Writing Marathon-July 23, 2020


Today is July 18, 2020. Next Thursday, July 23, 2020, I am going to do a personal writing marathon. As soon as I am up and caffeinated I will start writing and keep at it as long as possible, taking only necessary breaks. I’ll make entries on this blog throughout the marathon. I will also post on my Facebook writer’s page at www.facebook.com/writerriherd. I will Tweet @riherdcreates. I will do some Instagram where I am writerriherd. I’ve created a hashtag: #writetillidrop. Other writers may join me. So far, a couple of other mystery writers have said they’re in. If they are out there writing next Thursday I’ll introduce you to them here.

I want to see how much I can write in one marathon session. Hopefully, it will inspire me to write much more going forward. Other than to update the above mentioned social media sites I will not be caught in the time suck of Facebook or random scrolling through Twitter or Instagram.

If I can figure out how I want to do it between now and Thursday. I may do some live video. For those not blessed or cursed with the urge to write fiction, that will be an opportunity to see just how boring and lonely a task it is.

I have several projects going, but that day will be nothing but working on Peak Performance, my current Samuel Lock novel in progress. You can go read a draft of the first chapter of that book on here under the Main Menu item “Books” (Or by clicking here.) While you’re there order the other two. I’ll be glad you did. You might be glad.

So, check back in next Thursday. Knowing you’re there makes writing easier.

Where I’m At

The current work in progress has been a challenge. I have completely changed the second half twice and am changing it again to make it work for me. The first change resulted in me realizing that what I originally called part two of this novel will work better as the plot of a future Samuel Locke adventure.

Because I am writing from the seat of my pants today during this writing marathon, my word count will be lower than might otherwise be expected.

At this moment, twenty-five minutes into the official marathon time, I’ve written what you see here, which doesn’t count. Answered one personal email that just showed up. Made one cup of Maxwell House Max coffee (1.75 times the caffeine) and started my Some Of The Best Songs In The World playlist on Spotify (available for sharing and suggestions). Currently listening to Whole Lotta Love by Led Zeppelin (one of the best rock and roll love songs and the only one I know of where the singer wants to be her backdoor lover).

My mood today is affected today by not only the ongoing pandemic and social isolation stress but mostly by the death yesterday of friend from high school from Covid-19 and the discomforting knowledge that other friends and members of the family of friends have been diagnosed positive (RIP Nicole Roberts Bailon). I will avoid Facebook today, other than my writer’s page (viewable here), first because it is a time-suck and, secondly, to keep down the anger from people cavalierly dismissing the responsibility to wear masks in public out of either ignorance or some misplaced idea the doing so subjects them to the risk of oppression. I do not need to shift this mood into anger and disappointment.

So, here I go—into the world of Samuel Locke and his friends, another new romantic interest, and a twenty-year-old death that may or may not be murder (I’m betting that it was murder).

(Grrrr…and for some reason my internet is super slow. That messes me up with all the cloud-based resources I use—everything from Word to my notes and outlines in OneNote and my ability to update this blog.)

Okay. Here’s an update for you: My computer, although showing fully signed in to my WiFi and allowing internet access here and there, keeps reporting I need internet access to do this or that. The printer is also saying it can’t find the internet. It’s taken me over an hour and a half to trouble shoot, I think I have it and I’m about to reboot to cure the situation. But that means an hour and a half in and my word count is zero for the marathon.

And when frustrated and trying to focus on the computer issue, the music distracts. It’s turned off.

So, contrary to the white board pictured above, it is now 0805 and I’m going to start writing right after a reboot.

This Too Is Writing—UPDATE 10:00 AM

Good news: The computer and internet are working just find.

