in extremis 
 Ken Goddard's
Fiction-Writing Web Site

 

 

On Writing Fiction Novels

 

I wanted to be a fiction writer as far back as I can remember.  I made use of that interest to entertain my younger sister, my girlfriend/wife and my daughter with 'frog and the princess' stories .  And I wrote a couple of early manuscripts that will forever remain hidden.  But it wasn't until I made a fateful discovery that my fiction writing career actually took off.

The discovery: that I had to be emotionally involved in the plot and story arc if I wanted the characters to come alive.  In other words, I had to start writing about things that scared me ... or made me angry.

As it happened, by the time I made this discovery, I'd already spent four years in the Mohave desert digging up bodies and reconstructing gory/violent crime scenes, so I had plenty of emotional experiences to draw on.  But it wasn't until I joined the Huntington Beach Police Department, started working city-oriented crime scenes, and casually asked one day in 1978 why we were working so hard to get ready for the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles, that I found the crucial inspiration for my first published novel.

Chief Earl Robitaille probably had a lot of far-more-important work to do that day, but he took the time to explain his views on why we --- as a nation --- were so vulnerable to terrorism ... and then gave me some reading material to take home over the weekend.  I returned to work the next Monday with a far better understanding of what a terrorist was, and how he operated; but there was one thing that I absolutely didn't understand: how could we --- a modern police department, equipped with dog teams, helicopters, one of the first computer-locator systems in the country, and 200 extremely well trained and motivated officers --- be vulnerable to a single terrorist?

Robitalle smiled understandingly, accepted his books back, and then asked for my badge and credentials.  When I handed them over, undoubtedly looking confused, he smiled again and said: "okay, you have a rough idea of what a lone terrorist would need to get at us.  You're now a civilian.  Without using any of your law enforcement or forensic contacts, go out there and see what you can find.

One week later, I knocked on Chief Robitaille's door, handed him a piece of paper listing the chilling details of what I'd found, and basically asked when we were going to start digging the moat around the police building.  He chuckled and then said something to me that's stuck in my mind ever since: "So tell me, Ken, do you really want to live in a Police State?"

I didn't --- and neither did he --- but I now had a far better understanding of the danger a lone terrorist presented to a police chief determined to protect his city, and the difficulty of doing so within a free society.  I left his office scared ... and angry ... and very much emotionally involved in the problem.  I won't tell you what I found, or what I wrote on that piece of paper; but if you're curious, the answers are contained in BALEFIRE.  I spent nine months writing that book, evenings and weekends, scared and angry the entire time.  A  year later, Fred Klein, a senior editor at Bantam bought and published the book.  It hit the New York Times list for a couple of weeks; and, 'all of a sudden', I'm a fiction writer.

So, if you'd like to know more about my fiction writing career, such as it is, I've provided links to: