a trial. But that time I didn’t even get called out of the waiting room (1 Day for me). This time, though I thought getting on a jury might be interesting, I was also right in the middle of writing my next book and was fearful of killing my momentum. See what I mean? Torn.

On the Sunday before, I called and learned I didn’t have to go in on Monday. Okay, good. I got a day to work on the book. Only I had kind of hoped Monday was going to be my day. See, I was starting to worry that I might have to repot in on that coming Friday. That was the day I was supposed to head up to my hometown for my high school reunion. Yeah, I know, I could have postponed ahead of time, but the idea didn’t cross my mind then. They also gave us another chance to put it off in the waiting room after we all arrived, but I decided, Hell, I’m here already. Let’s just do this.

Wait, I’m getting ahead of myself, if only slightly. See, we were on Monday, and Monday I didn’t go into the courthouse. But Monday night I called again. This time I was told to report on Tuesday morning.

Okay, good. If I’m only there a day, I’ll be back in front of my laptop on Wednesday and without a worry about my Friday travel plans. So in I go, my iPad and one of the Matt Helm books in my backpack. The morning passes by. I read, I watch a move. Some jury pools are called, but my name isn’t. Hey, maybe I’m going to get off just like last time. But the funny thing was I was stating to think that I’d kind of like to hang around and participate. It would be interesting and, after all, it was my duty as a citizen, right?

After lunch another pool was called, but still no Brett Battles. Then, just before 2 p.m., they call yet another. 40 people for the pool. I was around the 30th called. Awesome, maybe I WILL get on a jury.

Up we go to the 15th floor. After about 10 minutes of sitting around, the clerk comes out and passes out juror questionnaires. Oooh, cool! I’ve never seen one of these. Lots of questions about law enforcement and domestic abuse. Hmmm…I wonder what this trial’s about? The clerk also gives us each a number that has been randomly assigned to us. I’m #16.

After we finish our questionnaires we all file inside the courtroom. The first thing the judge tells us is that we will all be back the next day. (I’m sure several people groaned on the inside.) The lawyers need time to go over our forms, and they won’t be ready until the morning. The second thing she tells us is that we don’t have to report until 10:45. That’s good news for me. It means I can get some writing done before heading off to court. The third thing she tells us is that if we get on the jury, the trial is expected to go 7 days. Ugh. That means if I do get chosen, I’ll have to adjust my Friday plans. Well, you roll the dice and sometimes you lose. 

Wednesday comes. I get up early, get a nice chunk of writing done, then head off to downtown on a oddly rainy Fall day. This time when we go into the courtroom, numbers 1 through 12 are instructed to sit in specific chairs in the jury box. Numbers 13 through 18 (remember, I’m 16), are instructed to sit in a row of chairs directly in front of the box. Numbers 19 and above are to sit in the public seating area for the time being.

The judge starts. She tells us the case is one of alleged domestic violence. At first I think that maybe the accused is a police officer given what we’d had to fill out. But I soon get the impression that he’s not a cop, so I’m guessing there’s a difference of opinion between him and the officers who probably arrested him. The judge then asks questions of each of the first 16 based on our questionnaires. Some she asks several questions of, some just a few. One of the questions on the sheet was: What is your profession? I put crime and thriller novelist.

“Huh, a novelist,” the judge says when she gets to me. “What kind of books?”

“Spy novels. Thrillers.”

“Well, I don’t think they’ll be any spies here to worry about.” That gets a general laugh.

She moves on.

Then it’s the lawyers turn. They both ask me about my brother because he used to be a cop. It was the “Do you believe cops are always right” kind of questions. I wasn’t the only one they asked this of. Finally, we broke for lunch. When we came back, they started excusing people. 

First it was the excused-for-cause juror candidates. This included a woman who said she could not send anyone to jail because she strongly believe that much of the money spent on prisons should be funneled toward schools and education. I can testify she seemed pretty set in her convictions, and wasn’t playing a game. More power to her. Next to go was a guy who said based on what had happened in own his childhood he could not judge a domestic violence case without prejudice. I don’t know the details, but I could imagine that being a problem. There were one or two others, then it was time for the lawyer challenges. These were just jurors the lawyers decided they didn’t want for whatever reason.

For this phase, the concern was only the potential jurors sitting in the box, nos. 1-12.

“Mr. Defense Attorney?”

“The defense asks that you thank and excuse juror number 6.”

“The court thanks and excuses juror number 6.”

Juror number 6 leaves, and the person sitting in chair 13 in my row is instructed to take their place.

“Mr. Prosecuting Attorney?”

“The people ask that you thank and excuse…”

And on and on.

Finally the guy next to me, no. 15, gets up and takes the latest seat.

