Almost on the heels of Genocide came the concept for Gadgets. In 1975 I had revisited New Mexico, the state I had fallen in love with during my road trip to Oregon in 1972. Enamored with the Land of Enchantment, I set Gadgets and Brainwash there. As the former product manager for the laser line at CooperVision, I decided the subject matter for Gadgets would be lasers. I then fleshed out the details of the plot by relying on my knowledge of the defense industry, gleaned from working at Northrop Aircraft. When it came to the intricacies of the storyline, the real nuts and bolts, I drew upon my first position at CooperVision as a technical writer. My job was to revise and/or write the company’s operation and service manuals. This focus on small details gave me the expertise to weave a plausible and comprehensive plot. However, what eluded me in Gadgets was the right antagonist to carry out such vicious murders and a sound motive for his revenge. After months of researching these two issues, I finally felt I had the makings of a strong adversary, Paco, and a good motive for him to seek retribution.
In 1992, while still tinkering with Gadgets, I made an afternoon trip to Barnes & Noble to peruse the new book releases. I had become a voracious reader of nonfiction: science, technology, and anything medical. My tour of the bookstore took me to a table of discounted books, where I skimmed several titles on hacking, corporate espionage, robotics, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and genetics. At $6 a book, I bought all eight of my picks and settled in for some very dry but informative reads. One book in particular, on nanotechnology and robotics, would become the impetus for Brainwash, but not until early 1993.
Throughout 1993 and into 1996, I wrote Brainwash and continued to hone my craft by enrolling in writing and editing classes, attending writers’ conferences, and self-editing the books I had already written. One of the editing classes I enrolled in was taught by Don Whittington, who happened to be a member of the Dallas/Ft. Worth Writers’ Workshop (DFWWW). A requirement for his class was to attend one DFWWW meeting. I had checked into the group at an earlier date, but the thought of reading aloud to over one hundred-plus members intimidated me, so I didn’t attend—big mistake.
Later, at my first meeting, I learned you don’t read to all one hundred members at once but break into smaller groups, depending upon the number of readers on that particular night. You are given twenty minutes—fifteen minutes to read your work, followed by five minutes of critique. You are not permitted to ask questions or speak. This is your opportunity to listen and learn. I joined the following Wednesday, which was (is) when the group meets—every Wednesday. I served on the board twice, and my ten-year membership with the workshop proved invaluable to advancing my writing career.
Before I sign off on this blog post, I would like to thank all of the members of the DFWWW during 1996–2006 for their support and critiques. Without you, the journey would have been twice as long. A special thank-you to fellow authors and friends: Don Whittington, first and foremost, for making attendance at the DFWWW a course requirement; and Jack Ballas, who sat in on my first read and was also the first person to critique my work. He was brutal. Jack passed away in 2012, but I think of him often and fondly, as I do another writer friend who is no longer with us: Linda McKinley. Linda read and critiqued every word of several of my books, not once but twice. And my thanks to Pat Snyder, whose one-sentence critique changed the plot course for Brainwash (unbeknownst then, to her) for the better. I’m indebted.
Next week: “Our First Giant Schnauzer.”