Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Keys to Success as an Author

While looking through the MacArthur Foundation 2013 Fellows I came across a Psychologist by the name of Angela Duckworth.  Ms. Duckworth studies the role that intellectual strengths and personality traits play in educational achievement.  Her work examines two traits that she believes predicts success in life “grit - the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward long-term goals, and self-control - the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses”.

Exploring these traits in regard to the endeavor of writing fiction it is clear that the best work comes from authors who possess imagination, character, and self-control. 

When Ms. Duckworth says grit she is referring to a person’s character.  The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines Grit as: firmness of mind or spirit:  unyielding courage in the face of hardship or danger.

The act of writing in no way forces one to be strong in the face of hardship or danger, but it does require perseverance.  The act of sitting down to write day in and day out takes a firmness of mind or spirit.

Albert Einstein once said “Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist. They are wrong: it is character.” He also said “The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.”

It takes imagination and character to build scenes, construct a plot, and culminate the two into a great story.

One of the most challenging parts of finalizing a manuscript is editing and rewriting.  As an author matures he finds that his best work comes from rewriting.  It is in the rewriting that the imagination takes over, and over time the author molds a story that will entertain those that read it.

Self-control comes in when the author slowly becomes sick of their work.  They’ve read and edited the piece over and over, and are growing tired of it.  I’ve heard it said that by the time an author publishes their work they are over it and ready to move on to something else. 

Here’s a question to all of you fellow writers out there.  What do you think it takes to be successful as an author?


Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Guest Post by Bill Hopkins - The Author of The Judge Rosswell Carew Mystery Series

I killed a tick on the plane because I'm a writer.
After I killed the tick, I realized that I'd devised one method for blasting apart a writer's block.
But first, the grisly part.
I recently flew on a commercial flight to New Orleans. After takeoff, with the seat belt sign still lit, I felt a tick crawling on my neck. I grabbed the critter between a thumb and forefinger to prevent its escape. I had no way to kill the brute.
Ticks are arachnids, meaning they're spiders. Who bite humans. And suck our blood. And transmit diseases. Ticks serve no useful purpose on earth. I am proud of my loathing for these disgusting tiny monsters.
But how could I kill it? I could've mashed against the tray table in the upright position. What if I slipped and dropped the tick? It might crawl on me again and wind up in a place that I couldn't reach while strapped in. Even if I successfully mashed the thing on the table, my seat mate may not have appreciated the nasty thing decorating our space.
The TSA goons won't allow nail clippers or pocketknives on planes. I'd left my miniature yet deadly Swiss Army knife at home. Lighters may not be verboten but you can't use on inside the cabin of a plane. My fellow passengers would've probably thrown a blanket over me and sat on me until the plane landed if I'd flicked my Bic to singe the tick.
A Bic? A thought formed.
After thinking about my dilemma for a few minutes, I realized the answer was in my pocket. I'm a writer. I carry a notebook and pen (blue ink, of course). That provided me with a perfect weapon. The tick expired at the point of a ballpoint pen. I have the bloody corpse in my notebook to prove it.
If you are stuck anywhere in your work in progress, stop and look around. What tools do you have right in front of you? Are you defining your problem by the tools you have? That's not good.
Abraham Kaplan, in The Conduct of Inquiry: Methodology for Behavioral Science, said, "I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding."
The end of a ballpoint pen makes a great device not only for writing but also for killing ticks. What are you overlooking in the world you've created? What items in your work can be used for something they weren't created for?
I call it the law of the flip-flop, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a writer a tool for creation and the writer will find destructive uses for it.
Go forth and wreak some havoc.

Bill Hopkins
The Judge Rosswell Carew Mystery series
Bill's Website  -

Friday, September 20, 2013

The plight of an author

So here I am rewriting a few last scenes of my novel. I'm close to done. I get an idea. It seems good. It explains why my protagonist throws himself into a dangerous situation close to the end of the book.

I could tell you more - but I don't want to spoil it for you. I get this great idea. It seems thrilling. I ask myself - Should I include it? Then I say - This is a Thriller do it. 

This my friends is the plight of an author. Always creating, but at the same time trying desperately not to screw up what you've spent years already creating.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

A few points to ponder on writing whether you feel like it or not.

A few points from Neil Gaiman in an article giving Advice to Aspiring Writers.

