character development

Landscape of Life


When I think about life events, I’ve considered how they might change a person.  I do this now, more than ever before.  What hits us most hard are the occurrences that mean we must conform to something new.  The death of a family member, friend or pet.  A divorce.  A marriage.  The loss of a job, or the move into a new home.  A pregnancy.  A new job.  All these and so many others permanently affect us as individuals.

With the more dramatic life events, I find death is the most difficult event to process.  In the past decade, maybe a little longer, I’ve had two co-workers and a brother in law commit suicide.  Three people.  It astounds me I know three people who took their life by putting guns to their heads.  I found the body of young man on the beach.  That was back in 2001.  My son and I were walking on the beach, talking.  Up ahead I noticed a strange looking object that seemed, at first, to be lying on the sand.  As we came a little closer, I could tell this brown and black object was in a tidal pool.  I thought it was possibly driftwood, then I had the horrible thought it was a drowned dog, like a German Shepherd.  I began running, and then slowed down.  Oh.  It was a person.  He looked like he was just floating there, for pleasure. Except, a wave came in, a rather large one, and it was the lack of reaction that made me start running towards him again.  A looseness which told me, something wasn’t right.

And, it wasn’t.

Later, I found out from his family he’d been fasting and praying after 9/11 and was too weak to fight the rip current from a recent hurricane.

As many know, in 2012, I lost my job at Nortel.  That same month, I signed the contract with my agent.  Veritable ups and downs.  Then, a few months later, I had to euthanize my dogs, Bella and Kiwi.  A friend’s child passed away at only six years of age when they had to make the horrific decision to take him off life support. He’d developed a fever which triggered seizures. The medical staff couldn’t bring him out of his drug induced coma because the seizures began again.  He had a twin brother.  What did this do to him?

And then there was Dad, who passed earlier this year.  And I watched my mother shrink, actually becoming smaller, frailer, afraid.  The paint strokes for that were broad and sweeping, dark and volatile, grays of depression, the ugly red of anger, all expressions of grief.  It covered me.  It covered all of us.

I am not who I used to be.  No longer am I that crazy, cut-up with a love for unusual shoes, dancing (even though I couldn’t, not really), that spur of the moment sort of person.  Nowadays, sure, I still joke around a little, but I’m more serious, and maybe I need the fashion police because I tend to wear flip flops (year round) and, haven’t seen a nightclub in almost twenty years, because I like being at home.  Some would call this getting old.  Maybe that’s it, but I prefer to just see it as who I am now.

The other day while I was running, the term “landscape of life,” came to me.  It stemmed from the thought we humans are a lot like wet paint on a canvas.  We shift our emotions, and ourselves in order to conform to pain, happiness, or sadness.  Sometimes we become different versions of the person we used to be, before things happened to us.  Like an artist who creates a mood on canvas by using various colors of paint or by incorporating different textures or a new technique, I think humans are like wet paint too.   Our moods, our persona, is the landscape, meaning we adjust and transform ourselves over time.  Maybe some aspect of our old behaviors are simply wiped away as we move beyond what we’ve experienced

I’d like to believe, and I hope, I can somehow use these life experiences when it comes to character development, or capturing a reaction accurately, turning it into a believable rendering a reader can actually relate to and feel.

the-artist-at-work-anna-bain

Courtesy artistandstudio.tumblr.com

Even though we may have lived it and breathed it, putting emotions into words and onto the page…it still doesn’t come any easier, does it?

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This Is A Movie?


I went to the Redbox outside Walgreens just about a mile away looking for the movie CAKE with Jennifer Aniston.  To my disappointment it was already checked out, and so I stood there a moment debating.  I could go to the other Redbox outside the Hess Wilco gas station a block over, but I was tired.  Instead, I decided to scroll through the remaining movies just to see if anything else caught my eye, and boy, did it.

When had CHILD OF GOD been made into a movie?