I mentioned I was starting fresh on the section I’m working on and that a lower than usual word count could be expected. I spent some time reviewing notes and making some notes. I have a better sense of direction now but I’m going to spend some time outlining as much of the remaining book as I can. I’ll write some more where I am sequentially but at some point today, I will do what I do and jump ahead and write some pivotal scenes. That is how I maintain direction in the book without a formal outline. (Pause: One good thing about doing this update and planning on upgrading my white board record keeper as to coffee consumed, I remembered I had a cup of coffee on the coffee maker. If I were tracking other beverages formally, it would note one glass of Coca Cola-Spilled on Worktable. If my lovely bride sees this, don’t worry, the side worktable not the desk. Cleaned up. Nothing hit the floor. No electronics harmed. It was the dog’s fault.)

As noted in the above pic, my official writing marathon word count is a negative 6. But everything I’ve been doing is also writing.

Oh, and the number of distractions should be two. In addition to spilling the Coca Cola, I had a discussion with Sears because for two weeks I’ve been getting notices about my item being shipped. I haven’t ordered anything. At first, I deleted everything because I thought it was a phishing scam. Then I got phone calls. Finally, I double checked a link and confirmed it was really Sears so I followed it and found the address of whoever ordered something. They must have put in the wrong phone number. I called Sears two days ago but didn’t want to sit on hold. But this morning I got a series of text messages and three auto calls, so I called them determined to wait. It didn’t take long, and I explained to the guy what was going on. After listening to him confirm my phone number and assuring him that yes, the address he had was not me and no I didn’t know them and yes I was sure, he said he’d pass the info along and maybe somebody could reach them. If it keeps happening, I might take deliver if the item isn’t huge and drive it to the folks myself. The link would let me change the delivery address.


Much better progress. I’d have done more except for a lightening strike about a half a mile from my house that started a brush fire.

I drove up the street to watch the aerial fire fighting attack and to get some photos.

All is good. It looked well contained just before I left and it has since started raining. That will help.

Now. Something to eat. And some exercise. And then back to it.

Y’all take care.

Writing Journal – 4 Mea Culpa

Yes. Mea Culpa. I am to blame.

I keep saying I’m going to blog the progress of writing my current work in progress, Peak Performance. And then I fail to blog. There is no good excuse. I’d like to say it’s because I am so busy writing on the book that I haven’t wanted to take the time. But that would be true only if pervasive procrastination could be considered writing on the book. Even then I could write a blog about the procrastination. Or share what I am doing while I’m procrastinating if it is interesting. That last one I’m going to try to do, share the interesting procrastination efforts.

Here’s where I am with some of what involves me sitting down and writing. I’ve been using a laptop, but it is having issues. I can be working along and all of sudden some part of the computer suffers from some massive memory glitch. I get static and the computer shuts down. I let the diagnostics run, restart it, recover my documents, and carry on. Also, for some reason, certain Windows updates fail. So something is wrong there. And in the last couple of weeks I got boot errors as it started. All very scary. (I need to get my 24,000 photos backed up but my two 2Tb external hard drives are pretty much full. So there’s that.) Anyway, all of those issues exist and I wanted a bigger screen anyway, so I bought a new computer.

My new computer is a Windows 10 system which is new to me. So several hours of not writing in the past week have been because I’ve been learning the ins and outs of the new system and moving software and data over. The machine came with 25 gb of DropBox storage and I found it easier to use than my Google Drive so I used DropBox to move files and I’m using it as my primary cloud storage for now.

A couple of days ago, I started playing with Microsoft’s OneNote. I like the way it organizes things so for the last two and a half days, I’ve been setting it up to keep track of all the notes and research I use while write a book. I’m even using OneNote to store an outline. I’ve never been known to use an outline. But the things about the last two books that bug me the most, might have been avoided with enough forethought expressed in at least a rudimentary outline.

A little further back in time, I was working all gung ho and actually fooled myself that I might finish the current work in progress by March. I just forgot that Thanksgiving and Christmas fell in there. A visit to relative’s new place in the wilderness above Tombstone, Arizona, at Thanksgiving and seeing the kids in Texas over Christmas took up a lot of time. (On my list to buy some day is a better tablet. One more conducive to working on the road. I don’t like carrying the laptop for one reason or another.)

