Dialogue Attribution in Prose – An Opinion or Two…

The Kill Zone is pleased to welcome novelist, screenwriter, and playwright Thomas B. Sawyer. Thomas was Head Writer/Show runner of the hit CBS series, Murder, She Wrote, for which he wrote 24 episodes. Tom has written 9 network TV pilots (100 episodes), and was Head Writer/Show runner or Story Editor on 15 network TV series. The best-selling thriller, The Sixteenth Man, was his first novel. Both his book, Fiction Writing Demystified, and Storybase are Writer’s Digest Book Club Selections. His latest thriller is No Place to Run. He has taught writing at UCLA and other colleges and universities. He has been nominated for an Edgar and an Emmy.

The fact that I came to narrative fiction in reverse from most writers – in that I began as a screenwriter – afforded me more than a few attitudes. And definitely not least was/is on the topic of dialogue attribution.
In novels and short stories I had long been struck by what I regard as the rampant, mindless use of “he said,” “she said,” “said he” and the like. I know that many highly regarded and/or successful writers and teachers regard such usage as a kind of pinnacle of simplicity. I agree, but not in the affirmative sense of “simple.”

As I began to contemplate my first venture into the form, I began to think about such things more seriously. Why, I wondered, would experienced, quality writers who otherwise (rightly) bust their humps to avoid using clichés, surrender to these without guilt? Or, viewed another way, when does a particular phrase cease being “economical,” and morph into a cliché?
And how many millions of trees, I asked myself, have given their lives for such conceits?
To me, even worse – no, make that dumber – is “she asked.” It’s dumber because, since it so often follows a question mark, the reader knows it’s a question, right? So why repeat it?
And then there are “he blurted,” “she exclaimed,” “he queried,” etc. If you must attribute, rather than committing those atrocities, I guess “he said” begins to look attractive.
Did I have a solution? Yeah. When I set out to write my first novel, THE SIXTEENTH MAN, I set as a goal/challenge for myself – a little secret bar-raising, if you will – that I would never use any of those phrases. Ever. Nor, actually, any direct attribution – and yet maintain clarity for the reader. The result? While hardly revolutionary – I’ve since learned that numerous novelists do it – I’m convinced that it has made my writing better, more readable, and certainly more visual.
Here’s my approach, and the way I teach it.
Work on attribution the way you work on the rest of your writing, with the care you give to your dialogue and your descriptions. Will it make a dramatic difference to your readers? Not likely. Will they even be aware of it? Probably not. Especially on a conscious level. But – will it make a difference to you as a writer? Emphatically, yes. It’ll force you to think. To challenge yourself about stuff from which most narrative writers take the day off. So that all of your writing will become fresher.
And, in the process, I found that it contributed to finding my “voice.”
It also contributed to some criticism from certain literary types who warned me that as a novelist I could not “write for the camera.” I submit that they are mistaken. The reader is the camera. The reader is seeing the pictures. Imagining the scene.
Think about conventional, by-the-numbers dialogue attribution for a moment. “She said,” does almost nothing to help the reader envision the scene. It says nothing about the body-language of the speaker, or her inflection. Where were her hands? Was her head cocked to one side? Did she, during the speech, touch her face, or the person to whom she spoke? For me, settling for “said” implies that the speaker is delivering lines with arms hanging at his/her side. Again, for me as a reader, a brief description of body-language counts for a helluvva lot more than knowing what the person is wearing, or hair-color, or the texture of sofa-upholstery.
Admittedly, noting such detail isn’t always important, but when it helps the reader “see” the action, it seems to follow that it will also help the reader “hear” the words. In my own case, as with most-but-not-all writers, when it’s obviously clear for the reader which character is speaking, I omit attribution. But when the speaker is gesturing to emphasize a point, or is revealing, say, insecurity or anger or even an emotion that contradicts his or her words, that is worth communicating to the reader. Further, when a character’s response to another’s words isn’t spoken, but is rather a gesture, a look, that can be good storytelling.
I think of it as directing my actors – just as in my scriptwriting, describing when necessary those actions that augment their speeches – or – as in non-verbal responses – replace them entirely.