COG was the second book I’d ever read by Cormac McCarthy.  The first was THE ROAD.  Both prompted a McCarthy frenzy which sort of petered out before I read the last book I’d bought by him, BLOOD MERIDIAN.  I’ve blogged about this in the past, with this book, and this one. 

I’d come away from those with a bit of burn out based on his repetitious style of writing.  Granted, he can take a situation and for several hundred pages have you following along because sometimes you think, “it just can’t get any worse,” and then it does.  He’s extraordinarily talented with revealing just how corrupt and backwards some individuals can be when forced to live at the edges of society.  He writes about characters who are depraved, ignorant and typically desperate.

At any rate, imagine my surprise as I stood there trying to decide since I can’t have CAKE, (ha) what’s it to be?  And then I saw it,and my curiosity about how they could take a story like THAT and make a movie of it won out.  I rented it.  I figured James Franco directed, I can’t go wrong.

Just like with books, I don’t typically rely on the ratings too much.  It was a little surprising however, when I got home and searched for the movie’s release date (2014), to see that Rotten Tomatoes reviewers gave it two stars.  And reviewers who use IMDb ranked it at 5.4 out of 10.  I watched the trailer.  I thought it looked pretty good.

Maybe it’s the extraordinarily tasteless acts ole Lester Ballard engages in that has turned folks off.  If nothing else, you got to hand it to McCarthy for going “there.”  No one else has, not that I know of.  I thought certain topics were taboo and he proved that’s not the case necessarily.

CHILD OF GOD

I’ll hand McCarthy this.  He writes as if everyone he knows, or anyone who might judge him is dead.  There is no topic off limits.  As a writer, I’ve yet to learn this.  I think twice before I word something a certain way.  I write a scene over and over and over with the thought, “who might read this?  Oh, yeah, them.”  DELETE.

I want to learn to write like no one’s looking over my shoulder.

Don’t you?

Much Ado About Nothing?


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With all the controversy swirling around I can’t say I want to read this any more than I did when I pre-ordered it weeks ago.  I mean, I’ve always wanted to read another book by Harper Lee, and so, from the initial “discovery” of the manuscript to this copy held in my hands, I’m happy.  Right now, anyway.  If I am perhaps more anxious to hurry up and read, it’s only so I can form my own opinion, particularly now that I know I’ll read about a different Atticus Finch.  From what I understand, he won’t be the upstanding man portrayed in MOCKINGBIRD.  He’s stood on the pedestal of justice we built for him with righteousness and one could imagine even, conviction.  What a huge burden he’s carried all these fifty some years, what with living under false pretenses.  I guess that’s the issue.  I don’t really know other than what I’ve seen on TV or read in the paper.

But, with all that aside, the truth is, this IS the book Harper Lee originally wrote, the book that became TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.  MOCKINGBIRD is the result of an editor reading the GO SET A WATCHMAN (GSAW) manuscript and perhaps, with her editing pen tapping on her desk, she picked up the phone and called Ms. Lee and said, “I think the story needs to start earlier.  By twenty or thirty years.  Maybe a story about a young girl who reveres her father, and even more so after he shows her the true meaning right and wrong, patience and the complexities of living in a Jim Crow South.”

The editor did right by Harper Lee.  She gave her the advice any writer would want – the ability to look at a manuscript and see the story that was needed for that point in time.

You know what I’m most fascinated by?  That index card I saw, the one with the typed notes about GSAW and the fifty or so page increments brought in to the publisher, those notes that stated something like, “brought in by author” with the date, etc.  What an artifact!  The index card was shown on CBS morning news the day of the book’s release and I was SO hoping someone would flip that thing over so I could pause my TV and read the rest of what it said.

That is, in my opinion, a real piece of history, something that shouldn’t be lost.  They should have made bookmarks out of it and provided one to all us readers who’ve bought the book!

Anyway, I’m currently reading COMING OF AGE IN MISSISSIPPI by Ann Moody which is another eye opener, and I’m only about halfway done.  Whenever I get into GSAW and finish, I’ll be sure to throw in my two cents worth here.  After all, I’ve only read MOCKINGBIRD about five times now, the last time when the 50th Anniversary edition came out and I bought it, remembering it as one of my favorite all time reads as a child, not to mention the movie with Gregory Peck.

