I grew up among middle-class everyday folk. Language was one thing that separated groups of people as I had come to know them. When I was young, every once in a while I’d hear someone say, “Oh my! She talks so uppity!” Read More
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MA: Today’s guest is Larry Moniz, an award-winning author, journalist, and publicist. His background is so varied, that I’m going to let him tell us all about it.
LM: I’m a seasoned journalist and publicist transitioning to fiction writing.
I have 14 years experience as a senior public relations executive in the development and implementation of successful, goal-oriented communications and marketing support programs for major national corporations. I wrote the first public relations program for Coleco’s Cabbage Patch Kids and that program subsequently won the Silver Anvil Award from the Public Relations Society of America. The Silver Anvil is recognized as the most prestigious award in public relations.
My public relations skills are augmented by being an experienced journalist and winner of 12-business writing awards for articles in 2000 through 2003 competitions. I was the founding editor of a highly successful new weekly newspaper, building from inception “the best newspaper to cover West Milford since the 1960’s” according to one long-time resident.
I also have 12-years prior experience as a skilled radio and daily newspaper editor and reporter for major media outlets in New Jersey, New England and Europe. I also published and edited a weekly newspaper serving Northern Ocean and Southern Monmouth Counties. Unlike many weeklies, this newspaper, The Progress, concentrated on real news, and regularly scooped far-larger dailies and weeklies with news events in the towns we serviced.
My experience also includes nearly five years as a crime and courts reporter and being a full-time sheriff’s deputy, thereby bringing a depth of firsthand knowledge about crime and law enforcement possessed by few other writers.
MA: Tell us about that transition to fiction.
LM: I’ve been an avid book reader since I was a child and always fascinated by words. I’ve been a journalist and writer for more than 45 years. Disabled due to COPD stemming from undiagnosed asthma and hence hard to hold down a full-time job, books were the logical alternative for me to keep busy and hopefully earn a living.
MA: Did your professional career inspire your writing?
LM: Yes, my career as a journalist and publisher set the stage for my creating the Inside Story: Murder in the Pinelands investigative team to investigate major crimes.
MA: Are any of your characters based upon real-life people with whom you’ve interacted?
LM: The dead sailor found in the pinelands was based on a similar situation I covered in another state. Like one of the first cops on the scene, I didn’t believe the crime was a suicide because witnesses saw him walking without a rifle yet he died before he could reach and get his rifle, the weapon that killed him. Using that isolated incident I built up a plausible story line that would explain things that were known and much else that was secret.
As to other characters, if I were a newspaper publisher today I would be very like Manny Bettencourt, publisher of Inside Story.
Murder in the Pinelands is the first in a planned police procedural series dealing with the way different ensemble members encounter various criminal, corruption and other illicit activities and bring the perpetrators to the bar of justice.
MA: How did you develop the character of your protagonist?
LM: My investigative team is loosely based on law enforcement personnel I’m met over the years. The protagonist just sprang from my brain. He and his wife were just there one day, begging to be transcribed.
My hero’s greatest strength is his conviction that his take on the sailor’s death is correct. His weakness is that the conviction becomes a compulsion that keeps him awake at night and unable to concentrate on his daytime job as a police sergeant and SWAT team leader. The stress leads to his making a mistake and his patrol partner nearly dies in a shootout with bank robbers.
MA: Do you have just one antagonist or several?
LM: Actually, there are a couple. As the book evolves, they begin to seek a shadow figure, an assassin from Saddam Hussein’s regime sent to this country to avenge the death of Saddam’s kin by this Navy sailor.
But no one can find this shadow figure until investigation in several states leads to positive proof the man exists and he’s been hiding in the U.S. with political support from entrenched Washington politicians.
MA: Did any of your real-life experiences factor in to the plot at all?
LM: Yes. I was at the suicide previously described. I also have covered politics and cover-ups for many years. Like the reporting team, I also have prior law enforcement experience as a sworn deputy sheriff.
MA: So what will be next on your fiction plate?
LM: I’m putting finishing touches to a resurrected novel involving time travel into the past by two former military special operatives endeavoring to head off the kidnapping of Thomas Jefferson before he can complete the Declaration of Independence.
I also am working on an outline for a 1930s era detective novel in which millions of dollars and an entire railroad train vanish.
MA: Oh my! They both sound interesting. Please visit Larry’s website for more information about him and his stories: http://www.larrymoniz.org/ Read More
Understanding a form of writer’s block.
My experience has been that when I write, I must allow the plot and characters to go where they may. We are all told that a story will write itself. I heartily agree, but this only happens when we go deep into our creativity and let things unfold naturally. As writers, we are products of our experiences and that’s the fertile ground from which we create.
The norm for me is that I don’t know where the story will go, which action or direction to take or how the characters will play out their parts. I don’t know this even if I begin a story knowing how it will end.
Our muses will do a lot for us if we allow. Writing is like rearing a child. We discipline and nudge in the right direction, but should never be so controlling that we stifle the natural development of the child and as the child grows, it takes on a life of its own. So it is with writing. All aspects of our stories can write themselves.
