Posts Categorized: Writing

One day when I was fourteen, two of my friends and I walked to a riding stable. On the way back, we got into a fight. I huffed off and shall we say, “went in another direction.” Literally. A friend of mine lived in a housing division near the desert along lonely Pima Street. Walking by myself, I didn’t notice the creepy old car until I heard it pull up on the side of the road behind me.

Here’s what I wrote:

“I was walking down Pima after turning off Wilmot. An orange (dull reddish orange) and white 1955 Ford pulled off the road directly behind me. Being in a venomous state of mind and rather nervous, I started running, because I didn’t care for the look of the occupant of the vehicle. I took to the desert, which I thought would give me more of a chance than the roadside, dodging brush, scrambling through gullies. I was very sure-footed when I needed to be.”

Note the English syntax. My mother came from England, and I must have adopted that somewhere along the line. I went on, “My heart collapsed.” “I’d thought I’d seen the last of the car…” “I starting running again, a wild animal in the desert.”

What happened: the car followed me as I ran into the subdivision. Every street I hit, the guy would turn the corner and I could see the front of the ugly old car creeping toward me. No one was outside. I didn’t have time to run up to the houses to ring doorbells. The car kept dogging me. The creepy guy looking… really creepy. I headed for a friend’s house in the neighborhood, and luckily, my friend and her mom were out front watering.

The car sped off.

creepy car, 1955 Chevy Bel Air

A creepy car, 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air

Fast-forward to the more recent past. When I started writing Darkness on the Edge of Town (having lost the English accent by then), the car came back, now a 1955 orange-over-white Chevy Bel Air. This was because I hadn’t yet found the creepy little story I’d written all those years ago, and that’s what I thought it was. And this time, the victim in the story wasn’t so lucky.

Here’s a short little bit of a small newspaper article I put in the story:


“A hiker named Jerry Lee noticed an old car that had rolled down an embankment into the brush and cactus. He bushwhacked down to the car, a 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air, and was shocked by what he found. The backseat of the old car was covered with blood.”

What’s good about personal experience if you can’t use it?


(Photo:  Flickr – DVS1mn – “55 Chevrolet Bel Air (19)” by Greg Gjerdingen from Willmar, USA – 55 Chevrolet Bel Air. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Categories: Darkness on the Edge of Town 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

Back in Michelangelo’s day, artists were apprenticed to the masters. They spent years copying the paintings of the great artists.

By doing so, they learned. They learned where to put which kind of detail, they learned color, brushstrokes, composition, perspective. They absorbed it all by doing—until it came naturally. They developed a sure hand.

The best teachers are the finest writers in your genre—the ones who resonate with you. In my case, they are bestselling thriller authors. You can learn from them for the price of a hardcover or even a paperback book. The only other thing you need is a pen.
LA requiem book notes
I would buy the hardcover books of the great authors in my genre—the four or five I could relate to, and then I would dissect their books, looking for the signposts of their craft, and marking up the pages of their print editions. I didn’t want to sound like any one of them, I just wanted to learn what they did and how they did it. What I learned was the rhythm of the type of book I most wanted to write.

A book covers a lot of ground. There’s a beginning, a middle, and an end, with many other points in between. You read and study enough great writers in your genre, and you start to catch on to that rhythm: what goes where, when. You absorb it so that it comes naturally. And you learn to give little gifts to your reader along the way.

My teachers have been numerous. Michael Connelly, Jeffery Deaver, Robert Crais, James W. Hall, T. Jefferson Parker, Stephen King, John Lescroart, and C.J. Box. All different from one another, but great teachers, and all bestselling thriller authors.
The Shop by J. Carson Black
My advice to you: buy the books written by the masters in your genre. Get out your pen, write in the margins (sorry, Mom!), and figure out what they’re doing and why. When I was preparing to write The Shop, I knew I really had to step up my game, and I leaned on these masters to glean what I could to hone my craft.

Teach yourself. Learn from the very best, and who knows? You could join the ranks of bestselling thriller authors.

