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Decisions, Decisions, Decisions – Finding the Right Path for my Writing

Growing up and through school, one of my favorite things to do was read books. Sports and TV were high on the list too. But reading transported me away on fantastical adventures to mythological “what-if” lands and places where anything could happen and usually did.

As I grew up, my reading interests changed from “Peter Pan and Wendy” types to books with more complex characters, like Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch novels, and Tom Clancy’s stories about Jack Ryan. The more I read, the more I had to read. Soon John Grisham, Michael McGarrity, and John Sandford joined my list.

After college, I spent much of my adult life working in professions of police and law that required its members to do a considerable amount of writing – offense reports, supplementary offense reports, trial motions, trial briefs, appellate briefs, and responses to legal discovery requests.

During this period, my fiction reading slowed but I managed to read all of Tom Clancy’s books (in print at that time) as well as police novels written by Joseph Wambaugh. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I wondered what it would be like to write novels.

But write what?

Crime fiction like Connelly, Sandford and McGarrity? I did have a truckload of experience as a uniformed officer and as detective. A couple of years were spent working as a prosecutor’s investigator. I even had time logged as a criminal investigator for the US Treasury Department. That job sent me to places like New York, Washington, D.C, and Miami.

Or maybe legal thrillers like Grisham. Twenty-four years and counting first as a prosecutor in state court, then as a criminal defense attorney, and finally as an Assistant General Counsel for the Texas prison and parole agency gave me a lot of experience to draw from for stories.

How about fictional thrillers about international travel, danger, and life abroad like Clancy? During my time with the Feds and in the capacity of a Special Deputy US Marshal, I flew to cities in Europe and the Middle East. Later, I resided in West Berlin, Germany, for a few years, working for US military forces while the storied city was still divided and occupied by US, UK, French, and the then Soviet Union (now Russia) military forces.

I settled on crime fiction because I wanted to bring attention to some very serious social problems while entertaining my readers with . So, Price of Justice was written. It was my first novel and, like your first-born child, it was special to me. It tells two stories, one of a grieving detective working within the framework of the law to stop pedophiles, and the other of a mother out for vengeance against the same pedophiles. The book deals with their mutual attraction and how each changes the other.

Price of Justice won awards including Best in Police/Crime Fiction from the Texas Association of Authors, was a finalist in the Thriller category for the Beverly Hills Book Awards, and received a few honorable mentions from other book festivals. Winning these awards encouraged me to continue on my path of writing crime fiction.

Now I want my readers to enjoy my books as much as I enjoyed writing them. I want them to love reading a good story that leaves them wanting to know ‘what happens next’. And next for me was the signing of a contract with Black Opal Books for my second novel, Cornered. My third novel, titled Rampage, will be a sequel to Price of Justice. More novels are planned for the near future.

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Posted by on December 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Insprational Writers

Insprational Writers.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Process of Writing

Before I begin writing my outline, I decide on a plot for my next project. I scour news headlines and FBI email updates until a crime of interest, such as human trafficking or contract murder, appears.

The next step is to draft biographies for every character, major or minor, who will appear in the manuscript. The bio contains everything there is to know about the character from name to physical appearance (hair color to birthmarks to surgical scars) to personality type to college major to family history and more.
The second step is the outline as a Word file. I write it as a summary of the story then expand and revise it as I write the manuscript. My first novel, Price of Justice, had ten such revisions while my current project, Cornered, has five.

Research is a very valuable part of the writing journey and, as such, is an ongoing process through-out the writing of the manuscript. For every scene setting, Google Maps (satellite views and street views) is an invaluable tool to show me how the actual neighborhood appears. I use locales that are very familiar to me and easily accessible to garner a better ‘feel’ for the area. In Price of Justice, one scene happened near Lake Travis. I drove out there (a few miles from my home) and walked around the area. In Cornered, in addition to satellite views, I’ve driven to the city, shot pictures of the different locales, interviewed detectives and the police chief, toured facilities and acquired a better mental grasp of the community where the story unfolds (much changed since I worked there as a detective). In fact, one of the scenes in Cornered arose from an actual murder investigation I worked in that city as the lead detective.

An important consideration in selecting locations for scenes from Google Maps is to create fictitious business names and their locations as well as character names/descriptions to avoid disparaging real-life places and people (unless you obtain written consent). For example, in Cornered, a group of thugs run a fictitious car repair garage on a certain street. That garage location was set at a place on that street where any readers familiar with the city wouldn’t confuse the location with an actual garage operated by legitimate business persons.