I hope I’m not disappointed by WATCHMAN.  I plan to steer clear of reading too much more about all of it beforehand.  In some small way, I’m a bit stupefied by the “shock” of the press over the so called “plot twist” about Atticus’ true nature.  At this point in time it sounds a lot like the typical path taken by a writer who worked with an editor to produce the best book she possibly could.  Newsflash, this still happens today – except we don’t drop into a publisher, we email our work.  The rest is the same.

We write.

Editors help us produce a better book.

And excuse the pun, but, end of story, right?

Doesn’t that make all this really much ado about nothing?

 

Mississippi, Part II


Have we talked about all the food and the eating while I was in Mississippi?

There is no lack of either when visiting the folks.  Matter of fact, I have to be really careful about portions, etc., because my mother-in-law cooks up these “to die for” desserts that make you want to go back again and again.  So, when we got there, what had she fixed?  Lemon pound cake, chocolate pie, and, as if that wasn’t enough, she had blackberries to make a blackberry pie – a dessert from my childhood, loaded with memories of my brother and I picking them by the bucket full from a field beside our backyard.  She made that the next day.  Then she baked “Cowboy Cookies,” which is just a fancy name for these super duper chocolate chip cookies – these GIGANTIC, almost saucer sized versions that have oh, so much more than chocolate chips.  Pecans.  Oatmeal.  Peanut butter.

To. Die. For.

We bought peaches in South Carolina on the way over, so, that meant I must fix a peach cobbler.  This is the dessert my MIL takes her own turn to swoon over, while I’m still reeling from my own sugar overload after that hunk of pound cake I just ate.  My peach cobbler is such a simple recipe, but I add my own little bit of this and that to make it even better.  (as if???)  Like a little orange juice along with milk in the batter.  A little vanilla.   A little cinnamon.  Oh, and a little brown sugar sprinkled over the top before baking.   I also had to improvise with a simple syrup (1 cup sugar/1 cup water – boiled) to ensure I had enough “peach juice” because you can’t make a good peach cobbler without a lot of juice.

All that for four people, and I’m not even onto the meals yet.

We had lasagna the first night because she knows how much I love pasta/Italian of any kind.  Then hubby and I fixed barbecue chicken, corn on the cob (fresh!) and macaroni and cheese.  She had chicken salad (more goodies packed in like pineapple, grapes and pecans) and that was for “snacking,” along with the grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, and still some left over blackberries to eat whenever.   Come Wednesday night it was my turn to cook.

One thing I always do when I’m there is cook an old fashioned southern supper.  By that I mean fried meat of some kind, this time, pork chops.  Fresh vegetables in season, and of course, cornbread or hushpuppies.  My FIL grew up in Mississippi on a dairy farm.  They had a huge garden, and this is the way he’s used to eating.  It’s the way I’m used to eating as well, and even though my husband and MIL are from Ohio, they’ve been down south so long, they like to eat all this good stuff too.

Here’s the “feast” I fixed:

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The closest item in the picture, those long, lovely, green things?  Steamed okra.  Okay, a little retching is allowed, but honestly, I LOVE okra.  Call me crazy.  I suppose it’s an acquired taste. Normally, I’d slice and fry it, but my FIL had a triple bypass (years ago) and really ought to not even eat the FRIED PORK CHOPS, (those crispy looking brown things in the distance) but…, once in a while, he just has to have them.  Beside the okra, that’s sauteed squash and onions, butterbeans behind the okra, and beside the butterbeans, purple hull peas, then the cornbread and last, tomatoes from a neighbor’s garden.

I ran more there and that’s a Good Thing.  Believe me.  We joked about the eating we were doing and I found out my MIL (one of ten kids) had gone hungry some when she was little.  She likes to pull out one of Scarlett O’Hara’s famous lines, “As God is my witness, I will never go hungry again!”

