Friday, December 19, 2014

Time Out

Those who originally started following this blog and the writing of my next novel, in real time, are probably thinking, "Well... Where is it?" Welcome to the world of a non-contracted novelist.

Even though it's been 365 days since my last post, my lack of updates does offer me a great segue into this post: Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. (Nathaniel Hawthorne). It is within the shadow of time that we craft our greatest stories.

I disappeared after a life-long friend practically begged me to partner-up with him on a new venture. I initially said no, but later agreed. Nine months later, I have written thousands of pages comprising fourteen training courses--enough to fill three-to-four, 300-page novels. Although it's been more of a left brain writing project, it has kept my fingers buried in the keyboard for eight-to-ten hours a day. Do I miss my fiction writing? Yes! Will I ever return to The Local? Yes. Actually, the story continues to unfold as the shadow of time grows longer.

I mentioned in a previous post that my son and I will be writing The Local as a joint project. His value to the project is multifaceted. Not only is he an amazing editor, his youthfulness and view on life are invaluable assets to this project. In ways, The Local is a dramatic foretelling of the last ten years of his life.

I'll leave you with a "classical" picture of my son. It is his face within the body of a well-known dramatic figure: Mr. Darcy, from the 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen.

Amazing the difference a new hairdo and costume can make. It is in the eye of the novelist that such creations are born (thanks to Photoshop). The trick is transposing the creations within the novelist's mind into a written form that the reader can enjoy.

More soon!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

WRITING A NOVEL - Finding a Starting Point

Time seems to "fly" away. My last blog post was October 26th. As I've said from the beginning, blogging my 4th novel is going to be in real time, including all the REAL delays and distractions. One of the greatest challenges to writing a novel-length story is dealing with "life."

Although I have not posted on the blog in over 7 weeks, I have been working on the story. Once I lock onto a story idea, I can never put it to bed until it is complete. I was once told that when you decide on a story idea, be ready to live with that idea for at least a year--24/7. Looking back, FTP was a 5-year project; FID was also a 5-year project; FTP was an 18-month project. 

Although my last blog post was many weeks ago, I am satisfied with the writing I was able to complete. During the 7-week break, I was able to complete a non-fiction project: "Solving the Money Puzzle." This was a project that has been on my list of "things to do" for a long time. It was first written, under a different title, in 1995 in the form of a personal devotion. A couple of years ago, I released it as an eBook. But my final goal was to rewrite it and release it in paperback and eBook formats...which I did.  Whew! Done! It is now available on Amazon. So now I am free to devote my full attention to "The Local."

FINDING A STARTING POINT: Today I wanted to sync up where I have been and where I am going with "The Local." That is the tough part when you take a break. It takes time to get back in the groove. Thankfully, I was only in the formulating stage with "The Local" when I took a break to complete "Solving the Money Puzzle."

When I speak of "Finding a Starting Point," I'm not talking about where I will start, now that I'm back on the project, but where will the story start. The most important part of a novel (after the front cover and the short synopsis on the back cover) is the first sentence...then the first paragraph...then the first scene...then the last sentence in the first chapter. If a customer is intrigued by the cover, they might turn it over and read the synopsis, or be curious about the author and read the author bio. In these few seconds, they then might venture to open the cover and see how the story starts. This is why the first sentence is so important. It can mean the difference between a purchase or not.

I have listed a few examples of good and great first sentences from novels you will recognize. I love to wander through book stores and read first sentences in novels (especially the hot new releases) and see how far the author can get me to read before I put the book back on the shelf. Hopefully you will see what I mean. I'll start with some of the classics from literature and finish with a few from more modern times.

"It is truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Jan Austen: Pride and Prejudice (1813)

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the house-tops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." Edward George Bulwer-Lytoon: Paul Clifford (1830)

"Call me Ishmael." Herman Melville: Moby-Dick (1851)

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way." Charles Dickens: A Tale Of Two Cities (1859)

"All children, except one, grow up." J.M. Barrie: Peter Pan (1911)

"If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all the David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth." J.D. Salinger: The Catcher in The Rye (1951)

"There was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it." C.S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)

"He was an old man who fished alone in a skiff in the Gulf Stream and he had gone eighty-four days now without taking a fish." Earnest Hemingway: The Old Man And The Sea (1952)

"It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him." Joseph Heller: Catch-22 (1961)

"It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen." George Orwell: Nineteen Eighty-Four (1984)

"It was a wrong number that started it, the telephone ringing three times in the dead of night, and the voice on the other end asking for someone he was not. Paul Auster, City of Glass (1985)

"It was the day my grandmother exploded." Iain Banks: The Crow Road (1992)

"They shoot the white girl first." Toni Morrison: Paradise (1998)

And of course, I must add the starts to my three novels...

