Who are you?
Isabella Maldonado. Retired police captain turned Wall Street Journal bestselling and award-winning author from Phoenix, Arizona.
What do you write?
I always loved to read books, and always wanted to write them as well. I did not, however, attempt a novel until after I retired from the force. I was on call 24/7/365 most of my career, which did not give me much downtime. I did, however, make careful observations while on the job with the idea that one day I might write stories that drew from my experiences. My last position was Commander of Special Investigations and Forensics, a field which I still find fascinating.
My writing style has been described as gritty, fast-paced, and filled with raw emotion. I like to write complex plots that invite readers to solve mysteries and puzzles while on the edges of their seats. I also spend a great deal of time creating conflicted characters with a metric ton of backstory that slowly reveals itself during the telling.
I love writing because it is both cathartic and energizing for me. I get to use my creativity to evoke emotions in readers and reveal secrets I’ve learned from over two decades in law enforcement.
Where do you write?
By nature, I’m a neat and organized person, but I’ve noticed an interesting trend. Over the course of writing a novel, increasing levels of entropy creep into my workspace toward the end of each draft. In a bizarre parallel with the frenetic pace of my characters hurtling toward the climax of the story, my life becomes increasingly chaotic when the end of a manuscript is in sight. I step back from social media, socializing in general, and sometimes household chores like tidying my desk. Order is only restored after the draft is submitted.
A fun tool I use is “dream-casting” my story. Since I write in multiple points of view, I search for actors who embody the appearance and persona of the characters, then put their pictures on my desktop to keep me grounded in each person’s voice. I’ve also recently discovered a handy gadget, Kindle Scribe, which allows me to write in a notebook-style format that I can then upload to my cloud server and even import into Scrivener. As a side note, I only use Scrivener for outlining and pre-writing purposes. All my drafts are in Microsoft Word. Finally, I do go analog occasionally and use pen and paper.
When do you write?
I make a detailed outline but inevitably deviate from it. My brain needs a jumping-off point before getting into the flow, then the story takes me where it will. In a suspiciously similar way, I also plan each day’s writing time, and always deviate from that too. With a busy family life and many other commitments, I don’t have the luxury of turning off the phone and isolating myself to write. As we speak, I’m trying a new approach that will hopefully provide uninterrupted brief interludes. My goal is to set aside several blocks of time throughout the day exclusively for writing and guard them fiercely. I’ll let you know how that works out.
I don’t have a daily word count goal, but I do impose chapter completion goals on myself. For example, if my finished novel will contain 60 chapters, and I write two chapters a day, the first draft will be completed in a month. Since my chapters vary widely in length, a word count is meaningless to me.
I impose mini-deadlines on myself in order to meet the publisher’s deadlines. With this technique, I space out the workload as much as possible. Unfortunately, life inevitably gets in the way, and there’s always a rush to the finish line.
Why do you write?
As a cop, I had to delve into the psyche of both perpetrators and victims to conduct investigations. I want to give readers a peek into what police do and how much it costs them and their families. So often, what we see on television or in movies is far from reality. Some of this is by necessity due to the constraints of the medium, but novels lend themselves to a more complete portrayal. I owe it to my fellow law enforcement officers to be relentlessly authentic, and that’s what I’ve endeavored to do. I also owe it to the real-life crime victims I’ve dealt with to tell stories that showcase their incredible strength and resilience in the face of the trauma they faced at the hands of others.
How do you overcome writer's block?
I get away from the computer and spend a couple of hours simply sitting in silence, contemplating story ideas and scribbling in my Kindle Scribe or on a notepad in longhand. Once an idea hits, I’ll run it through the mental test lab to check for plot holes, issues, or problems.
Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie, a television show, or read a book. Seeing fresh characters in fresh situations can spur ideas about my own characters and plot. This doesn’t refer to imitation, but to inspiration, which are very different.
Bonus: What do you enjoy doing when not writing?
I write every day unless some emergency prevents me from doing so. When I’m not writing, I enjoy traveling. New places and experiences are restorative to the mind and spirit, offering fresh perspectives.
My thanks to Isabella Maldonado for today's interview.