Notes from Ken Baysinger’s talk, June 2016
Ken’s road to writing began early when hi English teacher gave him an F for writing too well (his teacher wouldn’t believe the piece was Ken’s own work and Ken, being stubborn, wouldn’t rewrite it). Writing was replaced by a language of 2-syllable words when Ken joined the Navy, but afterward he took an elective in expository writing at Washington State, just to see if he still had any literary skills. Luckily for his readers, he did. A degree in English led to work in creative advertising, but the white shoes and golf stories didn’t fit, so he moved into other areas. But…
How do you learn to write? By doing it.
- Schools teach spelling (spellcheck saves us), diagraming sentences, etc. but that’s not writing.
- A literate, verbal family teaches the use of language, but not necessarily the written word.
- Sitcoms and twitter… it’s not clear what they teach. And the navy teaches two-syllable words. But writers have to write.
Ken retired from a writing/photography job 12 years ago and entered real estate. Then came the recession and, with time on his hands, he wrote a book. Unfortunately it was a spy/terrorist/environmental disaster novel and after 9-11 he reckoned the terrorists didn’t need any more manuals on how to cause havoc so he wrote El Camino in 4 ½ months. The next 7 months were taken up with letters to publishers etc, and the joy of rejection until Tate responded, said yes, and demanded that he shrink his 160,000 word masterpiece to around 120,000.
Why can’t a novel be longer? Because the price is based on paper volume.
El Camino and Deadly Gold are built around reality
- Geographical reality: You can follow the characters around in your car and find the streets and towns, but perhaps not the specific street addresses.
- Real people: The author changes their names, but people can and do recognize themselves, and don’t mind, even if he’s using them to add humor in dark mystery.
How do you choose character names? Maps, directory listings—anything local can be a source of local-sounding names.
How do you keep track of characters? Uses a spreadsheet.
How detailed should character descriptions be? Does it matter to the story? It’s not wrong to leave something to the reader’s imagination.
- Socio-political reality: real events are referred to and discussed with real opinions.
- Cold-case reality: Ken draws inspiration from cold cases, fictionalizing them and imagining resolutions.
Which comes first: Plot or character? Plot comes first. The outline is like a story synopsis in 15-20 pages. He refers back to it to keep in focus, then rewrite it to solve problems—adding extra characters as needed, and giving higher priority to ones he thought were minor characters before.
- Historical reality: a source of many cold cases and interesting layers of events. Deadly Gold was based on a real historical murder.
How do you relate past events in a present-day novel? Can use past tense and present tense, or different voice/narrative style.
- Legal reality: The rules for remodeling a house, learned from the next door neighbor, become important plot points.
How do you write a series? Try not to give away too much of the previous book in the next one or people might not buy book one after book two.
How do you choose point of view? First person is good for mystery since lots of the investigation takes place in the protagonist’s head.
Why do you write? Is it a hobby? Are hobbies a form of mental illness? Do you enjoy it?
Will there be more books in the series? Yes.