"If you're only going to write when you're inspired, you may be a fairly decent poet, but you will never be a novelist – because you're going to have to make your word count today, and those words aren't going to wait for you, whether you're inspired or not. So you have to write when you're not "inspired." ... And the weird thing is that six months later, or a year later, you're going to look back and you're not going to remember which scenes you wrote when you were inspired and which scenes you wrote because they had to be written."

"The process of writing can be magical – there times when you step out of an upper-floor window and you just walk across thin air, and it's absolute and utter happiness. Mostly, it's a process of putting one word after another."
Credit: Brain Pickings Weekly 9/15/13

Both of these points are so true and for reasons not hard to fathom they struck a cord with me. I've recently been working on the last few developmental edits of my current WIP - A Thriller. This weekend I awoke on Saturday morning wanting to dig in and be productive. I instead spent an hour and a half reading posts on Facebook, and looking at video from the recent flooding along the Colorado Front Range. The two tasks were somewhat related since many of my friends were affected by the flooding.

After a tall glass of water I clicked  Safari closed and started reading through my working outline for the novel. Before long, well actually it took about 2 hours, I had jotted down a list of new scenes that I wanted to write to add to a sub-plot I'd been noodling all week.  An hour or two later I had the words on the paper and the scenes seemed to make sense.

This morning I woke up wanting to dig into what I'd written yesterday and edit it. Instead I sat at my computer early this morning feeling tired and unmotivated. I decided a shower was worth having and headed upstairs from my basement writing office to our master bedroom.

It was there under the constant stream of warm water that my mind drifted off to a place within my plot I'd been struggling to visit all morning. An idea came to me. Then I thought back to something I wrote in a novel I constructed back in 2010 and the excitement came. I could use this same idea for hiding money one wants to smuggle out of a country on a corporate jet the same way I'd hidden weapons in the unpublished 2010 novel. 

I emerged from the shower excited and ready to write. 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Photo Credit: Channel 7 News

My thoughts and prayers go out to everyone in Colorado affected by the floods.  Stay safe Colorado.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Breaking Bad

      Last night I watched episode 48 of the television series Breaking Bad.  We have been watching the series back to back via Netflix and a small streaming device called Roku.  At this point the allure of watching 2-3 episodes every night after work has become irresistible.  As someone who spends a good deal of his time writing crime thrillers I'm intrigued by the quality of the characterization, writing, and plot development in this series.

     I'm curious if anyone else is watching the series?  It is currently in the middle of season 5 which is slated to be the last.  If so what do you think?

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Short Story by Bryan Koepke


        The blue Chrysler slid around the corner fishtailing ahead of us.I glanced for a moment and caught the sight of Haisley gripping the armrest between us. His big black hand was mashing into the vinyl-covered foam like he meant to leave a mark. He was silent yet I knew he was worried. These guys were the real deal and we’d been after them for over a year. We both wanted justice, but not like this. It was supposed to be in a controlled situation where we had plenty of backup, not in St. Clair County where anything goes. I wanted Shanks and his men because it was my job as a detective for the fine city of St. Louis. A city that was going to hell in a hand basket with murder rates increasing at a clip that put us on the map next to LA and Chicago. We were a far smaller city, but no less evil.
     The Chrysler disappeared around the curve. I stepped off the gas pedal and mashed the brake, but tried not to skid. The steering wheel was taking us left around the curve as I turned it. The rear end broke loose and the right quarter panel collided with one or more parked cars. I didn’t have time to stop and count, but judging from the noise of the impact I knew I’d made a mess of someone’s car. I stepped on the accelerator and tore off down the two-lane street squinting ahead for that damned blue car. 
     Haisley spotted them passing on a side street two blocks north. It was a lucky break. We turned and gave chase deciding this time to hang back and follow at a distance. It was Haisley’s idea. He’s my partner but knows the city and the mob better than most anyone else in the squad. They’d put me with
him four years earlier when I’d made my way from a job as a traffic cop into detectives. I was green and he knew it, but we hit if off shooting caps at the range on weekends, and drinking big glasses of scotch with our ladies out by the river. Growing up he’d been the athlete I’d always dreamed of being baseball, basketball, all of it. He had a house full of trophies to prove it.