“The defense asks that you thank and excuse juror number 2.”

Juror number 2 gets up and leaves. I tense. I’m moving into the box. I’m going to be juror number 2. I’m pretty sure at this point neither attorney is going to get rid of me. If either did, it would be the defense. It certainly wouldn’t be the prosecutor. My brother was a cop. True or not, I have to seem like someone who would might lean the prosecutions way.

“Juror number 16, please take juror number 2’s spot,” the judge says. Once I made the move, feeling the seat under me, and know this was going to be my home for the next 7 days, she then said, “Mr. Prosecuting Attorney?”

No hesitation. “Your honor, the people ask that you thank and excuse juror number 2.”

Wait. What?

Did he just say juror number 2? The prosecutor? I’m juror number 2 now, only–

“The court would like to thank and excuse juror number 2.”

By my estimation, my butt was in that seat for thirty seconds. THIRTY SECONDS!

Walking out, I was stunned. What had I done wrong? Why didn’t they want me? Did the fact that I’m a crime and thriller writer work against me?

Sadly, if it did, I’ll never know, because my big court adventure was over, and I was headed home. I don’t even know if the case went seven days or not. I don’t even know…forget it, Brett. It’s over. They didn’t pick you.

Bummer.

On the bright side, I made it to my reunion in plenty of time.

 

So, 1) theories on why I got the boot, and 2) jury stories! Come on, give ‘em up!

OBSTACLES

By Brett Battles

We’re all perpetrators. We find reasons not to do the things we really should be doing…going out with friends, cleaning out the garage, learning to cook that meal we always told ourselves we wanted to learn.

It’s amazing the things we can talk ourselves out of. “I’ll do it tomorrow.” “I’m just not in the mood.” “There’s that other ‘thing’ I want to do first.”

We can be especially good at this when it comes to writing. “I need to mental be in the right frame of mind.” “I only have an hour or two to write, so it’s not even worth it.” “I’ve got writer’s block.”

I’m here to tell you, if you want to write books, those are all just excuse. Sure, there are going to be days you just can’t write because life gets in the way. But if you’re making excuses, it’s not life getting in your way, it’s you.

I knew when I was in fifth grade that I wanted to be a novelist. I didn’t know all the parameters of being one at the time – the work I would have to put in, the amount of time it would actually take to write a full book – but I knew I wanted to write stories. The dream obviously stayed with me, and I wrote a lot over the following years. What might be surprising is that I didn’t complete a full novel until just after I was thirty-two. Why? Because there were years I didn’t really put the effort in. I was busy living (something all novelists need to do in some way or another), and was not serious about being a novelist. Even when I finished that book, I wasn’t ready.

For seven years after that, I wrote very little. Then, when I turned thirty-nine I told myself if I really wanted to fulfill the dream of that ten year old me, I needed to buckle down and do it.

The biggest obstacle was finding time to write. I had a fulltime job, after all, and that pretty much ate up most of the day. But if I just gave up because of that, it would be because I was making excuses again, something I had done for years. So I had to find a way to work writing into my day, or just admit I was giving up.

My solution? I adjusted my habits and got up early, allocating two hours every morning to write before I went work. I also decided any time I had free time in the evenings or the weekends, I’d write. That’s how I wrote two novels that I haven’t published, and also three that I have. THE CLEANER was written this way.

I could have easily said it’s not worth it after one of the unpublished novels failed to sell, and given up. But I kept going. A) because I was still holding tight to the dream, and B) well…because I’m a writer, and writers write.

Sleeping would have been great. I could have stayed up later, done things with friends, had a life. But I was (and still am) a writer. And that meant, as I’ve already said, I had to write. Still, just because I did didn’t guarantee I’d achieve the goal of being published, but I definitely wouldn’t achieve it if I didn’t write anything.

If I may repeat myself, if I was going to be a writer, I had to write. This could apply to anything. If I was going to be a ball player, I would have to practice. If I was going to be a scientist, I would have to study. If I was going to be a professional photographer, I would have to take photographs…a whole hell of a lot of them.

Now maybe you might not be able to get up early, or even carve out a couple hours somewhere else in your day, but you can find an hour, or a half-hour or even fifteen-minutes…somewhere in your life is a block of time you can set aside. But setting aside the time is just the start. You need to use it, too. No excuses.

Excuses will get you a free afternoon. Working on what you love could get you a lifetime of satisfaction.

Here’s something you should check out. An example of improvising, and not letting obstacles get in your way. I love this!

 

 

So what excuses do you give yourself? How do you move beyond them?

 

Reining in The Beast

By Brett Battles

Each book I write has it’s own personality. I’m not talking about the theme or the plot or the way it is told. I’m talking about the physical process of writing it.

