Tag Archives: China Lake

How can you create visual imagery on the page?

In the comments on my post about visualizing stories in our minds, pujagokarn161289 asks:

How did your writing evolve from ‘a friend read an early piece of my fiction and said that many pages had no visual imagery at all’ to ‘More than once, readers have told me that my novels are “cinematic.”’?

What did you do to develop that skill? What steps did you take to make your writing more visual, not just to you, but to your readers too?

I paid attention, and deliberately began to include visual imagery on every page of my work.

Basically, my friend Ann Aubrey Hanson said that my writing contained only bare-bones physical descriptions, and almost no mention of color. Once she pointed this out, I understood that while I saw scenes vividly in my own mind, I was failing to translate that to the page. As a consequence, my fiction had plenty of action, dialogue, and attitude, but seemed strangely colorless.

Here’s an example. The excerpt below is from a very early draft of China Lake. In the scene, heroine Evan Delaney discusses the frightening religious sect called The Remnant with a friend who’s a priest. He asks her:

“Did they have music at their service the other night?”

“It sounded like a stamping machine at a locomotive factory.”

“It was march music,” he said.

I thought back to the heavy beat, the one-two-three-four of every hymn. “Yeah. What’s the significance?”

“Peter Wyoming believes that only march music is godly. This isn’t out of line with very conservative orthodox Christians—”

“‘The devil has all the best tunes.’ Burn all your Beatles albums.”

“—Right. But Wyoming emphasizes that everything that has a different beat has been created by Satan specifically to draw people away from God.”

“The beat itself is satanic?”

“Yes. Rock, Country, Gospel; any other music will lead you to hell and in fact may hasten the end of the world.”

I shook my head; this sounded patently preposterous. “You mean if I play a Garth Brooks song, or hum a Spiritual—”

“The white lines down the middle of this street will eventually crack open to reveal a streak of brimstone.”

I wanted to laugh but couldn’t. “Does it matter if I play it real slow, or backwards? How about if I change keys and play it twice as fast? Will that hasten the end of the world?”

What do you notice? They sound like disembodied voices. The only physical, visual mention in the excerpt is I shook my head.

It wasn’t much. It wasn’t enough. I cut this entire discussion. I ended up cutting the priest from the story. In the final version, Evan instead discusses The Remnant with her best friend, Nikki. Here’s how that version opens:

I said, “How about taking a walk on the beach?”

At Arroyo Burro we walked barefoot on the wet sand, below a tall cliff. The waves ran cold across our ankles. A lone surfer sculpted turns on a glittering curl of water. The day looked polished, pure blue, and for a long while we were silent.

At that point, Evan and Nikki launch their discussion of apocalyptic religion. Notice the difference? There’s color, reflected light, physical space, physical sensation, and a sense of movement — which also helps create a “cinematic” feel.

Write using all five senses. And make sure sight is number one.

When life imitates one of my novels

Remnant Billboard

Sometimes it’s good that I’m not at the wheel. If I’d been driving when we passed this billboard in central Texas, I would have run off the road at high speed, pointing and shrieking.

I don’t even want to think about what Evan Delaney would have done.

(Yes, I am referring to China Lake, and the creepy sect in the novel that calls itself  the Remnant. No offense to the friendly looking folks on the billboard. I still would have driven off the road at high speed.)

When the news imitates my novels

GQ has an article in this month’s issue about being abducted for fun. Yes, just like in The Nightmare Thief. And, as in my novel, people who buy kidnappings are sensation-seekers. Rich ones: “Experiences are the newest, hottest luxury items.”

Kidnapped (Just Kidding!)

At some point, in order for the illusion to work, the script has to break down. The kidnapper has to acknowledge that the kidnapping is fake and then create the impression that the fake kidnapping has somehow gone awry. All it takes is a tiny seed of doubt. I had asked to not be stun-gunned—a small break in the rules. And I was suddenly not fully confident that I knew Adam’s entire criminal history. It also dawned on me that, outside of my captors, no one on earth knew where I was. I quietly began to freak out. Control was slipping from me, just a bit, and the doubt began to creep in with surprising ease.