No worries there.

After we came back home, I swear, our refrigerator looked barren.  Empty.  And when I left, I thought it was loaded.  That really put things into perspective.

When appropriate, I tend to have my characters eating, or cooking, or somehow use food in my stories.  I’m not writing the kind of book where I’d expect to include the recipe/s, it’s just a part of what I, myself, like to read, even if the characters are simply pulling into a fast food restaurant and picking up a hamburger and fries.  I want to know that.  I’ve always liked when an author tells me his character is eating “whatever.”  In my latest WIP, my family will, literally, have to sing for their supper after losing their home.

And speaking of WIP’s, you may have…, but, I haven’t …, forgotten my self-imposed challenge from a few months ago.  Something happened, and I had to divert from the suspense genre and steer more towards southern fiction.

More on why later.

Right now, I’m heading over to my fridge, where I baked this yesterday.

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Rhubarb pie.  Looks like I’ll be running four miles tomorrow anyway, so I’ll be having a BIG slice.

How about you?  Do you like to describe, or use food, regional or otherwise, in your writing?

Flash Fiction Addiction


I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m addicted to Janet Reid’s flash fiction contests.  They’re fun.  They’re great practice for learning how to use words sparingly while building a story, which must include a beginning, middle, end.  They give you a sense of accomplishment – yay I finished something! – especially if in the throes of a WIP.

Lucky for us, Ms. JR held a couple contests the weekends of May 30th, and June 6th.  For May 30th’s contest, I think blog comments may have prompted a North Carolina themed contest, and the one on June 6th was a suggestion from Colin Smith a “reg’lar” on her blog.  He reads a lot of books by a client of hers, author Gary Corby, whose latest book, DEATH EX MACHINA was released.

Of course I entered both.  As usual, she gave five prompt words, and then we have to write a story in 100 words or less.

Here is my entry for May 30th, where I placed as a FINALIST (whoop!) out of about 75 entries. Prompt words:  balloon, heart, wife, dare, plott (yes, with two t’s)

I watch the sun rise, a red balloon in the eastern sky. Haint stands at the river’s edge while Banner runs nearby sniffing traces of yesterday.

Never had much heart for anything other than these old Plott hounds, God love’em. Last year when that water moccasin bit Lloyd, then Haint, it tested that very fact.

Lloyd had hollered, “Wife! Move your ass, I’m bit!”

Forty years. Never once called me by my name.

I daresay my decision came then.

Is puttin’ a dog ahead of a human a sin?  

Maybe.

I wipe spittle off Lloyd’s chin and watch the dogs.

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For June 6th contest which I WON (!)  Double WHOOP!  Prompt words were:  chorus, ghost, actor, crane, stage

Back when I won’t more’n a speck, I heard what sounded like a chorus of voices under my bed mumblin’ some word.

I couldn’t rightly make it out at first, so’s I kept on listening, night after night.

Finally, I got it.

Useless.

I reckon they was ghosts.

That actor what shot Lincoln? Useless was last word he said afore he died, no foolin’.

Troublin’ what I see when I crane my neck like so. They been hammering since yesterday.

Come dawn, reckon I’ll be center stage.

It’s alright. I ain’t ever amounted to nothin’.

Funny.

Useless comes to mind.

These are The Shark’s words verbatim, below my entry in the finalist area, “This is a stunning demonstration of how to show rather than tell, and establishing character through diction.”

Reading that was SUBLIME, and then she added this with her determination of how she chose this piece as the winner, “It was very hard to pick a winner this week because all of these stories had things I loved.  In the end though it had to be Donnaeve for a compelling demonstration of craft and story.

ON.  THE.  FLOOR.

