Writer's Notes

Guest post: John Wills on HEALER’s debut

Today’s post is by John Wills, author of Healer. His law enforcement creds are included below. I like furthering LE authors when I can. I know you’ll enjoy reading about John’s newest book. –Thonie

John Wills
John Wills

Hi Thonie. Thank you for allowing me to visit with you and your readers. I have exciting news!—my latest novel, HEALER, is now available on Amazon, or at my publisher’s website: Oak Tree Press. HEALER is the heartwarming story about 16-year-old Billy Anderson. Billy has experienced more than his share of tragedy in his young life. Made fun of in school because of a birth defect, he first endures the loss of his mother, and then his father dies in the war.

One day, as Billy attends Mass, his life takes a dramatic turn. An elderly woman dies in his arms. But before she takes her last breath she tells him, “Receive the gift of healing.” Those words instantly change his life. However, Billy has no idea whether his supernatural ability will be a blessing or a curse.

Also part of Billy’s journey is Police Officer Sheila Chambers, who comes into Billy’s life after answering a call about a teen out past curfew. Sheila instantly senses Billy is troubled, and without giving away the story line, she ensures Billy gets the help he needs. The officer has been involved with foster parenting and her compassion for the orphaned teen is a major part of Healer.

HEALER OTP coverBilly’s story will both surprise and comfort readers. He’s a remarkable young man whose parents imbued in him old fashioned values, morals, and ethics. His honesty and compassion will refresh and inspire. HEALER is a story the entire family will enjoy—from young adults to senior citizens. It’s a journey of faith and courage that will both leave you in tears and soothe your soul.

I was inspired to write this story after reading stories in the Bible about the Apostles and other saints who had the ability to heal those who were sick or lame. I wondered how such a gift might be looked upon in the present day. But as with much of my writing, I didn’t shy away from the reality of human nature. I include hardships like crime, addiction, homelessness, etc. Real life is gritty. To ignore that fact would certainly detract from my stories.

My previous novel, The Year Without Christmas, is an award-winner that chronicles how homeless people survive on the street. It’s a gut-wrenching story about a small town family whose peace is shattered by a tragic accident. The husband, a police officer, disappears as his grandson faces a life-threatening disease. It’s a tale about loss, faith, and the power of love.

About me: I served 2 years in the Army, and then 12 years as a Chicago cop. I left the police department to join the FBI and retired after 21 years. I’ve written 10 books and published more than 150 articles on police training. I also write short stories and poetry. I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia with my wife Christine. We’ve been married 44 years and have 3 children and 4 grandchildren.


My website:

My blog:

Amazon Healer link: HEALER




Writer's Notes

How I Get My Story Ideas

Law Officer magWriters are frequently asked how we get our story ideas.

Sometimes they are like an epiphany (read my last post for a scary moment that became a novel—yet to be published), but more often they’re an evolution. A sentence in a newspaper article, a scene in a movie that I really like but think I can do better. Like a pearl, the idea starts small, grows in my mind, then takes on a life of its’ own.

Mostly, my characters determine the path of the story. At the moment, I’m languishing in the middle of my third novel in the Nick and Meredith Series. I’m an outliner by nature—not just my stories, either. I started Possession for Sale with the barest idea of what would happen between my two characters to get them to the end. So I outlined the beginning—as much as I knew. Then, I outlined the ending and left the middle open for all the different tribulations Nick and Meredith must endure to become the people they hope to become.

I am now a quarter of the way through Possession for Sale. Imagine my surprise when I typed the main characters kissing waaaay before I planned. Oh no! So, do I write the whole middle differently?

Yes, I do. The characters have spoken. Even though they jumped into each other’s arms prematurely, this may work to increase the tension for the rest of the story. The end should, I say should, remain as I planned. But you never know: the characters may find a more truthful ending—their truth.

Back to how I get my ideas. When I’m stymied, there are a myriad of places to go to jumpstart my plotting. First, prompts are very helpful. Writers Digest has a daily prompt sent to your email inbox. Calendars offer prompts as well as specific writing classes. In my county, we have two that come to mind: Jumpstart in Petaluma and QuickStart in Rohnert Park. I found a used book at Book Passages in Corte Madera with an inventory of plot ideas: Plots Unlimited by Tom Sawyer and Arthur David Weingarten, Ashleywilde, Inc. 1995. Inside, you will find thousands of variations of ideas to get your characters moving. Usually, I find a snippet of an idea that leads to another then develops into something interesting.

I read news reports, subscribe to several online law enforcement e-zines that re-tell true stories by the dozen. Sometimes, I’ll find my path there. John Wills put together an anthology of women cops that is rich with ideas based in truth called Woman Warriors: Stories from the Thin Blue Line. Here is where I learned a valuable lesson: stories don’t always end happily, or the way you think they should. Sometimes, they are untidy conclusions and/or in need of a sequel to sort things out. This doesn’t mean you should end your story with a cliff-hanger, per se. The work should stand on its own as if the reader will never pick up another one of your books. But an ending with short term solutions and long-term intrigues can lead to interest in your next book.

Sometimes, my stories depart from the original plan. My second (unpublished) novel, The Walls of Jericho, started in one direction. When a transient-type drop-in critique group lambasted my secondary hero as being vengeful, I had to look at the story I was trying to tell. I finished the novel as outlined, packed it up and shoved it in my closet where it sits today. Over the years, I’ve re-directed the two main characters, minimized the secondary hero and generally re-constructed the story—in my head. Don’t look for that one anytime soon, though. I have the third Nick and Meredith novel to finish as well as prepping the first two for publication this year.

I will get to The Walls of Jericho but it won’t look anything like I originally planned. I’ll just change my outline. And it will be a better book for it.

The point is: cull your ideas from overheard conversations on the street, your cousin’s disastrous third marriage or whatever. Then, even if you outline, stay open enough to allow the story to be told the way it should be—by the characters voices.

That’s where you’ll find your best ideas.