Friday, July 31, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: "Denny"

Today, Detective Hussey shares yet another of his "interesting" experiences in his early years as a police officer.

Don't forget - today is the last day to enter my contest to win a copy of Lee Lofland's book, Police Procedure & Investigation. Details on my website.

Carlisle Dennis Phillips, Denny to his friends and enemies alike, is another subject of legend and lore at the Lakeland Police Department. Denny is from a small town in western New York State called Lime Lake. It's residents affectionately refer to it as "Slime Lake". Why all the nicknames? They just happen to be part of the story.

Denny married a very nice Polish girl from his hometown and shortly thereafter moved to Lakeland, Florida where he joined the police department. After about a year, Denny and Laurie were both a little homesick, so Denny quit his job and they moved back to Slime Lake.

It didn't last too long. Denny realized he didn't belong in New York anymore. In the fall of 1987 he and his expectant bride moved back to Florida, this time for good.

In 1988 Denny was rehired at the Lakeland Police Department. It was during this time that I met Denny and we became partners and fast friends.

Denny was a marathon drinker, hard-charging party animal, and damn good poker player—we hit it off immediately. Soon we were working the Northside and making memories and legends of our own.
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One hot July night, we spotted a tall, thin character walking fast in front of a 7-11 store. The guy was sweating profusely and seemed really nervous. He was about 6'2" and weighed probably 140 lbs. His toothpick legs stuck out of his gym shorts and looked like two pieces of dental floss blowing in the wind. He wore ragged sneakers and bounced from one foot to the other, like he was getting ready to run—"rabbit"—as we used to call it.

We got out of the car and approached the stick man. "What are you doing"? I asked.

"Nothin'," he replied, shifting his weight from one foot then the other then back. "I gotta go." He almost yelled it.

"You ain't goin' nowhere till we tell ya' to," Denny told him, moving to his left in case the guy did run.

"But I gotta' go!"

"Just stand still and shut up," Denny said again.

"Twenty-nine P," I said to the dispatcher, then read the suspect's name from my notepad.

"Hey man, I gotta' go," he said, whining one more time.

"This guy is fucking stupid, I said.

"For the last time—" Denny didn't get to finish. The man spread his legs shoulder length apart and without saying another word, from somewhere inside those baggy shorts, began to excrete green feces, which ran in several rivulets down those bony legs and into his sneakers.

"Told ya' I had to go," the embarrassed man said softly.

"Oh shit," Denny said.

"Yeah, literally," I said. "Let's get the hell out of here before this guy comes back wanted and we have to take him to jail."

"No shit", Denny replied as we scrambled for the police car, laughing all the way.

"Would you quit saying that?"

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Plotting for Non-Plotters - Sneak Preview

First - another warm fuzzy. I received this email yesterday evening.

Hi Terry
Just wanted to let you know that I finished reading your book What's In A Name? that I won recently in your contest and loved the book. I liked the relationship between the main characters and the premise of the story was believable. The intimate scenes were not overdone like so many stories I see today...sometimes that ruins the story for me ...I think some authors think they need it in order to sell their books but you had just enough. Thanks for that. I'm going to share your book with my sister before I put it on my keeper shelf. I'm so glad I won it...I doubt I'd ever picked up a copy on my own to read. Looking forward to reading some more of your work.

I never used to write 'thank you notes' to authors, but I do now that I'm writing. I know how much they can brighten someone's day, and since we work in a virtual vacuum most of the time, that contact with the end user of our product is priceless.

I have my handout for Saturday's workshop on "Plotting for Non-Plotters" ... um ... plotted. Here are the bare bones. I'll provide more after the workshop.

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A bit of Googling gave me the following quotes. The first is my favorite.

“It's like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

“Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.”
E.L. Doctorow

"If I had a plot that was all set in advance, why would I want go through the agony of writing the novel? A novel is a kind of exploration and discovery, for me at any rate."
Chaim Potok

"I always start with characters rather than with a plot, which many critics would say is very obvious from the lack of plot in my films although I think they do have plots - but the plot is not of primary importance to me, the characters are."
Film Director Jim Jarmusch

"In order to have a plot, you have to have a conflict, something bad has to happen."
Mike Judge (Beavis and Butt-Head, King of the Hill)

"Plotting isn't like sex, because you can go back and adjust it afterwards. Whether you plan your story beforehand or not, if the climax turns out to be the revelation that the mad professor's anti-gravity device actually works, you must go back and silently delete all those flying cars buzzing around the city on page one. If you want to reveal something, you need to hide it properly first."
Colin Greenland

My bullet points:

Where to start

How far to go

Trust your instincts


Materials needed


Of course, those bullet points will be fleshed out with examples, suggestions, and caveats. I'll also drag my story and idea boards to the meeting. I'm looking forward to working with Lara. She came over last night, and we had a very easy time deciding what each of us would cover, as her approach is very different from mine.

And don't forget -- tomorrow: The next chapter from the case files of Homicide Hussey.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Warm Fuzzies and Keeping the Creativity Flowing

Thanks to Grace (and Blair and Daryn) for sharing that behind the scenes look at the FBI tour. So sorry to hear you're under the weather, and we all send you wishes for a speedy recovery.

Life notes of the warm fuzzy variety. A while back, I mentioned how hubby's forced "retirement" was all but ignored by the company he worked for. However, the scientific organization he's been deeply involved in for several decades is made up of people cut from different cloth. I'd worked as an assistant for the group until a year ago, and have kept in touch with some of the people I worked with. (If you read the blog post on whale sex, you'll have 'met' one of them.) Due to correspondence on a totally different matter, I mentioned that no, we wouldn't be getting together at the next Biennial, which is in Quebec, since hubby was no longer employed and we were trying to be careful with our pennies until we got a better handle on expenses, etc. Plus, we're hoping to move, so until then, we'd rather put our bucks toward all the expenses that will entail.