Then, I got up and did this:

Happy Dance

courtesy LOL.ROFL

Updates…, and On Writing With Sentimentality


In the last post “What If,” I described a crazy scam perpetrated by someone who sounded as if he’d previously worked in law enforcement.  I’m happy to say that, although he hasn’t been caught, the local sheriff’s department has made headway.  I’ve been given a weekly update and told it will be a lengthy investigation and that they’ve involved another agency.  Harnett County Sheriff’s office doesn’t take lightly the impersonation of law enforcement officers, much less using a judge’s name (there is a Judge Faircloth in Harnett County).  This crazy operation – which still makes no sense to anyone – will hopefully end up with an arrest.

In addition, and unbelievably, we’ve had a visitor here by the name of Type B influenza, which decided my husband looked like a good candidate for a nice long stay.  I thought flu season was over.  Evidently not.  On May 4th, what was a strange pesky cough quickly disintegrated overnight into a high fever, and it all went downhill from there.  At this point, he’s sick of being sick.

He’s on the mend, but he’s still not “right.”

Then there’s the whole thing about flu shots.  I’ve been told if you get the shot, and end up with the flu, it won’t be as severe.  Someone told me they got one, and they were laid up just as long as my husband.  I was told the serum for this year’s batch was only 2% effective against the strains out there.  I had Guillain-Barré syndrome back in 1993.  I’m not supposed to get them, although as one gets older I think you have to sort of mitigate one risk against the other.  Since GBS is triggered by a virus, it’s “advised” not to get flu shots, yet I’ve read arguments on both sides, and still I’m not sure what’s the answer.

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I subscribe to two writing magazines, Writer’s Digest and Poets & Writers.  Interestingly, in an old issue of P&W, (old because I’m a year behind in reading these magazines) I ran across an article that was called “The Sentimentalist,” by Nate Pritts.  He writes that lately he’s seen an increasing number of instances in the literary community regarding the issue of sentimentality in creative work.  He questions this latest critiquing expression and wonders if it’s being used to, “excoriate a person or creative work,” and if so, how does one respond to it, if used against their own work?

The article moves on to explore how this view of being “sentimental,” came about.  How was it decided at some juncture this work or that work is sentimental, and therefore not worthy of publication?  A group of essays by Joy Katz, called “A Symposium on Sentiment” was presented in 2010 in a panel discussion at the Association of Writers and Writing Programs where she offered this explanation.  “Modernism…cooled the heart of poetry, confessionalism warmed it up; and poststructuralism threw a bucket of ice water on it.”

Pritts went on to say that sentimentality is seen as a weakness.  “A tired Oscar Wilde quote which calls the sentimentalist, ‘one who desires to have the luxury of an emotion, without having payed for it.’  Or Chekhov’s dictum, ‘If you wish to move your reader, write more coldly.’

Pritts continues on to say there is an underground movement however, in which poets and writers are resisting, or maybe the better word is insisting, that writing with sentimentality isn’t such a bad thing.  What’s wrong with being tagged as a writer “excessively prone to feeling,” as Webster’s defines the word?

More exploration by Pritts reveals a dissection of the differences between sentiment and sentimental.  Sentiment is based on experiences by individuals, those life events which create the feelings, as in nostalgia.  He explains critics use sentimentality to charge certain writing with “unwarranted sentiment, passages of unmoored or unjustified feeling.”

The article has so many interesting facets about the topic and about the fundamental job of a writer to not write as if overcome by emotion, “literally undone by feelings that seem baseless or without any clear origin that readers can trace and feel likewise moved by.”

From my own view, I don’t think a writer has done their work if a character falls apart without first showing that character for who they are, why they are the way they are, i.e., seeing their world through their eyes.  Otherwise, it’s like attending a funeral of someone you don’t know, or like the old movies where melodrama was usually on full display.

Damsel In Distress, courtesy Wingeye.

Damsel In Distress, courtesy Wingeye

How can you tell if you’ve fallen into the “sentimentality” trap?  I think one particular sentence Pritts wrote nailed it perfectly.

He said, “No matter how close we are to something, how invested we are in the subject matter, we have to find some way to retain distance.  The challenge we face as writers is to say something more like ‘Look at this thing that happened; let me show you why it’s terrible.  Or beautiful.  Or disappointing.  Or transcendent.'”