Delay on the new book was also caused by taking the time to redesign  the way the final books are created and, to a certain degree, how they are designed. I went back and made changes to the first two books accordingly. Plus, I got rid of some more typos (pttui a curse on typos). A beauty of the digital age is the ability to make changes on the books as desired.

But now, I’m working on the new book. All of that stuff is done. There will be a few things in the coming weeks. I’m going to New Orleans for a few days. On the second of March, I’ll be speaking at breakfast on the last day of a Texas College English Association conference at Texas A&M – Kingsville. I’m looking forward to that. In honor of the honor of being asked to speak, I just sent one of the characters in my new book to college there.

So, we’re all caught up. I’m in the daily grind of writing the way I do. I’m skipping some stuff to go back to and writing the stuff that’s firmer in my mind. I’m worrying that the writing sucks and that the story is boring. I have a knot in the middle of my neck. My arthritis woke me up last night. I need to get up and move more. I need to walk the dog. I was going to spend time with my lovely bride this afternoon but she’s watching “The Way We Were” and I’m not going to do that again.

I sent a couple of letters out asking for some assistance from professionals in areas involved in this story. And as I wrote this blog, I thought of somebody else I could reach out to and maybe get a faster answer on some stuff. So, I’m going to conclude this blog entry and go find an email for a forensic consultant.

Thanks for being interested in what I do. Stick with me. I’ll share the pain of learning how to write with all you writers out there. And maybe you readers will enjoy the journey of the evolution of my writing.

One of my favorite fictional characters is Travis McGee as created by John D. MacDonald. I’d read all of the McGee novels before I came across the short story that was probably MacDonald’s first published exploration of the character that became McGee. I enjoyed seeing the evolution of McGee over time. Maybe you’ll enjoy the same about my Samuel Locke.

There’s a new character making an appearance in Peak Performance around whom I intend to create another series.

I’ve been wanting to write what most people call a Young Adult novel inspired some events I found emotional challenging. That story is finally starting to gel in my brain.

There’s also that screenplay I wrote that I intend to put in book form.

Dustivus Media, the publishing company I created to put out the Samuel Lock books may publish a couple of books by other writers. I’m waiting to receive the final manuscript of one currently titled Designing Diva and second, currently title Dancing on the Bar, may be ready this year as well.

Take care my friends. Read on. Write on.

Writing Journal – 3 Where Ideas Come From

In this Writing Journal, I’m going to describe where I get ideas for my books. Starting with the next Journal entry, I’ll be tracking my progress as I work on my next couple of books with occasional trips down rabbit trails as they occur.

An Idea, Any Idea, Used as Inspiration.

The idea for my first published book, A Crimson Grace, came about this way: A long time ago, I decided to write a short story and submit it to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I had no plot or character ideas. I was working as a suit at the time. I went to my secretary and told her I was going to write a short story and asked her to give me one idea about something that should be in the story. She is an artist. She said: “An artist. Or a drawing.”

After thinking about that for only a short time, I started the short story with the discovery of a body of an artist who lived on the beach. She was a friend of the protagonist in the story. He ended up with her sketch pad and in it found a drawing she had made late one night of something suspicious. The night she drew it, a person engaged in the nefarious activity noticed her watching him. At the time he was not in a position to pursue her. He tracked her down and killed her.

The idea of how to use the sketch evolved as I wrote the book, but drawings remain a very important plot point of the novel.

Writers: If you’re looking for plot ideas, ask a friend or family member to name something, anything. Build a story around that idea. Even if the idea will not support a story, making yourself use it to construct a plot may just generate a direction for your book.

Another time I thought about what could my protagonist observe that would end up being a clue. In the midst of casting about for ideas, I got in my car and ran the windshield wiper to clear the condensation off the windshield. I thought about the naturally occurring condensation and decided to find a way the condensation on a windshield of a vehicle could provide a clue. And, I came up with something. I worked on a book in which the clue provided by the condensation was pivotal. I set it aside some time ago and the book is only partially written at this point. It may very well be revised to become a Samuel Locke murder mystery.