I urge any writer to try it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.

All That Clutters, Isn’t Just A Family Name

By John Ramsey Miller

Once a year I get a call from a local high school English teacher inviting me to come and speak to her students for 90 minutes or so, to allow them to hear an actual author talk about the life of his kind, and answer their questions. The first year I told the students that I would answer honestly any question they wanted to ask, and truthfully at the end of the session I fully expected never to be asked back, but maybe it’s the fact that I’m their only choice of a local fiction author with books in print. I am the end of the year cap on a class that includes Stephen King’s ON WRITING, and studying a few great books. This year the teacher told me her students read IN COLD BLOOD.

Some things you never forget. The book that actually made me want to become a writer was Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD. I was a sophomore in High School and I went to a bookstore in 1965 and bought the book and I paid like $6.95 for it, plus tax. The cover is frayed from being carried around for decades and being stored here and there. I know it is a first edition, but a second or third printing, I think. Presently I have it in one of my crates in the shed, but haven’t seen it in two years.

I remember, not just reading it, but reading it straight through. I didn’t put it aside for more than a few minutes at a time to go to the bathroom or eat a few bites. In those days sleep was sometimes secondary to entertainment, and that book was astounding. The first True Crime written as a novel. Who wasn’t fascinated by the author, Truman Capote, and how this odd little man could go to a small community in rural Kansas and ingratiate himself to the community in order to gather the necessary information. A tiny, lisping squeak toy of a man––a Chihuahua running between the legs of wolves.

It’s two great stories, the crime and the authoring, and how Capote finished the book, but waited for the execution so he’d have the ending he (perhaps not prayed for) needed to give the book a knockout punch. I think the two films of that era that were true to the books were IN COLD BLOOD, and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Harper Lee and Truman Capote. Close friends and brilliant writers, both. Mrs. Lee never published another novel, and vanished from publishing in the way of JD Salinger. Truman, on the other hand, was everywhere. Truman Capote was reduced from serious novelist to social butterfly gossip spreader––a court jester of the rich and bored. Truman stopped drinking long enough to write a few stories over the years, and he kept talking about his great work to come, ANSWERED PRAYERS, but what was published (in my opinion) lacked the Capote flair, energy or purpose.

I suppose Harper Lee said everything she needed to say, and had nothing else to write that she hadn’t already put on paper. Truman Capote made a millions with COLD BLOOD, became a lazy fop, in the company of shallow people, drowning in booze and prescription medications. He’s tragic cautionary tale on many levels, but you can’t take IN COLD BLOOD away from him, or diminish its impact the reading public or on thousands of aspiring authors. Capote’s career after ICB is why I have such admiration for Dan Brown, JK Rolling, John Grisham, and the other authors who have a wildly successful book and keep writing despite their success and the additional attractive distractions flooding in around them. I have been lucky and have made a good living writing since 1995, and I always figured that if I couldn’t sell books any longer, I’d open myself a nice Chrysler dealership. Now I’m having to look at new alternatives…

I bet most of us can remember what book flipped our “Man, I bet I could do that!” switch?

Write What You Know

By John Gilstrap

Of all the instructional clichés, I think that “Write What You Know” discourages more new writers than any other. It’s a particularly pernicious thing to say to students, who tend to take such things more literally, but it’s also misleading for adults.

So here’s the Gilstrap version of that advice: Unless you live one hell of a life, stay away from what you know.

Who wants to read about commuting to and from a job, working hard and loving a family who loves you back? I can’t imagine a more boring story. (Actually, I can. The daily diary of a novelist: Got up this morning. Made stuff up. Went to bed.)

Looking at my own fiction, I’ve never: killed anyone; escaped from prison; blown up a chemical weapons facility (came close, though); survived a plane crash; or rescued a hostage. I like to think that I make my characters’ experience real enough for readers, but there’s no way I can say that I wrote those stories as something I “know.”

