Thursday, March 31, 2011

Banishing Fear: A Conversation with Laura Caldwell

by Jamie Freveletti

Last night I had the privilege of attending a show called "Woman To Woman" that featured The Outfit's own Laura Caldwell and hosted by Jen Weigel and Mary Long, two former WLS radio announcers. The show also featured Jennifer Connor, the head of her own company that sells mustard, and Shea Vaughn a fitness and lifestyle expert.

The topics ranged from fitness to health to happiness. At one point all three women were asked what advice would they give it they could go back twenty years. Ms. Vaughn said she would advise others to "be more present in the moment." She cautioned that life passes and the moments won't come back. Good advice for those of us who are always looking for the next hill to climb and aren't paying attention to the here and now. Ms. Connor suggested that you need to follow the signs in your life that will lead you down the right path, and her story of signs involving mustard and the biblical mustard seed story was funny and really inspiring. And Laura said she'd banish fear.

For those who aren't aware, Laura was instrumental in freeing a young man wrongfully held in Chicago's prison system for six years without a trial. Her latest non fiction book: Long Way Home: A young man lost in the system and the two women who found him tells the story of the trial. Laura and her girlfriend, criminal defense attorney Catharine O'Daniel, worked together to defend the man. He'd signed a confession after being tortured, and as Ms. O'Daniel said "99% of signed confession cases end up in a guilty verdict."

Last night Laura made it clear that as she sat at the table waiting for the verdict to come back the import of what she was doing hit her. The man's life would be forever altered and as she said, "if he was convicted and sent to death row I would have carried that enormous burden for the rest of my life."
After the show Laura and I went to have a drink with the other attendees. Now, let me tell you there are no better late night companions than those on The Outfit. We always have a blast and with Laura I also always learn something while having fun. We talked about life, love, men, women, children and our careers and hopes and dreams. Laura is involved with the "Life After Innocence Project" and will be taking it to the next level in order to assist even more individuals who are falsely imprisoned, freed and suddenly find themselves out in the world.

To think that this woman has any fear at all is a stretch for me to imagine. She took on an enormous responsibility that, as a civil litigator, she need have never faced, and she worked to save that individual. I told her exactly what I thought (and which a couple of glasses of wine gave me the courage to say) that she seems to be powerful and frankly unstoppable. I have no doubt that her goal to take the Innocence Project to the next level will succeed just as I have no doubt that she will continue to banish fear. Laura was one of the first writers in the community that I met when I was starting out and I'm infinitely glad to count her as a friend. She's a rocket shooting upward and I'm grateful to be able to watch the blast off from the viewer's seats. I can't wait to see what she does next.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Dream Killers: When People Just Have To Warn You Off Your Dream

by Jamie Freveletti

We've all met them. The ones that will give us the "advice" that they feel we need to hear. The ones that say "don't go to college, it's only a piece of paper" (my generation was the first of blue collar workers to go to college and this comment came from some of the older relatives). Or "you won't win that poetry contest, do you have any idea how many other kids are writing?"
And my favorite since I started telling people about my dream to be a writer: "Everyone's writing a novel. Do you know the odds against you? You'll never make a living that way. Stick to being a lawyer."
Now, all of the above comments came from well meaning people, many of whom knew me, loved me, and were just trying to soften the illusory blow they felt I'd take when my dream did not become a reality.

Here's what I say:
Someone has to be an author; it might as well be you.

I say "someone has to be an author" because that's reality. There are people who are authors, do it for a living, and do quite well financially. Once you realize that the world has within it people whose job description is "author" then the dream doesn't seem quite so unattainable.
The thing about dream killer statements is that they are often, at least in a field as tough as this one, objectively true. The truth of the statement is what rocks you back on your heels when it's told to you, mostly because if you're writing a manuscript then you are well aware of the odds stacked against you. It's not as if you aren't smart enough to figure this out on your own. What you are trying to do is harder than the average activity. If it were easy, everyone would do it. If it were easy you'd do it now and not give it another thought.

The other thing about these statements is that they inevitably come from someone you love and respect and who you know has your best interests in mind. Because you know they love you, the arrow they fling goes deep into the heart of the dream.

Here's what I say: Stagger back at the hit if you must, but shake it off, right now, and continue forward. Because someone has to be an author. If you stop, someone else will take that empty seat at the table. And the seat is there. It's not easy to obtain, but it does exist. There are thousands sitting there right now.
Come join the party!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Going Public: When do you tell the world that you're writing a novel?

by Jamie Freveletti

I've been thinking a lot about going public-when you finally admit to others that you're writing that novel, play, screenplay, or crafting that poem. For me the process was gradual. My fiction writing career started with a creative writing night course at the University of Chicago chosen for its:
1. late evening start so that I could complete work and,
2. convenience of the commute on public transportation.