I read that Elmore Leonard started developing his book Stick with a vision in his head of a man walking across a bridge into a city while traffic passed by. Leonard did not know the man or where he was walking, but he saw the scene. After he thought about it for a while the man became Stick, recently released from prison and walking in Florida. That walk across a bridge evolved into one that is in the first chapter of Stick. The book was a success and made into a movie starring and directed by Burt Reynolds.

Potential Titles

I keep a list of potential book titles that pop into my life from many sources. For instance, some time ago, to pass the time while commuting, I came up with the phrase “Chocolate and Champagne.” At the time, I was thinking about trying to write a few romances of the Harlequin Romance novel type. When I mentioned to my mom that I planned to try my hand at that she started sending me boxes of them. I had no idea she was reading them, but every six weeks or so, she’d send me eight or nine. I read one in which the female lead was an entrepreneur owner of some kind of shop (might have been a florist). And that’s all I really remember.

During my thirty-five mile commute in Houston style traffic, I drifted to thinking about small, boutique type shops and what they sell. Chocolate came to mind. And a really nice wine store. And chocolate and wine is a thing. That took me to the bit more alliterative Chocolate and Champagne. Then, thinking about a possible series of romance novels with some kind of theme carried through the title, I started going through the alphabet. The most memorable idea was “Blues and Ballet.” As of today,  the title of my most recently published novel is The Blues and Ballet.

The Blues and Ballet did not turn out to be a formula romance novel. I loved the phrase and it stuck with me. Later, after receiving a rejection letter from Harlequin for a proposal with a completely different title which, according to the letter, did not emphasize the sex enough, and while in the midst of writing A Crimson Grace, I started thinking about the next Samuel Locke novel. Using my favorite entry on the proposed title list, I came up with the first line of a book: “I was listening to the blues and watching ballet the night they fed the dead guy to the alligator.” And for the longest, that was all I had. But, from that, followed all the ideas that came together to create The Blues and Ballet.

An aside: A theme of this blog is how ideas are everywhere if you cultivate what you encounter every day for its potential as a part of a story. Coincidentally, it just happened as I was right at this point in composing this blog. I’ve got music stuff on YouTube streaming as I write. Luis Fonzi was just in a video talking. Fonzi composed the biggest song of 2017, “Despacito.” He mentioned how he woke up one morning with the melody and rhythm of the word “despacito” as it is sung in the composition. He said it was so clearly formed that he did research to discover whether he’d simply heard it somewhere. After he decided it was original, the song was written in a couple of hours.

That happens when you practice being open to ideas, when you’ve spent hours putting the moments of your life into the plot (or song) generator of your mind. Things start popping up by surprise. Writers often talk about the mystical ways their characters will take off on their own, behaving in ways the writer never intended or saying things that seemingly come from the experiences and personality of the fictional character independent of the writer. Something in the writer’s brain is working subconsciously in ways unguided and unexpected by the conscious perception.

I mentioned up above that I keep a list of potential titles with absolutely no idea of what a book with that title might be about. I was only half paying attention to what Luis Fonzi was saying but, in the middle of his discussion, he described what happens during the creative process to be a “beautiful madness.” That phrase popped out at me and, before I appreciated the coincidence of it happening in the midst of writing this blog, I grabbed a pen and jotted down “A Beautiful Madness.” It would make a good title. And, while writing this aside, another channel of my brain is running through dozens of potential plots and themes that might be a part of a book titled “Beautiful Madness.” And that, my friends, is an excellent example of what this blog is about.

Now, back to the blog.


I am inundated with visuals. In moments where I can contemplate what I’m viewing, memories get stored that are composed in a way that I know I can create a story around them. Being a photographer has trained me to see things as storytelling images, to snap stills from the moving picture that is life. The lonely beauty of a stretch of road during a road trip put a short story into my head. The story was about the loneliness of the driver, a redeeming insight gained from a hitchhiker in need, and the time it takes to drive a length of a long highway in Texas.