"The hot shower poured over Keri's naked body, engulfing her in a therapeutic cocoon, numbing her thoughts to everything but the pain deep within her heart, in her bones, in her head." Mike Coe: Flight to Paradise (2010)

"Captain Ryan Mitchell waited patiently in the left seat on the flight deck of the Boeing 767." Mike Coe: Flight into Darkness (2011)

"Ryan paced the house like a caged zoo animal." Mike Coe: Flight to Freedom (2013)


As the curtain opens, in a matter of seconds, the writer gets one shot at selling the prospective reader on the story. But after that key, first sentence or paragraph, what next?

I mentioned in a previous post, if the reader is not hooked by the 25% point (unless the reader is a die-hard novelist) I will probably lose them. Their nightly reading time is no longer something they look forward to, but, instead, a time that is easily replaced by more mundane chores or perhaps a new book. Yikes!!! Yes, once the interest in the story fades, the novel is tossed into the "unfinished" pile.

So this brings me to the meat of this post: Finding a Starting Point.

During the writing of "Flight into Darkness", my writing coach told me that I should find the most exciting scene in the story and start the novel there. "What?" That's what he said. As I considered the mechanics of such a daunting task, my first question was: "If I start the story in the middle, how do I avoid the dreaded flashbacks?"

In "Flight into Darkness", I attempted to tackle this task by starting the story with a crash scene in chapter one. To avoid spoiling the scene, I will let you read the first chapter in "Flight into Darkness" to see for yourself. In the third novel of the trilogy, "Flight to Freedom", I delayed the action scene until chapter two. I used chapter one to connect books two and three. In the first book, "Flight to Paradise", because of very short chapters, I used the first two chapters to build up to the blow that Keri surprisingly delivered to Ryan in chapter three. Looking back at the entire trilogy, the first sentence in chapter three of "Flight to Paradise" is the place Ryan thinks about most often during the entire trilogy. The thought of that scene haunts him throughout the trilogy, especially in book three, until he gets resolution.

My challenge now is to decide how, when, and where in the story I will begin "The Local." If you promise not to tell, I will share with you the opening of "The Local." Of course, you should know by now that this is probably not the way it will look in the final version, but it might be close. What I want you to see is a tentative starting point.
The greatest lie that has ever been told is that happiness and satisfaction can be found in things of this world.

Chapter 1
It was July 3rd, a Thursday morning at 6 o’clock, and still dark outside. Early morning commuters were fighting the clock. Each minute could make the difference in avoiding the bulk of traffic jams and accidents that would soon plague the main arteries leading into the heart of Atlanta’s Downtown and Midtown districts. Thankfully, I was in the uptown district located in Buckhead.
In my windowless office on the seventh floor of Tower Place 100, the only light was from four computer monitors stacked in front of me. Comfortably seated in my chair with my fingers lightly positioned above the keyboard, I was ready to strike. Adrenaline rushed through my veins. My heart raced, charged by caffeine, as Beethoven’s 5th Symphony piped through my headset. Like a hungry lioness stalks a startled herd of Wildebeests searching for the weak or injured to cull from the pack, I waited for my programmed algorithms to uncover my next arbitrage opportunity.
More to come...hopefully sooner than later.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

WRITING A NOVEL - Character Change

While working on the plot outline for The Local, I decided that the main character had to be changed. David Mitchell, the son of Ryan and Keri Mitchell from the Flight Trilogy, will no longer be the lead character. Using a character from the trilogy would have offered those who have read the trilogy a certain familiarity, but as the story plot for The Local has taken shape, I quickly saw that using David Mitchell was putting me in a box. First of all, his career would not work with the story I am creating. There is no way I can change it and still make the plot work. So David is out. The new character's name is Sollie Mason.

Sollie Mason is a single, 32-year-old securities trader who lives and works in Buckhead, Georgia. Yes...the story setting starts in Buckhead. I know I told you that the story setting was going to be in Dothan, Alabama, so let me explain. Sollie Mason lives in Buckhead and works in the uptown district located in Buckhead. Atlanta basically has three main business districts: Downtown, Midtown, and Uptown. Sollie's office is located on the seventh floor of Tower Place 100.
This works out nice for me since I stayed in the DoubleTree Hotel while on my last research trip to Atlanta. The DoubleTree is located on the Tower Place property. I remember it and have a feel for the area. However, I'm sure I will make another trip to focus on the specifics of Sollie's life. I digress...

