How Personal Do You Write?

Jordan Dane


My latest release, THE LAST VICTIM, is a featured book for February 2016 on the Goodreads Psychological Thrillers Book Club. A great group. I’m honored. I’ve contributed a few ideas for discussion questions, submitted giveaways for those who participate in the discussion, but when it came to coming up with interesting tidbits about the book, I had fun remembering what I’d put into this one (and other books). The personal stuff keeps me entertained. It’s a big part of my passion for writing and my natural curiosity gets fed regularly, whether I use a factoid in a book or not.

Here are 5 Ways I keep it real:

1.) Walk the Streets with Yellow Man – If I use a place in my fiction book that criminal activity happens, I tend to make up a name, but maybe model it after a real place, if it fits. But when I can mention a real place, anyone from that city might think I lived there or my use of real places might make them feel like my characters are walking the streets of their hometown. In my latest novel, I used a real restaurant in Seattle called Palace Kitchen. I researched how the place looked outside and picked real items from their menu to use in the book. (Someone please invent a scratch and sniff app to properly research menu items. STAT)

Have you ever wanted to “walk the streets” of a town if you can’t afford to go there? Try using Google maps and look for the little yellow man icon. You click and drag him to where you want to go and let him do the walking for you. You have 360 degree views. I’ve walked the ugly streets of some big cities to find the creepiest places to kill people. Try it. (Not the killing part. The yellow man click and drag part.)

2.) YouTube & Vimeo Put You There – I’ve been researching sniper training. I’ll get a weapons guy to help fine tune the details, but YouTube or Vimeo is a good place to start. In one of my YA novels, ON A DARK WING, I watched videos of the many climbers who tackled Mount Denali in Alaska. I had a friend who climbed the mountain more than once, but you never know what choice morsels you can find from someone’s video while they are “in the trenches.”

3.) No One is Safe – In THE LAST VICTIM, I added my nephew and made him an Alaska State Trooper. Almost all of my books have relatives hidden in their pages. I don’t warn them ahead of time, but they crack up when they see their names or familiar habits in print. Some might be only a voice on a recorded message or another might be a detective walking the streets looking for hookers.

4.) Pets Are Fair Game – In my last book, I added my rescue dog Sancho and my yellow tabby Pinot Grigio (RIP little man). Since I’m writing a work of fiction, I can make them smarter than they are, have them catch a Frisbee, or flash their furry butts in indignation.

5.) Bleed on the Page – In the novella I just finished, I explored grief through my character, Rafael Matero in HOT TARGET, my Omega Team novella series that will launch under Amazon Kindle Worlds February 18th. I lost someone very special to me in 2014 and it ripped my heart out. I’ve only just started back to writing with this Omega series, so I had to bleed on the page with my experiences. It makes this book very personal for me. I struggled for every word and every image to make it feel real. It’s given me a measure of peace and has become my first step toward a new future. I’m so glad I wrote this book. It will always be special to me for that reason.

On the lighter side, I am researching funny military slang or phrases that my former Navy SEAL, Sam Rafferty, might use in my Omega Team Book #2 – TOUGH TARGET, coming out in May 2016. (The third novella in the series will be out in July 2016.) My older brother had a long career with the Air Force and he’s still involved as a contractor for the military. It’s been fun picking his brain, especially with his humor. The more I infuse some handpicked phrases, the more this character is coming alive in my mind for this series. There are plenty of online resources, but the slang or phrases that are the funniest come from the comments written below the posts on slang.

For Discussion:
1.) If you know any fun military slang or phrases, please share them or any links you think would help. (I’ve adapted some of these phrases or slang into my dialogue with Sam Rafferty and it’s been a blast.)

2.) Share some examples how you make your writing personal. I’d love to hear.

HotTarget (3)

HOT TARGET – An Omega Team novella series, created by Desiree Holt for Amazon Kindle Worlds, coming February 18.

When Rafael reaches out to his sister for a job, Athena Matero—a founding member of the private security agency the Omega Team—can’t help be protective of her younger half brother. After the brutal murders of his wife and baby girl, Rafael Matero turned into a solitary loner, only surfacing to fulfill his duties as team leader for an elite SWAT sniper unit with the Chicago Police. Athena decides to fast track his application by vetting him on the job—a mission to Havana Cuba to investigate a cold case murder.