I’m thinking about always using one of my photographs on the covers of Samuel Locke novels as an element of branding, at least until Putnam writes me a huge check to publish some and they want to design the cover. I’ve never loved the cover of the first in the series, A Crimson Grace. I was going through my thousands of Texas Coast imagery looking for a possible replacement when I found an image that I thought would make a decent, moody cover, just not for A Crimson Grace. But having that image in the plot generator of my mind and envisioning its use on a cover for a Samuel Locke novel led to the mostly completely formed story of the Samuel Lock story I’m getting back to working on right after finishing this blog, eating lunch, making beds, cleaning the kitchen, taking a shower, and shaving.

I thought about posting the photo here because I like to illustrate my blogs, but I’m going to hold on to it for a cover reveal one of these days.

Other Things of Life

Anything that creates an emotional response in me has the potential of inspiring a story.

The news story about the death of Natalie Finn, a sixteen-year-old starved to death by her mother in middle America suburbia two years ago affected me. I’ve started the personally difficult job of outlining and planning a book based on my response to that horror.

I sing along with the radio. Often, while doing so, I create a fictional rock band in my head. I start visualizing them on stage. I start giving them backstories. My fictional band may become a part of a book concept I’ve been thinking about for decades, a multi-threaded epic story that incorporates dozens of random ideas and becomes an allegorical story of the life of a city and its people. Yes, I agree it sounds hoity-toity, so much so that it intimidates me to the point of, so far, failing to make much of a serious start on it.

Visuals, stories, conversations, memories, newscasts, song lyrics, landscapes, all the curiosities of life—each is a potential plot.

The next Writing Journal blog will start the story of my story. I’ll blog about the day to day process of writing my current works in progress.

Writing Journal – 1

This is the first of a series of blogs that will follow along as I work on writing my next book. I’ll try to make the process more interesting than it is in reality for those of you interested in what goes on behind the scenes in creating a book the way I do it.

Most of you trying to write know how hard it is. Perhaps the shared experience will give both of us some motivation or insight into getting the job done. After all, we can’t all be like Nora Roberts who writes one book before lunch and two in the afternoon or James Patterson who just lets other people write books,  sticks his name on the cover, and earns eight million dollars a year. (Please, neither of these statements is true. Or completely true, anyway. Don’t take me to task for either.)

Before I actually start writing about the writing of the projects I’m working on, I’ll share some background on why, how, and where I write.

Books. It all comes down to books. I don’t recall my parents encouraging me to read. Perhaps they did. I remember always enjoying reading. By first grade, I must have already been anxious to find good stories because I remember thinking that reading about Jack and Janet and Tip and Mitten was too simplistic and boring. They did, however, teach me to read. I learned more about reading from Spiderman, Superman, and Archie.I advanced to Mad Magazine and eventually to National Lampoon.

Books on shelves
More Books

I felt the magic early on and wrote my first two novels at the age of nine. I have them around here somewhere. When I run across them I’ll post them here. Both books featured the same character, whose name escapes me. In one of them, he is in outer space. In the second he was out west in the 1800’s. Creative license.


Each of my first two novels consisted of three chapters and each was six pages long, with illustrations. I did show some flair by killing off my hero in the one that took place in the old west. He had a statue erected in his honor in chapter three. Perhaps I needed to kill him so he could be reincarnated in time to fly on a starship in outer space in the future.

We had books around the house and I always got to spend money when the Weekly Reader had one of its book sales. I can’t remember the title of any book I ordered back then, but I can remember the magical feel of their shiny bindings and pages. The first “thick” book I read, the book I credit with turning me into a reader, was The Pink Motel by Carol Ryrie Brink. In the book, the parents of Kirby and Bitsy inherit a pink motel in Florida. The family travels there thinking they’ll get it in shape to sell. There are quirky visitors, a mystery, gangsters, and an alligator. Come to think of it, that sounds like the latest book I just published, The Blues and Ballet.