Within three days, aforementioned friend and colleague had rounded up a band of elves who have made sure that both hubby and I (after all, I worked for them for 10 years) will be attending the conference. Airfare and hotel room are covered in full.

Then, yesterday, our son sent an email with a subject line of "Happy (a bit early)." Attached was a confirmation of two tickets for a 4 night Bahamas cruise as an anniversary gift, paid in full by two of our kids. And a 'junior suite' with a balcony no less.

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And we've also got our own plans to have dinner at the elegant "Victoria and Albert's" restaurant in the Grand Floridian hotel.

We do this every 5 years on those 'zero' and 'five' year anniversaries, and last time, we vowed that we'd splurge and get a room so we didn't have to drive home after all the food and wine pairings. Hubby made the reservations. Of course, he didn't tell me, and the hotel is one of those persnickety ones that requires you pay for the room in advance (with a five day cancellation policy, no yet), and I thought someone had ripped off his credit card when I saw the charge to Disney on our statement.

Maybe if I stop eating altogether between now and that dinner, and then again between that dinner and the cruise, I'll still fit into my clothes. But ohmigod—a bathing suit? Yowzers.

Writing notes: Not a whole lot. There's been some blogging about breaking out of ruts, keeping the creativity flowing. Yesterday, I struggled to make my minimum word count, feeling that there wasn't anything important happening in the scene. When that happens, there are lots of potential reasons – I've addressed them here several times already. For this one, it seemed that the conflict wasn't strong enough.

Although I was tempted to stop writing and work on something else (I do have that workshop on Saturday to prepare for), I did the BICHOK thing and met my word count, even though I knew it was likely to fall under the ax of the delete key the next day. After all, this is a "spec" book, and I have no deadline, right? Who's to say I can't take a day off and regroup.

Me, that's who. I think it's vital to remember that writing has to be approached as a job, not a hobby if you're serious about it. Even without a contract dangling in front of you. And, as Nora Roberts has been quoted more times than the number of books she's written: "You can't fix a blank page." So, for me to say, "Oh, something will come to me tomorrow." Or, "I'll figure this out later," just wasn't going to cut it. I wrote that scene, and then I printed it out and read it again this morning. With my handy red gel-pen, I noted all the reasons for the scene in the margins. I found I had built up some sexual tension between two characters, and dug a little deeper into their relationship. I established the current status of the investigation. I inserted a little 'ticking clock',' and I ended with something that (I hope) will put another question in the mind of the reader so they'll turn the page.

Is it brilliant writing? Not as strong as it could be (although hubby liked the last lines). But at least now I have something to FIX.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Inside the FBI: RWA Conference Recap

Today my guest is author Grace Kone, who recently attended the Romance Writers of America conference in Washington, DC. (Alas, I couldn't go this year). Each year, the Kiss of Death chapter of RWA has a tour of special interest to its mystery/romance author members. She is sharing a part of that tour with us. Enjoy!

For three days prior to the national conference of the Romance Writers of America in Washington, D.C., I had a very special privilege. On tours arranged by the Mystery/Suspense chapter of RWA I visited the FBI, the State Department, the Postal Inspection Service, and the CIA. Today I’ve chosen just a few FBI highlights.

We were up at five, on the bus by six, our driver taking us south of Washington and far, far into the woods to visit the FBI Training Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Frankly, I was expecting smirks when a group of fifty romance writers descended on the FBI. To my surprise, we were treated like royalty. Not a smirk in sight. We were soon divided into two groups—one section off to the shooting range while the rest of us toured Hogan’s Alley.

Hogan’s Alley was built with the help of Hollywood set experts. It’s a small town, complete with movie theater, stores, apartment buildings, motel, warehouses, and two single-family suburban homes. While we were there, we saw two training scenarios—a street chase, including a shoot-out—and the take-down of a suspect in a car. The trainee had to chase the driver when he made a run for it. The bad guys are played by volunteers, many of whom have been volunteering for years.

When it was our group’s turn for the gun range, we shot handguns, a shotgun, an HK MP-5, and an old-fashioned tommy gun (very heavy). I ended up having to dig powder burns from my arms the next day.

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After lunch, we had three outstanding speakers, who urged us to ask questions any time. (And, believe me, we did.) The agent who spoke on Espionage Investigations (on American soil) emphasized that he believed that espionage by the PRC (People’s Republic of China) was the most serious current threat, that it would continue to increase in size and scope.

John Tanza, who spoke on Undercover Operations, interspersed drama with humor. His ethnic background tailored him to go undercover with the Mafia. (Undercover agents must be able to “fit in”; i.e., be knowledgeable about the sub-culture they are penetrating, including social customs.) He told us about one of his biggest take-downs, which involved something like sixty dirty cops. He and his team were in as much danger from the police as they were from being discovered by the bad guys. He also had us laughing about a personal incident. He and his wife encountered a long line for an event in Las Vegas, and she urged him to do his Mafia impersonation. He put on his undercover attitude, flashed some money, dropped some big names, and they were whisked past everyone else in line. An interesting personal touch to let us know FBI agents are human.

Our third speaker, George Pico, a relatively young agent, earned his place as teacher and speaker at the Academy by being the sole interrogator of Saddam Hussein for eight months (5-7 hours a day) and then by spending another six months writing the Prosecution’s case against him. When asked, “Didn’t Saddam know why you were there?” George replied that he must have, but he was the only person Saddam could talk to, the person he had to ask if he wanted anything; i.e., Saddam’s only contact with the outside world. Saddam was concerned about his “legacy.” He wanted his words recorded, and also, as a human being, he needed to communicate with the only person available.

How was George chosen? He told us that out of 12,000 FBI agents, only twelve were native Arabic speakers. (George came here from Lebanon at age twelve.) He also had ten years’ experience as a homicide investigator before joining the FBI. This gave him plenty of experience in interrogation. He did not ask for the job; he simply received a phone call telling him he was “it.”

