Friday, July 31, 2009

I Write Naked. Doesn't Everybody?

By Shane Gericke

I write naked.

Not literally. If I did, and you saw it, you'd run away screaming, like those crowds fleeing Godzilla as he chews through downtown Tokyo.

Rather, naked in that I use no outline when I write.

(Alright, alright, the naked stuff was a cheap ploy to get you to read my blog. My partners in crime already did such a great job dissecting outline vs. no outline vs. short outline vs. long outline, that if I didn't throw in some fakey nude stuff, none of you would have made it this far. But now you're here and not snoring, so we can go back to our tale.)

I hate to commit to anything when starting a new book. My characters reveal themselves through the act of writing, not through the act of outlining. I need the total freedom to let them take the fork in the road that leads through the briny swamp, if they so choose. I need to go commando. (All right, that's the last faux-nudie bit, I promise. Or, is it . . .)

So to unleash those creative forces, I picture exactly how my book will open, and how it will end, down to the smell of the air and sound of the sirens. All the rest I leave to whimsy, coffee and fingers. In MOVING TARGET, which launches next summer, for instance, I knew the story would start with death in a howling thunderstorm, would close with death in a howling thunderstorm, and the major players would be changed forever. The rest came as I wrote. div>

That's the ideal for me: writing without a map.

Problem is, it doesn't work for purposes of selling idea to your publisher. Editors understandably need to know what you're going to turn in, and with some detail; they have to sell your book to their bosses, their sales and promotion people, their designers and artists, their bookstore buyers, and the other parts of the vast team that actually gets your book into the public's hands.

In the argot, it's "commercial vs. creative." Well, my argot, anyway, mostly because I love the word "argot" and use it when I can.)

So, when I'm ready to go with a new book, I write a two-page story summary, telling my editor the beginning, end, major plot twists, and major characters. She accepts or rejects the idea based on that document (plus helpful author inputs like, Aw, pretty please, let me keep the bus full of decapitated corpses, pleeeeeeeeaseeeeeee . . . )

Once she accepts the outline, I start writing, and see what happens.

Fortunately for me, my editor is patient and kind and allows me the freedom to go off track--sometimes, um, considerably off track--as long as it's in the realm of what we agreed upon. If I promise a serial killer novel and deliver a traditional police procedural, I'll be pulling three to five in Rewrite Penitentiary. But if my outline promised that the serial killer would do X and wound up doing Y instead because Y is much more interesting, then we're good.

If I've done my job well, the commercial and the creative ends of the business dovetail neatly, and everyone is pleased.

If I don't, well, see morgue photo below . . .


John Dillinger lies extremely dead in the Cook County Morgue after cops ventilated him outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago. Back in the '30s, anyone who wanted to gawk at a gen-u-inely dead criminal-type could walk on in and do so. Also pictured are the Colt Army Special (with Timothy O'Neil, the cop who used it to plug Dillinger); the Remington double derringer; and a typical wanted poster of Dillinger from the era.

Talk about your double-barrel crime news: Two guns used by the infamous John Dillinger have been sold for nearly as much loot as he got by sticking up banks.

The Colt Army Special revolver that slew Dillinger outside a Chicago movie house ("slew" is almost as cool as "argot," don't you think?) sold for $36,400 in a Chicago auction, more than three times expected value. The second gun, a small Remington .41 double derringer that Dillinger carried, went for $95,600, or more than twice estimated value, in a Dallas auction.

Dillinger was carrying the Remington in one of his socks when he was arrested in Tucson, AZ, 75 years ago. (Socks were tougher back then, apparently. Our sissy socks of the modern era can't carry a piece of twine without sagging.) It was the beginning of his end--the notorious Roaring Twenties bank robber was killed six months later, on July 22, 1934, by federal agents and local policemen outside the Biograph Theater in Chicago, after being fingered by the infamous "Lady in Red." (Little remembered is that her dress was orange; it only looked red in the street lighting of the time. "Lady in Red" sounded more tabloidish to the newspaper writers of the time anyway, so that's what they went with.)

East Chicago, Ind., police Capt. Timothy A. O'Neil is credited with the kill. He and a partner had arranged for the Lady in Red (who undoubtedly was naked under the dress) to point out Dillinger as he and Miss Red left the theater after watching "Manhattan Melodrama." The cops and three FBI agents plugged Dillinger when he came out. O'Neil's descendants sold the famous Colt to a museum. An anonymous "member of a prominent Tucson family" sold the Remington to an anonymous L.A. collector.

All I can say is, the sellers should send big wet kisses to Johnny Depp, because his bravura turn as Dillinger in the new movie "Public Enemies" undoubtedly kicked up the bidding. Maybe Dillinger should have gone into show biz. He'd have made a lot more money.

And, sigh, yes, since you insist, I'll tell you . . .

He is nekked under the sheet.


Bill Cameron said...

Doesn't everyone want a bus full of decapitated corpses, Shane?

Normally I am completely with you, but for my next book, I am trying something new. I'm seeing if I can plan it ahead of time. Weeeeird. I have pages and pages of notes, and scenes, and this happens then that happens.