All of my writing is done in an office set up for the exclusive purpose of writing fiction. Besides the desktop computer and printer, three very important books sit a mere foot away – my dictionary, Roget’s International Thesaurus (10th Edition) and The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi.

 
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Posted by on March 22, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Cornered, My Next Novel – Part 2

The setting for my next mystery thriller, Cornered, is in a mid-sized central Texas city. The protagonist, Detective Matt Brady, struggles to solve the disappearances of five young women. He is haunted by the memory of a failed investigation that resulted in the death of a ransomed victim.

The setting for my next mystery thriller, Cornered, is in a mid-sized central Texas city. The protagonist, Detective Matt Brady, struggles to solve the disappearances of five young women. He is haunted by the memory of a failed investigation that resulted in the death of a ransomed victim.

I’ve created several subplots that serve as both obstacles and distractions for Brady, ranging from romance gone bad to a multitude of rabbit trails that test his resolve. Using every resource at his disposal, he works feverishly to identify and arrest those responsible for the disappearances before someone else’s wife, sister or co-worker vanishes. But those responsible aren’t your ordinary collection of thugs.

Led by a doctor, the antagonists are well-versed in how a criminal investigation functions and how to clean up at a scene so police have minimal to no evidence to use. Clues have been sprinkled through-out the story as to the identity of the main antagonist along with a trail of dead bodies of those who simply got in the way. There are no sacred cows in Cornered. Everybody, including Brady, is a target. People will die—likeable characters and the not-so-likeable.

Currently at 70,000+ words, Cornered is a few weeks away from “completion”. I put that word in quotes simply because, while the story may be written, plenty of editing and tweaking will be left to do.

Once Cornered is published, I’ll work on finishing the sequel to Price of Justice which is about a third of the way to completion. If any reader wants to proffer a title for that sequel, please do so and know that the winner will be acknowledged in that sequel.

 
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Posted by on March 7, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Beginning of Alan Brenham’s Writing Journey

My first venture into the realm of fiction writing began with an online news story about organ harvesting (FBI arrested some individuals in New Jersey for harvesting kidneys). Thinking it would make a great plot for a book, I got started. When it was finished, I submitted it to an “editor”.
Mesmerized by the “editor’s” addition of flowery language to the story and the “editor’s” lavish praise for creating such a great thriller, visions (delusions would be a better term) of the next Number One Best Seller and images of Academy Awards flashed through my brain. The manuscript was called “The Deadly Harvest”.
The only thing deadly about this manuscript was its effect on prospective literary agents. They couldn’t reject it fast enough. I could only imagine the reactions of those poor agents when they read the first few lines: “Yikes, what the hell is this?”
What did the process teach me?

  • First, write about what I knew; use my experiences, training, and knowledge as a police detective and attorney.
  • Read books in the crime thriller genre written by NY Times bestselling authors such as Michael Connelly, Michael McGarrity, J. A. Jance, Andrea Kane, and others. How did their stories flow, how did they draw their characters, and how did they make me want to ‘turn the pages’?
  • Keep reading bestselling novels in the crime thriller genre.
  • Study ‘how-to’ books such as The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, Word Painting: A Guide to Writing More Descriptively by Rebecca McClanahan, and Bullies, Bastards And Bitches: How To Write The Bad Guys Of Fiction by Jessica Morrell, to name a few.
  • Begin the story featuring the protagonist, not the antagonist (as I did in my first manuscript).
  • Make all the characters three-dimensional, not cardboard cut-outs. Give them weaknesses and vulnerabilities along with their strengths.
  • Revise, then revise some more.
  • Submit the finished manuscript to a qualified editor.
 
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Posted by on February 9, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

Mock Interview with Detective Jason Scarsdale, Protagonist in Price of Justice

In my novel, Price of Justice, I created a protagonist named Jason Scarsdale and gave him a job as a detective with the Austin Police Department. Today he has agreed to an interview about his role in Price of Justice.

Brenham: Good afternoon, Detective. From your accent, I’m assuming you were born and raised in Texas. Did I guess that correctly?

Scarsdale:  Yes, I was born in Midland, Texas, and grew up in Ft. Worth.

Brenham: Do you enjoy working for the Austin Police Department?

Scarsdale: It has its moments.

Brenham: Meaning what exactly? That you want to work somewhere else?

Scarsdale: Not necessarily. You won’t beat the pay plus the APD people, the rank and file officers and sergeants . . . and some of the civilians, they are first-rate.

Brenham: And the higher ranking members are not?

Scarsdale: There are a few upper echelon supervisors who are class acts. I don’t want to go beyond that if you don’t mind.