I'm a big fan of convenience when starting something new. It's just too hard to quit when the scheduling and transportation issues become a hassle. In my case, working as a lawyer three days a week and as a full time parent, scheduling was key and complicated.

It was easy to tell others about the course. I pitched it for what it was, a way for me to work on my creative side that I felt I had lost in the maelstrom of work, kids, and, in the winter, snow shoveling (I took the course in January).

Once I embarked on the actual novel, though, the disclosure issue became a bit more difficult. When I mentioned that I was writing my lawyer friends were encouraging. They know what it's like to write all day-albeit in a non fiction setting, so they understood that creative writing would be a huge relief from the often dry and technical brief writing that many of us do. When I told a publisher in Germany that I knew she was very encouraging and looking back I really thank her for that, because she had to know the odds of it getting published. Never once did she refer to them in my presence.
But not all people are this way. Once you announce that you're writing a novel, you should be prepared for eye rolling. Yes, everyone seems to be writing a novel. In fact, I have a suspicion that it's one of the entries on many individual "bucket lists" of things to do before they die. I don't have a bucket list, but if I did I think writing a novel is a great item to include. It My usual response to the eye roll was a shrug. I've never been one to expect others to share in all my passions, and if they didn't so be it. I just kept plugging away, asking for help when I needed it, and writing, writing, writing.

A turning point in the "tell" factor was a surprise gift from my husband. He had purchased a weekend writing conference ticket for me at the SEAK writing conference. Seak puts on writing conferences aimed at lawyers and medical professionals and they're located in Cape Cod. My husband joined me, not in the conference, but just for the weekend. He spent his time training for a marathon and I spent my time in the conference. On the third day we were forced to sit at round tables and pitch our novels to agents. The caveat: While you could sit at the table and listen in, only those with completed novels were allowed to pitch. My husband sat next to me and listened--it was a no training day for him-and we were both struck by the number of uncompleted manuscripts. Only two of us ended up pitching out of ten at my table.

When we walked away my husband said: "You tell everyone now not that you're writing a novel, but that you've completed one. It appears to be a tough thing to accomplish."
I never thought of completing an novel as tough, for me it's pure fun, but I'll never forget his comment. If you're writing and you're not done yet, keep going. When you're done you tell everyone that you've completed a novel.
And if they roll their eyes, ignore it. Those of us who have completed a novel know just how much dedication that takes. Kudos to you.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Men, Women, Conflict and No Sex Allowed: The Classics

by Jamie Freveletti

I was pleased to see that the new movie Jane Eyre got great reviews. It's a favorite book of mine and I hope it will do well at the box office. At the same time that I write this I'm struggling with creating a male/ female relationship in a short story with conflict, sexual undertones but one that does not result in sex. Why no sex, you ask? Because I want to take the tougher road as a writer. My writing schedule is packed these days and I'm juggling a couple of different novels, but every weekend I do my best to turn to a short story. I need to write to stay sane, so weekends off aren't always the best for me, but I feel as though I need to switch it up and give my brain time to ferment on the novel-length manuscripts. The change of pace keeps the other writing fresh.

I posted a few months ago on the use of imagery in classic movies to convey tension between characters without graphic results and without having the characters simply say what they wanted out loud. It's a study in conflict, unresolved tension and innuendo. It's wonderful to see unfold and, I'm learning, tough to create. In this modern era writers can simply have their characters hop in bed, resolve some of that tension and then lie around smoking cigarettes and discussing the other plot points in the novel. Kind of a "whew we got that out of the way now let's discuss if Harry killed Sally and where he hid the body."

The classics did this in so many different ways that I feel it's instructive to read them to get a feel for how they accomplished it. Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Bronte's Jane Eyre, Conan Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia, where the tension is there and the parties, through their actions convey it. Too often modern writers take these stories and graft on a motivation that subverts the original reason for the tension into something that is feels equal but is not. For example, I got the definite impression that the latest Sherlock Holmes film and latest BBC television show made Sherlock appear to be in love with Watson in a way far greater than simply as friends. I don't think the stories support this view (and if you do feel free to point out the instances, perhaps I'm not seeing the sub-context due to its subtlety). To me, Holmes is an automaton and equally as dismissive of any emotion, either that of love of women or men. His moment in the Scandal In Bohemia seems to be one of the few times that he notices women in any other way then a cerebral one, and even then one gets the distinct impression he's just angry that she bested him.

