Monday, May 06, 2013

Is Writing a Journey, or Just a Pit-Stop Along The Way?

 Today I'm pleased to host Jeannette de Beauvoir, a seasoned pro in the writing business.

Jeannette de Beauvoir
So I’m a writer.

We don’t say that in the same way that bankers do, or hair stylists, or store managers. We’re different, in that we really are what we do. Writers are never not writing, even when they’re not actually sitting in front of the keyboard.

So you have to be careful around us. We listen for a turn of phrase we may love, we hear your stories of family conflicts and dreams deferred and reactions to news stories, and we tuck everything away. We use you.

I’m a shameless example. I carry a notebook with me. I eavesdrop on conversations, I peer into lighted rooms at night, I ask seemingly innocent questions of strangers. All of my experiences are ultimately about words: how I’m going to render what I’m seeing or hearing or doing into words, which character can best use this situation or that conversation and make the words their own … well, you get my drift. I’m never not thinking about writing.

So if you meet me, beware. You’ve been warned.

Does it mean that I live vicariously through others’ experiences? Perhaps; but I rather think not. I live, if anything, in the liminality between reality and fiction, in the margins of stories, in the truths that can only be absorbed through novels. Toni Morrison once said in an interview, “I’m just trying to look at something without blinking.”
And maybe that describes best who I am. My work is dark, because I need to look at the world
without blinking. I explore what it might mean to a woman to learn that her beloved father may also be a war criminal. I write about a war hero’s deteriorating mental health and his family’s impatience with his narrowed world. I think about how far a person may be pushed when her husband abuses her and her child is murdered. I bring to light the hundreds of orphans misclassified as insane by a heartless system, and the CIA experiments that benefited from it. I fill a chapbook with poetry trying to get at the experience of domestic violence.

People talk about writing as a journey. As a metaphor. As a way of making sense of the senseless. For me, though, it’s always simply been an identifier. I’m not very good at much else in life besides writing, and I’ve never really wanted to do anything besides write. Does that make my writing a vehicle; does it mean that I’m a seasoned and savvy traveler of the interior? Or is it just who I am?

I don’t know, and I suspect that the answer is different for everyone. I’d be interested in hearing what your answer is … is your writing a journey? Or is it something that you do on the way somewhere else?

Or am I just asking the question as a way of peering into your soul for more material? When you’re talking with a writer, you’ll never really know.

Jeannette de Beauvoir is an award-winning novelist, poet, and playwright, who divides her life between Cape Cod and Montréal and spends far too much time thinking about all these things. Read more about her at

Friday, May 03, 2013

Fodder for Fiction: An Interview with Morgan St. James

Today I'm pleased to host author Morgan St. James, author of Who's Got the Money?It's a book that sounds like fun. So take it away, Morgan!

Drawing from Life Experiences for Fiction

Morgan St. James
I’ve been following Bob Sanchez’s blog for quite a while so it is my pleasure to add “my two cents” today. Life experiences are a wonderful resource for authors, whether used in fiction, non-fiction or creative non-fiction.

Most of us have stories about how we met our spouse or significant other, things that happened at the office, or an experience where a misunderstanding turned into something hilarious or violent. Others have amazing or astounding life experiences, but whatever the situation those incidents can easily find their way into fiction. Think about thiswhen recounting these tales we often embellish the facts for the shock or humor value. Sometimes it is exaggeration, and other times we add little things that really didn’t happen or eliminate embarrassing details. What we actually create in these stories is known as creative non-fiction, or facts mixed with fictional details.

This leads us to how authors can best use experiences to jump-start fictional plots or scenes in a book. I’m going to do a bit of blatant self promotion at this point, to illustrate what I mean by using my latest novel from the Dark Oak Mysteries imprint of Oak Tree Press.

“Who’s Got the Money?” is pure fiction, but was inspired by true experiences. Most people associate prison manufacturing with license plates, but real prison factories produce close to a billion dollars worth of products every year! My co-author, Meredith Holland, and I both worked for the real private sector company that was under contract to the Federal Bureau of Prisons to market furniture manufactured in Federal prisons. By a mandate from Roosevelt’s time that created the program, we could only sell to the Federal government. This wasn’t a desk here and a chair there. We were part of a team that covered the whole United States, each of us writing millions of dollars of business a year. I personally covered Southern California, Southern Nevada and Utah. Meredith worked in the Pacific Northwest including Alaska.

The subcontractor we worked for did bilk the government out of millions before going bankrupt and got away with it. Once we left the company, we thought “New government embezzlement plots are in the news every day, so why not write a funny crime caper, using what we know?”
We wanted something like Nine to Five meets The First Wives Club, and that’s what we wrote. A story centered on three down-on-their-luck female executives who go to work for the fictional Federal Association of Correctional Reform. When they turn into undercover bumbling Charlie’s Angels types, that’s when our experiences and knowledge kick in and the fun begins.

Many of the situations we used were not what actually happened, but rather gave us inspiration and allowed us to create a very clever plot. NYT Best Selling author, former undercover FBI Agent Joaquin “Jack” Garcia called Who’s Got the Money? “a witty, well thought-out embezzlement scheme.” He added it was a good thing we weren’t crooks. How’s that for reality?

 Experiences and professional or industrial knowledge may just be resting at the back of your mind. Think about giving your characters professions and put that knowledge to work in a thrilling, funny or over-the top way, depending upon your genre.

For example, we could not have conceived of the unique scheme in our book without our using what we knew, nor would we have had any idea what big business prison manufacturing is! Once we had a direction, what we learned over a four-year period entered into devising a scam that could have worked in real life. We drew upon every bit of knowledge, from working in the system, being inside of massive military warehouses and supply depots, and having toured actual prison factories and spoken with the inmates and supervisors.

Incidentally, before being inside these factories, I’d envisioned something like a “garage-type” manufacturing space surrounded by cell blocks. Hardly the case. These factories are like any regular factory except that they are inside the prison gates and instead returning to comfy homes in the suburbs when the day is done, the workers go to cells at night that are located in a different part of the prison grounds.

We plucked the details we wanted, exaggerated many and created a fictional prison system with an on-staff marketing team. Then we cooked up our extremely clever and diabolical plot to embezzle millions.

Whether thrilling or funny, it’s your story and is populated by versions of things you’ve experienced and characters of your creation. Composite characters that blend two or three people you know are fun to work with. Grab the appearance of one real person, the quirks of another and maybe special skills or knowledge from another.

La Bella Mafia, due out in late summer from Houdini Books, is Morgan St. James’ next novel co-authored with Dennis N. Griffin, as told to us by Bella Capo. The amazing true story of an incredible woman who could have died many times but survived to tell the story. Daughter of a crime boss, promoter of clubs on Hollywood’s famed Sunset Strip and a female white boss in the Crips, she now dedicates her life to helping abused women through the La Bella Mafia organization.