Podcast Interview with Frank Zafiro

Frank Scalise (a.k.a. Frank Zafiro) is a cool guy. In the US Army he served in Military Intelligence. After that he rose through the ranks at the Spokane Police Department as an officer, detective, and retired as a Captain after twenty years. An avid reader, he had written some stories over the years.

Author Frank Scalise (aka Frank Zafiro)

In “retirement” he launched his writing career. With 27 books published and more on the way, he writes non-fiction under his real name. His River City series of police procedurals put him on the literary map. River City is a fictional version of Spokane. His pen name for his multiple crime series is Frank Zafiro. He has been featured as the Amazon’s top author of police procedurals.

As if that isn’t enough to fill his time, Frank also produces a podcast series called Wrong Place / Write Crime. Frank’s podcasts feature interviews with authors of crime, thrillers, suspense, and mysteries, and more.

We met at Bouchercon 2018 in St. Petersburg, Florida. My friend Donna Kelly and I were wandering the halls of the Vinoy Renaissance the day before the conference began. As newbies to the conference and the beautiful Vinoy resort, we wanted to get our bearings. Okay, yeah, we were goofing off.

Bouchercon lineup

Donna in the author’s lineup.

Dangerous passage.

We met Frank. Charming, funny, and just as eager as we were to discover Bouchercon, Frank admitted this was his first Bouchercon. Like kids at a theme park, we ran into each other over the following days to swap stories of meeting our literary heroes and all the free books we’d scored.

Bouchercon

Michael Connelly signs a book or two for Donna.

Bouchercon

Laura Lippman autographed a book for me.

Bouchercon authors

Hank Phillippi Ryan autographed a book for me!

Bouchercon

Donna Kelly meets Lee Child.

Bouchercon

Author Kerry Lonsdale put a selfie of us on her blog a few years ago, so…

Bouchercon

Authors Christine King and Diane Capri shared writing stories.

What is Bouchercon?

“Fill a hotel with few thousand socially-challenged introverts, folks for whom the ‘I’d rather be reading’ T-shirt was created, and force them to spend a long autumn weekend together, and what have you got? Bouchercon—and you’d be a fool to miss it.”~Lawrence Block

Bouchercon meeting roomAt the end of the conference, Frank invited me to schedule an interview for his podcast. We recorded it on February 7th. As a three-book author, I was thrilled to be included on his podcast. He’s interviewed best-selling and award-winning authors such as, Christopher Moore, Joe Clifford, Eric Beetner, Larry Kelter, and Dave Zeltersman. They talk about their experiences in turning a novel into a film, collaborating with other authors, the writing craft, and fearing that their internet searches put them on government watch lists.

Though I won’t be able to attend this year’s Bouchercon in Dallas, I know Frank will. He’s earned another fan by being himself. Frank is a cool guy. Frank is also an amazing author of crime fiction.

To listen to his 10-minute podcast with me, click here: Episode 33.

Thank you, Frank! You are a gentleman and a dangerously fun guy.

Bouchercon 2018 from a First-timer

Long before I wrote my first story I was a reader. My favorite genres are suspense, thrillers, and mysteries. So imagine my joy at attending Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, Florida this month. Bouchercon is the World Mystery Convention, the premier annual event for readers, authors, and all lovers of crime fiction. As a local, I volunteered to stuff books into book bags for attendees ahead of the conference. The organizers were expecting 1500, so it was a long day.

Bouchercon book bags pile

After we filled all the carts, we stacked the book bags on the floor.

Bouchercon book bags in carts

Bouchercon book bagsAmong the volunteers were fans and authors. We were giddy with the selection of FREE BOOKS. Among the volunteers was Author J.D. Allen. Her latest book 19 Souls was among the giveaways we were adding to bags. I remember the beautiful cover.

Bouchercon

19 Souls by J.D. Allen

After the 1500 bags were stuffed, super fan, Judy Bobalik invited all the volunteers to the upstairs bar for drinks. I had long drive home on I-4, so I had a soda. My hands were so sore from stuffing bags I drove home and stuck my hands in ice water.

Bouchercon at the Vinoy Renaissance ResortThe next day, Wednesday, September 5, I drove back to the Vinoy Renaissance Resort with my friend Author Donna Kelly. We checked in to the resort and then we picked up our registration packets and goodie bags (free books!). Going over the schedule, we found even more book giveaways at author signings. At registration, Donna and I met another first-time Bouchercon author named Frank Zafiro. A retired detective, he writes the River City Series, the Stefan Kopriva novels, and more.

We wandered around the resort to find the ballrooms where panel discussions would be held. We encountered gators.

Bouchercon gators

Bouchercon lineup

Donna in the author’s lineup.

And Donna stood in an author lineup. Donna wanted books signed by Lee Child and Michael Connelly. I said I’d be hunting down Diana Capri, Sara Paretsky, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Laura Lippman.

Bouchercon authors

Hank Phillippi Ryan autographed a book for me!

Bouchercon

Donna Kelly meets Lee Child.

Bouchercon

Michael Connelly signs a book or two for Donna.

Bouchercon

Sara Paretsky, founder of Sisters in Crime, signed a book for me!

Laura Lippman taught a workshop at Eckerd College years ago that taught me significant lessons in story craft. I was long overdue in thanking her.

Bouchercon

Laura Lippman autographed a book for me.

I ran into Kerry Lonsdale, whom I’d met at a Women’s Fiction Writers Conference in Albuquerque, NM.