It seems to be back to that old adage, show, not tell, doesn’t it?

A Little Trick


Every now and then I will come up on a writing article which shares a tidbit so simple, yet so juicy, it’s like the salivary glands of my brain kick in and I think WOW, so that’s the trick to it!

Don’t get too excited.  This will not be the Holy Grail of discovery for many writers here.  You might actually feel cheated when I tell you what it is, and you may say to yourself, “Oh.  I already knew that.”  On the other hand, if you didn’t know, then you may feel a bit like this:

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….if you’ve finished a project (like me) and now wish you’d had this little juicy tidbit beforehand.  Well.  Nothing can be done about it now, however, for future projects, yes!

So, my last project was categorized as “hard crime.”  I recollect all too well (hey, just look at that pic) there were moments of hair pulling, frustration and downright anxiety where I felt like keeping a somewhat suspenseful or tension filled story going was almost impossible.  I kept wondering, how do they do it, how do mystery writers (even though I wasn’t writing a mystery) suspense writers, or thriller writers DO IT?  What’s their trick?  Maybe their brains just work different than mine.  Maybe I’m not cut out to write this sort of story.

And then?  Months later, well past me typing THE END, this article comes along and explains a tool often used.  It’s making your readers think one way when it’s really not that way at all.  It is so simple, yet for some reason, it never occurred to me this was what I needed to do – don’t ask me why.  Maybe I was stuck on the idea of not tricking readers. You aren’t if you do this, not really.  You’ve simply got them thinking one way, and it’s…, well.  It’s not that way at all.  It’s setting your story up so events appear to be headed in a certain direction.

I like to call this THE GONE GIRL METHOD.  It is, as this article states, using a “fallacy.”

For example, let’s say you have a story where a woman is on the run from her husband.  She’s trying to get away from him because she believes, and you, as the reader believe, he’s going to kill her because the author has planted this idea in your head earlier in the story.  Maybe in an earlier scene the woman says, “I know what you did to your first wife, and you got away with it.”  Maybe the husband is approaching her slowly, with caution, and the story is from her perspective and you see the crazy in his eyes like she does.  You’re like RUN! Run, you DING DONG!  Of course he’s denying it and maybe the author sets up other clues that point to him.  You, as the reader don’t know what’s the truth any more than his wife.

Except.  He actually didn’t kill his first wife and he’s not out to kill his second wife.  That bit, the truth, whatever it is, is what is held back until it’s absolutely necessary to share with readers.

Here’s the article that does a much better job than me at giving you the nuts and bolts of this method.  It delves into some real examples, but for me, as you could tell from above, the very first one I thought of was GONE GIRL.  There were more “I didn’t see that coming!” comments about this book than any other I’ve ever read about.  Your hidden agenda has to be believable, of course, and yet something so well camouflaged, or embedded in your story, when the reveal happens, readers are left dumbstruck by how “they didn’t see that coming!”

What’s the simplest, yet best writing tool you’ve ever stumbled on?

Self-Imposed Writing Challenge


Just for the fun of it, I recently took an online typing test to see just how fast I could get my fingers to work.  I’ve never done this before and I’ve never cared about the “official” number because it doesn’t really matter to anyone.  And by that I mean, the only typing I’m doing is on my latest project and no one’s screaming for it.

I found out I type about 65 words per minute and removing errors, that might be adjusted to 60 or 61.  I believe I can go faster – as if that matters – but, at the moment I’m using a rather old laptop with a space key that notoriously sticks.  I’d say in fairness to my brain and fingers, that’s what’s called a handicap like they might give out in bowling or golf.  Anyway, my curiosity regarding this was triggered by a blog I follow called Writers In The Storm.  They have a group of writers who regularly contribute, as well as guest bloggers.  A guest blogger recently put out a post about how to take advantage of writing fast and even came up with a formula for how many words one could do in an hour if you knew your wpm.