I have a hunch that the person who first launched the cliché actually meant something closer to, “Write From Your Heart.” Or maybe, “Write So It Feels Real.” I can live with those. To me, it’s about extrapolating emotion.

It’s about imagination. It’s about doing what most of us started doing as children, and then never grew out of: role playing. If you’ve loved people, how hard is it to imagine what it would be like to lose them?

I’ve never been in a knife fight, but I’ve been frightened and I’ve cut my hand slicing a bagel. If I’m writing from the point of view of the attackee, I’ve got everything I need for a convincing scene. (If I’m portraying the attacker, on the other hand, I have some research to do regarding fighting technique.)

I’ve taught writing seminars at the high school and college level where “Write What You Know” has actually stymied creativity. “Does that mean we can only write about school?” students ask. “I want to write about a serial killer.”

Then write the story, I tell them. If there’s a story in your soul pounding to come out, then write the damn thing down. Get it off your chest and out of your brain. Just do enough research to make it convincing. And make me love your protagonist from within. Imagine the character fully enough that I can see what he sees and feel what he feels.

It’s about the—forgive me—Human Condition. As a writer, your job is to pull me in.

I got it! The instructional cliché should be: “Write What You Understand.”

Show and Tell

by Michelle Gagnonpot stove

Last week Joe had a great post about figuring out where your story actually begins. I’m in a group that posts online excerpts, mainly of first chapters, and today I thought I’d discuss something that seems to crop up again and again in those posts.

The old nugget, “Show, don’t tell” relates to exposition; ideally, you want to limit spoon-feeding your reader, watching out for adverbs that drive home what a character is thinking and feeling. But what should also be taken into account is that you don’t need to “show” your reader everything either.

Here’s an example:

“I went into the kitchen and grabbed a pan. I put water into the pan and placed it on the stove. Then I added the seasoning to the water. After the water boiled I placed the noodles into the water.”

Now, I think what the writer was attempting to do was build suspense; the problem with this passage is that unless you’re writing a cookbook entry on how to prepare pasta, this is way too much information. By the time I got to the third sentence, my eyes glazed over. It’s a common error. Where it tends to crop up most frequently, I’ve found, is with entering and leaving a room: “I turned the knob, opened the door, and stepped inside,” rather than just, “I went inside,” for example.

There are other ways to build suspense with a passage like this. For example, “She put water on the stove to boil. The doorbell rang. When she answered it, she found the UPS man standing there with a package. Could this be what she was waiting for?”

So…the water is still on the stove, set to boil. The heroine has apparently forgotten about it- but the reader hasn’t. If you consider how you go about your day, many of your actions are automatic. You don’t think through every step of putting on a pair of pants, walking across a room, or turning on your car; neither should you walk a reader through those steps (unless it’s critical to illustrate a character struggling to accomplish those tasks).

I prefer to start a story by dropping the reader into the middle of an action or conversation, forcing them to do a little work to catch up. After all, when it comes to eavesdropping (not that I ever do that, of course), the point when your ears perk up is not at the initial hello, but when something really juicy comes out. That’s what you want to begin with. Assume that the reader will figure out the parts you’re not telling them outright- engaging with a book should require a little effort, after all. You want them to wonder what the character is thinking, and what they’re going to do next. I want to know what’s going to happen with that boiling water- but assume that the rest of it, whatever isn’t critical, is a given and not something I need to know. For that, I’ll buy a cookbook.

Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, and more.

A little less action, a lot more thrills

Back in 1993, Country singer Toby Keith had a hit with the song “A Little Less Talk and a Lot More Action”. That was a great hook for a song, but the concept doesn’t always work for thrillers. I’ve found that one of the mistakes beginning writers often make is confusing action with suspense; they assume a thriller must be filled with it to create suspense. They load up their stories with endless gun battles, car chases, and daredevil stunts as the heroes are being chased across continents with a relentless batch of baddies hot in pursuit. The result can begin to look like the Perils of Pauline; jumping from one fire to another. What many beginning thriller writers don’t realize is that heavy-handed action usually produces boredom, not thrills.

