Collaborative Writing: 10,000 Books to Glastonbury
Geoff Symon is a 20-year Federal Forensic Investigator and Polygraph Examiner. His participation in high-profile cases includes the attacks on September 11, 2001, the War in Iraq, the Space Shuttle Columbia explosion, the 2002 bombings in Bali and the Chandra Levy investigation, among countless other cases.
He has direct, first-hand experience investigating cases including murder (of all types), suicide, arson, kidnapping, bombings, sexual assault, child exploitation, theft and financial crimes. He has specified and certified training in the collection and preservation of evidence, blood-spatter analysis, autopsies and laboratory techniques. You can reach him at GeoffSymon.com.
Want to add an autopsy that won’t kill your story? Death swings its scythe in every genre, from family funerals to crime scenes to creatures that won’t stay buried. This user-friendly, illustrated reference digs into all things posthumous and postmortem.
Presented as a research manual for the experienced writer, this “Forensics for Fiction” title offers practical approaches and realistic details by covering:
¤ Terms and techniques used during autopsy procedures
¤ Different postmortem professionals and their specialties
¤ The stages of decomposition in different environments
¤ Methods used to estimate the time of death
¤ Case studies in which autopsies cracked the crime
¤ Examples of how to use autopsies in any popular genre
Whether you’re writing about dissection or resurrection, this guidebook covers it all from cadaver to slab as an easy-to-understand resource for dead-on storytelling.
How did you get interested in history?
My interest must have begun in college, when a professor made history more interesting by telling stories which made past heroes real. Since then, I’ve learned that “truth is stranger than fiction”, and am regularly surprised by the limitless things that can happen in life. I also feel that great people of the past deserve to be remembered, and that we can learn from their lessons and mistakes. History is our connection with our ancestors, a continuation of life from our beginnings to our present to our future.
What fascinates you about the history of Ireland?
Ireland is one of the lesser-known, yet most fascinating places in the world. My interest began when I discovered my Irish ancestry, and with my first trip to Ireland I was so hooked, I felt more at home than in New York. Irish history is culturally rich, and archeologists are discovering sites and artifacts older and more advanced than the pyramids.
What’s your creative approach to writing a novel?
I never know where inspiration will come from. I was planning my first book to be about German immigrants in NYC, but on a bus tour in Dublin, our plans were changed from seeing Dublin Castle to seeing Christchurch Cathedral. That day changed my life. Visiting a place as old as the Vikings, feeling medieval tiles beneath my feet, and exploring the underground crypt gave me my first connection with ancient times. From then on, I decided to write about Ireland. I have been inspired by the most unexpected things, like fishing villages, plants, abandoned islands, and even an insane asylum in Wales (which I frequented as a visitor, I might add).
How has your writing process changed over the years?
I used to write from the seat of my pants, but found that subsequent editing required too many drafts, and plot and character fixing. Now I take my time—months–developing an inspiring idea, drawing an outline and doing research until I feel I really know my story and characters. That way, there are no major snags in the plot. Planning definitely shows in the development of the story, and the reader can tell.
How do you write the historical tone of Ireland into your writing?
Historical wording is something I’ve experimented with in various ways for the past few years. At first, I wanted the language to be as modern as possible, as I was addressing a modern reader, and wanted more than just historical readers to enjoy my books. Then I went more literary, striving for heightened language, but found the readers weren’t as fond of that. Now I’m returning to simpler language (with occasionally sprinkled historical words) with a more engaging plot. As far as historical Irish elements, I generally try to make the characters speak with the grammar and vernacular of the culture, as well as using cultural items and situations of the time.
What’s the historical context of Dingle Ireland, 1579?
Ireland of the sixteenth century was under the rule of Elizabeth I, who was fighting a war with Spain. Therefore, Dingle, a busy port, was subject to British rule, Spanish interference, and smuggling, as well as destruction by local Irish warriors fighting against Elizabeth and among themselves. My book talks about the struggle of Ireland’s “Black Earl”, who fought Elizabeth and his relatives to maintain the estate which had been in his family for centuries, a fight which resulted in Dingle being burned a few times.
What are some fun facts from your research that aren’t in the book.