Other than George’s name, Saddam did not know who he was. He assumed that George was the head of Intelligence for Iraq and that he was in constant touch with the U. S. President (not so).

George used the “soft” approach, learning everything he could about Saddam and his background. He went back to Saddam’s childhood, accumulated a picture file. He even read the four romance novels Saddam wrote. And, yes, he described Saddam as a romantic, a man who saw himself as the warrior on the white horse, the savior of his people. Saddam adored his mother; he was a ladies’ man. George also described Saddam as likable, with a great sense of humor. When asked how he kept from identifying with Saddam, George replied that he would remember that Saddam had poison-gassed his own people.

At first, George spent a good bit of time just talking to Saddam, finding a “baseline,” which he also described as the “truthline”—ways to determine if Saddam was telling the truth; i.e., body language, etc. George describes Saddam’s hunger strike as the turning point. From his hospital bed he told George he only started to eat again because he could see George was so worried about him.

Among the information that came out: Saddam most feared Iran. Iran was the reason he made a charade of having Weapons of Mass Destruction. But, yes, he would have rebuilt his nuclear program if sanctions were lifted. Also, he had only an arms-length relationship with Al-Queda. He was actually wary of them and opposed to any “power-sharing.”

A personal tidbit: George shared with Saddam cookies his mother sent him. He said his mother was not happy about it when she heard.

George gave Saddam three days warning that he was leaving. Saddam said: “You don’t like me any more.” On the final day George brought in Cuban cigars, which Saddam loved and hadn’t had since his capture. They went outside and smoked and drank coffee. Saddam cried when George left.

All in all, a stunning story. To complete our amazing day at the FBI: as we walked down a glass-walled corridor, two deer came out of the woods and began to graze on the grass across the road from the shooting ranges. Obviously, the guns had shut down for the day, as well as the deer being serenely confident that those guns weren’t going to be turned on them.

Grace Kone writes romance as Blair Bancroft and mystery as Daryn Parke. You can find her at and, where you can read the first chapter of THE ART OF EVIL, a mystery set at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota

Monday, July 27, 2009

Storyboard Saga - Part 5 - Plus more news

What I'm reading: New Blood, by Gail Dayton; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

We pause for a brief commercial interruption:

RELEASE DAY! True, it's a free read, but it's still fun. "THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PAGE" is available now from Cerridwen Press.

And this is the last week to enter my contest for a chance to win a copy of Lee Lofland's fabulous reference book, "Police Procedure & Investigation." Details on my website. Don't wait too long.

Back to your regularly scheduled blog post.

I was asked by my RWA chapter to present some of my 'plotting for non-plotters' techniques at their next meeting—which is this Saturday.

I'll bring my story board, of course. I'll be presenting with another member of the chapter, erotic romance author Lara Dien, and we're going to get together Wednesday evening to figure out what we're going to say.

And, the members usually want handouts. I like getting handouts. But now I have to create one – before I give the talk. To me, that sounds suspiciously like plotting in advance!

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I'll be working on that this week. And yes, once I have it done, I'll share. And if Lara has a handout, I'll share hers too.

As for the storyboard tracking. I'm moving forward, as you might be able to tell if you compare this picture with the one I posted the last time I discussed my discovery of this technique.

And here's my idea board.

My only new addition to the storyboard: time. I normally do this on the computer, in the master file, but I've really been enjoying being able to look at the whole book without having to search the manuscript, so I've added neon green stickies reminding me which day it is (and I'm in chapter 20, and day 3 has just dawned.

Time is always a challenge when I'm writing more than one POV character when they're not on the same page. Character 1 might be off investigating the crime, while character 2 is telling her friend about getting mugged. Character 3 might be off jogging. I'd settled into a 'routine' – each chapter began with a scene in Gordon, my cop's POV, and the second scene was from either Megan's or Justin's, and they'd alternate. You can kind of see this on the storyboard: Gordon's green, Megan is pink, and Justin is blue.

Then I hit chapter 19. I knew at some point, I'd have to deal with his attraction to the waitress, and this seemed to be when he demanded it happen. The scene carried over into the "morning after." (It was also a bit strange to have an abbreviated, mostly off-the-page sex scene after writing 6 romances). So, I was now in the morning of day 3.

Only trouble was, Megan and Justin were having dinner on day 2 in the previous scene. To keep the time continuity clear, I'd have to jump ahead to the next day. But there were critical plot points that had to be covered.

At least Megan and Justin were together, so when I popped back into their POV scene, it would be when we left off.

When I read the chapter, I realized I was asking the reader to figure out that they'd just jumped back in time to the previous night. It made more sense to flip the scenes in that chapter. The other alternative, which didn't feel right, would have been to have a really long chapter to bring Justin and Megan into the morning of Day 3. While I don't have any rules as to how long a chapter or scene should be, each scene seems to feel complete at about the 4-6 page mark.

Another possibility would have been to have added Justin's scene to chapter 19, making it a three-scene chapter.

Is any of it 'right' or 'wrong'? I don't think so. Some authors will put date, time, and place headers in each chapter or scene of their books. I find that I gloss over or ignore them, wanting to know what's happening more than where or when, so I don't choose to add them to my books. I suppose if I had a lot of threads where characters were all over, I might consider it.

Scenes and chapters don't have to conform to any given length. So, adding a third scene wouldn't be 'wrong' either. It just didn't feel right.

And that seems to be how I write. It has to flow in such a way that it makes sense to me first.

What's your preference on following time when dealing with stories where the POV characters aren't together?

Tomorrow, my guest is author Blair Bancroft, who's going to recap her special tour of the FBI from the Romance Writer's of America conference. I'm regretting not being able to go even more. You won't want to miss it.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Sex and the Badge - Part 2

This is the second part of Detective Hussey's chapter. Part one is here, if you haven't read it. Actually, it's there even if you have read it. And, once again, no pictures. I'm sure you'll understand.