Some are like your friend that you like spending a lot of time with. You get along. You have fun. Sometimes you make a wrong turn when you’re on a road trip, but you always get to where you’re going.

Some are like that friend who you are always making plans with but more times than not they cancel before you get together. Your relationship takes a long time to solidify. Occasionally it never does.

And some are just beasts.

In fact, I would venture to guess that most authors would say the majority of books they work on fall into this last category. These are the books that you are fighting with constantly, that you’re trying to tame, or at the very least rein in enough to get down on paper.

For me, I’ve experienced all of them, and sometimes all three in the same manuscript.

My first published book, THE CLEANER, was the good friend you like to spend time with. Of course, being my first novel, I didn’t have a contract yet so had the luxury of time, so I could afford to meander wherever I felt like going.

Then came my second novel, THE DECEIVED. Of every book I have ever written, published or unpublished, this was the one that was my biggest beast. Largely this was due to the well known phenomenon of the “second book” syndrome. By second book, I don’t necessary mean the second book an author writes. I’m talking about the second book he or she creates once they have been published. This usually is the first book you write where you’ve got a contract. And a contract means your publisher has expectations…like it you’ll finish within a certain time frame. And we’re not talking about a date in the distant future affording you that luxury you had with your previous book(s). This is a deadline that’s barreling down on you. In additon you have the added pressure of not wanting to screw up. For me, this, this meant I must have rewritten the last 100 pages of that book three times. When I was finally done, I was SO relieved.

My third, SHADOW OF BETRAYAL, was a little bit of both the good friend and the beast. But because it went a lot smoother than book 2 went, I was basically happy.

The fourth book I wrote (again this is post publishing, I have three unpublished manuscripts on my computer somewhere) was a breeze for the most part. That book, THE SILENCED, will be out next March. The hardest part of that one was that I broke up with my girlfriend of the time in the middle of it. Not fun for either of us, I’m sure. Of course, in a way, that just made me focus more. But, even then, I don’t think I would ever call THE SILENCED a bear. In truth, it came really easy to me, and I’m very pleased with the final version.

Number five is a standalone called NO RETURN that’s actually all down, too. (It will be coming out in the future, publisher hasn’t set the date yet.) That was the quickest book I had written to that date (from zero words to a draft polished enough to submit to my publisher). It also seemed to flow right through my fingertips. A good friend again. Not a beast.

Number six I wrote at the beginning of this past summer. It’s a YA book that my agent is showing around right now. That was probably the most fun book I have ever had writing. I loved the experience, the characters, the story. A good friend, indeed.

So based on this, when I started my latest adult novel in September – the first in what I hope might be a new series – it was natural to think that with my recent track record this one would be a breeze. After all, the last three I had written had gone extremely smoothly. Why shouldn’t this one, too?

Why, indeed?

I wish I knew the answer, because it hasn’t.

It. Has. Been. A. Beast.

As of Monday, I have restarted this novel for the fifth time. The first time I probably got about 20 pages in before turning back. No biggie, that happens. Take 2, another 20, maybe 30, and I think I was able to salvage much of the first take. Take 3: 81 pages, mostly new material. Take 4: 103 pages, mostly new material. Take 5 (current version): as of this writing on Tuesday night, 41 pages, almost entirely new material.

That is one, big, fat, UGH! If I could have strung all that new material together I’d be well over 200 pages by this point!

Now, I am using a lot of the same setting. And the characters are all pretty much still there, though they have changed greatly (especially in my latest version). I’ve also used scenes that are similar in each. Unfortunately they are not similar enough to recycle what I had. I think I’m getting closer now, hoping, in fact, that Version 5 will be the base for a full draft. (Dear God, please let it be so.)

Am I frustrated? A bit, but not as much as you might think. I take the view that I can’t afford to ever get too frustrated. That would only cripple me from doing the task I need to perform. If a story’s not working, it just means I need to take a closer look at it, or it could even mean it’s not the story I should write. Either way, I gotta keep moving forward. To be overwhelmed by frustration (or anything for that matter) is not an option. (This goes for the editing phase, too.)

So I’ll get up tomorrow morning (I’m writing this on Tuesday night), and I’ll put my fingers on my keyboard and tap away until I’ve hopefully reached my goal for the day (went way above on Monday, went way under Tuesday.) And I hope when I reach that 80 to 100 page mark I don’t get the same “crap, this isn’t working” feeling I got on takes 1, 2, 3 and 4. I don’t think I will this time, but I didn’t think that on the previous versions, either.

It’ll all depend on whether I can rein in the beast or not.

 

So do your stories have personalities? How would you describe them?

 

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