Thursday, May 28, 2015

Write What You Know

by Carrie Stuart Parks

I’ve often heard this advice, and just as often heard the opposite. Fortunately for me, my career provided the perfect subject for my books: forensic art. Unlike the fancy holograms and computer generated bells and whistles on television, forensic art is about visual communication using something as simple as a pencil and piece of paper. Working as a forensic artist since 1981 gave me a host of plot ideas based on actual cases. As a forensic artist, I could reconstruct skulls, prepare
courtroom exhibits, draw composites of unknown suspects, age progress missing children, capture courtroom drama, sketch crime scenes, illustrate unknown remains, clarify video surveillance images and a host of other skills. Step aside, Bones! Choosing a career for my protagonist was a no-brainer.

Choosing a location came next. As a resident of Cataldo, Idaho, once saluted in the Corn Patch of the television show Hee Haw, I knew far more about my neighboring moose and wolves than big city life. I decided I’d slide one step away to Montana and create a fictional town called Copper Creek, based on Hamilton, Montana. . . and I did work on a triple homicide there once . . .

Now that I had a protagonist and a location, I needed details of this life. Gwen Marcey (Gwen coming from a name my husband, Rick, liked, and Marcey from his mom’s maiden name,) needed a dog. Of course. But not just any dog. No Golden Retriever, Collie, or German Shepherd. The dog HAD to be a Great Pyrenees. Remember the write what you know? My family raised this breed since 1959 and I’m currently the president of the national club.

I wanted to write from a Christian world view. No cussing or sex. Just tight tension and action. I knew it wouldn’t be a cozy, or sweet or light because of my job, but I also knew it took a bit more work to show the gritty side of forensic art without resorting to bad language and gratuitous violence and sex.

Now came the hard part: actually writing. Keeping tension high; showing, not telling; hooks at the end of the chapters; weaving in backstory or leaving it out; constructing layers within the story. That learning curve took ten years of hard work. I had a NYT bestselling author as a mentor, a harsh critique group, and attended numerous writing conferences taking copious notes. I signed up for on-line classes and read every book on the topic.

In that ten-year journey, I gathered rejections, worked full time, battled stage II breast cancer, and took care of my dying mother.

I was not, WAS NOT going to quit. Rejections meant more revisions. Cancer? I’d use it in the book.
I’m sharing all this with you, m’friends, because we all have that writing journey, that yellow brick road with witches and flying monkeys. But we also have our big hearted tin man, bright scarecrow, and brave lion to help us.

Oh, and yes, it all paid off. A three book deal at auction with HarperCollins Christian taking the highest bid. And finaling in two mystery/suspense competitions.

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning fine artist and internationally known forensic artist. Along with her husband, Rick, she travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

In 1857, a wagon train in Utah was assaulted by a group of militant Mormons calling themselves the Avenging Angels. One hundred and forty people were murdered, including unarmed men, women, and children. The Mountain Meadows Massacre remains controversial to this day–but the truth may be written on the skulls of the victims. In the shadow of the Mormon church, a 19th-century conspiracy is about to be shattered by a 21st-century forensic artist.

1 comment:

jenny milchman said...

Three cheers for perseverance! May your hard only continue to pay off.