When there’s too much action, you can wind up with a story that lacks tension and suspense. The reader becomes bored and never really cares about who lives or who wins. If they actually finish the book, it’s probably because they’re trapped on a coast-to-coast flight or inside a vacation hotel room because it’s pouring down rain outside. See John Gilstrap’s I’m Not As Flexible As I Thought.

Too much action becomes even more apparent in the movies. The recent Bond film “Quantum Of Solace” struck me that action1way. The story was so buried in action that by the end, I simply didn’t care. All I wanted to happen was for it to be over. Don’t get me wrong, the  action sequences were amazing, but special effects and outlandish stunts can only thrill for a short time. They can’t take the place of strong character development, crisp dialogue and clever plotting.

As far as thrillers are concerned, I’ve found that most action scenes just get in the way of the story. What I enjoy is the anticipation of action and danger, and the threat of something that has not happened yet. When it does happen, the action scene becomes the release valve.

I believe that writing an action scene can be fairly easy. What’s difficult is writing a suspenseful story without having to rely on tons of action. Doing so takes skill. Anyone can write a chase sequence or describe a shoot-out. The trick is to not confuse action with suspense. Guns, fast cars and rollercoaster-like chase scenes are fun, but do they really get the reader’s heart pumping. Or is it the lead-up to the chase, the anticipation of the kill, the breathless suspense of knowing that danger is waiting just around the corner?

What do you think? Is your favorite thriller filled with car chases or is it built on an undercurrent of suspense that’s just waiting to sweep you away? What about your own writing? Do you use a lot of action or is it all cerebral?


thriller2 Available today: THRILLER 2, Stories You Just Can’t Put Down.


Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, Julie Kramer, Grant Blackwood, and more.

Have you asked your writing a question today?

Every once in a while I read a story where all the requisite elements for success seem to be in place. Such stories typically contain the following elements:

  • A competent hook
  • Serviceable characters
  • A well-executed plot

And yet sometimes as I’m reading along, I find that my interest wanes (and then dies) after just a few pages. So what exactly has gone wrong?

Here’s one answer: After just a few paragraphs, I cease to give a flying squirrel about the hook, the characters, or the plot. Which means that I don’t care about the story. Which means that the Writer in question is dead as a doornail.

In a past blog post that was circulated by Esquire, writer Darin Strauss said that it helps to apply a “So What?” test to each sentence in a story. To apply such a test, according to Strauss, we can measure each of our sentences against the following criteria: Why should I care about this sentence? How does it reveal character? What difference does it make to the plot? To the story?

When I first heard about Strauss’s sentence test (which he attributed to Lee K. Abbott), it was like an epiphany to me, because when we ask every sentence in our novel “So What?” or “Who cares?”, it helps us to avoid the following writing hazards:

  • Boilerplate character description
  • Rote, unnecessary movements by all characters, especially the main character
  • Go-nowhere dialogue
  • Boring scene description

So here’s my question to you: When you’re writing, do you apply such a test to each and every sentence? Do you go back and root out “filler” sentences during rewrite?

And to take on the challenge, if you don’t mind sharing: What’s the last sentence that you wrote today? Is it important to your story? Why will your reader care about that sentence?


Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, and more.

To be Audacious

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I literally just flew back from Mayhem in the Midlands and, after delays due to tornado warnings and foul weather, my apologies for being a bit woolly headed now that my body is telling me it’s close to midnight (even if that’s not quite the case back on the West Coast yet). The conference was fabulous, small but intimate, the way Mayhem is supposed to be. After hearing Jan Burke’s great interview of Dana Stabenow and Kent Krueger’s hilarious interview of Zoe Sharp I have come away with a new goal:

To be Audacious

Jan Burke said she thought all writers had to be audacious to be successful. Just committing something to the page and believing it was worthy of another person reading it was audacious in and of itself but, after hearing some background for both Dana Stabenow and Zoe Sharp, I soon realized I am way, way behind on the audacity stakes.