Huh.  Okay, so, if I settled for 60 wpm x 60 that would be 3,600 words in an HOUR.  Are they insane???  That’s WAY higher than my usual goal of 1,000 words per DAY.  That sounded completely unreasonable until she went on to say you could work in fifteen minute increments.  Oh.  Okay, maybe I can see doing it that way.  Hey, I’m all for trying something new for motivation.  And if I only stuck with it for fifteen minutes, that’s 900 words – better than what I’ve done most days lately.  She pointed out it’s also helpful to have notes and an understanding of what’s going to happen in the story before you begin.

In reality, this isn’t any different than NANOWRIMO which some of you might still be recovering from.  There are a couple of differences.  1) You are accountable to no one but yourself, and 2) the goal of NANOWRIMO is 55,000 by the end of the month.  Like I’ve said before, I’ve never participated in it, but that’s about 1800 words per day.  Not within a half hour.  I find this concept of fast writing intriguing because I know if I get into my story, sometimes my fingers can’t keep up with my brain.

Plus, I’ve experienced a positive result once before by doing something similar.  This was back in 2012 when my first book was on submission, and I needed a distraction.  We always hear about beginning new projects to take our mind off of worry, and the submission process was all so new to me then, I was trying not to act like a psycho every time the phone rang, or an email dinged into my inbox.  For my own sake, I needed to write another book, partly to subdue crazy me, and partly to validate I could actually do it again.

I remember beginning in early April.  By August, I was done.  A completed story around 86,000 words in hand.  This included editing.  By my math, that’s not very fast – no where near this level of “fast writing,” in the WITS post, and not even close to NANOWRIMO, but in my mind, it was still a blistering pace because it took me 18 months to finish the last project.

My main point is, I wrote it  “fast,” i.e., a consistent 1,000 wpd, with more some days, and less on others, but some number of words on page – EVERY DAY.  Was it any good, you ask?  Well, I sent it off to Caroline Upcher, the editor I used at the time, and two weeks later I got an email back.  I opened the review letter enclosed and my eyes immediately caught the word “wonderful.”  And, it got even better.  (some of you have who’ve been reading my blog for a while have heard this story before)  Turns out she was reconnecting with contacts in the publishing world in the U.K., and sent the ms to an agency there to read with the hope of maybe working out a translatlantic sale if a U.S. publisher picked it up.  The agent, Amanda Preston, of LBA, read it, and contacted her and said, ” I absolutely love it.”

That sounds pretty exciting, right?  And it was – at the time.  Very.  However.  I decided not to go on submission for a variety of reasons that are really neither here nor there in this moment, although I do dwell on what might have happened if I’d done that.  What this post is about is I do love setting goals.  Yapping away about it here means I’m about to buckle down and get serious.  Back in 2004 and again in 2006 I ran a marathon.  One of the first things I did when I made up my mind to run in them was to state it as a fact, “I’m going to run a marathon this year.”   Stating goals for all to hear is more likely to make it happen than keeping it to yourself.

And your eyes reading this is stating my goal.  I will plant butt in chair and achieve 1,000 wpd for the next ninety days. 

One way or the other.

*cracks knuckles, glares at keyboard.*

Have you set a self-imposed writing challenge lately?

What The Heck Is This?


When I finished my last project I realized I was in a bit of a dilemma.  Based on what I’d read, it wasn’t an unusual spot to be in.  My dilemma was, what genre did my book fit in?  I hadn’t written a mystery because a reader would know certain things up front my MC didn’t.  My MC wasn’t trying to solve the crime, she was simply trying to find out what happened to her parents.  It wasn’t a thriller because although I did try to make things suspenseful for her, I didn’t have her hanging by a fingernail out of a plane door, nor did I have her standing on the ledge of some mountain about two thousand feet up with a knife wielding maniac taking swipes at her torso.  I didn’t have my bad guy constantly thwarting every attempt she made to figure things out.

I simply wrote it (ha! simply wrote = eighteen months of hair pulling and angst), tried to make it good, typed THE END and then I admit, I sat back and wondered, what the heck is this? 