But when the old murder is linked to the shadowy death of a powerful drug cartel leader, Rafael is burdened by a terrible secret from his past—and an unrelenting death wish—that puts him at dangerous odds with Athena and her team. He believes he’s beyond saving, but that doesn’t stop Jacquie Lyles from trying.

Jacquie sees something in Athena’s mysterious brother that touches her heart. Chivalrous and brave, Rafael is as rare as a unicorn in her life as techno computer geek and white hat hacker for the Omega Team. After she joins the team on its mission to Cuba, she uncovers Rafael’s shocking burden and it breaks her heart.

Rafael stands in the crosshairs of a vicious drug cartel—powerless to stop his fate—and his secret could put Athena and her team in the middle of a drug war.

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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

21 thoughts on “How Personal Do You Write?

  1. In my NIP I took my protagonist to Costa Rica and used YouTube to watch videos of folks zip-lining, since I”d never done it myself. Their screams and yells as they whisked through the cloud cover made the scene come alive for me. Great tips, Jordan. Thank you.

    • Great post, Jordan. My military experience was too long ago to be of much use (1968-1976). But my brother just retired as Fire Chief here and I remember some goodies from hanging out with him. Firefighters need to use humor to help cope with the horrors of their job. I remember him saying the victim of a 911 call was DRT – dead right there. Another elderly person’s cause of death was TMB – too many birthdays.

      Also, Google Maps works well with exotic locations, too. I’ve walked with the yellow man in a village on Komodo Island in Indonesia, where I learned that houses are built on stilts to keep the dragons out. Big lizards lay around under the houses waiting on table scraps and wayward children.

  2. Oh wow, very cool, Dave. I am going to extend my yellow man walks. The book I just finished was in Cuba, in Havana and outside of it. Had to study terrain for my sniper.

    And thanks for the chuckle on fireman terms. EMTs deal with their jobs like that too. TMBs Ha!!-

  3. Jordan,
    Funny that we both recommended Google Street View in two days! But I like your description of taking a walk with the little yellow man. Gotta remember that!
    As for using the personal: There is always material in your own life that’s valuable to use…..I’ve used friends and relatives for characters quite often. In one book, though, I got to kill off my old city editor. He was a chauvinistic pig and made my life miserable for years. He died a horrible death, ramming his cigarette boat into a bridge abutment in the Miami River and going up in flames. It was great.

    • Hey Kris. Yes, but you called it by the right name, not yellow man. I loved what you said in your post about it. Now because of Dave’s comment, I’m thinking of taking yellow man to the Congo. Hope’s he’s got his little yellow machete.

      Your old city editor went up in flames. Great idea. I have someone in mind. I think it could be therapeutic for me.

    • Yellow man could be like a virtual vacation. I can see it now. Walk the streets of Paris with yellow man, while you sip wine, nibble on escargot and listen to the sweet refrains of a violin, without leaving your home. Poor man’s vay-kay. I love it.

  4. Pop was a Naval Aviator, and while a lot of the alphabet soup stuff may not be new, he used to use these phrases a bunch:
    “Beats me, Lieutenant” whenever he didn’t know, and “care” what the answer was;
    “Didn’t happen, Capt’n” for correcting one of us when we were “mistaken”
    And, a bit impolite, but when someone of us (including he himself) was, shall we say, windy, he’d look startled and ask, “Captain who?”
    These sayings are being passes down to his ancestors… both to my boys, and my nephews, through me (if not my siblings).

  5. Fun stuff. I love the tongue in cheek irreverence to these. I had an old boss who, when he wanted me to do something I didn’t want to do, I’d give him my stock answer – “I’ll give it all the consideration it’s due.” He’d reply, “That means NO, right?” Me, “Yup.”

    My retired Air Force brother sent me to research Falcon codes, numbers that are for off color things to give the users more privacy when said. Funny stuff.

    Thanks, George.