Bouchercon

Author Kerry Lonsdale put a selfie of us on her blog a few years ago, so…

The authors and fans blended into a giant excited crowd. When asked if we were authors or fans, we’d answer, “Yes.” How can you be a writer without being an avid reader? The 4-day event featured panel discussions on various topics, book signings, lunches, award banquets, and of course, what is known as barcon–gatherings in the bar until the staff scoots us out. The main bar at the Vinoy is in the main lobby. There people clustered on sofas and ottomans and balanced drinks on tiny tables while debating crime stories and favorite authors. Donna and I, as new members of Sisters in Crime, met other members at their breakfast gathering.

Bouchercon meeting room

Bouchercon

Authors Christine King and Diane Capri shared writing stories.

I enjoyed chatting with Diana Capri and Christine King about boating, adventures, and writing. Diane juggles a number of series, one of which ties in with Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series. Diana served on a panel discussion titled “Familiar but New–Writing Established Characters.” Christine and Diane are also members of Sisters in Crime. They welcomed me as a new member.

Ah, fun. The 2019 Bouchercon will be in Dallas. I hope I can go. Back to work.

Point of View Filters and Sensory Description

As a career journalist, I had point of view thrashed out of me by professors, editors, and colleagues. “Unless you’re a columnist,” they’d say, “keep your point of view to yourself. Just report who, what, where, when, why, and how. Stick to the facts. Quote notable people from various sides of the issue and let the reader decide.” Right. Be objective, be ethically impartial. I silenced my point of view.

As an aspiring author, I had to rediscover the power of point of view and how to wield it in a story. Great stories embed the reader into the skin of the characters, to feel their pain, their joy, their fears, so readers can vicariously experience the story. Journalists Laura Lippman, Joan Didion, Hank Phillipi Ryan, Mark Twain, and Charles Dickens became successfully published authors, so it can be done.

To regain the ability to present a point of view, I started small—publishing essays. For a few years I wrote a column in my metropolitan Mensa group’s publication. Mostly humor, but a few touched on serious topics. Writing essays helped me find my voice and explore a point of view long suppressed.

Open book shooting out sparksDuring this training period, I read classics and best-selling modern fiction analytically. Oh, the power of point of view! Energized, inspired, and eager, I hammered out draft after draft of my Great American Novel, 96,000 words in later form. Next came the giant step of sharing this precious thing with outsiders, critique partners, my spouse, a few close reader pals.

They liked it, but…they couldn’t pinpoint what it lacked. They praised the dialogue, they loved the loveable characters and despised the antagonist, the setting was fine, and the pacing was fine. But. Shrugs.

Then Author John Foxjohn, a critique partner and former Army Ranger, said that I should show not tell. He said I needed to strip away the point of view filters. Wait. The what? Huh? He explained that I was telling things from the author’s viewpoint instead of showing them from the character’s view.

Point of view filters are signaled by sensory words, such as: thought, felt, saw, sensed, smelled, tasted, and heard.

For example, instead of writing from the author’s point of view: He thought Is that my little girl going on a date?

Write from the character’s point of view: Is that my little girl going on a date?

Strip away the point of view filter “thought” and simply write what the character is thinking. Instead of He wondered why she said that write Why did she say that?

Let’s do an example for the sense of touch. He felt tingling pain shoot up his arm. Tingling pain shot up his arm. See the difference? Which one seems natural and organic from deep inside the character? Which version seems to keep the reader at arm’s length from the experience?

And now an example from the sense of sight, the most overused sense in fiction. He could see three feral cats charging at him. Three feral cats charged at him. Think of this as the writer’s form of method acting. Get inside the character when writing. Write from the inside out. Stop labeling the sensations and describe them with such precise details that the reader understands without the label.

Use the details that evoke the sensation instead of naming the sensation. Instead of writing He sensed someone had been in his house while he was gone, show the reader the moved chair, the book opened on the table that was closed when he left. For example: He sensed he was not expected for dinner. That’s telling. How did he sense it? What specifically triggered that suspicion? Let the reader figure it out from a description of action or details. The hostess rushed to the table with a plate, glass, napkin, and silverware while other guests shifted their chairs.

Smell is the most powerful memory trigger and a sadly underused sense in fiction. Which is more evocative of memory? He smelled freshly baked brownies. Chocolate wafted from the kitchen beckoning him.

And lastly, the sensation of hearing. When tempted to write He heard the sound of gunfire and felt glass rain down, try Popopopop. Jake ducked under a table as glass shards rained inside the diner. Compare the following sentences. Phil heard church bells clang five times. The church bell clanged five times, reverberating off brick and pavement.

Developing the habit of showing instead of telling takes practice. Watch for the labels, those sensory point of view filter words: thought, felt, saw, sensed, smelled, tasted, and heard. Hunt them down and eliminate them. Your readers will thank you for it, because they will enjoy a closer you-are-there experience in your stories.

This single change to remove point of view filters raised my fiction writing to the next level. The last great change was narrowing the story from seven points of view to three. Thank you, dear blunt critique partners for insisting that more isn’t better. Better to dive deeper into a few points of view than dance on the surface with many.

The next level will be learning how to describe the sensations of an emotion instead of labeling the emotion—well, now that’s world-class writing. I’m off to study Ann Hood’s Creating Character Emotions and research how the masters do this. Yeah, okay. I’m also off to read marvelously written novels. Let’s call it research.