As the years went by, there would be more and more instances involving deviants. There was the guy who got his penis stuck in the intake line of the swimming pool at the Holiday Inn. He must have been really enjoying himself, until his member swelled up and stuck in the pipe.

Try as he might, he was unable to free himself, even when the pump's timer shut the pump off. He was just too swollen. His skin resembled hand-tooled saddle leather. Hours later, an unsuspecting man and his wife walked to the pool area, then ran back to the lobby to call the police. When the officer arrived on the scene, the man was reported to have said, "It's not what it looks like."

What most cops learn quickly is that usually, it's exactly what it looks like. It was.

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1n 1985, I went to car fire in the Meadows subdivision, south of town. When I got there I saw the charred shell of what had been the car, being hosed matter-of-factly, by a sleepy firefighter. The driver was perched on all fours, on a gurney in the back of an ambulance, with his naked rear end stuck high in the air. As I approached I realized that the rectal area and his scrotum had been badly burned.

"Third degree," Brad Baad, the paramedic said as he flushed the affected area with water.

"What happened?" I asked the tearful 19 year old?

"I dunno," he sobbed.

Brad took me aside and whispered, "I think I know. I've seen it before." He handed me a Bic disposable butane cigarette lighter. "What these kids do is, go out and eat a lot of nasty stuff, you know, onions, pigs feet, Krystal hamburgers, then when the methane gas inside them builds up, they hold a lighter to their asshole and fart, to see how far they can throw a flame."

I laughed out loud as I got a mental picture of the kid sitting in his car. "He must have set the car on fire by accident," I said.

Brad grinned and nodded.

By far the craziest thing I've seen involves a situation called auto-eroticism. The participant puts a belt or a noose around his neck and attaches it to a ceiling beam or other strong object. Many times this is done in a clothes closet. The person then slowly puts his weight onto the noose as he masturbates. Just before the noose cuts off the blood flow to the brain and the person passes out, he is able to experience an intense orgasm.

The problem comes when he goes too far to obtain this satisfaction and passes out completely. Death soon follows. Many people who practice this form of pain/pleasure do so with a partner in case they go too far. The partner can then release them and save their lives.

I responded to such a scene once in the City of Lakeland. The victim was a 42-year-old Florida Highway Patrolman. Clothed only in a t-shirt and his leather harness, he was found by his best friend and fellow trooper when the friend was sent around to check on the guy after he didn't show for his tour of duty. The bad part of this one was that when the friend found him, he went nuts and for hours, held other units and paramedics at gun point, as he sobbingly clung to the corpse of his dead partner. When he finally let other officers in, he could not quit crying. He never went back to work. It was tragic.

I've thought about Mr. Zeigler and the others over the years. I've also thought about how I felt that night when I saw old Mr. Zeigler pleasing himself. It was my first trip into the dark world that many people live in on a regular basis. It would not be my last.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Averbs, anyone?

Writing update: I've sent "Seeing Red" off to the publisher. It's two connected mystery short stories. Departures for me: Writing in first person, one POV, and it's a straight mystery. Thanks to Detective Hussey for his generosity in reading the draft to keep the cop stuff accurate. Sometimes a character just clicks, and that's the way it was with the detective in these stories. I'm glad they've found a home.

And, the Barnes and Noble online store now sells e-books. I'm pleased to let you know that my short stories with The Wild Rose Press are available there. I hope you'll check them out. (Ignore the bit about 'ships to US addresses only'; they're downloads. No shipping!)

On a fun note. A few posts back, I posted Elmore Leonard's 'rules' for writers, one of which was to minimize the use of adverbs. The other day, a friend sent the following, which I had to share. We used to make them up, but never ones this clever.

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"I manufacture table tops," said Tom counterproductively.

"Let's have a debate about cows," Tom mooted.

"Who discovered radium?" asked Marie curiously.

"Just parsley, sage and rosemary," said Tom timelessly.

"This sea-spray will ruin all the metal-work," said Tom mistrustfully.

"I can't tell you how much it resembles a table," said Tom veritably.

"Show no mercy killing the vampire," said Tom painstakingly.

"It keeps my hair in place," said Alice with abandon.

The credit for this linguistic frippery is usually given to the prolific writer and publisher Edward L. Stratemeyer, who was responsible for the Tom Swift series of adventure novels.

Anyone want to add to the list?

For more about Tom Swifties, go here.

Be sure to come back tomorrow for another Homicide Hussey chapter.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ramp up the Suspense

What I'm reading: Finger Lickin' Fifteen, by Janet Evanovich

On Saturday, I attended my first Florida Mystery Writers of America meeting, partly because they had a different venue which made it a 2 hour instead of a 3 hour drive, and partly because the speaker, Martha Powers, was going to discuss Suspense.

Although I'm still an avid fan of mystery, making the reader worried about what might happen next is always a worthwhile tool.

I will say I was heartened to hear her opening remarks where she differentiated between mystery and suspense, something I've gone into here several time before. But she also echoed my feeling that the term 'thriller' is being bandied around too freely by publishers as a marketing ploy. A thriller is a suspense, but a suspense is not necessarily a thriller. A thriller should be a suspense on a much larger scale.

Martha Powers doesn't think she writes thrillers. She calls them page-turners.

Her guide to ramping up the suspense:

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The elements that make for great suspense:

Something major to fear

A memorable character

A time limit (the ticking clock on the bomb – she did bring up the memorable point. Why do the bomb builders put the countdown clocks on the outside?

Methods you can use to crank up the suspense include:

Narrowing the time. If something has to be done soon, it creates more tension than giving the character an extended time period to work with. They'll execute a hostage every ten minutes. They'll release the deadly gas in two hours unless their demands are met.

Let the reader anticipate a crisis. The reader has to know what will happen if the character fails. (As opposed to mystery, where the protagonist is solving the puzzle, but the crisis has already happened.)