Brenham: Sure. So if you did go somewhere else to work, where would it be?

Scarsdale: Texas Rangers would be great but, now, one has to be a trooper for a number of years before applying for Ranger. So the FBI would be my choice. They have investigative responsibility for a long list of crimes, plus some are posted overseas.

Brenham: How would you describe yourself in two or three words?

Scarsdale: Intelligent and a good father. Oh, sorry, that’s five words.

Brenham: Ah yes, father. What was it like having a five-year old daughter to raise on your own?

Scarsdale: After I got to know her better . . . I wasted those first five years of her life being anything but a good father . . . she’s a handful. So much fun to be around. She has more questions about things than any two detectives combined . . . and she’s a very considerate young lady.

Brenham: Speaking of ladies, did you enjoy working with Dani Mueller?

Scarsdale: Dani was a very special lady. She definitely had her own agenda and yes, I most definitely enjoyed working with and getting to know her. I just wish things had ended differently in Price of Justice. But, you’re the one calling the shots.

Brenham: Would it make you feel better if I told you a sequel to Price of Justice is in the works?

Scarsdale: Yes, it would. I’d like to make one request . . . for Shannon’s sake. She needs a mother-figure. Her overwhelming preference is Dani. Do you think you could see your way to doing that?

Brenham: I won’t promise but in the same breath, I won’t say no either. Getting back to the interview, did you know a few readers posted reviews saying they really liked you in Price of Justice?

Scarsdale: Really? Then the dye is cast . . . you have to publish a sequel soon.

Brenham:  I’m working on it but I have another novel to finish first.

Scarsdale: Making someone else’s life difficult? Who’s the unlucky person?

Brenham: Detective Matt Brady. He’s with a smaller department  . . . Temple, Texas. I believe you’re familiar with that department.

Scarsdale: Yes, I am and I know you don’t want me to go into any details so . . . what’s the title?
Brenham:  The title is Cornered.

Scarsdale: What’s the story line for Brady?

Brenham: Missing persons. Now, back to Price of Justice, do you want to work sex crimes again?

Scarsdale:  Hell no. I like working homicides.

Brenham:  Would you like to be teamed up with Dani again?

Scarsdale:  Does a cat have a tail? But the bottom line is you’ll do whatever you want and Dani, Shannon and I won’t have a choice.

Brenham:  What’s one thing you’d like to have happen to you in the next novel?

Scarsdale: Catch the bad guys quickly and spend the rest of the time with Shannon at Disney World . . . with Dani, if that’s in the cards or should I say manuscript.

Brenham:  Okay, our time is up. I want to thank you for stopping by. Is there anything you’d like to say to the readers?

Scarsdale: Yes, I paid a high price in your novel and I’m glad it’s finished. Hope to see all of you again when the sequel comes out.

 
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Posted by on January 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

The Importance of Research in Writing Crime Fiction

In writing Price of Justice and my current project, Cornered, research was necessary to accurately portray the investigation process.

In both the legal arena and the criminal investigation field, nothing is static. The law changes, either by legislative enactments or by caselaw handed down from state and federal appellate courts.

By way of example, back in 1966, the US Supreme Court returned its decision in Miranda versus Arizona, affirming constitutional protections for persons in police custody. In 2000, Miranda survived a major challenge in Dickerson versus United States but the courts have chipped away at the landmark ruling since 1966.

Police procedure and criminal investigation methodology evolved over the years as well. At the risk of dating myself, when I was a police detective, DNA as a means of identifying persons of interest didn’t exist. We relied on confessions, witness ID, and finger and palm prints, to mention a few. We didn’t have cell phones, GPS devices, LoJack, or computer databases (like ViCAP, AFIS and CODIS) . Yes, compared to today, I worked in the stone ages. We didn’t use terms such as victimology, unsubs (The FBI actually coined this phrase-it didn’t happen on the TV show Criminal Minds), and person of interest (we used the term suspects).

My point is that in writing crime fiction (I’m sure it applies equally to other genres), an author MUST do research if he or she wants to publish a believable story that readers will purchase. Readers are much more cognizant of police trends, law enforcement terminology and changes in the law.

HOW? There is no better source for modern police procedures and practices, terminology and organizational structure than police agencies, including the FBI. I developed contacts within the Temple, Texas Police Department, the Austin, Texas  Police Department, the Criminal Justice Department of Coastal Bend College, and the FBI. Just don’t expect them to tell everything as they do not want to see a ‘how-to’ manual become available to the very people they’re trying to arrest.

By Alan Brenham, Author of Price of Justice

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 
 
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