My short story is clipping along, and I hope to finish it soon, commission a cover, and pop it onto the web. When I do I'll give everyone the heads up and you can tell me if I got anywhere even close to the subtlety of the writers above.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Reviews Wanted for e-Anthology

by Libby Hellmann

Hi, all. I've been very fortunate to hook up with a group of fabulous authors (in addition to those on The Outfit, of course), and we're e-publishing a new anthology April 1. We're looking for reviewers to help it launch it in style. Here's what we're saying:

Hold on tight for a literary thrill-ride into the wickedly clever, frightening, and exhilarating world of Top Suspense, a sizzling collaboration of twelve master storytellers at the peak of their powers in thirteen unforgettable tales. Max Allan Collins, Bill Crider, Stephen Gallagher, Lee Goldberg, Joel Goldman, Naomi Hirahara, Vicki Hendricks, Paul Levine, Harry Shannon, Dave Zeltserman, and yours truly.

This unforgettable anthology – packed full of cold-blooded killers, erotic tension, shady private eyes, craven drug dealers, vicious betrayals, crafty thieves, and shocking twists – is coming out on APRIL 1 and is only a taste of the thrills you will find in the breathtakingly original ebooks by these authors at

But you can get a FREE ADVANCE READING your e-format of choice.

Here’s all you have to do:

1. Send me an email through my website with the subject FREE TOP SUSPENSE BOOK and give me your name and the address of your website or blog (don’t have one? That’s okay. Read on).

2. Agree to post a review, positive or negative (but with no spoilers!) on your blog, website, Goodreads page, Facebook page, or the Amazon listing for TOP SUSPENSE in the next 60 days. (You don't have to buy the book on Amazon to review it there, you only need to have an account).

3. Email me a copy of the review or a link to the post.

Each Top Suspense author has been alotted just 25 copies to giveaway, so if you're interested, you'd better hurry. And once you get your book, sit back, bite down on a piece of strong leather, and prepare to get hit by some gale-force suspense and writing so sharp it will draw blood.

Hope to hear from you! Thanks.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Let's Talk Non-Fiction

by Jamie Freveletti

I don't usually read fiction while I write, and definitely avoid thrillers and mysteries. I just don't think I'm free of influence enough yet, (though I'm told by other thriller writers that this will come with time). So, I end up reading a lot of non-fiction. Some relates to crime non-fiction and the rest to subject areas that I find interesting. Here's the latest batch:

1. Magnificent Mind: Natural Ways to Unleash Your Brain's Maximum Potential. Daniel G. Amen, M.D.

This book I picked up because I'm pretty much in for anything that will unleash my mind's "maximum" potential. The author, a clinical neuroscientist, runs the Amen Clinics, where he scans brains and helps ADD kids, anxiety patients, and treats depression and memory problems. A quick search on google revealed many critics of the brain scan aspect of his methods, but I like his "let's try a natural product before we bring out the big guns" approach. He has chapters such as: Ignite Your Passion, Light Up the Brain Circuits that Drive Success. You've just got to love that title!

He suggests things we've all heard: fish oil, gingko biloba, but also suggests other natural remedies like Phosphatidylserine, Vinpocetine and Huperzine A. Heard of them? Me neither, but that's what I liked about this book.

2. Life, Keith Richards

This book captured my interest, and while one critic complained that it was a MEmoir, I must say that I really enjoyed Mr. Richards' memories about how the blues influenced him. Especially his memories about the iconic Checkerboard Lounge here in Chicago and the blues musicians that cycled through that bar during the '60's and '70's. (As I mentioned in an earlier post, my mother was a jazz singer in Chicago during that time and knew many of the musicians mentioned).

While Mr. Richards keeps his drug fueled exploits to a minimum, and I'm sure there are many that never made it into this book, his description of America and England during the rise of rock and roll in the 60's is of interest to anyone who wants to learn about that era.

3. Tapping the Source: Using the Master Key System for Abundance and Happiness. By Gladstone, Greninger, and Selby.

I picked this book up on a whim. It's what I'd call the typical New Age book, but this one had an interesting twist. The authors are expounding on an older method recommended by a man named Charles Haanel. Mr. Haanel lived from 1866 to 1949, and in 1912 wrote a book that attempted to explain and teach a method to explain the Law Of Attraction.

I'm a non believer in certain new age claims, but I am seeing the sense in some of what this book is saying. For example, try not to think negative thoughts, because while you may be right and all is lost, it doesn't really add to your life to think in such a way. (I couldn't agree more).

I'm only a third of the way through, but I'm enjoying it. I think it's worth a read, and apparently the author of The Secret referred to this man and his master key system and we all know how many books that author sold!

I'm headed out tomorrow to get some more non-fiction, because between writing my own number four (number three is written, called The Ninth Day and launches in late October) and working on the Ludlum Covert One series, I'm pretty much writing all the time. I see no fiction in my immediate future.