Forestall revelation

Appeal to universal fears

Scare, release, and scare. You have to give the reader a chance to breathe, to think things are okay, and then you hit them with another crisis.

Prepare the reader and do the unexpected. Johnny Carson said, "If they buy the premise, they'll buy the bit." So, you have to sell the premise early on. You can't stop to explain a skill set at the height of the action. You have to show the character using those skills (or fears) early on, in a 'normal' setting. Is your character going to have to survive in the wilderness? We need to know he was always going camping as a child. Even in non-suspense, this is an important point. When my hero was stuck with a couple of kids, and he braided their dolls' hair, it was established that he used to show his pony at the fair, and he learned to braid way back then.

As for fears – we know Indiana Jones is afraid of snakes at the very beginning of the movie. So we can fear along with him when he looks into that snake pit later. (And because of that opening scene, we know to expect something with snakes, which adds to the tension.)

Narrow the focus. Make it personal as well as global.

To break the tension (as above, scare, release, scare)

Take time for character development

Use descriptions

Reveal information slowly

Use humorous anecdotes

All of the above need to happen before the climactic ending of the book, where you shouldn't have time to back off. That's not the time to stop and smell the roses.

The end of your book will sell the next one. To that end, it must be:

The strongest scene in the book

Surprising but reasonable (again, the reader has to accept the character has the skill set needed to avert the crisis—Mel Gibson showed in a bar bet he could get out of a strait jacket. Thus, when the bad guys put him in a strait jacket and throw him in the water, we know he has the skills to escape. Otherwise, we're not going to buy how convenient it is for him to be able to do that just when he needs to.)

Over quickly

Worth the worry

Satisfy the reader (which, as with everything else, is subjective, of course)

thanks to Martha Powers for a most informative (and, of course, funny, presentation)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Today I welcome author Bess McBride to Terry's Place.

Write what you know they say. The problem is I know a little about a lot but hardly a lot about almost anything…or so it seems when I put on my “write what you know cap” when I’m brainstorming a new story. I’m suddenly beset with a case of “Wait, I don’t know anything about anything.” Could be a confidence problem, could be reality… Who can say?

I recently decided to return to work full time, accepted a fairly well-paying job and moved to a state I’ve only visited before. But that visit was the reason I found myself able to apply for employment in a strange town. Last fall…on our way down to our winter grazing grounds on the fabulous Gulf Coast.

I made the trip that many of us often long to do…at least once in our lives…a genealogical journey through the towns, cities and final resting places of my grandparents, their parents and their parents before them. In my case, these particular grandparents had come to roost in Eastern Nebraska and Western Iowa as they followed the railroad.

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With the help of a third cousin whom I met online, I found everyone I was looking for, although they were all deceased. Still, I found my family…their homes, their towns, their cemeteries, their tombstones. And I was compelled to start a book. Write what you know they say. As an amateur genealogist, did I know enough to write a book around the subject? As a newcomer to the Midwest, did I know enough about the area to write a book set here? As a child born to traveling parents who never met her extended family, did I know enough about family to write about their lives?

None of that seems to matter. One thing we all know about is the power of love…even if it is the love of a granddaughter for grandparents she never knew, or a great-granddaughter for the great-grandparents who would never know her. The power of love gives me the inspiration to forge ahead with my next story of love…set among the cemeteries in the wonderful windy loess hills along the Missouri River between Nebraska and Iowa.

For a gal who has a glaring absence of family, I seem to have accumulated lots and lots of cousins through my interest in genealogy. Two of those cousins (second cousins who are 15-20 years older than me) happened to be attending a family reunion on their grandmother’s side of the family (our connection is through our grandfathers who were brothers) this weekend, only an hour away. I drove up to the big city, and we met, shared historical letters and photographs and traveled on to a nearby town to see our mutual great-grandparents’ graves while they shared memories of their grandparents and even my grandparents whom I never had the chance to meet.

The sense of continuity is strong when I am with my living cousins, and I feel connected to this place where my ancestors lived out their lives. I have many more cousins within a day’s drive whom I have not yet met, descendents of our mutual great-great grandparents. I look forward to finding more family and sharing stories and connections…and writing about what I thought I would never know about…Family.

Bess McBride writes sweet to sensual romance novels for The Wild Rose Press. Her next release, On a Warm Sea of Love, will be available from The Wild Rose Press on September 29, 2009. She is currently at work on a story set in Western Iowa. She welcomes visitors to her web site at

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hiccups, Speed Bumps, Detours, and Roadblocks.

What I'm reading: The Desert Hedge Murders, by Patricia Stoltey

Somehow, there seems to be a lot of synchronicity in the blogosphere. Recently, there have been posts showing up at various sites discussing how closely an author needs to adhere to the facts.

Of course, we all want our books typo free, and accurate in terms of mechanics. When I see errors in books, I have learned enough about the process not to assume the author is solely to blame. There are copy editors who should be catching things, and sometimes, changes are made that the author isn't aware of. Some 'helpful' editor might change a foreign phrase, thinking it was wrong, when in reality, in context, it was correct.

Or, the wrong version of the manuscript goes to print. I can speak from experience there. My galley corrections somehow never made it into print in one of my books, and I'm not sure when they'll get the correct version out. That's the flip side – they're a small press, and their focus is digital books, so they can make corrections without having to sell out a 100,000 book print run.

Authors do not make good proofreaders of their own work. The eye sees what it expects, and the author has probably read the work dozens, if not scores, of times. In When Danger Calls, the head of the company, Blackthorne, Inc., is Horace Blackthorne. Yet until I saw the printed ARC, he was Horace Blackstone the first time he was introduced. I'd missed it on every read, and both my editors had missed it as well.

I was reading a book recently where a character saw the "break" lights on the cars. And someone was waiting with "baited" breath. Or the book where a character put "peddle to the metal."

How much does it take to throw the reader out of the book so far that they don't come back?