Studying about Dingle revealed interesting facts about struggles from other time periods as well, such as the potato famine’s effect on the town, which brought the establishment of the notorious workhouses, as well as the battle at Smerwick Harbour, where Irish soldiers were decimated by the English. The most fun part of research is always the travel. Dingle is the most magical place in the world. A road winds along cliff-laden coasts where one can catch unexpected views of ancient ringforts, famine cottages, Celtic runes, and the abandoned Blasket Islands. There are few untouched places in the world, but because of an Irish tradition to respect what remains, old sites are not taken down.
Who is Englishwoman Norma Le Blanc and what is she dealing with?
Norma is a fictional character who believes her religiousness makes her superior to everyone, but a carefree, Spanish smuggler who arrives poses the greatest challenge to her ideas. Norma is lonely without her family, who live in England, and finds companionship in Vicente, despite their differences, until she realizes she’s in love. They both have something to learn from one another, as Vicente struggles with his mother’s wish to maintain faith in a God, when it seems as if God has failed him. Through their relationship, Norma learns humility, while Vicente regains his ability to believe.
What did you enjoy most in writing The Smuggler’s visit?
Finishing it? Ha! I always enjoy writing, and every book is different, but the first draft was most enjoyable with this one. Because my outline was established, I went off to a cabin in upstate NY and typed away to my heart’s content, finishing the first draft in two weeks. The editing process took much longer.
What were the most challenging aspects?
Finding detailed information about Dingle’s history was a challenge. Irish history isn’t as well-published as in other countries, and much of the Dingle info was in books or documents in their local library. Thanks to a local historian, I was able to get what I needed.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I collect them and have so many! But I came across this the other day, by Einstein: “Failure is just success in progress.” I think that’s a good thing for us to remember, every time we challenge ourselves to do better.
How do you introduce your story?
I always begin my books with a catastrophic event in the prologue that directly affects both the protagonist’s internal conflict and the entire plot. For Example, in my upcoming novel: The Born Weapons, my protagonist is the first “natural-born” of his kind and his birth is an act of Rebellion against “the Maker.” The Maker makes a deal with my protagonist’s mother that if she kills the Rebel Leader, who is her honorary brother, than her baby can live.
What’s your process of creating characters?
I base my characters off a theme such as truth or innocence. There after, I build their backstory, psychology, personality, appearance, and quirks. The themes I choose correspond to the plot work. For example, my protagonist is based on truth and the catalyst to the climax is the event in which he tells humanity the truth about why his kind was created.
How do you introduce the main conflict?
I design the main conflict and my protagonist’s identity to be symbiotic. In my current novel, the main conflict is that the ‘Alma’ (a type of cyborg) are subject to the oppression of their Makers and Humanity. Since my protagonist is an Alma, he and the conflict are introduced simultaneously.
How do you approach writing the first Act, or 25% of the book?
I love to hit the ground running. I believe that characterization and world building are best shown and not told, so I throw my MC into peril from the first chapter and introduce settings, characters, etc… in pace with the plot.
Do you use a certain number of scenes per Act?
Nope! I actually don’t pay attention to anything regarding quantity such as pages, scenes, or acts until I am revising. I only concern myself with following my outline to ensure I cover all my plot points, sub plot points, character development milestones, ect….
What’s the hardest part of developing the setup?
I assume that by ‘setup’ you mean world building and primary conflict. I often struggle to include world building details while drafting because I tend to focus on plot and character development. I’ve learned to let these details go and add them in while revising.
What has helped you develop your writing skills?
I have to say that the process of trial and error has been most helpful. I’ve been writing books since I was eight years old. Also, reading has helped improve my writing voice over the years.
What’s your creative approach to writing?
I treat it like a job, these days. It may sound unromantic, but writing one or two novels a year takes discipline. I tend to research, write and edit for eight hours, every week day.
Outlining or pantsing?
I like to outline, but always veer away from my plan! I wish I could stick to my blueprint, but I get distracted by better ideas, or juicier characters, so my plans are constantly changing.
When you write crime fiction what comes first? The crime, character, idea?
First the location, then the theme. I fell in love with the Isles of Scilly as a child, for their wild remoteness and knew I had to set a series there.
How do you get to know your characters?