One way this will happen is when we allow our characters to play out their parts. When we’ve gotten our protagonist or other character into a situation and don’t know how to get them out, we should not quickly back out of the scene and take another course.
What writing teaches is that the writer should put her or himself into the action of the character. Play like you’re faced with this dilemma and ask yourself what you would do in such a case. This takes you deeper into yourself and your own creativity where you can root out the answers. Allow yourself to face these situations as if you were the character backed into the much-clichéd corner.
If you have your villain in a tight spot and can’t see yourself ever getting into such a place, or being that villain, then you should play-act the gestalt of the situation. Look into a mirror and be the villain who is talking to you. Based on how you’ve created this character, and the action of the plot, you have only so many choices to make and that’s all.
When I wrote many of the scenes in my novel, “The Tropics,” at times I found I didn’t know where to take a character. One example in the first story, “Child of a Storm,” is that when Ciara is trying to keep Rico awake and treat his concussion and near drowning, I didn’t know what to have her do. I couldn’t apply knowledge that I know today to a situation that took place thirty years ago, and that was my key.
In the late 1960s, my limited knowledge is that one had to keep a person with a concussion mostly awake, maybe moving around but not jarring their head. As far as the near drowning, if you got some water out of their lungs and the person is able to walk, they were assumed to be okay. So that’s all I could put into my story—partly because that was not only my knowledge back then but also the general knowledge of most people at that time. I couldn’t say much about respiratory therapy as we know it today because back then it was just being studied as a possible treatment.
So the part of me that went into the story was what I knew during the 1960s and nothing more. It ended up being the truth of the plot action. What my protagonist did to help her fiancé’s condition, albeit limited, helped me to further build my protagonist’s character and resolve. She did as much as she possibly could. So I wasn’t stuck in the plot anymore.
In the second story, “Caught in a Rip,” when Lilly is facing death at sea and suddenly spots a turtle snagged in a drift net, I wondered how I would give Lilly stamina enough to do what she wanted to do. She wanted to photograph that turtle knowing her waterproof camera would float to shore after she died and someone would find it and hopefully develop the photos.
What could I do with Lilly? I had already nearly killed her off and her energy was depleted. It would look awfully contrived having her energetically swim down and take those photos and then die. Then I asked myself, if in that situation what would it take for me to rally my resolve and get those photos? That’s when I was forced deep into my own psyche to compare notes with my muse.
Exactly what would I do? The answer was simple. I slowed the speed of the story in order to show Lilly’s resolve. I did it with her inner thoughts, some momentary flashbacks that made her take a look at her strengths and weaknesses, and showed the reader how she convinced herself to do it. Had I been in that situation that’s how I would have reacted.
I could have written in that a tour boat came along and rescued her, and that the captain photographed the turtle, but that was too easy. She had to do it on her own in order to become this much-admired heroine and only I, the writer alone with my Muse, could think it through.
Truth is, if I knew I was going to die and I wanted to leave something behind to show the plight of that turtle, I would muster everything I had left as one last great gesture to amount to something in my life. You can bet that I would be thinking about my strengths and past successes in order to hype myself before diving down to take that photo.
Finding the character’s motivation was my motivation as the writer that helped the character to decide what to do.
Another writer might look inside themselves and feel a bit of writer’s block and say, There’s no way out of this! Then they might back up in the plot and rewrite it to go in a different direction.
Our characters and plot decisions come from deep within us. Something in us has made us bring the story dilemma to light. Facing and solving our characters’ dilemmas allows us to take a deeper look at ourselves and find inner strengths that have never been challenged in our daily lives.
If we, as writers, allow our Muses free reign and we do not soon back out and change the course of the story simply for an easier way out, we will find more exciting resolutions to the dilemmas we create. We may also come in contact with personal strengths we never knew we had.
At times, my Muse says, “This is the only way to go. You figure it out.” So if we don’t wish to rewrite an entire section of the story, we must dig deeper into ourselves to create the plot remedy.
My guest today is arguably one of the most interesting writers I have had the pleasure to feature on the Child Finder Trilogy blog. Michael Cogdill is blessed as one of the most honored television storytellers in America. His cache of awards includes 24 Emmys and the National Edward R. Murrow for a broad range of achievement, from live reporting to long-form storytelling. His television credits as a journalist include CNN, CNBC, MSNBC, and The Today Show, and Michael’s interview history crosses a wide horizon: The Reverend Billy Graham, Dr. Mehmet Oz of Oprah fame, Dr. Henry Kissinger, Abby Hoffman, Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator John McCain, Howard K. Smith, James Brown, Keith Lockhart of the Boston Pops, and many other newsmakers. His coverage credits include Presidents and Vice Presidents of the United States. Michael spent ten years writing She-Rain, letting it evolve into a world of fiction drawn from his upbringing in Western North Carolina but reaching far beyond. His other writing credits are Cracker the Crab and the Sideways Afternoon – a children’s motivational book available at www.CrackerTheCrab.com, and a self-help volume, Raise the Haze. Michael makes his home in South Carolina with his wife, Jill (a children’s book publisher), and their golden retriever, Maggie. He’s currently working on his second novel and works of non-fiction as well. Read More