Though I don’t consider myself to be a totally boring wuss in real life, I do have to at least pretend to be the stable, serious mum to my boys (husband included) and this limits my capacity for recklessness in real life. In my writing life, however, I have the freedom to be whatever I want…and I definitely think I need to add more audacity…which got me thinking…

How does one become an audacious writer? How can I constantly challenge myself and the craft of writing? What is the most audacious thing I hope to achieve in my writing? Hmmm…the most erotic sex scene ever? craziest murder victim ever? Perhaps the most unexpected death of main character ever…(hmmm…am I getting anyone worried at this point???) No, I know I need to aim higher – but how?

So help me out here – what do you think is the most audacious thing a writer can do?

What Puts the Thrill in Thriller?

The Kill Zone is delighted to welcome Alexandra Sokoloff to the blog today. As a screenwriter, Alexandra has sold original mystery and thriller scripts and written novel adaptations for numerous Hollywood studios. Her debut ghost story, THE HARROWING, was nominated for both a Bram Stoker award and Anthony award for Best First Novel. Her second supernatural thriller, THE PRICE, was called “some of the most original and freshly unnerving work in the genre” by the New York Times Book Review, and her short story, “The Edge of Seventeen” is currently nominated for a Thriller award for best short story. Her third spooky thriller, THE UNSEEN, is out now, and is based on real-life experiments conducted at the parapsychology lab on the Duke University campus. She is currently working on a fourth supernatural thriller for St. Martin’s Press and a paranormal thriller for Harlequin Nocturne, and is writing a book on SCREENWRITING TRICKS FOR AUTHORS, based on her popular workshop and blog.

By Alexandra Sokoloff (http://alexandrasokoloff.com)

I’m sure every one of us here has ended up on or attended that particular panel by now, also variously called Thrill Me!, You Kill Me, How to Write Suspense, How to Write a Million Dollar Thriller… (and if you’ve got that last one figured out, would you let me know?).

On my Screenwriting Tricks for Authors blog http://thedarksalon.blogspot.com/ I talk a lot about specific techniques for creating suspense. But the bottom line to me is always – different things thrill different people. In people, in bed, in life, and in books. So the core issue, and something I never get tired of talking about with thriller writers and readers, is – what does it for YOU?

Because there are all kinds of literary thrills. Many thrillers are based on action and adrenaline – the experience the author wants to create and that the reader wants to experience is that roller-coaster feeling. I myself am not big on that kind of thrill. I love a good adrenaline rush in a book (in fact I pretty much require them, repeatedly). But pure action scenes mostly bore me senseless, and big guns and machines and explosions and car chases make my eyes glaze over. Nuclear threat? Not my cup of tea. Spies? I’ll pass. Assassins? Uh-uh. Terrorists?… Can I go now?

I’m not even really that fond of serial killers (God, I hate it when things like that come out of my mouth. Or hands. Occupational hazard…) unless we’re talking archetypally mythic serial killers like the ones in pre-HANNIBAL Thomas Harris, and in Mo Hayder’s darker than dark thrillers.
What I’m looking for in a book is the sensual – okay, sexual – thrill of going into the unknown. How it feels to know that there’s something there in the dark with you that’s not necessarily rational, and not necessarily human. It’s a slower, more erotic, and I’d also say more feminine kind of thrill – that you find in THE TURN OF THE SCREW and THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE and THE SHINING. So although I can learn some techniques from spy thrillers or giant actioners, studying that kind of book or movie for what I want to do is probably not going to get me where I want to go.

There’s also the classic mystery thrill of having to figure a puzzle out. Now that’s a thrill I can get behind. There’s a great pleasure in using your mind to unlock a particularly well-crafted puzzle. I love to add that element to my stories, so that even though the characters are dealing with the unknown, there is still a logical way to figure the mystery out.