I write detailed profiles, so I know all of their quirks.
What’s the hardest part of writing for you?
Lack of confidence. It doesn’t matter how many books I write, I always reach a point, midway through the writing when my belief takes a nosedive. It takes one heck of a lot of stamina and a robust ego to stay in the writing game.
How has your writing process changed over the years and books written?
I began life as a poet, writing longhand, but now use my computer for pretty much everything. With poetry you have to agonise over every word because the form is so precise, but prose is much more discursive.
Did you write poetry before novels?
I surely did. Two collections, Reversal and The Alice Trap, both published by wonderful London press, Enitharmon.
What do you enjoy most about poetry?
Its impact. If a poem is doing its job well, it can be like a bullet of truth, straight to the heart.
Can you share one of your poems?
Not right now, I’m afraid, I’m deep in the middle of a crime novel, but my poems are floating around on the net if you go looking for them.
What next for you?
Two more books in my Hell Bay series, published by Simon and Schuster, which I’m enjoying enormously.
KATE RHODES is a full-time crime writer, living in Cambridge with her husband, a writer and film maker. Kate used to be an English teacher and has published two award winning collections of poetry. In 2015 she won the Ruth Rendell short story prize. Kate is the author of the acclaimed ALICE QUENTIN series, with the fifth book, BLOOD SYMMETRY published in 2016.
In January 2018 Kate will publish the first novel in a new series, HELL BAY, a crime novel set on the remote Cornish island of Bryher, featuring DI Ben Kitto.
Resources mentioned in this episode: BONUS CONTENT: Free sample report from Alex and K-Lytics – http://k-lytics.com/SPF
SPF 101: The 101 course is open for enrollment for a limited time. – https://selfpublishingformula.com/101
How I Embraced Vulnerability to Tell the Story of Becoming Starlight
by Sharon Prentice, PhD
Writing a book. To be quite honest, the thought had never entered my mind; I’d never written anything other than personal prose or patient charts that were never meant to see the light of day. The idea was so remote that it would’ve been, as in the Twilight Zone monologue, like “opening a door into a fifth dimension of thought and sound, as timeless as space, as vast as infinity.” But once the possibility was introduced to me, I had one reaction: exposing the secrets that lay hidden within my Soul sent chills racing through the recesses of my very being. I couldn’t let it go, though — once unearthed…the thought simply would not leave me alone!
Imagine, if you will, standing on a stage, alone, in front of hundreds of people unknown to you, while guffaws and ridicule, barbs of judgement undeserved and previously unknown are all directed your way! A dizzying array of emotion and confusion filling your Spirit with every direct hit…and then, you realize you are, as my dad liked to say–naked as the day you were born! It’s then, possibly for the first time, that you begin to understand the concept of unadulterated vulnerability.
No one enjoys feeling vulnerable. Especially those of us who exist in environments created to keep vulnerability at bay. But there comes a time when life slaps you awake–and you can no longer exist within the protective bubble that served you so well in your private life.
Every writer understands this concept of vulnerability. Opening up to that bone-shaking, fearful reality—that I would be vulnerable–was the beginning of my journey into the world of publishing. Accepting that in order to tell my story, I would have to surrender my oh-so- carefully tucked-away secrets to public scrutiny was my biggest hurdle. But it was one that needed confronting and eventually–conquering.
To tell my story… was exactly what I needed to do! One of my greatest mentors, Dr. Wayne Dwyer, before his death, told me, “Tell your story, Sharon. Tell the story.” The beginning of the writing process for me was the recognition that I was more uncomfortable staying silent than I was letting the words flow free and accepting the vulnerability inherent in exposure. Naked body or naked Soul–same thing!
But how and where to begin? What exactly did I want to say–or have to say–in this effort to release the words that were forming in the underbelly of my soul? Instead of letting anxiety rule the day, I simply sat myself down…grabbed pen and paper…and let the floodgates open.
I didn’t change my physical environment…I embraced it. The old La-Z-y Boy recliner that had been my dad’s “home base” before his death became my sacred space. I felt safe and peaceful. It became my home…my sanctuary. My body just seemed to conform to the indentations that had, for years, become its very nature and I felt as if it “knew” me. I didn’t feel the need to have a totally private, quiet, locked away space that had no recognition of me and the joys and sorrows of my life. It was there, on my dad’s well-loved recliner, that Becoming Starlight was birthed.