Photo of the book The Pink Motel
The Pink Motel

The Pink Motel was copyrighted by Ms Brink in 1959 and first published by The Macmillan Company in 1960 for the Weekly Reader Book Club. It was 183 pages long. I know this because my favorite youngest daughter bought me a pristine first edition of the book and I just took it down from my shelf of special collectibles. Before she found that first edition, she bought me a paperback reprint. That means I have one to take care of and one to read. I probably first read The Pink Motel when I was nine or ten. I last read it last year. I read it several times in between.

The Pink Motel transported me to the coast of Florida. I made friends with Kirby and Bitsy and their friend, Big. I joined them on their adventures and met the quirky guests who stayed at the Pink Motel. Best of all, the book introduced a hunger to actually go other places and seek adventures out in the world.

The sense of adventure instilled by books did not limit me to adventures in my head. 

Books made me want to go places, from dive bars to foreign countries, to the Eiffel Tower and to edges of the Grand Canyon. Books put me backstage at theaters of all kinds and created an interest in dance and theater and concerts of all kinds. I enjoy going to horse races and thanks to the author Dick Francis, I have a deeper appreciation of the people involved. I’ve met and partied with people who could be characters in his books. In Horse Heaven, Jane Smiley interpreted the spirit of horses that race. Her personal insight into the mind of a Jack Russell Terrier is spot on near as I can tell, based on being at the beck and call of Pip, my Jack Russell. 

Pip, a Jack Russell puppy.

All of that broader appreciation of the world and its inhabitants started with The Pink Motel.

I want to create similar experiences in those who read my books. One of my favorite comments from a reader was about how he could see the places I described in The Crimson Grace and how he really felt like he was there. Another told me she recognized some of the places in my books and how she looked at maps to locate just where my characters were going through their trials and triumphs.

Hundreds of people visit Bahia Mar Marina in Florida looking for Slip 18 where John D MacDonald’s character Travis McGee kept his houseboat The Busted Flush. There is a plaque at the Marina dedicated to the fictional Slip 18 as a Literary Landmark. You can check it out here. I don’t expect a roadside marker, but I hope someday, somebody traveling down Galveston Island to cross the toll bridge over to Follet’s Island will look to the right and think right there is where Samuel Locke’s house should be.

I could go on and on. I’ve been reading for over half a century. But the common wisdom is to keep blogs reasonable short because the modern day attention span is one interested in MTV style quick cuts. So, I’ll just mention a couple of highlights on my journey to reading without near so much exposition.


–The day I left the aisle of youth books at the Big Spring Public Library and discovered a wealth of mainstream books and their introduction to more places than I could ever visit in a lifetime. (I had to remove the cover of one book about a man and two women shipwrecked on a Pacific island, in order to keep my choice of reading material private from my mom. The drawing of an island on the cover was actually a profile of a reclining, naked woman.)

– Reading for the first time a more literary, heavy novel, The Summer of the Red Wolf, by Morris West. I read it the year it came out. That means I was sixteen. Up until then, I’d been enamored of genre novels, primarily science fiction with a growing interest in mystery novels. The Summer of the Red Wolf is a character study of complex characters and the relationships between them. It is more of a mood and emotional book than what I’d read to that point. It expanded my awareness of what writing could be. Beyond the encapsulated worlds of genre fiction, a good writer can fascinate by exploring characters dealing with things of everyday emotional weight, things like loneliness and dissatisfaction with existing circumstances. At that age, the book was a revelation of literary possibilities.

So, this is kind of a hazy clue as to why I want to write. I have been transported, educated, and entertained by the worlds created by writers. I want to create such worlds.

In this continuing “Writing Journal” blog, I invite you along as I share my process and my struggles. The next blog of this Journal will be a description of how and where I get the job done. After that, I will describe where I get ideas. Then, I will get into the day by day process of writing my next manuscript. As I write about the process, I’ll explore many opinions and ideas about writing and publishing. At least as experienced by me.