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That probably depends on how good a storyteller the author is, and how compelling the characters are.

Sometimes there are minor hiccups. If a character makes a choice, and you've got a different solution, maybe that will make you stop reading for a moment and think about it. I was reading a scene where the characters had been interrupted once too often by the telephone in the bedroom, so they took it out. Perhaps the author was trying to find a reason for his character to have to leave the bedroom, and this was his solution. In my household, we simply turn the ringer off the bedroom phone. It seems a simply way to handle the rude awakenings. Thus, when I read the 'no more phone in the bedroom' scenario, I stop for a moment to think about my solution. Does it spoil the book? Of course not. But any time you slow the read, you're giving the reader an excuse to put the book down.

Sometimes an error tells the reader the author is lazy. If you're using a real drug, take a minute to research what it looks like. People who are familiar with the medication will know if you say it's yellow when it's blue.

Why does a flight from Hawaii land at the International terminal at LAX? Last I heard, Hawaii was part of the US.

Thumbing the safety off a Glock? That's the most common error made by writers dealing with firearms. I can skip over that with little more than a snicker. I don't know much about handguns, but I do know a Glock doesn't have that kind of safety.

I also know that it's "Canada goose" not "Canadian goose," even if "Canadian" sounds better. And that those big goldfish are "koi" not "coy" (although maybe they're coy koi.)
A cell phone that has a different ring tone every time it rings? I know you can assign a ringtone for various callers, but then you'll know who they are. If the author does that, then do it all the way. Don't have the person wonder who's calling. (Or are there now "random rings" available on cell phones?)

In writing my books, which deal with aspects of law enforcement, I do my best to get it right. Knowing what you don't know is often the hardest part. Thinking you do know something and not checking the facts (like assuming all semi-automatics have a safety you can thumb off) can get you in trouble.

But what about the death of a prominent politician in a car accident that's declared due to his being drunk because the cops smelled alcohol. Excuse me? That's a real stopper for me. No autopsy? No blood analysis? Where are the media?

Lee Lofland's book, "Police Procedures & Investigation"* has a great chapter called, "C.S. … I Don't Think So" which reminds readers that television is a medium of entertainment, not reality. Yet I had an editor once tell me that if I was going to write about police work, I should write what the readers believed to be true, not the way it really was. Since they watch television and read fiction for entertainment, they expect both to agree.

I don't fully agree. I had the pleasure of sharing a ride with Detective Mark (Homicide) Hussey to the Florida chapter of the Mystery Writers of America meeting on Saturday. (As an aside, he became a grandfather for the second time that morning.) Not only did he answer my multitude of questions about police procedure, he was kind enough to read my short story for police accuracy. I feel I owe that to my readers, and if it doesn't match what they see on television, I try to find a way to explain it on the page, without stopping the action.

Harlan Coben said, "It's fiction. I get to make stuff up." But the choice of what stuff to make up might be the difference between endearing or alienating a reader. What sorts of tolerance do you have? What bothers you enough to spoil a read?

*And don't forget, I have a copy of this excellent reference book to give away in my July contest. Be sure to enter. Details on my website.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Bess McBride. She'll be talking about family. And graveyards.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Homicide - Hussey: Sex and the Badge - Part 1

Detective Mark Hussey is back today, with the first half of his chapter, "Sex and the Badge." Given the content, I hope you'll forgive me for not coming up with illustrations. You'll have to use your imaginations.

The bad news: because it's long, it's going to be another two-parter. The good news: Today's part is a complete anecdote - no cliff hanger ending.

I grew up in a relatively conservative community in West Orange County, Florida, outside of Orlando. It was an area that prior to 1971, when the Walt Disney Company invaded the area, was a quiet, southern, almost backwards place. When I was in high school, sex consisted of maybe some light petting, through the clothing, and a lot of fantasizing. So when I went out into the world and became a cop, I was again shocked when I encountered some of the ways people amuse and abuse themselves -- get off, as it were.

I promised the guys when I started this book that I wouldn't go into too much detail about the sexual exploits of the boys in blue. Suffice it to say that there were always girls around, literally hanging around the police station, drooling at a chance to hook up with a Lakeland cop. Also suffice to say that the "ladies" were never disappointed, no matter what they looked like. There was always someone willing, if not when sober, then after a couple of beers, to satisfy a cop groupie.

Most of those situations, however, were "relatively" normal. Cops are known to be kinky but not perverted.

The difference, an old cop once told me is this: "Kinky" involves the use of a feather during a sexual encounter. A "pervert" uses the whole chicken. I met a lot of chicken users over the years.

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In 1980 I got a call that there was a suspicious person parked at the rear of Vito's Restaurant on South Florida Avenue. The vehicle was described as a late model, dark blue Cadillac. The car was parked with all four windows down and occupied by a white male. When I pulled my cruiser into the alley, I killed the lights and coasted to stop behind the car. I radioed headquarters and told them I had the vehicle and that indeed a white male appeared to be occupying the front seat. As I got out, though, it struck me funny that the guy just wasn't right. I saw the guys head, as he was sitting in the front seat, but there were legs and feet on each side of his head. It looked like he was having sex, but he was not moving. It was weird.

"Get out of the car," I said into the PA mike.

"I can't," yelled a voice from inside the car.

I switched the federal system over to radio and asked dispatch to send me a backup. "10-4," the radio crackled.

I didn't wait long. Officer Mike Brand rolled into the lot and grumbled something as he got out of the car. Mike, or "Brand-X", as he was nicknamed, was a great cop. He was large-framed and talked very softly. He was always good for a dry, one liner. He would be quiet for a long time, then say something profound and funny as all hell.

"Hey Mike." I said as he walked up.

"What ya got?"

"I'm not sure what's up. It's just weird."

"Let's do it," Mike said with a sigh.