I suspect a lot of it will go by the wayside when I finally settle down to write, but I thought I would try it to see how it would work.

Abbie said...

I'm so glad you explained yourself - I don't need to picture any of my mom's friends naked! LOL! It was interesting to read about your process... I've been enjoying checking out your blog. Thanks, Shane.

Jen Forbus said...

You're getting me in to trouble. I'm sneaking my read in at the office and laughing so much that people want to know what I'm doing. So much for being discreet!

As I mentioned with Kelli's post yesterday, I just love to hear about how the characters and stories come to life. It's a fascinating topic and I'm glad you guys included it this week!

Jen Forbus said...

Shane, I just finished reading an article from last Sunday's PLAIN DEALER. You'll be happy to know that "flashing was indecent, but never ugly." So it didn't violate "The Ugly Law". ;)

Shane Gericke said...

I'm with you, Bill. I wanted to say busful of decapitated nuns, but thought I'd be sensitive.

Let me know how the serious outlining turns out for you. Our friend Hank Phillipi Ryan says she used to write nekked but now swears by outlines, so maybe there's something to it.

Jeff Deaver writes a 300-page outline with every twist and turn in the plot. When he's satisfied, he goes back and writes the dialogue. So there's all kinds of ways to skin this dead ... uh, apple, being sensitive for our wonderful blog readers :-)

Shane Gericke said...

Glad to help you out there, Abbie! No, you don't want any of your mom's friends burned on your retinas without clothes ... none of us are Fabio!

Delightful to see you on the blog today, by the way. Thanks for visiting. For those who don't know her, Abbie is an enormously talented maker of custom greetings cards. We've used her products many times here in Gerickeland, and not just because she and her family are dear friends. That's right, we'd buy them anyway, there's that good.

Check them out at:

And tell mom I said, Hey.

Shane Gericke said...

To further compound your laughing, Jen, take a close look at the morgue photo. In the middle. There was a strong rumor at the time that even in death, Dillinger liked to show off his ... uh, tommy gun.

My theory is a newspaper reporter was feeling him up for any loot that might still be on him. Cheap damn newshawks.

Shane Gericke said...

I was never able to flash when it was the fashion, Jen. Doubling over laughing at myself slowed me down too much ...

Shane Gericke said...

Oops, I don't think I left the entire website for Abbie's custom cards. Here's the entire sequence:

Shane Gericke said...

Oh, for corn's sakes, as my sainted grandma would have said. For some reason, blogger is ripping some of the formatting out of the website I posted above. Try going here instead for those custom cards:

You'll be directed to her new website. Sorry about that.

Unknown said...

Very interesting. So how's Emily doing these days?

Shane Gericke said...

Hi, PJ, great to see you here today. Emily is fine and dandy, and says hello back at you.

For those who don't know, Emily Marie Thompson is the star of my cops vs. serial killer series, No. 3 of which will be out next summer. Emily started late in life to be a cop--joining the Naperville Police Department at the ripe old age of 39, after her entire family was killed--but has become a completely kick-ass detective with a streak of sensitivity a mile deep. Plus she eats like a truck driver, which is nice. Not bad for someone who was otherwise destined to work in a business cube farm the rest of her days ... till she dragged herself out of the mud of her own despair, and slapped on a gun and badge.

Dang, I think I thrilled myself a little there. Easy, hoss ...

Also for those who don't know, PJ Nunn owns and runs Breakthrough Promotions, an author-centic publicity and promotion service. She is my Goddess of Makin' It Happen Without Problems when I'm on the road, going from one bookstore to the next. Check her out at:

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey guys...Yeah, I got dragged to outlines, kicking and screaming. Actually (ask my husband) I complained for three solid days when I was told I had to do an outline for book 2, FACE TIME.

Then I thought--fine, you can use this time to complain, or you can use it to write the darn thing.

By the time I got to book 4, DRIVE TIME, I was loving the whole thing. It was difficult, because your brain has to work in a kind of short-cut way. But I wound up with a 60 page outline, and I knew when I started the actual writing that everything was logical, and fair, and would work. So it was a pleasure to get to write to see what really happened.

(Insert naked joke here so you keep reading. Two naked people walk on to a bar..OW! one says.)

Anyway, the final story of DRIVE TIME was a bit different than the outline. But the structure and motives were the same, and that really worked. (And because I have a full time job, it was a treat to have the outline to remind me where I was and that I hadn't written myself into corner.)

To each her own, right? Write?

Can't wait for MOVING TARGET!

Shane Gericke said...

Always great to hear from you, Hank. That must have been an interesting crossover, going from no outline to a long one. Given that your television work takes up a huge amount of what would otherwise be writing time, I would imagine an outline is a lifesaver, so you're not spending time during each writing session figuring out where the story is going next. It's those times--figuring what comes next--that my lawn gets cut and leaves raked and ceilings painted. It's less efficient than using an outline, but then again, I have fresh ceilings :-)

Kelli Stanley said...

Shane, you ARE a Commando!! ;) What a great post--I read with breakfast this AM and almost choked on my cantaloupe!;)

And the Shane-O-Gram was an equally wonderful tale ... or should that be tail? ;)