But conversely, and this is one of my own more peculiar quirks – I also love the feeling of being slowly taken over by complete madness.

One of my very early discoveries as a voracious young reader was Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s terrifying short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”, one of the greatest feminist horror stories ever written, in which a new young mother is confined to her bedroom by her physician husband and is not allowed to write because it would stress her. Instead she goes horribly and inexorably out of her mind.

Now, why the vicarious experience of going mad should be such a particular pleasure to me, I can’t tell you – clearly something to do with spending my formative years in Berkeley. Or, you know, all those Grateful Dead concerts. Or those San Francisco clubs where we…
Well, all right, never mind that.
But I have come to terms with the fact that madness is an experience I crave, and I’ve made a careful study of how authors I love (Shirley Jackson, Daphne Du Maurier, Stephen King, Edgar Allen Poe, Anne Rice, the Brontes) create that effect.

Another thing I know about myself, vis a vis the supernatural, is that I need to believe that it could really happen that way. So I’m a real sucker for the slow, atmospheric, psychological build, and I research obsessively to see what people who claim to have experienced the supernatural actually experienced, and I look for the patterns in the stories: what are the common elements? What has the ring of truth?

This was especially important to me while I was writing my new thriller, THE UNSEEN http://alexandrasokoloff.com/unseen.html, because it’s a poltergeist story, and unlike with ghosts, there isn’t that much consensus about what a poltergeist really is. It’s a maddeningly elusive phenomenon.

But I love poltergeists! Just the word is thrilling to me. So I created a poltergeist which might be any or all of the things that researchers have postulated that poltergeists are: a psycho-sexual projection, a haunting, some extra-dimensional being, or very human fraud. Creating a story that explored all of those possibilities meant I got to structure in that mystery kind of thrill that I love – only the question was not only “Whodunit?” but also “Whatdunit?”

And that’s always the best for me – that mix of mystery, madness, and the unknown.
So, all you thrilling people – what kinds of thrills do it for you? What are your early influences that will give us an idea of just what twisted kicks you’re looking for in a book?
Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, and more.

I’m Not As Flexible As I Thought

By John Gilstrap

First things first: Thank you, John Miller, for swapping posting days with me. For those of you who showed up here today to read his words instead of mine (and who would not?), please scroll down . . .

I just returned from the worst week at the beach that I’ve ever endured. It all seemed like such a sure thing: I was with some of my favorite people, in Hilton Head, SC, one of the most beautiful resorts on the planet. I love Hilton Head. The plan was that we would arrive on Saturday evening and leave the following Saturday morning (that would be today). I would wake up early, as I always do at the beach (and only at the beach), get in an hour or so of writing in the early morning calm, and then we would head to the beach. After a few hours in the sun, occasionally visiting the outside bar, I would excuse myself from the group and log a few extra writing hours before cocktail time. It was going to be perfect.

Then the rain came. I don’t mean drizzle, folks. No misting, spitting or fog. I mean rain. Go watch the movie Platoon or Singing in the Rain if you need perspective. Gulley-washers, we used to call them when I was a kid. As if the sky was one big water balloon and someone popped it.

For five days. That would be Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I have no idea what Friday was like because we pulled the plug on Thursday morning and drove home. Not until, however, we had the honor of experiencing the coldest temperatures ever recorded in Hilton Head in May. Ever. A high of 53 on Monday. (Hint: I did not pack for winter.)

So, when you take the sun out of the equation for a beach trip, you’re left with movies (Angels & Demons was very good, I thought, as was State of Play. Ghosts of Girlfriends Past was exactly what you’d expect it to be, and Miller, before you get going, I’ll remind you that I was not traveling alone.), shopping (there was a rush on anything that was a) waterproof, b) warm, or c) both.) or hanging around a two-bedroom condo while four adults stared at each other pretending that it would somehow get better.

