Tag Archives: James Lee Burke

Guest Post by Tim L. O’Brien

 I am honored that Tim O’Brien has agreed to be my guest today because I admire his writing and thought you’d like to know a little more about the man whose been causing all that “Static in the Airwaves” in the blogosphere recently.

Now he’s not to be confused with THE Tim O’Brien, the award-winning multi-published author and the Grammy award-winning bluegrass musician that goes by the very same name—although I hear he likes to sing in the shower.

Please don’t sing for us today, okay Tim? Thank you.

What he does admit to being is a Jack-of-all-trades and master of none…

Hmm maybe. Maybe not.

So what are a few things that make Tim O’Brien the man that he truly is?

Though Tim was born and raised in Houston, Texas he now resides near his Alma Mater, the University of Oklahoma. Go Sooners! There he received his degree in Journalism and is currently in pursuit of his Masters in Professional writing, that is when he’s not working, writing on his novels, or playing Mr. Mom to his ten year old son and his nine year old daughter.

He is also the proud father of two grown daughters, one married, both in college, while he himself just got married within the last couple of years. So all together there are three boys and three girls which makes them, as Tim put it, the real life Brady bunch, minus Alice.

Whew, did I get that right Tim? You are one busy man!

Yet besides his family and his strong desire to write, the closest thing to Tim’s heart is an isolated stretch of land along the Rio Grande called El Indio. There is where he feels most at peace and in isolation. And there is where Tim spent a week of vacation with his wife and children on his family’s full working cattle ranch, which sounds just about perfect.

Uh-oh, I hear more Static in the Airwaves. It must be Tim. Oh, hi Tim!

Hi Karen.

Take it away Tim!

Thank you Karen.

Hello everybody!

Ever since Karen asked me to write a post for her blog several weeks ago, she and I have sent messages back and forth about what I should write.

Until she asked me to write about this…

Hunting…For a Novel Idea

The first golden rays of the sunrise wouldn’t appear for another hour or so. We sat in muted silence, slightly shivering, and waited. We leaned against each other for comfort and added warmth, fighting the urge to close our eyes and grab an additional hour of sleep while waiting for the morning sun to illuminate our surroundings.

Sitting on the frost-covered ground nestled amongst mesquite trees and thorny brush gives your mind plenty of time to think and second-guess your decisions. Why in the world am I getting up at 5:30 in the morning while on vacation? At this precise moment in time that warm bed sounds much better than trying to remain completely still and quiet in the darkness.

The sacrifices we make to pursue our dreams and hobbies.

On this particular morning, I was sitting with my ten-year-old son not far from the banks of the Rio Grande River. We had spotted a big, mature whitetail buck several days ago and we were in hot pursuit.

Waiting for the sunrise gives your mind plenty of time to wander. I thought about ideas for my blog. I thought about the novel I’m working on and played out the next scene in my mind. I wanted to shut my mind off work and enjoy the moment with my son, and appreciate the great outdoors when I realized that hunting and writing are very similar in approach.

I’ve always felt that one of the most overlooked aspects of good writing is the writer’s power of observation and ability to pay attention to everything that surrounds us. The smallest of details can make the biggest of impacts.

Those details give the writer a time and place—a setting. Some writers like James Lee Burke are so talented at setting that it becomes a character in the book. Burke is so adept at description you can almost smell the salt-water air and feel the rain as you read about the world surrounding his fictional character Dave Robicheaux amongst the swamps and bayous in Louisiana.

Michael Connelly is another extremely talented writer who uses his setting—in the case of the novels featuring detective Harry Bosch—Los Angeles as a major character in his story. You can feel the smog drip off every page.

To be a successful hunter it is imperative that you pay attention to the same details. We had been following this buck’s track in the sandy soil and searched the brush for ‘rubs’ or ‘scrapes’ which a buck will do to mark his territory. Not unlike your pet dog and a fire hydrant. We needed to be aware of wind direction, time of sunrise and sunset, temperatures, and even the moon conditions from the previous night. We examined food plots and sources of water.

Slowly, we were able to determine the roaming radius of this buck and his likely pattern of travel. Using all of our clues we determined that the densely covered brush area, where we sat that early morning, could possibly place us in proximity to our goal. Let’s call this the research before beginning the novel.

Before any novel begins we must have some vague idea of the plot, a starting point—a plan.

The following quote if from James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure. “A plot is about a Lead character who has an objective, something crucial to his well-being. The major portion of plot is the confrontation with the opposition, a series of battles over the objective. This is resolved in a knockout ending, an outcome that satisfies the story questions and the readers.”

As the sun began to rise and our surroundings became more visible we began to detect an increase in activity. We could hear movement in the brush. Time for a little call and response. I picked up our rattling horns and began to simulate two bucks fighting over a doe. The thrashing of the antlers broke the morning silence. In less than a minute we had a buck come charging into our sights, his nose dripping and mouth frothing. His intention was to steal the doe while the two bucks continued to fight. Unfortunately, he was not the buck we were in search of.

We continued our call and response and I began to think back on one of my favorite books on writing by Jack M. Bickham, titled Scene and Structure. His chapter and explanation on stimulus and response is the best I have ever read.

We continued to rattle the horns (stimulus) and several more bucks came charging in towards us (response), but these were younger bucks and not the monster we were in search of.

Undeterred we moved spots, but again no luck. Time was running out on our vacation and hunting opportunities. The following morning we were scheduled to make the ten-hour drive back home.

That final evening we set out on foot, changing our tactics slightly, and moved into another area. The rut was on and our trophy buck was chasing does, making his behavioral patterns more erratic. This was our last chance. Make or break time, and time was running short.

And like any good novel our trip concluded on a happy note. The protagonist overcame several obstacles and setbacks for an outcome that satisfied both father and son.

I wish you all the best as you hunt for your novel ideas!


Thank you for having me here today Karen!

No, thank you Tim!

That was an awesome example and we wish you the best of success with your novel writing!

So what do you think? What methods do you take to capture an idea for your novels? What kind of hours do you keep? Do your ideas keep you up late at night, or are you awakened before dawn’s light with thoughts and dreams from your wildest imagination? If they do, then you deserve a trophy from all of your fine efforts!

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Thank you for your many thoughts and fine comments everyone!


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