Monday, May 18, 2020

ADVICE FROM A DUMB WRITER: Guest Post by C.M. Wendelboe

C. M. Wendelboe: 
Advice from a Dumb Writer  

As I was completing the final draft of my last Spirit Road mystery manuscript, I began thinking about three other projects I had kicked around in my head—one a contemporary mystery, one a mystery set in the Great Depression, and the last one a period western set in the 1870s Dakota Territory. After doing preliminary sketches on each, I felt equally confident about each story. But which one should I concentrate on? Which one should I put all my efforts into completing with the hopes that a publisher will accept it?

Then, an epiphany came to me that overrode my common sense—I could write two novels at once. But writers do not write two books simultaneously. Some may write a novella while writing their novels. Others may write a seasonal short story while writing their books. I thought if they could do that, surely I could write two at once, so I jumped on to a writer’s forum and asked for suggestions as to how I could accomplish this. The responses were universal—that nobody did that and it would be a pretty dumb idea to try writing two books at once. Pretty dumb! Being competitive by nature, I felt as if I could be more than just pretty dumb. I could be really dumb and write all three at once.

Back to the writer’s forum again and telling folks I intended writing all three projects simultaneously and asked once again for suggestions. This time, several writers got back to me suggesting I take a cue from method actors of the stage: get into costume of the period I was writing. That, I could do. I have western apparel for the period western and contemporary clothes for that mystery. There are several antique shops where I live that have vintage clothing I could purchase. It would work out—I would dress for the period of whatever book I was writing at the time.

But there was a glitch. One of my voices in my western was a woman’s. I thought I might be able to find a dress that’d fit (but I would draw the line on accessories and makeup and such.) I could make that work. Until—I thought—the UPS or FedEx delivery man came to the house and needed a signature as I was dressed for writing my woman’s voice. He’d see this big guy wearing a dress answering the door, and before long, all the mothers in the neighborhood would be jerking their kids inside when they saw me out walking the dog. So, that wouldn’t work.

What did work, though, is setting aside material to read for the particular time period of the book I was going to write. In my library I have several thousand periodicals dating back to the 1850s, and I laid out a plan. I would read about the west during the Dakota Territory to get me in the mood and write for about three or four hours, then set it aside while I grabbed reading material from the Great Depression. After reading for fifteen or twenty minutes to get me into the mood of that era, I would write for three or four hours before setting that aside and reading contemporary articles to get me into the mood of the modern mystery.

That was my daily routine for five months. It was exhausting, but at the end of that time, I had three first drafts that I could work with and began revision on each. After I completed them, I started shopping them around, and within a month I had sold all three series.

My advice for writers wishing to do that: Don’t! Like my friends at my writing group said, it is a dumb idea. However, if for some reason you’ve gotten a little too much Jack Daniels in you and insist on writing two novels simultaneously, do this: spend the time to organize yourself. I took six months before writing even a word to perfect my character profiles and their story arcs. I plotted each novel out and set aside the periodicals to study that would get me in the mood. And be prepared to live with all your various characters for some time, depending on your genre. This may get a little confusing, particularly if your characters are from a different time period, different professions, different ages. In the end, you may have completed something approximating a first draft on each. But be prepared to have folks call you dumb. Especially dumb ol’ me.

C. M. Wendelboe entered the law enforcement profession when he was discharged from the Marines as the Vietnam war was winding down. In the 1970s, his career included assisting federal and tribal law enforcement agencies embroiled in conflicts with American Indian Movement activists in South Dakota. He moved to Gillette, Wyoming, and found his niche, where he remained a sheriff's deputy for more than 25 years. In addition, he was a longtime firearms instructor at the local college and within the community. 

During his 38-year career in law enforcement he had served successful stints as police chief, policy adviser, and other supervisory roles for several agencies. Yet he always has felt most proud of "working the street." He was a patrol supervisor when he retired to pursue his true vocation as a fiction writer. He is the author of the Spirit Road Mysteries.


Clark Lohr said...

Excellent. Loved The Spirit Road. Good to see your voice, Curt.

Mary Monnin said...

Love the idea of immersing yourself in reading about your topic/time period.
I'm going to try that myself.