Posts Categorized: The Leg Up

I have good news for you. “Talent” comes from writing—writing a lot. And reading. Reading a lot. Whether you’re Tweeting or talking on Facebook, or emailing a friend, or writing a letter, you’re already training yourself to write. In fact, in this era, people are very likely writing more than ever. You can write yourself right in to “Talent.”

Thanks to Facebook, most people are writing at a very high level, a conversational level. And they’re comfortable doing it. It’s just like talking.

Writing, like talking, is a muscle. The more you read, the more you write, the better you’re likely to get.

I know, the idea of writing a whole book can be daunting. It seems like a very big thing. It’s kind of like riding a bicycle—once you start pedaling, you’re actually doing it!

And . . . have chapters. Write a chapter first. That should lead to the next one. You’ve read books so you know how it goes.

The important thing is this:

If you like mysteries, start writing a mystery. If you like romance, start writing a romance. If you like thrillers, start writing a thriller. If you read enough of these novels (and read the best ones if you can), then you can write a book. Mainly because you have taught yourself how to write, just by reading and just by writing. I truly believe most people can write themselves right into having “talent.”

There really is nothing stopping you. When I decided to write my first novel, I just did it. I loved Stephen King’s books, so I wrote a horror novel about an old box camera that took pictures from the past. I’d read enough books to know that there would be a climax toward the end of the book, and then the ending.

Darkscope by thriller author J. Carson Black

You can write yourself right in to “Talent.” All it takes is reading, and writing, and seeing how a good book is written. Just keep working at it. Go to my author page on Facebook. From time to time, I will put up posts on the writing craft.

When you’re reading a really good book, try to see where there are turning points, big and small. Be aware that there will be a big scene—a climax—toward the end. That is usually where all the loose ends come together.

The books you love—they will teach you when and WHAT to write.

Categories: Darkscope The Leg Up The Writing Life Uncategorized Writing

In my last post I talked about failure, and how it can be an engine to drive success. That is certainly true.

But success also builds on success.

Well, duh!

I can’t think of a clearer example than racehorse trainer Bob Baffert’s climb to the pinnacle of horse racing—the day he won the Triple Crown races—the Kentucky Derby, Preakness, and Belmont Stakes—with Ahmed Zayat’s American Pharoah.

American Pharoah and Victor Espinoza at the Preakness Stakes

American Pharoah and Victor Espinosa at the Preakness Stakes.

The white-haired trainer had a once-in-a-lifetime horse. That’s a given.

But Baffert had been in the same situation before, back in the 1990s and early 2000s. He would win the first two legs of horse racing’s Triple Crown three times. First, with Silver Charm, who came up short in the Belmont Stakes. Second, with Real Quiet, who lost by a nostril in the Belmont. And third, with a horse named War Emblem. War Emblem’s jockey? Victor Espinosa, who won the first two legs of the Triple Crown with last year’s favorite, California Chrome.

Three times, Bob Baffert won the first two Triple Crown races, the Derby and the Preakness, only to come up short in the Belmont.

Two times, Victor Espinosa rode a horse that won the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

So what does this mean, if it means anything at all?

I always thought that if someone—anyone on earth—could win the Triple Crown, it would be Bob Baffert. Because, like a Sherpa, he had climbed the mountain before. Three times, in fact. He had breathed that thin air more than most trainers could even dream of.

He knew the way up the mountain. He had a jockey who knew the way up the mountain. And most of all, he had the horse.

He had a superhorse in American Pharoah (Even here, success breeds success. He also had the right owners).

I am convinced that failures, near-misses, and—yes—successes helped Bob Baffert and Victor Espinosa. They make their own luck.



Categories: The Leg Up Writing

I’ve always been a picky eater. I drove my mom crazy. I liked this, but not that. Battles over vegetables were epic. So it stands to reason that I’m picky about where I set my books. I have to like the place. Or have some feeling for it. It has to mean something to me.

When I was a kid, we went all over the West in a camper, staying in national parks and campgrounds, driving through small towns, seeing all the landmarks like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park. I grew up in the West, and I love the West. I love the road. And because it’s my world, I set books in places I like to be. A lot of these places have long vistas under blue skies.

My latest Cyril Landry thriller, Spectre Black, takes place in southern New Mexico. Plenty of blue sky and long vistas.  There’s one sequence on a long stretch of highway near the Mexican border that involves semi-trucks made near-invisible by cloaking technology.  I’ll go into that in more detail in an upcoming post.

It’s not worth it to me to go to the inner city. I don’t understand the culture, and even writing about being hemmed in by tall buildings makes me nervous. Somewhere along the line I realized that if I want to write for joy, I could set my books where I wanted to set my books.

I spent one semester in the University of Arizona MFA program, having decided I didn’t want to be an opera singer after all. (Big cities, again, and late nights, and spending most of my time indoors. Nope.) The other students were younger than me. They wrote bleak stories. Angst. Misery. Ugly gray scenes. I think it might have been because that was what was popular. I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t fit in. But I didn’t stop writing.

My suggestion to anyone wanting to write a book: find a setting you want to set a whole book in. If you like bleak, go bleak. If you like the high Sierras, write about it. So much goes in to the Salad Shooter of our brains to make a book, and setting is an important part of it. Write what you want. Write the characters you want and the place you want. Don’t try to emulate someone else in that regard. Write for your soul. You get to build the world, so enjoy it, whatever it is you choose.

Write what you want.

Categories: Books The Leg Up The Writing Life

J. Carson Black will be speaking on two panels and will be signing her thrillers ICON and THE SHOP at the Tucson Festival of Books in Tucson Arizona on March 9-10.

Panels (Black will sign directly after each panel session):

Desert Dismemberment with Michael Norman and James Mitchell, moderated by Jenn McKinlay on Saturday March 9 at 11:30 a.m.
Series vs. Standalone with Christopher Reich and Alan Jacobson, moderated by Michael Norman, Sunday March 10 at 1:00 p.m.

Booksignings at eMegaBook booth 256 (adjacent to the Crossword):

Saturday 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Sunday 11:00-12:00 p.m.

For info on the Tucson Festival of Books visit

Categories: The Leg Up