He un-holstered his revolver and held it next to his right leg as we walked up to the car. I took the driver's side, being careful to look into the stream of light provided by my flashlight, for any movement that might put myself or my partner in danger. As I got around to the open window, I was not prepared for the sight that would meet my eyes.

Steven Ziegler was a 38 year old stockbroker, with an iron deficiency and male pattern baldness. His alabaster body had not seen sunlight for years. Mr. Zeigler was about 5'6" tall but at the moment, was about 2 feet tall. He was nude, and contorted like a pretzel, with his body lodged between the front seat and the steering wheel. His knees were pushed up around his shoulders, with his feet resting on the ceiling of the car. His limp penis was resting along side his cheek.

"What the fuck are you doing!" I screamed.

He tried to turn his head but was unable to. "I could lie to you Officer, but what would be the point? I was drinking at the "Office Lounge" and got a little excited. Of course I struck out with the ladies so when this guy leaned over to me and said, 'don't you wish you could suck your own dick, we wouldn't need to hunt these bitches,' I got an idea."

"What was the idea?" I asked as I looked into the incredulous face of Brand-x.

"You know, do myself."

I felt sick, as I understood what he was talking about. My veteran partner asked matter-of-factly, "Well did it work?"

"Hell yes, I've always been wiry," he exclaimed proudly. "It worked, that is, until I tried to get outta' this seat. It locked up on me."

"Are you a spitter or a swallower?" Mike continued dryly.

"Oh man" I thought.

Mike and I tried everything we could think of to get the electric seats of the Cadillac freed up, in order to release the Uni-dater. As the extrication attempts continued, the curious onlookers, mostly other cops, began to arrive. As each new participant came on the scene, he was told through hysterical laughter, the tale of the "self-help" stockbroker. Thank God it was four o'clock in the morning, or the gawkers would have been more numerous. Finally, we had to call the fire department and get their Hurst tool (jaws of life) to break the car seat loose from its moorings. Officer George Kistner, who held the department record for marriages and divorces at six, said thoughtfully, he wished he had learned to do it long ago, as it would have saved him a lot of money.

When Mr. Zeigler was finally released, he gingerly unfolded his contorted body and stood up, stretching his neck from side to side. As he got dressed, a discussion developed as to what he should be charged with. We settled on indecent exposure since there were no other persons involved.

Have a great weekend, everyone. I'm looking forward to being able to attend my first monthly meeting of the Florida MWA on Saturday. These are the folks who put SleuthFest together every year. Normally, I can't make their monthly meetings, but the stars are aligned properly this month. And they've shifted their venue for this meeting, which puts them a good hour closer to my home!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Next Five Rules of Writing

What I'm reading: The World According to Ali, by T.L. Gray. Also, rereading Fearless Fourteen by Janet Evanovich before 15 arrives from the library.

About a week ago, I posted the first five of Elmore Leonard's "Rules" of writing. "Rule" vs. "Guideline" was discussed at that time, so I won't repeat it, but I thought I ought to finish with the second five "rules." If you missed the first post, it's here:

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories "Close Range."

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" what do the ''American and the girl with him'' look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

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9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)

If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character -- the one whose view best brings the scene to life -- I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in "Sweet Thursday" was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. "Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts" is one, "Lousy Wednesday" another. The third chapter is titled ''Hooptedoodle 1'' and the 38th chapter ''Hooptedoodle 2" as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: "Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want."

"Sweet Thursday" came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

This article is part of a 2001 NY Times series in which writers explore literary themes. Previous contributions, include essays by John Updike, E. L. Doctorow, Ed McBain, Annie Proulx, Jamaica Kincaid, Saul Bellow and others.

Tomorrow, it's another chapter from Mark Hussey. This one he calls "Sex and the Badge." A definite Must Read.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Storyboard Saga - Part 4

What I'm reading: Make Me Yours, by Betina Krahn

Thanks, Jane, for that delightful look at New Zealand. I did get as far as the airport in a brief layover on our way to Australia years ago. I hope to get there someday.

And welcome to my new followers. I hope you'll find it worthwhile stopping by. I'm flattered that you find enough here to keep coming back.

Writing updates: I'm in contract negotiations for my mystery short stories that would be part of a 4 author anthology. And my upcoming (July 27) Free Read brought an unsolicited email from the publisher.

She wrote: I read your upcoming free read, The Other Side of the Page, and just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed it. So clever and cute!

That's definitely a feel-good moment.

I'm back to my novel again, after the break to write a short story. And I've got more story board stuff going on. Because I took an extended break from working on the novel to write my second short story, I was out of touch with both plot and characters. In order to get back into the thick of things, I read what I had – about 45,000 words—in hard copy, and found a few problems. I also needed to take another look at my idea board, to remind myself of where I've been and where I want to go.

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One thing I realized was that I have introduced secondary characters whose roles are becoming more significant in the various plot threads. I went through my story board and added little sticky notes with their names for each scene in which they appeared. This way, I can see if I've left them off the page for too long, or if they're starting to threaten to take over.

Since I'm trying to keep track of a fatal car accident, a murder, two break-ins, and a secret search for something, the sticky notes help. If I were really good, I'd color code them, but since I've already used random colors, I think I'll just use my new bright blue ones for plot threads in general. Should I ever do this again, I'll probably try to do more color-coding from the get go.

Trying to keep the reader guessing means dropping in clues and red herrings. But you have to play fair. If I've forgotten to mention the traffic accident, or the name of the man who died in it, for too many chapters, it's likely the reader will have forgotten as well. It's not fair to mention something or someone once in passing, and then have it be the solution to the entire puzzle at the end. Nor do I want to mention it so often that it's waving a red flag at the reader. "CLUE HERE!"

Another thing I noticed on my re-read was that I'd forgotten an important reveal. Megan had been telling everyone she didn't remember anything about the man who accosted her in the park, but at the end of Chapter 11, I discovered she'd revealed what he'd said to her. Forgetting that I'd written it, I blithely went on with her saying she didn't remember, until she revealed it again in chapter 15. Oops.