In the end, the author talks to a friend who’d been held hostage in the Philippines for seven months. That man’s reaction to the game: “It’s a callous waste of money.” To which I say: at the very least.

Second: on a lighter yet weirder note, what kind of person can’t tell a poodle from  a ferret?

Man pays $150 for toy poodles that turn out to be ferrets pumped up on steroids and groomed like dogs.

Even in China Lake, the fugitive ferrets didn’t attempt to disguise themselves as dogs to hide from the law. Maybe they should have.

There must be some kind of way out of here

While Editmania gets more ferocious, here’s a video in memory of Jimi Hendrix, who died this day in 1970. To paraphrase Fox Mulder: the guy’s been gone 42 years and he still hasn’t lost his edge.

And yes, this is Jesse Blackburn’s favorite Hendrix track, as Evan mentions in China Lake. It’s mine too.

My kids and the Sidewinder

What kind of mother would let her children play with a heat seeking missile?

Yes, that was a rhetorical question.

I took these photos several years ago at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest, California. It’s just down the street from China Lake’s vast Naval Air Warfare Center. The Husband and I happily took the kids there to learn about the desert town where he grew up and where their grandfather worked as an engineer for NAVAIR.

And yes, this trip to the museum did find its way into my novel China Lake. But everything else in the book is a product of my imagination. Unlike Evan Delaney, I did not liberate the missile from the museum. It’s still there. I hope.

Monster trucking for Jesus

I can’t tell whether this is a real photo or a mockup, but it doesn’t really matter: Somebody thought a Jesus Monster Truck needed imagining. And I hate to admit, but it wasn’t me. In China Lake, the Remnant drives around the desert planning the Apocalypse in pickup trucks. What was I thinking? The Jesus Monster Truck could have carried them all to their compound in the Mojave for some happy-clappy mayhem, with room for the baton-twirling triplets on the roof.

(Via Jesus Needs New PR.)

Halloween reading: get scared with Evan Delaney and Jo Beckett

Halloween is in five days. And before you carve your jack-o’-lanterns and plan your trick or treating route and plant an army of zombie garden gnomes on your front lawn, you’re going to need some Halloween books. What, oh what, will you read this year?

Don’t forget that two of my novels take place around All Hallows Eve.

In China Lake, Evan Delaney faces off against an apocalyptic sect that believes Halloween is a “doorway to evil” that allows demons to escape from hell and infiltrate our world.

In The Dirty Secrets Club, Jo Beckett faces off against earthquakes, Klingons, a crazed Capuchin monkey, and a couple of homicidal maniacs.

Just sayin’.

Just in case the world ends tomorrow

There’s much hilarity, at least among me and my heathen friends, about the prediction by fundamentalist preacher Harold Camping that tomorrow worldwide disasters will befall the earth and the Rapture will snatch a tiny remnant of true Christianity into the clouds. But it’s not just me and the snarking, hellbound folks I hang out with. It’s big news all over.

A search for “May 21 doomsday” brings up 1950 articles on Google news. On Twitter, “If the world ends Saturday” is a top topic, worldwide. And on Facebook, 490,946 people have signed up to attend the event, “Post Rapture Looting.” (Time: 12-3 p.m. Saturday. Location: everywhere.)

However, USA Today reports that only a few of Rev. Camping’s employees believe they’ll be raptured tomorrow: apparently, 80% plan to report to work on Monday.

Meanwhile, Live Science explains the lure of the apocalyptic. And Armageddon isn’t all fun and games. It’s terror and disappointment, too. Slacktivist has a compassionate take on people who live in fear of Judgment Day.

But I don’t mean to be so serious. So what if floods, plagues of crows, and the cast of Jersey Shore descend on us in a chilling, tacky reaping. Let’s dance! What books would you read, and what music would you play, before/during/after the apocalypse?

