Sunday, April 27, 2014

Writer's Block and Distractions

At some point every writer has to deal with the dreaded Writer's Block.  Truthfully, I believe that everyone, writers and non-writers alike, deal with some form of Writer's Block.   Think about  it as any task or project  that you just couldn't figure out where to begin.  Likewise, it's the same when you reach a point where you just desperately want to finish, yet can't seem to find that last bit of energy to keep giving the project 110% of your best efforts.  That's where I find myself as I'm starting on the sequel to "Of Murder and Monsters."  I know where I want to go, the question I found myself asking (while banging my head on my desk) was "where do I start?"

It's hard not to lose faith when this happens.  It becomes easier once you realize that inspiration comes in different ways.  Sometimes, we get the answer to our Writer's Block problem and don't even realize it until much later.  Today, I was struggling with figuring out how to begin the second book.  Flashbacks, while effective when used properly, just didn't feel right.  Putting together a series of short summations that advanced the plot ahead by a few weeks/months felt like I was just cheating the reader.  Something that my wife said to me weeks ago finally struck the right chord that chipped a huge corner off of my Writer's Block.  The gist of her comment/advice was simple: just pick up right where the first book ended.  Genius!  From that simple point, I should be able to get back into the flow of creativity and the words would practically jumped onto the page, right?  Not quite.

Distractions can also derail the creative process. All of the creativity in the world won't help if you can't focus your talent/effort.  I've tried hammering away on my laptop in the living room while the family watched some age-appropriate chick-flick/school musical movie to little avail.  Likewise, writing and wrangling a toddler who's equal parts tom girl and prissy princess tend not to work out well- at least not simultaneously.  Trying to write while at work (during a lunch break, of course) is never a good idea for all sorts of reasons.  What I've learned is that when it comes to writing you have to be selfish.  You have to carve out your own place to write in peace and quiet.  I'm still working on getting the wife to agree to soundproofing the home office and putting locks on the inside of the door.

All kidding aside, Writer's Block and distractions are probably the two biggest things that can derail making progress on a manuscript.  Neither are fun and both will happen more often than you'd want.  It's part of the process and one that just has to be accepted.  The key, I've found, is not to give in to discouragement.  Sometimes I just have to set the keyboard aside, clear my head and then come back to give it another try. Speaking of which, it's time for me to get back to work on the second book.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Cruel or Just Unusual?

Recent articles have popped up regarding  Missouri's failure to timely commit Cornealious "Mike" Anderson to the thirteen years in prison he was sentenced to for a 2000 armed robbery conviction.  Anderson filed several  post-conviction appeals and remained out on bond for thirteen years.  According to the articles that I've come across, Anderson was never directed to turn himself in after his appeals had been exhausted.  In fact, the Missouri Department of Corrections never caught the error until Anderson was supposed to be released in July 2013.  He's now sitting in prison, suing to be released.

Everyone is going to have a different opinion on whether or not Anderson should serve out the thirteen years or receive a pardon from the governor.  The real issue here is that the system failed Cornealious Anderson. If it had, he would have served his sentence and would be able to go about the business of getting his life back together (easier said than done for those trying to reenter society after a lengthy prison sentence).  So this begs the question: is Anderson's scenario cruel or just highly unusual?  As recently as 2012, a clerical error by a California corrections department  resulted in parolee Charles Anthony Edwards III being release early from a state supervised mental health program.  Edwards allegedly stabbed a 38 year-old woman to death approximately five months later.

Both cases highlight tragic results when things go awry with the criminal justice system.  Likewise, both cases offer compelling reasons for making sure that the criminal justice system is properly funded and provided with adequate resources.  Though analyzed from a different angle, this is one of the issues that I attempt to explore in the novella "Of Murder and Monsters."  It's also part of the reason that I decided to make the main protagonist an assistant public defender.  A large percentage of criminal defense cases are handled by these men and women who are expected to protect their clients' rights: without adequate support/resources; while facing crushing case loads; and for low pay that does not cover the typical monthly law school loan payment. The same can be said for prosecutors for the other side of the spectrum: although I hear that in some jurisdictions the pay scale is even lower than for their public defender counterparts.  These folks are supposed to defend rights (public defenders) and make sure that justice is served (prosecutors).  How sustainable are those ideals, then, given the current state of things?  And, if those are the conditions that are faced by the attorneys, is it really any wonder that clerical mistakes on the magnitude of the Anderson and Edwards matters have occurred?