So now, when I have a critical reveal, I'm using my red pen and some nice, conspicuous asterisks on my sticky notes. And given how many mystery threads I'm interweaving, I should probably have done it from page 1.

Could I do all this on the computer? Sure. And lots of times, I do make notes, both using the Document Map feature of Word, or on a separate document. But I don't like bouncing back and forth, and slapping up a sticky note is still working for me.

Looking back: What am I tracking? POV characters. Each has a specific color larger sticky. Setting. Mystery threads and clues. Secondary characters who are involved in one of the mystery threads (or, as it seems to be turning out, as a romantic interest for my detective).

As far as plotting goes, I'm still doing this as I go along. When I started talking about writing this book, I mentioned working to establish the critical back story that propels the mystery. I'm now writing the second scene of Chapter 16 (at the 47,000 word mark), and this is the first time the reader is seeing a hint as to what it is. (Talk about not opening with back story info dumps!) That's why this is a mystery. In a suspense, the reader would already know, and would be wondering if things were going to reach critical mass before the characters figured it out. But since it's a mystery, the reader won't know until the characters do.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

We're off to New Zealand with Jane

Last week, India. Today, New Zealand. What a wonderful global tour my guests are providing. Join me in welcoming author Jane Beckenham to Terry's Place today.

It’s raining, and to use a cliché--which smack my hand, because as a writer that’s a very bad thing--but that darn rain is coming down cats and dogs. You see, while you live through the hazy, lazy days of summer sunshine, bbqs and beach parties, I’m stuck in the middle of winter down under.

Yep, that upside down world of ours is to blame. You see, I’m way down yonder in New Zealand. But isn’t technology wonderful! That we can ‘talk’ to each other in virtual reality and time, and yet be thousands of miles away. That Mr. Bell (of the telephone fame!) sure has a lot to answer for. I mean the man really started us all off on this world of communication.

So what is it like living below the equator!

Firstly, the basics of life

The water goes down the sink the opposite way. And if you want to dial a phone number, the numbers are back to front, and phoning emergency services – well that’s 111, not 911.

Then there's the best difference. Christmas time is summer time. No snow to make Christmas shopping a pain in the – well you know where – no delays on holiday flights because of the weather.
New Zealand is a country of just over four million people and about sixty million sheep.On a recent trip I had driving around the USA I kept remarking to my family – where are the animals? For days we couldn’t figure out what was ‘wrong’ with the landscape – then it hit us – we couldn’t find the cows and the sheep!

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Down under, a kiwi isn’t a fruit, but a wingless bird that lives on the forest floor. Here’s the mythical legend of how the kiwi lost its wings. Down under, a tamarillo is a tree tomato, and if you’re asked to ‘bring a plate’ when invited to a gathering, that doesn’t mean your hostess hasn’t got enough plates, it means bring some food! Kiwis (that’s kiwi-speak for a New Zealander, not the bird) love sayings. We can fix anything with a bit of ‘number 8 fencing wire’, everything is always ‘she’ll be right, mate’ and a banger is a sausage, and if someone says to you it’s a dag, it means it’s funny, and he’s not talking about a sheep’s derriere. A car trunk is a boot, and a biscuit is a cookie… confused… never mind, we’re a friendly bunch really.

Now if I talk about a fanny we mean female genetalia, not a derriere, and if I’m fagged out, I’m actually knackered, a.k.a exhausted. Fizzy is soda pop and a flat is an apartment and if I’ve seen a great flick, it’ll be that I’ve been to the movies.

Years ago (actually nearly a lifetime ago!) I had a penpal in the USA. When she enquired if I lived in a grass hut, I was a most indignant 10 year old. But life is a lot slower than that in the northern hemisphere, life is green and mostly clean. The country is made up of two main islands and no, we’re not near Greenland or the North Pole, just head south a bit – actually we’re opposite Australia, but not part of them – never call a Kiwi an Aussie!!! Never! LOL.

We talk with a twang (so others tell us) and our government is situated in Wellington, with a new prime minister who was elected to power the same week as Barak Obama. We expect to have another big earthquake sometime soon – they tell us and Auckland, where I live is built on 50 dormant volcanoes, but the trouble is one isn’t – and that is meant to go sometime soon!

Now, back to winter. The best time of year for a writer like me. It means I can bury myself away inside and write…and not feel guilty that the garden is being neglected, or that I don’t go out for a walk. But then, there’s always the housework waiting.

Oh, well. I suppose I can’t have it all my own way.

Happy reading everyone.

In books author Jane Beckenham discovered dreams that inspired in her a love of romance and happy ever after. Years later, after a blind date, Jane found her own true love and married him eleven months later. Life has been a series of ‘dreams’ for Jane. Dreaming of learning to walk again after spending years in hospital. Dreaming of raising a family and subsequently flying to Russia to bring home her two adopted daughters. And of course, dreaming of writing. Writing has become Jane’s addiction - and it sure beats housework.

Visit Jane’s web site, or email her at

Monday, July 13, 2009

It's All About Conflict

What I'm reading: The Prairie Grass Murders by Patricia Stoltey

On Saturday, I went to our RWA chapter meeting, where Betina Krahn was our speaker. Her topic was conflict, and I thought I'd share my notes.

She began by giving us the three most common reasons a writer gets stuck.

1. The characters aren't developed enough.
(I can relate to this one, as my detective more or less hijacked my WIP, and I need to know a lot more about him, so I know how he'll respond in any situation I throw at him.)

2. The scene is in the wrong Point of View.
The character has to have something to lose or gain in the scene. Or maybe you have to reveal some critical point, and you're in the wrong head to do it.

3. Lack of Conflict.

All fiction revolves around conflict. Without conflict, there isn't a story (well, maybe some "literary" fiction exceptions, but we're talking commercial fiction for the most part). Conflict doesn't have to be physical, 'head butting' confrontation.