     Up ahead the blue Chrysler slowed and parked on the side of a ten-story red brick apartment building in East St. Louis; an area know for projects, drugs, and bad things that happened at all hours day or night. I kept on going and parked in an elevated lot about a thousand yards past. We were out and on our knees behind the side of the parking garage with binoculars to our eyes in record time. We needed this bust - me to get a raise and make enough to send my youngest boy Reece to college. The older boy, Raymond, looked like his love of baseball might pave his way through, or at least that was what I was hoping for. I wasn’t sure what Haisley wanted to prove, or to whom, but I didn’t care because we had the same goal, and a way of working together that insured we’d succeed.
       In the distance we could see that Shanks and the others had met up with a group in a beat up white 70’s era Sedan Deville. They were talking, about what we didn’t know, or for that matter, care. We left the garage on foot just as they disappeared through the south door of the large structure. We both knew it would be risky going into a big building after eight guys when there were only two of us, but it was too early to call in any of the others. We didn’t have anything except a few suspicions and the knowledge that Sam Shanks worked for the Mafia. We knew that, as did most anyone living in St. Louis two years after nine eleven.
       With our guns out we got to the building and started in. I went first, the eager young guy, wanting to catch the criminals. Haisley was just behind with his big .44 magnum in his right hand, and his police issued .38 in the holster on his left hip. He was prepared. I was too with my Presidential .357, fancy grip and all, and a .38 that matched the one all of us in the police force carried stuffed into my jacket. We heard a noise and froze. It was up ahead in what looked like a large and open area with shiny white concrete walls in some kind of warehouse setting. I rounded the corner and spotted all eight guns pointed our way. They were camped out behind a tower of wooden crates. There was a row of large wire spindles the size of circular kitchen tables dumped over on our side of the room. I sprinted right, made it behind the second spindle, and felt the collision of Haisley’s shoulder against my shoe a few seconds later just as the gunfire stared. Big splinters of wood caught air and rained down on us as the mobsters unloaded with a barrage of violence. The noise was horrific. They didn’t know who we were, and probably didn’t care. They just wanted us gone. 
     I slid my gun over the top of the curved wood and pulled the trigger seven times in quick succession emptying the .357P and saying hello back to them. Haisley was slower and more precise, and after two shots I heard the sound a man makes when opened up with the hot lead projectile from a large caliber firearm. It was an “oomph” noise followed by an agonizing whine or maybe a shriek. You get the idea. One down seven to go I thought as I scooted right looking for a vantage point and spotted a staircase going up the far wall. I stopped after finding a spot where two of the big spools where pushed together making a perfect peephole. I could see Sam Shanks’ squatty head and beady eyes on the other side. He was nearest to the right and sliding toward the staircase.  
     I reached back to bump Haisley’s shoe, pointed toward the stairs, and saw him on his cellphone.
     “We’ve got back up coming,” he yelled above the shots that ricocheted off the concrete wall behind.
      “Looks like Shanks is headed up those stairs. If he does I’m going after him,” I said.
     “Culver, don’t play hero. Wait for the others. He’s not going to get away this time. We can get him…”
Just then Shanks made a break for the stairways. I gave Haisley a nod and with both my guns firing I kept low and ran after him. Getting to the stairways was easy and before I knew it I was up on the next floor chasing what looked like two men. A bullet came my way. I lunged back left out of the site line. It slammed into the concrete splintering into grey dust and missed my head by an inch. Down below the gunfire continued, and I prayed the others would arrive and save my partner before the guns that outnumbered him did any harm.
     I listened and heard Shanks and the other guy running upward. With my revolver reloaded I took off after them slowing at each turn in the stairs ready to be fired upon, but counting myself lucky each time nothing came.  I continued up and knew we must be close to the top when I heard the slam of a heavy steel door somewhere up above. Shanks and one of his men were above me and I wanted them worse than anything.
     My son Reece was an amazing kid and I knew he belonged in college where he could be guided to a position better than dodging bullets and working nights to catch criminals that the lawyers would have back on the streets selling drugs sooner than was reasonable. I was doing this for him.
     I heard the bang before the bullets hit the wall to my left. I ducked and for a moment felt heat in my scalp and thought I was hit, then realized it was a wayward piece of concrete that had peeled off the side wall and smacked me in the side of the head. My hand came back dry after I reached up to check for blood.