I used to tell people that I could write anywhere. Airport departure lounges, coffee shops, hotels, just about anyplace is a fine place to sit and write. I discovered the exception this week. I cannot, in fact, do any meaningful work in a two-bedroom condo where the only desk-like bit of furniture is the dining table in the middle of everything. Those other three adults staring at each other pretending that things would get better didn’t help a bit.

It’s sort of poetic, I think, that Miller’s post yesterday dealt so poetically with rain. I concur that it has its place. I like flowers and human survival as much as the next guy. But would a single day of sun have been too much to ask?

When Roosters Sing

By John Ramsey Miller

It appears that our long-running drought is over, and we’re up for the year with rainfall. That could change, of course. I love dismal weather. I love rainy days and nights and thunder storms. We’ve had several weeks of the kind of weather I love and the old home place is bright green. In the winter I can see my neighbors’ homes through the trees, but when the leaves come out they are no longer in evidence. I work best when it is dreary. When it rains we sleep with the door open to the screened-in porch, but we have to close it around four AM when our roosters, Ti Ali and Joe Bryant, wake up and want to have loud discussions with each other. I suppose they are bragging about the number of hens they have and how many ground bugs they intend to rid the place of as soon as they are released in the late afternoon. I love the sound of roosters, but at four AM it can be annoying. I wish they had a repertoire of songs to sing, or a few stories to tell, but they are like stuck records with the same shrieking notes in their repertory. “Er er errrr Er.”

There are writers who write the same book over and over again, and their readers want to read the same old plot gathered up and thrown through a larger fan. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about writing another kind of book. I’d keep the violence, the battle between good and evil, but I wouldn’t have a ticking clock, or a race across the landscape with guns thundering, and I’d work on deepening the characters and their relationships. Maybe let them tell longer stories. It couldn’t drag, but it could take place over months or years instead of hours. The relationships would be more complex and be allowed to develop the way they need to without all of the urgency of situation forging them. It would be nice if the female/ male relationship was built on something other than dodging bullets, her ability to load his magazines under duress, or drive through a gauntlet of fire.

I think about my father, who died almost two years ago, and his stand on human rights and dignity for all men in the 60s in Mississippi. I think about how he somehow managed to earn the respect of his friends and enemies alike, and let love, his beliefs and his spiritualism rule his life. At Emory when he was in Theology school my father went to Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church some Sundays to hear a man he called the greatest preacher of his era, Martin Luther King Sr.. I think, as did my father, that the bravest known man in Mississippi history was Medgar Evers. That man walked into a lion’s den every time he left his house, and he did so driven by his belief in a just world. It was no surprise to anybody that he was murdered, just that he lived as long as he did with the quantity and caliber of enemies he made by standing for what he believed was right and just in an unjust world.

I didn’t know Mr. Evers, but I did meet Byron De La Beckwith, the man who murdered him in cold blood. My father admired and respected him, and later he tried to bring Beckwith into the light of love––a waste of time. The day I took my cameras and accompanied a reporter from New Orleans to interview Beckwith at Rick’s Tractors where he worked at the time. He had been arrested while driving a bomb to New Orleans while heading there to murder A.I. Botnick, director of the New Orleans based B’nai Brith Anti-Defamation League, and he was awaiting trial at the time. Beckwith told me he didn’t care for my father’s politics, but that he respected my father for being genuinely able to love a man while hating his sin. That stuck with me. I have long wanted write a book that goes into the social complexities in the South during the sixties, how change came about on a personal level, and the ultimate value of forgiveness. I know it’s been done and done, but I am egotistical enough to think I can put a new spin on it and make part of that time my own.

I just finished a Thriller, and whether or not it sells, I think I am going to write the book I always wanted to put on paper. I don’t have any idea what it will look like, whether there will be a publisher for it, or whether or not it will be well received if it is published, but that isn’t why I will write it. I will write it because I want to do so, and because I think my roosters really do want to be songbirds.