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.

The First Blog Post

Okay. Here I go, writing a blog. Over time, I will write about whatever comes to mind. I plan to eventually throw in some video. There will be lots about writing and publishing because that’s what I’m trying to do in this, my second childhood. I will not be offering expert advice because I’m no expert. I will be sharing the experience. Of interest to others sharing the experience of writing and those interested in a behind the scene look at the experience, I’m going to try to blog the process of writing my next book. I won’t be disclosing any plot, but I’ll try to describe what I’m doing at the moment and how.

General blogs, like this one, are going to end up being as meandering as the mind of someone who enjoys being blessed with what the rest of the world calls ADD. Having ADD is like trying to watch a show on television, not knowing where the remote is but your puppy has dragged it under the table and has a paw on it so that the channel is changing and you cannot figure out how to stop it but you are still giving equal attention to everything as it pops on to the screen and your brain works like that almost full time.

Pip, the pup watches TV.
Pip watching television on my desk.

Speaking of puppies—my puppy, Pip, is trying to jump in my lap hoping it will inspire me to take him to the dog park, but it is twenty-nine degrees outside and we aren’t going. He just made it to my lap and is licking my ear. Now, he is sniffing the desktop in search of crumbs of anything remotely edible, pausing to watch Grace Vanderwaal on the other screen. Pip loves to watch television. More about that in a later blog. (Now, he’s watching Mozart In The Jungle. He really likes classical music.)

Speaking of Grace Vanderwaal—she is a phenomenon. She rose to fame by winning Americas Got Talent when she was twelve. She did so by bucking the common wisdom of performing rousing covers of popular songs. She sang all originals. Her songs had smart lyrics that belied her age. Maybe her melodies contained a few musical tropes, but she put them together is smart ways, creating melodies that can get stuck in your head.

Vanderwaal’s voice was, in the words of Simon Cowell, croaky and raw. She’s expanded her talent and, now, her voice smooths out when appropriate. She is one of those pop singers who play with the sounds of her vowels so that their unique sounds become a part of the music. She does not approach perfect pitch like Mariah Carey or Freddie Mercury, or the best of my high school generation, Karen Carpenter, but some of the most engaging singers are not the best at hitting perfect notes. That puts her in the class of Bob Dylan and Joe Cocker. The second best thing about dating girls from my high school’s choir was that they sang in tune with the radio.

An aside: Some singers depend on AutoTune. Another thing Simon Cowell said was that Vanderwall is the “next Taylor Swift.” No. The talent Grace is showing would not depend on AutoTune like Taylor Swift. Although she’s still exploring her musical options, Vanderwaal leans toward a more folksy pop sound than does Swift. Like her or not, Swift is a terrific songwriter and brilliant about her market. Vanderwaal, too, is brilliant and carving her own path as she explores several musical possibilities. I like what one reviewer said about Vanderwaal: She throws herself into the lyrics with the fearless enthusiasm of a thirteen-year-old. And she does so oblivious to the risks.

It’s been fun (As I typed fun and some other words up there it is becoming evident that the “f” on the keyboard is having issues. That can uck me up)…It’s been fun watching Grace move from the gutsy, nervous twelve years old auditioning on AGT to the more and more composed performer in charge of her future who is, so far, doing a great job.

Dish of chili and eggs
My chili and eggs with some browning guacamole. Today’s eggs are poached.

That concert video is over and I’m going to go make breakfast, chili and eggs. One thing we will not do in this blog is debate whether or not chili should have beans. That controversy was created as a public relations ploy to hype the first chili cook-off between Wick Fowler and H. Allen Smith. Chili is meant to be eaten, not debated. Use them like me or don’t, but I don’t want to argue about it. I want to eat it.