I’d of course start with REM, segue into Carmina Burana (“O Fortuna!”) and then open up the dance floor to Motown. I’d finish with Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, to coincide with the influx of flaming comets. And on my reading list:

  • The Stand, Stephen King
  • A Canticle for Liebowitz, Walter Miller
  • The Passage, Justin Cronin
  • Childhood’s End, Arthur C. Clarke

I would also be remiss if I didn’t remind everybody that I have written a novel about an extremist sect that tries to bring on the Apocalypse. Yes, that would be China Lake. Yes, that would be the novel’s Edgar Award on the shelf right there. Yes, I believe pride is a deadly sin, but what are you going to do about it? You’re going to be dodging comets. You have bigger things to complain about. Hey, it’s not the end of the world.

NPR nominates China Lake for Best 100 Thrillers Ever

My Stupid Dance around the kitchen resumes, now with added Surprised Face.

NPR has nominated a list of novels for the 100 Best Thrillers Ever — and China Lake is a finalist.

But! To make the final cut, China Lake has to be voted in. And that’s up to you. Yes, you, my loyal legions of flying monkeys my generous readers. Click on the link to vote for your 10 favorite thrillers. And don’t make me resort to the Ransom Note Generator, or to posting pathetic photos of myself, hands clenched in supplication, lip quivering like the little match girl halfway through that cold, cold night in the snow. Click on the link below, vote, lobby in the comments on the NPR site. Have at it.

Now back to the Stupid Dance.

“Killer Thrillers”: Vote For The 100 Best Ever.

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Top Ten low level fly-bys

For those of you who want me to write more about Brian Delaney, F/A-18 fighter pilot (I’m looking at you, Ms. Kendrick), I hope this video will hold you until his next appearance on the page. For anybody who has had a close encounter with high-velocity military aircraft, this will look familiar. For anybody who’s never seen the Blue Angels or felt a sonic boom — this is just a taster. The real thing is visceral and thrilling.

Oh, who am I kidding — I love things that go fast. A couple of years ago at the Farnborough Air Show, an F/A-18 took off from the runway and headed vertical with such a roar that dozens of car alarms began shrieking in the parking lot. And I laughed and cheered.

Yeah, these jets are awesome. And I’m fascinated by the people who fly them. That’s a big reason why I made Evan Delaney’s brother a naval aviator.

You have to put up with a few seconds of Tom Cruise, but once you get past Top Gun, it’s all real.

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Bezbozni Svati: Czech China Lake

The Czech edition of China Lake has just arrived: Bezbozni Svati. And as always, I’m intrigued to see how various publishers design the jacket art. On this cover, Luke looks a bit young (and so correspondingly vulnerable) and Peter Wyoming creepily like Rasputin. Which isn’t inappropriate. And the cross looks sinister — like a stake.


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China Lake Japanese edition is here

I’m very excited.

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Calling the Remnant: This church is for you

Halloween Book Burning at Baptist Church to Include Copies of the Bible.

No, this is not from The Onion. Apparently, for the Amazing Grace Baptist Church, it’s the King James Version or heresy.

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Some more of Santa Barbara

Some more photos of my home town and settings for the Evan Delaney series.


The Old Mission church. In Mission Canyon, this is where Evan has a run-in with some bad guys while she’s trying to plan the music for her wedding.

It also happens to be the church where the Husband and I had our wedding. The music was gorgeous. No chase scenes ensued. (I’d already caught him.)


Me, pointing to the railing on the roof where Evan — holding her best friend’s baby — decides she doesn’t want her obituary to include the words “fatal plunge.”


The view in the opposite direction, overlooking the city rose garden and the neighborhood where Evan lives. A few blocks downhill, the car chase in Kill Chain ends when Tim North crashes into a fire hydrant and a hit man comes after him and Evan.

Pretty, isn’t it?

Shoreline_Park 1

Shoreline Park, setting for the closing scene in China Lake.

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