Friday, April 18, 2014

The sound of writing

A friend and fellow writer recently asked me, "so what do you do to keep the inspiration going while you write?"  I sort of just looked at him for a moment, mostly because I'm easily confused, and asked for a bit of clarification.  He explained that after getting jazzed up over an idea, the feeling or emotion tended to fade fifteen to twenty minutes into his writing.  He was having a hard time hanging on to whatever feeling or emotion he was trying to convey for a particular scene or dialogue exchange.  Once the meat of the question sunk in, I simply replied, "music."

Every writer/author is going to have that "one thing" (name that Billie Crystal movie if you can) that helps carry them through from one scene or chapter to the next.  For me, it's music.  Generally my preference is for instrumental scores.  I'm not quite down with the classics, although I enjoy them.  In my younger writing years, I listened mostly to movie scores while writing.  Hans Zimmer and Danny Elfman readily come to mind and were great influences for for a lot of the action sequences I that I wrote.  Of course, as I've gotten older my tastes have changed.  Don't get me wrong, depending on the piece, I still like Zimmer's work; however, Bear McCreary has quickly become one of my favorite composers.  Still, I've branched and tried new types of music.  It's likely a sign that I'm steadily inching my way to old fart status.  

Much of what I'm listening to these days comes from some of the companies responsible for churning out a lot of the Tv and movie trailers.  Yes, I know what you're thinking: Garcia listens to advertising music.  That's a fair summary, but hear me out.  Those pieces are often short, yet very powerful.  They have to be.  If not, the listener gets bored and changes the channel.  The world we live in has changed: people just don't have an abundance of time, so no one wants to feel like they are wasting what little free time they have.  So that short, emotionally charged one or two minute piece of music sometimes captures or stirs the kind of sentiment I'm looking to get out of a scene.  The "groups" I've been listening to lately are: Immediate Music, Two Steps from Hell, and Audiomachine.    

Sometimes I'll loop the same piece, over and over again.  Other times, if I've downloaded (read paid for it via iTunes), I'll string together a playlist for a specific feeling that I'm looking to capture.  Let's face it, if you're not feeling sad or depressed, it's not easy to pull together a scene that's supposed to convey those kinds of feelings.  Now, try it when you're listening to a piece of music that emphasizes the weeping cry of a violin against the backdrop of other muted instruments.  Suddenly, the world changes because your emotion changes.  Your eyes well up.  A lump forms in your throat.  Now you can really see the little six year-old girl as she falls helplessly to her knees, crying over her beloved little puppy that was just hit by her neighbor's car.  

Yes, I know that's a cheap shot - but didn't you hear the violin playing while the imagery of the little girl was playing out in your mind's eye.  That's the point I'm trying to make.  If writing is all about painting a scene in the reader's mind, music is all about "feeling."  I've found that it's a far easier thing to describe what I'm feeling than it is to imagine what someone else would be feeling and trying to described what those imaginary feelings would be like.  

So I hope that my friend has found the musical style that's got his pen/keyboard moving and capturing what he's chasing after.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Free Excerpt from "Of Murder and Monsters."

The countdown continues as the final draft of "Of Murder and Monsters" is nearly finished.  At this point the mantra has been "polish, polish, and polish some more" before everything is sent off for final copy editing.  Feedback from the kind souls who've volunteered to be beta readers of the current draft has been incredibly helpful.  So it looks like everything is on track for the anticipated July 2014 publication date.  The book will be released as an e-book.  Announcements as to which platforms will be forthcoming.  Meanwhile, for those who've asked for a teaser, below is a free excerpt from one of the book's chapters.  