But even in that sanctuary, I found myself chasing words. It was irritating as the words seemed to erupt and run like madmen away from my conscious mind. The more I chased after the words as they fled the scene, the more irritated I became. Was this the well-known “writer’s block” rearing its ugly head? Or was it simply me trying to force something that simply couldn’t be forced? The operative word here became–relax! I needed to relax and just let it flow. Not trying to force each and every thought into some perfect form of writing saved the day! I stopped worrying about tense and punctuation and dangling participles! I simply put pen to paper and wrote the story.
It was then that the sacred words fell into place. It was then that the words found their place and told their story. My process needed acceptance of the vulnerability of the story that needed to be told. I let the invisible dancer lead the way and make the pen I held in my hand dance.
Becoming an author can be a life-altering decision! Finding your own safe space, your own sense of security, allowing the unfolding of the magic within…effortlessly…is the first step to creating and releasing the music in your Soul. Drawing out that music for healing and comfort…uncovering the shadows that haunt the human condition–that’s what it’s all about and what I hoped my readers would find.
About the Author:
Dr. Sharon Prentice is the author of Becoming Starlight: A Shared Death Journey from Darkness to Light. Soon after completing her graduate studies in psychology, Dr. Prentice longed to discover “the why’s” about her own intimate experience with death in the form of an SDE, and that of others who had experienced something “weird, unbelievable, odd” at the time of the death of a loved one. Dr. Prentice is in private practice as a Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor – Advanced Certification. She is also a Board Certified Spiritual Counselor (SC-C) and holds Board Certification in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Group Therapy, Integrated Marriage and Family Therapy, and Crisis and Abuse Therapy. She is also a Board Certified Temperament Counselor. Dr. Prentice is a Professional Member of the American Counselors Association, a Professional Clinical member of the National Christian Counselors Association, a Clinical member of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, and a Presidential member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. She is also a Commissioned Minister of Pastoral Care. For more information, please visit https://sharonprentice.com and follow the author on Facebook and Twitter.
They bound me without consent.
I moved with the weight of the world upon my shoulders,
each extremity shackled like a slave.
Hunched like a frail elderly man; I attempted to move about,
all the while under the suppression of guilt,
shame, and condemnation.
Shackled by wounds, I writhed in agony
as they brought me down to the pits of darkness, a land of creeping shadow.
It was there where I was blind to their desire to devour me.
Fallen prey to the animalistic appetite to consume every shred of hope—
Until I came into the light.
Under the shining of the light, I was appalled at their stronghold against me.
The illumination of their strength was all too unsettling.
I couldn’t bear the sight of them.
They surrounded me like a wild forest of Oaks, mocking my every step.
A multitude of tears sought urgent release, to spring forth,
evade the depth of my unconsciousness–but I could not allow them.
Yet there in the light was my salvation.
There in the light, their power over me would heal.
It was there I welcomed glorious liberty.
One like I’ve never experienced before.
The rays of jubilee were before me.
No wild forests to cast a shadow,
pits of darkness of oppression.
No shackles, bonds, or crushing burden.
Only life, light and liberty.
I’ve been writing since I was six years old and started inflicting my work on others at age 18. By age 24 people stopped running away when I approached them with a new story and shortly thereafter I published my first one in the Rifter.
Wait you’re still reading?
Ok, the facts I’m supposed to list in a bio. As of this writing I’m 38 years old and live just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in the beautiful town of Mill Valley. If you’re unsure how to find it just follow the smell of self-entitlement. Once you see the teens driving Teslas you’ll know you’re in the right place.
I live in a tiny studio that I can cross in (literally) five steps and don’t own an oven. But you know what? It’s worth it. I love developing iPhone apps and if you want to work in San Francisco you accept that rent for a tiny place costs more than most people’s mortgage.
If you and about 2 million other people start buying my books I promise to move out of Marin to a house in the redwoods up in Guerneville. No pressure. Wait that’s a lie. Pressure.
Author of the psychological thriller, Incalculable: The Rousing of Mia
Author of the Commune Series
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