A novel approach to writing: hard work
Thursday, December 26, 2002 9:11:00 AM
by Joyce M Hammock
|A Columbia woman strives to get published with a mix of unflagging perseverance and hours of revision.
By Sandy Alexander
December 26, 2002
Joyce Hammock enjoys the seedier side of Baltimore.
She hangs out outside the Baltimore city jail, parks in neighborhoods known for drug activity and drives around looking for good places to hide a body.
For Hammock, an aspiring novelist from Columbia, it's all research for her books.
"She takes an approach where she wants to be right in the thick of it," said Baltimore Detective Tyrone S. Francis, Hammock's volunteer technical
adviser. He often accompanies her on fact-gathering trips. "She wants to give as real a look as possible to the reader," he said.
Hammock, 56, is a technical editor at Booz-Allen and Hamilton, a consulting company, but she has dedicated her spare time to fiction. She has
self-published one novel, Recompense, about crime, corruption and cops. She is writing a second book and working to attract a publisher.
In her 20s, Hammock attended college but didn't finish. She married, raised a son, and took on a number of independent business ventures, including
free-lance writing and owning a packaging business.
Hammock returned to school and earned her bachelor's degree in business writing from the University of Maryland, University College in 1993. While
she was in school learning business writing, she was also buying books about fiction writing.
After graduation, writing down some of her story ideas "was just kind of an adventure for me," Hammock said. For three months, she returned home
from work and wrote. Out of three story lines, one kept going - and going - to become Recompense.
Started in 1996 (after a short life as a romance novel), Recompense is a tale of a corrupt police officer, his foster son framed for rape, the police
officers trying to find the truth, and a cast of friends and family members seeking justice.
Once she had the characters developed, Hammock said she could see them clearly in her mind.
"It was more like I was watching a videotape, and I was transcribing it," she said. "Many times I'd go to bed at night, and I'd be exhausted, and I
couldn't sleep because [the villain] Bowers would be planning his day."
An outdoor writer
Hammock wrote the first draft longhand on notebook paper, a method that she still uses. She has a weakness for nice fountain pens and draws on
James Patterson's novels and television shows about crime and forensics for inspiration.
Early on, Hammock discovered that she prefers to write outdoors. She got into the habit of using her lunch break every day to eat quickly and then
write for 40 minutes in her van, leaning her notebook on the steering wheel. She likes to park near lakes and open spaces, but now that she works in a
Linthicum office near the airport, some trees in the parking lot have to do.
"The hard part was not writing the book," Hammock said, "That was the most fun. The hard part was the cleanup."
'Good first effort'
Over five more years, Hammock took several steps to improve her manuscript.
She started by attending the Maui Writers Conference, where she arrived with dreams of being discovered and left understanding "this was a good first
effort, but ... I knew nothing about the craft of writing fiction."
She asked 10 critical readers to tear the draft apart. She went back to Maui a year later for advice and networking. She asked agents and writers to
read and comment. She worked to develop her hero, police officer Cal Hopkins, into a more well-rounded person.
This spring, feeling like she did not need a few rejections to turn into a pile of rejections, she decided to publish the book herself using a
print-on-demand company called I-Universe.
Such businesses produce as many copies as a person wants to buy, eliminating the expense of large printer runs.
Sometimes self-publishing carries a stigma that anything can make it into print, regardless of the quality. So Hammock submitted her book, and was
accepted for the "Writers Showcase" designation, which requires acceptance by a panel of editors.
Now it is up to Hammock to promote it.
Hammock estimates she has sold about 300 copies by word of mouth. She has attended book signings with friends as hosts and encouraged
co-workers and family members to buy copies. She is working to recoup the $1,500 spent on publishing costs and several hundred dollars a month
that she spends for a public relations company.
The company, among other things, promotes the book at trade shows with hope that the finished product and sales numbers will attract a mainstream
In the meantime, she is moving ahead on the next novel and working part time on her master's degree in professional writing at Towson University while
taking some creative writing classes as electives.
When Hammock thinks about what got her started, she recalls one book in particular, Mastering the Art of Fiction Writing. It described writing as a
good way of "dealing with anybody or anything that has ever been a problem to you and never having to serve a day in jail," Hammock said.
"That kind of appeals to me."
Copyright © 2002, The Baltimore Sun
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