Sollie's parents live in Dothan. His dad, George Mason, is a retired Army colonel. He was last stationed at Fort Rucker when he retired. His mother, Anne Marie Mason, is a dedicated wife and mother who has always been very proactive in the lives of her two children. Sollie, like many sons, has a close relationship with his mother. Anne Marie will play a major character in the story as she helps her son with his relationship issues. Yes...there will be a love interest, or two, that Sollie will have to work through. Sollie's 29-year-old sister, Brooke, is married to Dr. Carter Green. They have a home near Seaside, Florida. Carter is an emergency room physician and works at Bay County Hospital or in a walk-in clinic...not sure yet. Brooke and Carter have a two-year-old son named Hunter.

Sollie and Brooke were obviously military brats who spend their growing up years traveling around the world (Germany, Hawaii, Italy, Washington D.C., etc.) from one Army post to the next, never staying in one place more than three years. Sollie is more of the introverted "thinker" while Brooke is the outgoing "creative" type. Constant change during their growing-up years affected Sollie differently than it did Brooke. While Brooke was very adaptive, tending to find change stimulating, Sollie was just the opposite. Sollie found his career to be a satisfying replacement for the lack of deep relationships.

In Sollie's firm there are 84 traders. So far, I have named three characters (co-workers) that will play key roles in the story: Jerry (Mo) Jackson, Harry (Curly) Wilson, and Earl (Larry) Taylor. Yes...Mo, Curly, and Larry...the Stooges nicknames were given to these characters by Sollie for a particular reason. There will possibly be two more co-workers I will use in the story.

This story will be co-authored with my son, David Coe. He will be my resident expert, as he understands Sollie's profession in great detail and is himself a 32-year-old single man.

I'll just tell you now... This story is going to be fantastic! And just so you know, it is being written with a killer sequel in mind. I wish I could tell you more...

Monday, October 7, 2013


I once read that your most creative ideas come to you while you are in the BATH, BED, or BUS. Of course the "BUS" does not literally mean the bus, but anytime you are driving. The reason these three places offer a rendezvous with the muse is simple due to the fact that it is in these three places (and others like them) your creative brain (right brain) is free to wander. Most of a writer's best work comes from somewhere deep inside that cannot be tapped simply through forced thought. Matter of fact, shutting off your left brain (logical side)--or distracting it--is the best way to prepare for writing the first draft.

While driving from Alabama to Austin, TX this weekend with my son, the THEME for The Local hit me. I can't share it now, as it might spoil the story, but it was very clear. I'm sure with time it will be expanded, but as for now, my discovery of the theme has given me a greater purpose for the story. I love it when I latch onto the theme(s). The themes anchor me and give me a reason for writing the story. They inspire me as I begin to wrap the drama around the message, so to speak. Some writers don't work on themes until the story is complete, and some never worry about the themes at all. However, there are often many themes in a story that even the author is not aware of and that the reader might never fully appreciate. If you were to take a literature course, the professor would probably teach that the story is about its theme(s). As important as the themes are to me, I also love the dramatic adventure of the story. So to get the story ready to write, I must now map out the STORY GOAL. The Story Goal is about what the protagonist (David Mitchell) wants to achieve or the problem he wants to avoid.

There are many kinds of goals: External goals, such as doing something, discovering something, resolving a situation, bringing about a desired future, or getting something to change direction. Internal goals, such as changing an attitude or opinion, resolving an aspect of one’s nature, getting someone to change, becoming a different person, or taking on a new role. Since I already know what David Mitchell wants to achieve, I am beginning the process of deciding how the Story Goal for David Mitchell affects or involves the other characters that are slowing being created. Searching for supporting characters is a fun part of the development of the story. I tend to find people from all walks of life interesting--we are all unique and different, yet so much alike.

The Story Goal will involve many characters besides David Mitchell. In fact, almost every character in The Local will have a stake in whether the story Goal is achieved. I will soon see how the Goal will be important to the other characters in the story. Are the people in David's world all struggling with the same kind of issue for which they must either find or fail to find their own solution? Or are their hopes pinned on the success or failure of David Mitchell? Or are their lives examples that drive David Mitchell to want to achieve his objective or cause him to not want to achieve it?

In an upcoming blog I will write about the PLOT OUTLINE and how I use my story boards to keep focused and visualize the story. During this part of the development I often take field trips to actual locations to do research. I want to eat in restaurants where the characters eat, visit actual locations where the characters frequent, drive down streets that actually exist, and be able to give my readers a real sense for the reality of the story. I recently had a reader tell me that she loved the fact that I used the actual names of streets in my novels.