R.Q. Garcia


It was almost nine-thirty in the evening before I pulled into the parking lot of the Osceola County jail. I wasn't entirely sure why I came back to see her again so soon, especially after a mini-marathon session translating for Mandy after my trial.  Yet here I was.  Chances were, this meeting would go down the same route it did on Sunday.  But I had to try.  I needed to know what the hell was going on with this case.

“Why didn't I just go straight home after the damn trial?” I muttered to myself.  I shrugged as I grabbed the Keller file and headed towards the jail’s entrance. 

Once again I went to where Savannah Keller was being kept.  Once again I asked the corrections guard to open up the bean hole so that I could speak with my client.  This time, however, I asked the guard to give me a little privacy to speak with my client, and a chair.  I reassured her that I wouldn't get too close to the hole and that I’d be careful.  She’d still be within earshot, but I was hoping that this time my client would be a bit chattier than last time.

“Ms. Keller?”  I called to my client once the guard had left.  “You remember me, right?  I came to see you yesterday.”  I said into the darkened room.  Not a sound came from inside of the cell.  Savannah didn't moved in response to me or anything I had just said.  From what little I could actually see inside of the room, it seemed as though she hadn't moved since the last time I came to visit her. 

“Well, let’s try this again.  I’m your attorney and, again…my name is Sean Valdez.  Maybe we got off on the wrong foot.  I came here earlier to talk about trying to get you a bond, so you could get out of jail.  You didn't seem like you wanted to talk.  I’m guessing it’s because you don’t actually want to get out of jail.”  I said and then paused, waiting to see if she stirred like before.  When no response came, when no movement or reaction occurred, I decided to press my luck further.

“Most people want to get out of jail as quickly as they can.  So they don’t miss work and can keep their jobs.  So they don’t lose their home or their belongings.  As long as I've been doing this most folks just want to get out of jail ASAP.”  I stopped again.  It was like a grave in that room.  I couldn't even hear her breathe. 

“Now other clients of mine, the ones that have been around the block, have all sorts of things in place and know the system well enough that they don’t even fool with bonding out until the State decides whether they’re going to file charges.  They figure, why waste the money on bond if there’s a chance the State will dump the case.  And if the State does pick up charges, they start off with a nice cushion of jail credit in case they have to take a plea deal for jail or prison time.  But as far as I know, you don’t have any criminal history, so we both know that’s not what’s going here.”  I paused and stared hard into the room, trying to make out anything that would give me a clue as to how this line of dialogue was playing with her.  I licked my lips, but instead of saying anything immediately, I just continued to look into the room.  I kept my eyes trained to where I thought she would be sitting.  It was a staring contest.  I just didn't know whether or not my opponent was staring back at me.  I don’t know how long I sat there, but I figure it could not have been more than two or three minutes. But I was never a good judge of time.  The fact that a five minute translation session turned into a protracted trial strategy session with my trial partner’s client immediately came to mind.  I must have looked ridiculous to the guards who were sitting forty feet or so away.

“So I’m thinking you actually don’t want a bond because you don’t want to leave the jail.”  I lowered my voice and leaned as close to the bean hole as I dared. 

“Maybe that’s because you feel like it’s safer for you to be here.  In here, you’re safe from…whoever…out there.”  Could that have been a rustle of cloth that I heard?  Finally!  I was getting somewhere. 

“I think that you’re worried about retaliation.  You’re worried about someone coming after you.  But they can’t get you if you’re in here, can they?”  And that was the sales pitch.  That was the bait at the end of this hook that I had thrown out there.  And if she took it, if Savannah Keller answered that simple question then I would finally have something to work with other than the woman who just sat in her cell without saying a single word. 

But when no words came after the first minute, I grew anxious.  By the second minute, my frustration had returned.   And by the close of the third minute, I was as angry now as I had been earlier today. 