     “Fuckers. I’m going to get you and when I do they’re won’t be any lawyers saving your ass.  I’m going to fill you with lead,” I whispered under my breath in my best Dirty Harry imitation as I took off up the steps. After two flights I came to a primer red door that lead out onto the roof.
     I stopped and checked that both guns were full before slowly pushing open the door. I listened and heard the sound of feet running north across the crushed black pebbles that covered the roof. I wondered about the integrity of the surface, but not long enough to consider not giving chase. I flew out from behind the door and spotted Shanks in his flashy white blazer with pressed blue dress pants running across the roof about a hundred yards away. He looked more scared than charming. I wanted to take a shot, but waited, and instead gave chase with both guns held out ready. He dodged right around an air conditioning unit and I sped up my pace.
     The rooftop was covered in old rusted HVAC boxes and heating ducts – perfect hiding places for bad guys. I didn’t care at this point and was all in wanting only to puncture Shanks’ heart with one of my bullets. I came around the same air conditioning unit he’d dodged past earlier and ran smack into something hard, and immobile. I was down
     A splitting pain throbbed from the crest of my forehead to the top of my nose. I’d been hit with something, but I wasn’t sure what it was or who’d done the hitting. I fought to open my eyes and slid my right hand down my pants leg searching for one of my guns. You can hit me, but you can’t kill me. I thought not entirely sure I believed myself, but it helped having attitude.
     “Ha, ha, ha. You stupid asshole cop,” someone said in a thick southern drawl. I blinked and was blinded by strong sunlight. I smelled the tar underneath the half-inch of crushed black asphalt pebbles that covered the roof.  I rolled to the right toward the voice and peeled open my eyes. There were three of them all dressed in cheap JC Penny’s suits, each in their own color scheme. My hands were empty and I wondered where my two guns went, then I saw the tall blond haired freak that spoke earlier. He was close to my right leg with a two inch black steep pipe about as long as a baseball bat in his left hand. There was the stench of a cigarette fuming from his mouth.
     “Dumb cop. What did you think would happen? Coming after us all alone,” he said raising the pipe. He came down hard with it colliding against my left ankle and the pain was way more violent than the earlier blow to my forehead. All three of them jumped in taking turns thumping me with their steel. I knew I was going to die, but not expeditiously, or without pain.
     I was going to suffer for this mistake. Playing tough guy, and chasing mobsters out on to the rooftop of an East St. Louis apartment building when I knew backup was coming. I heard the sirens about then and wondered if they’d find me before the last hit, a fatal one, had descended upon a part of my body not designed to sustain it.
     “That’s enough,” I heard someone yell in a thick Chicago accent. The voice came from somewhere out past the dizziness and throbbing behind my eyes. I fought past an earlier hit to my left cheek and forced open my eyelid against the pain of its swelling eye socket. I caught a glimpse of Sam Shanks. He was puffing a cigar and the cherry tobacco odor somehow pleased what was left of my stunned senses.
      I heard a laugh, and the same southern accent.  I rolled my head a few inches to the right feeling a weird sensation as I did and saw the tall freak with his long blond hair. His left eye was clouded and he had an evil grin worse than any I’d seen. The pipe came down on my knee and everything went black.
     It was an ordinary Sunday morning like the previous four, except this day I was awake. My wife Helen gripped my arm and wouldn’t let go. She was smiling, but I could tell she’d cried plenty of tears during the past month. The doc had told me about the coma and their wait and see. He said I had a good wife and she’d been at my bedside everyday for as long as he could remember.
      “Well it’s about time you woke up. I was starting to think you had a problem or something.” I heard someone say from the doorway of my hospital room. It was Haisley and he didn’t sound happy. I spotted a nurse, leaned forward, and motioned for her to adjust the bed so I could sit up and see my company.  She came over and pressed something on a grey colored box on my left side.
      It felt good to be upright and the glass of water with the sippy straw that Helen handed to me was a welcome relief to my sore throat. I looked across the room and spotted my two sons Raymond and Reece standing next to Haisley and his wife Mavis. It was a full house.  All that was missing was a couple of pepperoni pizzas and a case of beer. Haisley made eye contact with me and gave me a wink.
            “Buddy, I’ve got to ask. Did you guys get him?” I said.
            “No such luck. Shanks got away in that Blue Chrysler.”

Copyright Bryan Koepke 2013

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

What's new on The Writers Cabin?

I've always had an interest in photography and because of this I've decided to add a gallery of inspiration to The Writers Cabin.