Was it so out of line, so off the mark of anything marketable it was doomed from the get go?  I’ve tried not to worry about that.  Then, one day, without me trying to figure it out, I was practically handed my answer on a silver platter because I honestly can’t tell you how I land on the sites that answer my questions.  I traverse the internet the way a monkey traverses treetop canopies.  I cavort here and there without paying attention to what I’m linking to, flip flopping around like a spider on a web.  (no pun intended.  Well, okay, there is, because it’s a pretty good one if you’ve ever seen a spider spinning a web)   Hither thither I go, reading this and that.

I somehow found myself on the Algonquin Redux site and landed on a list that clearly stated the difference between a mystery and a thriller.  Here’s the short of it:

MYSTERY                                                                  THRILLER
A puzzle                                                                       A nightmare
Curiosity motivates                                                   Victim story (at top)
Protagonist has skills                                                Protagonist must learn skills
Thinking is paramount                                             Feeling is paramount
Action is offstage                                                        Action is onstage
Small circle of acquaintances                                  Thrust into larger world
Clues                                                                             Surprises/twists
Red herrings                                                                Cycles of mistrust
Information withheld from audience                     Information given to audience
Audience a step behind                                             Audience a step ahead
Mostly single Point of View                                      Up to four Points of View
Whodunnit?                                                                 What will happen?
Suspects                                                                        Betrayers
Ending intellectually satisfying                               Ending emotionally satisfying
Closure a requirement                                               Can end ambiguously
Series expected                                                            Often stand-alone
Usually 300 pages                                                       Can be longer

Here’s the link if you want to read the article in it’s entirety.  It’s actually pretty short.  This was all fine and good but it still didn’t quite nail the way I handled my story, or maybe I should say the way my characters handled the story.  Therefore, I still didn’t have a clue.  But, lucky me, I subscribe to various blogs and am never at a loss for something to read.  And just over a week ago I found my answer here.  Hallelujah, what I wrote actually fits nicely into this!  Crime fiction!  Whoop!

On what constitutes crime fiction:

“I would say that crime fiction is less about the whodunit than about the protagonist’s dilemma in a criminal milieu. The protagonist may not have all the information—so there is a mystery in that he is trying to find something out—but the story is really about how he solves his problems, which are often as much about his lifestyle as about the particular crime that spurs the plot. For instance, in Ray Bank’s brilliant Saturday’s Child, Cal Innes is forced by a local mob boss to find a former employee and the money he stole, but in many ways the story is about Cal trying to find a place for himself and form an adult life within a socioeconomic stratum that offers very few options.”

—Stacia Decker (Donald Maass Literary Agency)

This was such a relief because “crime fiction” isn’t listed very often.  If you do a search on it you can find some resources, but mostly you get thriller, suspense and mystery and often all of these are lumped together.  When I was trying to buy books so I could read “in the genre” I was writing, suspense was the one I searched under.  And oftentimes I ended up giving up because I just couldn’t seem to pinpoint a similar story.  (Saturday’s Child above would have been good to know about, for example)

Now I know.  A day late and a dollar short maybe, but my book fits somewhere!  Clearly!

Have you ever written a book, only to have no idea what the heck it is?

Chuck’s Challenge


Chuck Wendig challenged his readers this week with a one hundred word flash fiction contest.  Well shoot.  I just happen to have a few of those from the Shark’s very own one hundred word contests.  How convenient.  And besides, Chuck threw down a double dog dare, and that means I have to do it, right?

Some of you might remember this one:

The blush of dawn came. Summer stretched before them, along with the thought of endless, monotonous hospital treatments. She watched a sandpiper scurry after a crab, one hand over her chest where evil grew, virus like, insidious.

She said, “Promise?”

He nodded, “Promise.”

Helpless, he watched her grow weaker, until one day, she said, “Today.”

He carried her to the beach, waded in and lowered her down. She struggled, only a little, but he could see her smiling through his tears.

Later his cell rang, interrupting his anguish.

He answered and her doctor said, “I’ve made a horrible mistake.”

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