“I’m just trying to help you.”  The words came as a harsh whisper more to myself than to my quiet client.  For the second time I felt as though I had wasted my time on someone who was either incapable of letting me help her, or who simply wouldn't.  The pain inside of my head had returned and although I had walked into the jail hungry and looking forward to grabbing some dinner on the way home, eating was now that last thing on my mind.

“You know what?  Fine.  I’m trying to help you, but…”  I stopped myself before I shouted everything that came to my mind in that instant.  “I can’t help you if you won’t let me and, frankly….Forget it!  Sit in the dark for as long as you like.  I got a hundred and forty-seven other people that actually want my help.”  My stomach felt like it was trying to dissolve something it couldn't. 

“…Can’t save me, and I won’t save you.”  The words were whispered, but the power behind them stopped me cold.  I had turned my back on the cell and was only a few paces away when I heard those words so clearly.  But when I turned back towards the cell, my movements and thinking felt so sluggish. 

I don’t remember walking back towards the bean hole of Savannah’s cell.  I don’t remember putting one foot in front of the other.  I don’t remember dropping the file on the ground.  I don’t remember stooping over so that I could look directly inside of the cell through the bean hole.  My mind raced as the impact of those words settled upon me. 

I stood, or stooped, rather, just inches away from the bean hole.  I was as desperate to see something or hear some response from the client as I was to make the steady pounding in my head go away. 

“What…what did you just say?”  I don’t remember either not seeing or just completely ignoring the yellow line on the floor.  Something very basic and very primal screamed at me from the evolutionary pit that my ancestors had clawed out of to back away from the door. 

“Step back from the door, PD!”  The guard’s voice made me jump back.  I looked over at her, angry at the interruption and because of how much her shout had startled me.  Before I could say anything to her, the bean hole banged shut. 

“How the hell?”  I began to ask, turning back to the closed bean hole door. 

“That’s why we got the yellow line on the floor, man.”  The guard said, as she grabbed the keys from her desk.  “Just about any of ‘em can reach out from that door.  And it’s worse with the women.  Most of them be skinny enough to reach out further than you’d think they could.”

She locked the bean hole and then walked away from me.  I didn't argue.  I didn't fight it.  I was done here tonight.  The guard’s act of locking the bean hole merely served to clarify that Savannah was done with our mostly one-sided conversation.  

Sunday, April 13, 2014

What is "Of Murder and Monsters?"

Back in late 2011, I began working on a collection of short stories for a legal fiction drama.  The suggestions from my wife and family to start compiling my memoirs to record the numerous strange, weird, and sometimes humorous situations that regularly came up in my work was starting to finally take root.  Yet, even though I thought this was a good idea, there were tons of similar tales out there and I'm honest enough with myself that I can admit to being a pretty boring dude.  So in December of 2012, I asked myself this question: what happens when a criminal defense attorney, who has represented "monsters," finds himself representing a real one?  From there, the idea behind "Of Murder and Monsters" began to take shape.  

Over the past two years and four months, it's been a labor of love to tell the tale of Assistant Public Defender Sean Valdez and his strange, haunted client, Savannah Keller.  Like any labor, nothing came easy.  "Of Murder and Monsters" has gone through numerous re-writes, title changes, and moments where I just wanted to throw the laptop against the wall.  This explains all of the foam padding in my office, as well as why my wife forces me to purchase extended warranties.  All of these ups and downs, however, are integral parts to the creative process.  I'm my own worst enemy when it comes to writing and that's just the way it has to be: without the constant pokes, prods, slaps, smacks and sucker punches from my nemesis, I would have never pushed myself out of my comfort zone.  Writing should never be comfortable.  The end product is not just words on a page, it's a part of me.  It's my child: I gave birth to this fictional world that I created and to all of the people - or things - that live inside of it.  And it's all there, naked and exposed for the world to love, hate or happily ignore.  There's nothing comfortable about any of those three sentiments.  So then why do it? 

Because I love writing.  Because I love telling stories.  Because I love giving the reader exactly what they came looking for: enjoyment of the journey for its own sake.  Granted, just as every voyage has its destination, every story has its end.  My hope is that the trip along the way is just as satisfying as the last page.