Field Of Blood
James Scott Bell

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the bestselling author of Try Dying, Try Darkness, No Legal Grounds, Presumed Guilty, Glimpses of Paradise, Breach of Promise and several other thrillers. He is a winner of the Christy Award for Excellence (Suspense category), and has also been a finalist for the award in the Historical category. He has served as the fiction columnist for Writers Digest magazine and has written two bestselling craft books in the Writers Digest series Write Great Fiction: Plot & Structure and Revision & Self-Editing. He taught writing at Pepperdine University and numerous writers conferences, and has written over 300 articles and numerous books for the legal profession. He has had three feature screenplays optioned and is on the faculty of Act One, the Hollywood screenwriting program.

A former trial lawyer, Jim now writes and speaks full time. His book on search and seizure law is the leading authority in its field, used extensively by lawyers and judges throughout California every day. His website is

Why I Write Suspense

You add “What if . . .” to news items and billboards, snatches of conversations and chance meetings...

Why do I write suspense?

I’ll tell you later.

See how easy it is?

Not. In reality, suspense is one of the toughest genres to get right. But it’s what I love, and that’s why I write it.

You should always write what you love.

Even more specifically, write what you love to read.

Try DarknessI grew up with The Hardy Boys. They were suspenseful. Know why? Because almost every chapter ended with an exclamation point!

That meant you had to read the next chapter!

A little device the Boys’ publisher put in its style guide. Yes, it was a bit ham-fisted. But I didn’t care. I read the things because I wanted to know—had to know!—what happened next.

Later, I started reading the hard-boiled school: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain. Suspense, mystery, what happens next?

And watching film noir of the 40s and 50s: Double Indemnity, Out of the Past, The Asphalt Jungle.

These were the books and movies I loved, so that’s what I decided to write.

I sniff around for ideas that lend themselves to suspense.

These ideas are everywhere. You add “What if . . .” to news items and billboards, snatches of conversations and chance meetings. Do this, and you can find dozens of ideas a week. Even a day, if you’re really looking.

Years ago I read a little item in the Los Angeles Times. A man shot his wife in South Central, then drove to a freeway overpass, got out, shot himself, and fell one hundred feet to the freeway below. His body hit a car, killing the driver.

I clipped the story and threw it into my “idea box.” This holds notes and clippings and thoughts scribbled on napkins. I go through it from time to time, asking “What if . . .” and looking for fresh connections.

The LA story didn’t go away. I kept thinking about it. So one day I wrote page one. I had no idea where it was going after that:

On a wet Tuesday morning in December, Ernesto Bonilla, twenty-eight, shot his twenty-three-year-old wife, Alejandra, in the backyard of their West 45th Street home in South Los Angeles. As Alejandra lay bleeding to death, Ernesto proceeded to drive their Ford Explorer to the westbound Century Freeway connector where it crossed over the Harbor Freeway and pulled to a stop on the shoulder.

Bonilla stepped around the back of the SUV, ignoring the rain and the afternoon drivers on their way to LAX and the west side, and placed the barrel of his .38 caliber pistol into his mouth and fired.

His body fell over the shoulder and plunged 100 feet, hitting the roof of a Toyota Camry heading northbound on the Harbor Freeway. The impact crushed the roof of the Camry. The driver, Jacqueline Dwyer, twenty-seven, an elementary school teacher from Reseda, died at the scene.

After I wrote that, I wondered if I could pin a novel on the back end. I wondered who would be most affected by the death of the driver. It took me a while, but I finally came up with a character named Tyler Buchanan, a high-flying LA lawyer. That’s when I wrote the next part of the opening:

This would have been simply another dark and strange coincidence, the sort of thing that shows up for a two minute report on the local news—with live remote from the scene—and maybe gets a follow-up the next day. But eventually the story would go away, fading from the city’s collective memory.

But this story did not go away. Not for me. Because Jacqueline Dwyer was the woman I was going to marry.

That was the foundation for what is now a series.

When I wrote my six book historical series featuring Kit Shannon (the first three cowritten with Tracie Peterson), I saw them as legal thrillers, but set in the past.

I loved doing those books. Courtrooms were wide open in the early 1900s, especially in Los Angeles, and women were just getting into the profession. There was plenty of room for “What ifs . . .”

I also loved doing a stand-alone historical, Glimpses of Paradise.

The vagaries of the publishing business, however, forced me to make a choice. These days publishers (and readers, too, mostly) want consistency in their authors. So I choose to concentrate, for the time being, on contemporary thrillers, my first love.

Try DyingBut that does not mean I can’t dip into the past on occasion. Tess Gerritsen, for example, has done that with her latest, The Bone Garden.

And who knows? Kit Shannon may return. In my mind she lives into the 1960s, still practicing law. A treasure trove of suspense material in the decades from 1920 to 1960 is waiting to be developed into stories. It was an exciting time to practice law in LA.

In fact, there has never been a time in this town when it wasn’t exciting to practice law.

Which is why I live here. And write here.

Visit Jim’s Web site at