It only costs the price of a book and a pen.

Categories: Writing

I’ve been asked why I write a male character, many times.

And I’m not alone in writing a character of the opposite sex. My good friend, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Michael Prescott writes primarily female characters. Tough, strong, witty, smart female characters, like the star of his Bonnie Parker series. He’s got millions of copies in print, so clearly, whatever he’s doing, it’s working.

Is there a barrier to thinking like someone of the opposite sex? I guess it depends on the person. People are all different from one another, but in many ways men and women aren’t all that different at all.

Of course that depends a lot on upbringing, religious beliefs, their station in life, whether or not people have been cossetted and loved, raised strong, or been abused. Those things can happen to males and females, depending on where you live and what religion you belong to. But people are people, and the tiny shoot of green in their souls will handle even terrible experiences, all according to who and what they have become as individuals.

Bluelight Special Free Short Story from J. Carson Black

In this short story, Cyril Landry stands up for the little guy on the racetrack backside.

As an author, I just see people as people. I take into account their experiences. For instance, my character Cyril Landry was a Navy SEAL. He grew up on the horseracing circuit in a trailer with his brothers and sisters. There were aspects of Cyril Landry I understood to begin with, and parts of him that became real as I wrote him. And since individuals are individuals—he is what he is.

What’s nice for me (and I suspect this is the case with both male and female characters who write opposite-sex protagonists) is there’s just the tiniest bit of separation there, which, conversely, makes a writer feel unfettered. I can go all the way with a male character. There aren’t the bonds on me that came from kindergarten and grade school and high school and yes, Catechism; all the little signals that tell a child they need to conform to a certain norm.

In many ways, it’s a relief to write a male character. There are not as many “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts”

Which is a big reason why I enjoy writing the opposite sex. Cyril Landry lives.

Categories: Cyril Landry Writing

Writing a personal essay may seem to be an easy task simply because it doesn’t require research or any additional sources. However, it’s not the case. To write an effective personal essay is rather challenging. No wonder, students are looking for outside help from professional academic writing services like SnappyEssays. The truth is that even if you can tell a good story about your life, it doesn’t mean that you can write a good personal essay about that experience. After all, a personal essay is an academic paper that requires a strong thesis statement, not to mention that it should always be properly structured and formatted. Moreover, that’s not all! A really good personal essay should be appealing and catch the attention from the very first sentence. So how to succeed with such a task? If you want to impress your reader, consider the following secret techniques on how to do it right!

1. Your own voice
Don’t try to write like another person. Be yourself and always use your own voice. After all, it is the main thing that can show you as a personality and as a writer. Moreover, your voice is a strong tool that is guaranteed to make your story unique.

2. Reader’s reaction
Your essay should make the reader react to your writing, so ensure you give them such an opportunity. How to do it? The simplest way is to include all the important aspects of your topic without stating the obvious or giving all the answers. Let the reader draw their own conclusions to make them engaged and especially react.

3. Emotions
Whether it comes to joy, sadness, anger, or any other feeling your reader gets from your essay, your writing is really good. A personal essay is not an argumentative one, so don’t be afraid to include emotions in your work.

4. Sensory images
Use words appealing to the reader’s five senses to further engage them in your story. This is especially important if you need to describe food, your personal sensations, or even someone’s character.

5. Thesis statement
Your essay should be meaningful and, therefore, should have a clear central idea. To achieve this, you need to include your thesis statement in the first paragraph and confirm it in the last one. That is what makes a personal essay useful for the reader.

6. Strong characters
Readers love strong characters, so use it in your writing. You need to make them dynamic, memorable, and unique. After all, strong characters can bring your story to life. However, do not overdo it, as a personal essay is not a fiction, so be honest in what you are writing about.

7. Humor
Not that absolutely any personal essay should be a little humorous, but if you can include some funny facts in your writing – do it. Stories that contain pertinent humor usually create better readability.

Use these simple yet effective personal essay writing techniques, and chances are you will get an excellent paper able to impress any reader!

Categories: Writing