Speaking of chili and eggs—chili and eggs was the first breakfast I had in my married life. My lovely bride Jan has often said, “That should have been a clue.” It was served in the hotel in Odessa we stayed on the first night of our married life on the way to Indian Lodge at the Fort Davis State Park. Yeah, I know, not a fancy honeymoon, but I was nineteen and paid for it myself. We were so determined to not ask parents for help. Or, I guess, to ask as little as possible. We did get lots of help. But, I did pay for that honeymoon. Other than that first night’s stay along with the champagne in the “honeymoon suite” of the hotel. Her parents paid for that. Oh, and we borrowed my mom’s car and it was full of gas.

Wedding Photo
Our wedding, 1974.
Portrait of couple.
My lovely bride and I on our honeymoon at the Fort Davis State Park. 1974.

About that champagne—we shared some in a bubble bath in the huge tub in the room and another glass after said relaxing bubble bath. I re-corked the bottle. Eventually, we went to sleep. At some point, I woke up suddenly. The first thought in my head was, “Dumb ass. You put the cork back in a half-empty bottle of champagne.” I lay there for two or three minutes and, sure enough, bam! the cork shot out of the bottle, bounced off the ceiling and a wall, ending up in a potted plant. I woke Jan up laughing. I should go back and see if the dent is still in the ceiling.

Portrait of wife
My child bride. One week after high school graduation. 1974.

About borrowing my mom’s car—to those of you, whoever you were, who filled my car with weeds and dumped salad dressing all over the interior during our wedding reception at the country club: Jokes on you. I never saw it. My dad cleaned it all up before we got home. Sorry. He told me I had some not-so-nice friends.  (I have an uncle who, as a very young boy, tried to help out another family member on his wedding day. My uncle filled the newlywed’s gas tank the morning of the wedding. He filled it with the water hose.)

About champagne corks—years after our first champagne cork experience as a married couple, at a time we lived in The Woodlands north of Houston, I took Jan out for a special birthday dinner. I’d made reservations at a fancy steak place we’d been wanting to try. My parents were in town and went with us. I’d actually put together a mini-surprise party and had friends waiting for us at the restaurant. We were running late for some reason I don’t remember, but I’m sure it was my fault. Trying to get there before cell phones had GPS (In fact, I might have not yet owned my first cell phone.) … trying to get to the steak place, I turned left off of FM 1960 in Houston instead of right. Jan was already … hmm … not really bitchy, but, let’s say, tired of running late. When I had trouble finding the place she started strongly suggesting we just go somewhere else. I couldn’t do that of course, others were waiting for us.

Finally, I got us to where we were going and my lovely bride’s running review of my performance stopped and turned joyful at finding friends, a birthday balloon, and champagne awaiting our arrival. The service person came to open the champagne. Perhaps she needed a tad more training in removing the cork from champagne. It popped off loudly, shot across to the table next to us and hit a lady’s water goblet square on. The goblet broke and water exploded across the table. That table got a free bottle of wine.

Speaking of cell phones—through our son’s Boy Scout Troop, we were friends with a family in which the father was the General Counsel of GTE Mobilnet, one of the first, if not the first, cell phone companies in Houston. The first cell phone I ever saw was one he brought to the Astrodome when our two families went to a game. The phone consisted of a headset connected to a pretty big box you had to lug around. At the game, we had two sets of four tickets. We, the parents, had four seats behind the third base line. The kids were in four seats behind the first base line. We had one clunky cell phone. The kids had another.

We called the kids. It was interesting. From across the field, we could see exactly where the kids were sitting. When they answered the ringing phone rang on the other side of the stadium, everybody around them leaned it to get a look at the phone. They were at a vortex of people on their row and on three or four rows in front and behind them. All those people leaned in. Those farther away stood up and leaned it to get a better look. From where we were, it looked a whirlpool of people centered on the kids. Kind of cool.

Now, on to breakfast. And coffee. In the future, there will undoubtedly be blogs about coffee. And whiskey. And coffee shops. And pencils. And grammar and language. And other things important to the process and image of being a writer. And some blogs about photography. And kids. And perfect grand kids. And Pip, the pup. Because: “Telle est la vie et la vie est tour ce que nous nous avons.” (Don’t you just love how the internet can make you sound all pompously erudite?)