  6. In both of my current series I use my family and/or pet as characters, or at least base characters on them.

    In Ice Hammer (first book coming out this spring) I base the main antagonists on myself, my wife and two younger sons. By imagining them in the terrible situation they are flung into, an invasion by a conquering army that splits the family members apart, I got very emotional in the writing. What would I and my family actually do in such a situation in real life? Picturing my teenaged sons having to kill someone with weapons, and in some cases their bare hands, definitely made me stop and think.
    That said it is very fictionalized. I don’t look nearly as handsome as the main character, although I will say that my wife is even hotter than her likeness in the book, and my sons are as good a shot as their namesakes.

  7. Hey Basil. I think you’re underselling yourself as a macho lead, buddy. Seriously. I can believe you’ve got a hot wife.

    Man, it had to be tough to imagine your kids killing to save themselves or family. Wow. But a great case in point about going to a dark place and writing what you fear. Thanks for adding to the discussion.

  8. I Googled “Falcon Codes” and haven’t laughed put loud so quickly in I don’t know how long~! Fun stuff indeed…
    AND I think I’ve found my next title….



  9. Hey George. Definitely funny. My brother was partial to 269. Forgot what it was. And I liked 3000. I’ll have to check them out again. Thanks for the chuckle.

  10. Research is my favorite part of the pre-writing process. On my site I have the Crime Writers Research that’s filled with links to reputable places that offer writers information to help their stories ring true, as well as my favorite craft books (including links to Larry’s bookstore) and experts willing to answer questions (including a firearms expert, btw). Everyone is welcome to use it. Here’s the link:

  11. My current WIP is set in Cardiff Wales and I haven’t visited there in likely 30 years. I was on You Tube yesterday watching videos on Welsh speakers. The comment section was also helpful. I almost commented on the musicality in my detective’s voice, but there really isn’t when the Welsh speak English. So it’s a good thing I didn’t describe it as an Irish or Scottish English, rather it’s more straight the queen’s English. Thank you You Tube from preventing that blunder.

  12. Interesting. Cardiff Wales has film companies shooting there. Doctor Who, maybe other shows or movies. I might have to visit there today with yellow man. Thanks, Alec.

  13. This has nothing to do with writing personal, but your mention of Google Maps brought on a memory.

    My first book, KISS HER GOODBYE, was originally set in a fictional city, but my agent at the time felt it needed to be set in a real one. I had modeled that city on Chicago (for specific location reasons), so, having never been there, I knuckled down and did my research—which, in those days, was considerably less easy. I looked at maps and online profiles and spoke with friends who have lived there, then prayed I got it right. I’m not sure if Google Maps existed at the time, but I didn’t use it.

    Flash forward five years and I was lucky enough to sell the book to CBS for a television pilot and I actually went to Chicago for the first time to watch filming. Well, the first thing I noticed, of course, was the train system, and I smacked myself in the head. I never once mentioned one of the most prominent features of the city in my book.

    I felt much better when the writer-director of the pilot—who knew the city intimately—said he felt as if I’d captured it perfectly. Huge sigh of relief.

    That said, I think we always take a risk when we try to write about places we’ve never been. My Trial Junkies series is set in Chicago, but now that I’ve visited a couple times, I feel much more confident about location, location, location…

  14. I love Chicago, been there many times for my old job. There a palpable vibrancy about being in the heart of downtown. Hard to explain. Plus a writer would have to remember other senses, like the smells, ti draw readers in. You obviously did a good job, but yes, the “el” is a biggee. Whoops.

    Thanks, Rob.

  15. My character is hunting a specific, individual cryptid animal.

    People who claim to know say there is no evidence these creatures exist, apart from blurry photographs; recorded vocalizations that are made by an unknown something out there; footprints left behind that can be cast and analyzed to demonstrate they are not created by an artificial device; a possible language spoken by these creatures currently being studied by a former military cryptologist who once protected America by analyzing foreign language military codes and could testify in court that he knows many things about the language from these unrecognized creatures; and a biologist who appears on a popular television program who says that these creatures–“they” she called them–use certain kind of man-made features to travel from place-to-place, yet she also claims not to know they exist.

    So how would an now-inactive Marine (there are no ex-Marines) find a specific individual creature of a species that most people believe does not exist?

    Research, my friends. Research.

    • I like it, Jim. If you were in TX, we’d be hunting the Chupacabra. Erik Estrada even made a movie about them called, “Chupacabra vs The Alamo.” Guess what? The Alamo loses.

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