In Flight to Paradise, I visited Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, Cabrillo National Monument and the Old Point Loma Lighthouse on numerous occasions. I actually wrote the first draft for one of the chapters in the visitor's center. I spent many hours at the Del Coronado Hotel and wrote several of the original drafts for scenes while I was there. I ate at the Cannery where Keri and Rex had there first date.

When I was writing Flight into Darkness, I spend several days in San Francisco studying the Golden Gate Bridge and surrounding locations that were used in the story. I also visited the Hotel Sausalito in Marin County where my villain stayed.

In Flight to Freedom I visited Atlanta's Oakland Cemetery were one of the scenes took place. I also visited the Margaret Mitchell Museum and her grave site. Margaret Mitchell (coincidentally the same last name as the main characters in the novel) was the author of Gone with the Wind which was a part of the storyline in the novel. I ate at Atlanta Fish Market Restaurant where Ryan and John Dross had several meals. I also explored Buckhead to refresh my memory of Keri's hometown and the new locations used in FTF, Habersham Road where her family home was located, Pace Academy where she and Ryan first met, the Starbucks where Ryan first met Angel, and the condo where Ryan and Keri lived for a short time.

Research trips are always an exciting part of discovering the story. I'll be sure to share my upcoming trips on the blog with photos.

Monday, September 30, 2013

WRITING A NOVEL - The Main Character

This week I visited with my main character. Flight Trilogy readers might be surprised to know that, at this point, the main character is David Mitchell. For those who have not read the trilogy, David Mitchell is the son of Ryan and Keri Mitchell. He was born August 31, 1983. At the close of Book #3 of the Flight Trilogy, David was 30 years old, single, and a pilot for Mercy Flight, Incorporated based in Atlanta.

You might ask, "I thought the setting was going to be in Dothan, Alabama?" Well...sorta. I told you there would be changes. David's twin sister, Martha, married Ronald Darby. Martha and Ronald live in Dothan and have a beach house on the Gulf Coast. So, the settings will be Atlanta, Dothan, and the Gulf Coast...among other locations.

Your next question will most likely be, "So is this a series?" Sorta. The Local will be a stand-alone novel. Readers do not have to read the trilogy. However, those that have will obviously have a deeper connection with the story. Every time I contemplated who might be the main character for The Local, David met the description of the perfect character to cast for the roll. His character was not well developed in the trilogy which makes him the perfect candidate. I'm thrilled!

When David and I first met to discuss the story, I asked him to tell me a little about his life in 100 words or less. Here is what he said:

I’m thirty years old, single (never been married), no noticeable physical flaws, and by the worlds standards, a wealthy man with a great career. I don’t smoke, drink, chase wild women, and I workout three to five times a week. The few friends I have tell me that they have never met anyone so dependable, honest, and responsible. Oh, I also floss every night. The one thing lacking in my life is a relationship. My mother tells everyone she meets that I’m “well preserved.”

I think David is the perfect character (at the moment) to carry this next story. As you can probably tell by David's introduction, it will be a relationship story written in first person point of view from a man's perspective.

One more thought to pass on about writing a story. There are basically four elements to the writing: Narration, description, thought, and dialogue.

Narration is used as sparingly as possible and only to help the reader transition from one point to the next.

Description is a must to keep the reader aware of the visual surroundings. If possible, it is best to have the description "shown" to the reader not "told" to the reader. Example: TOLD: It was a hot, humid day in south Alabama. SHOWN: Standing on the ramp, waiting for his passengers to board the jet, David's long-sleeved, white shirt stuck to his skin as sweat dripped from his chin.

The reader needs to always know what the character is thinking. This is what is so wonderful about novels that is not possible with film or stage. The thoughts of the character are what pulls the reader into the story.

Dialogue is the most effective way to "show" the story. Dialogue breaths life into the story as it reveals emotions: worries, hopes, and fears of the characters. Readers must "see" the story develop and this is done through dialogue and thoughts.

The details about the life, motivations and feelings of a main character should be shown in his or her point of view, dialogue, thoughts and feelings, and in the story as they change, rather than only in the author's narration.

Now that the setting(s) are taking shape and the main character has been selected, I must develop and refine David's great want and present growing obstacles to his satisfying his want. This is the conflict of the story. It will be shown in each chapter, among all the characters, and in the story as a whole.

Formula for a good story: CONFLICT (want, obstacle)—ACTION (reveals the character)—RESOLUTION—EMOTION (worries, hopes, fears)--SHOWING