If you have any suggestions for me do tell!

Friday, March 04, 2011

Character Archetypes: The X-Files had them

by Jamie Freveletti

I was unable to write today due to the need to allow workmen in to replace our water heater. Bored and in a wish to drown out the banging from the lower level, I flipped on the television and found an old rerun of an X-files episode. I used to watch this show religiously back when it was new and I was working as a lawyer. Now, as a writer, I was struck by the broad, but classic, archetypes used by the creators.

There's Mulder, who believes in supernatural and alien forces, and who's mind is always open to the impossible and unique.

Scully, who's scientific and has an earthly explanation that not only makes sense, but is designed to give Mulder the opportunity to shine with his own, eccentric view.

And there are the evil forces. The Smoking Man, nameless government forces, and of course, the aliens.

What I loved about watching this show again was the character of Scully. She ushered in a series of smart women on television. She was pretty, worked hard, tough when she needed to be, but not shrill. She had a lot of sympathy for Mulder, and ends up loving him toward the end of the series.

The relationship between Scully and Mulder, before they hooked up, was one that I imagine most working men and women recognize. Friends, but not really, business colleagues, but a bit more, caring but not family in the traditional sense. They pulled together to get the job done.

This dynamic is present in a lot of buddy teams--Holmes/Watson comes to mind, but I'm sure there are more--the names are escaping me at the moment. I have teams in my thrillers also, although the main character acts alone, which is a key difference. A team with diametrically opposed characters provide built in conflict. It must have been a lot easier for the writers on the show to write the episodes week after week because they could count on a few minutes of Scully and Mulder battling it out over his, (to her) absurd take on the latest mystery. In fact, I found myself eagerly awaiting the moment when Mulder would go on an alien tear and Scully would start ripping apart his theory with scientific knowledge.

Great stuff, and I'm reminded to put this in my own writing.

Now if I could just remember those other teams in literature!

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Johnny Depp had Keith Richards: I have Robert Plant

by Jamie Freveletti

My last post was about classic rock and classic protagonists, but let's talk rock and creating a character. I've finished Keith Richards' book Life and must say that I respect him a bit more since reading his views on music, especially Chicago blues. (Full disclosure: my mother was a jazz singer in the 60's and 70's in Chicago and knew many of the people mentioned). While the whole drug
fueled lifestyle sounds painful, it seemed to be a fixture in the scene during the 60's and 70's.
By now most of us know that Johnny Depp used Mr. Richards as inspiration when creating his Jack Sparrow character. The swaying, insouciant pirate owed a lot to Depp's portrayal, and Richards eventually appeared in the movie as well.

I'm currently writing my fourth thriller featuring Emma Caldridge, and in this one she hooks up with a character that is in the music scene. Much of what I'm writing comes from my memories of being a child when my mother used to rehearse with her band at our house.

But the other day I was cruising through a book store and saw a magazine cover picture of a man with a fascinatingly craggy face, experience in his eyes-some pain too-and long, wavy hair which is a rarity on men in their sixties. His face was so arresting that I stopped and stared.

It was Robert Plant. I had to stare, because, thanks to the teen resident guitar player in my house the screen savers on our computers at home have some sort of picture of this man in various stages of his rock god years. This photo above is the current screen saver. Now this is a great photo. Whatever this man is doing, he's loving his life. There's a lot of happiness in this man's face. But the photo above, which stares back at me every morning as I load up on coffee to begin writing, is nothing compared to the photo that I saw on that magazine cover. That photo was a testament to a life lived.

That photo is here:

Whatever you want to say about this man, he's been there, done that, and is probably fascinating to talk to. Like Keith Richards, I'll bet there's a whole lot of stories this man could tell. As a writer, I'd love to hear them.

More disclosure, I like Led Zeppelin a whole lot better now then when I was a kid. The music hit way too early in my life to really match with my musical tastes--which at that point were still colored by a mother who'd sing the standards: Ella, Frank, Lena, Peggy. My favorite song as a child was "Angel Eyes" as sung by my mother. It still is. My favorite writer was Edgar Allan Poe. Still is.

So now I'm writing about my own rocker in the music scene and I'm using an amalgam of musicians that I knew growing up. They were crazy, creative, big pot smokers and God knows what else, and they loved music, the Blues, life, women, and alcohol. They were constantly cycling women through their hotel rooms. They refused to wear tuxedos on stage on New Years' Eve--almost getting the band fired, and wrote in their journals about the first time they got crabs.
They were very nice to an eight year old girl who would sit in the corner of the living room with her plastic horse models and listen to the rehearsals. Some were crazy as hell, some were talented as hell, and all are fodder for this new character that I'm creating.

Rock on.