Archive for January, 2011

The Amazon Trail

 

Queen of the Road

            Mrs. Bundt is our outdated, refurbished, very basic 3.5” Garmin Nuvi GPS. We named her after a heart-shaped bundt pan which was our first purchase as a couple. I can only say, by way of explanation, that the GPS voice sounds like a Mrs. Bundt.

            One day, my sweetheart was imagining Mrs. Bundt’s potential in more weighty endeavors than her role as navigator. She told me, “The first time Mrs. Bundt yelled, ‘Turn right! Turn right!’ – that confused me. Then I realized she was talking about our house and not criticizing my political leanings.” I laughed with her, but I’ve heard Mrs. Bundt’s voice drip with disapproval as she announced, “Arrival at destination – On Left.”

            “Our country needs direction,” my sweetheart said. “Wouldn’t it be great if the politicians had a Mrs. Bundt to tell them which way to turn?”

            What a fine idea. When the pols do something heartless and illogical like extend tax credits for the rich or undo a necessary health plan, Mrs. Bundt would cry, “Recalculating! Recalculating!” When the electorate chooses to install wacked out crazies in office, Mrs. Bundt would screech, “Turn left! Turn left!” or, depending on the extremists’ direction, “Turn right! Turn right!”

            Ah, The Bunster, our little bunster, all grown up and ready to run the government.

            I hope she’s less abused as a policy wonk. I know I’ve uttered a passel of bad words trying to get Mrs. Bundt to talk to me sooner, or more, or less, or at all. Or trying to get her to shut up. She gets so overwrought.

            Sometimes I think it’s because we’re gay. Not that we’ve come out to Mrs. Bundt, but, well, the kisses at traffic lights, the affectionate  hands, the hot little murmurs. She took us to our wedding, after all.

            So call me paranoid, but does she get this snippy with everyone, or is it just us? Her insistence that we call her Mrs. – is that a hetero-chauvinist statement?

             We would never call her the Bunster to her face – ah – to her screen. She’s humorless and, I hate to say it, cold.

            I’ve shared with Mrs. Bundt my feelings about Big Roads. But will she acknowledge alternatives to super highways? No, not the Bunster. If it’s got a federal or state highway sign on it, that’s the road she wants. Never mind that we’re in Florida and the highways are in continual rush hour condition. Never mind that there’s been a 43 car pileup or a bridge has collapsed.

            “Turn in point three miles.” Her diction is perfect, her sentences clipped and to the point. She’ll pause, then say, more insistently, “Turn in Point. Two. Miles.” Another pause, heavy with impatient patience, and she commands, “Turn in point one mile.” More quickly now, not caring if she sounds like a manipulative femme, “Turn in 500 feet.”  Her voice is shrill with restrained panic. She shoots her white arrow around a corner, showing us the turnpike ramp. “100 feet!” she cries in desperation. “Turn right! Turn right!”

            In the long pause that follows, I imagine her closing her eyes in exasperation, reminding herself not to take it personally, trying to think of us as errant kids because, given the chance, she’d say, “Effing dykes! Stuck on this dinky road behind a thresher going two m.p.h.  Why didn’t you listen to me!”

            Fortunately, the Bunster has no hair to pull out or there’d be continual mess on the dash. She gets control of herself eventually. Through obviously gritted teeth, she announces that she is, in her vast wisdom and with her generous forgiving spirit, will recalculate our route: “Recalculating!”

            I can hear the vindictive smile in her voice as Mrs. Bundt directs us to turn right and the screen shows some complex maneuvers that are the equivalent of a U-turn.

            Queen of the road is our Mrs. Bundt. My sweetheart will give me a conniving look. I’ll silence the sputtering queen. But before I can, Mrs. Bundt, as if by her efforts alone, crows with triumphant finality, “Arriving at destination!”

Copyright Lee Lynch 2011

Is “predictable” always bad?

 by Rebecca S. Buck

Hi everyone. I’ve been asked to post this blog (which I published on my own blog yesterday) to the BSB authors’ blog. So here you go! I would love to hear everyone’s opinions on this one! 😀

Writers shouldn’t read reviews of their work.

It’s excellent advice. It’s also incredibly difficult to stick to when you see that someone has written a new review. I suspect it’s even harder for new writers than it is for the ones who are old hands at this. Curiosity can just get too much. Because writers thrive on feedback too. And I care what my readers think…I want to listen, to learn, to improve…I don’t want to to disappoint people who do me the honour of buying and reading my book.

So I just read a reader’s review of my first novel, Truths (published April 2010 from Bold Strokes Books), on Amazon.com (you can read the review here). It’s mostly a very good review and I’m very grateful indeed to the lady called Beth from LA who wrote it and gave me 4 stars out of 5 and said I was a “promising” writer. However, in her last paragraph, she describes my novel as “predictable”.

Which got me thinking. I’m not going to debate the question of Truths being predictable. I guess that depends very much on each individual reader. I’ve had other readers tell me that certain aspects of the way the novel concludes took them by surprise. And, honestly, I would agree that some parts of the book are predictable. You know–more or less–how it’s going to turn out, from at least half way through.

That’s not really what I’ve been thinking about. What I’ve been debating with myself is this: Is “predictable” necessarily a bad thing for a novel to be?

I constantly read reviews on the backs of books and in the front matter proclaiming how “unexpected” certain plot twists were…how wonderful it is that the reader is kept guessing…how shocking the ending of a novel is…how clever for being so surprising. Clearly readers–at least those who write reviews considered worthy of reprinting–enjoy a novel that twists and turns and takes them by surprise. I’ve enjoyed novels like that myself. One of the best is Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith. The twists in that novel are real shocks when they come and it’s a delight to read.

But sometimes I like the comfort of a “predictable” read too. Fingersmith isn’t my favourite of Waters’s books precisely because the twists startle me so much. I don’t necessarily mean I need a simple story. I don’t mean one without any twists or unexpected happenings at all. But isn’t it sometimes nice to know what’s going to happen? To get the happy ending you’re hoping for? It’s comfortable and unchallenging perhaps. But does a book always have to be a challenge? Does it always have to shake you up to be a good read? Some of the classics of literature are really predictable. I knew Lizzie Bennett and Mr. Darcy were going to get together from the time they danced together at the Netherfield ball. Jane Eyre was going to end up in the arms of Mr. Rochester from the moment they met on the road to Thornfield. The events of the novel–a younger sister’s elopment or a mad wife in the attic–we can’t forsee. But we know how we want the novel to end…and it’s a good feeling when we get what we want.

I’m not comparing myself as a writer with Austen and Bronte. I’m actually talking about my experience as a reader. I’m not a fan of most mystery fiction or crime fiction because most of it goes out of its way to keep me guessing. Sometimes it feels like a plot twists just for the sake of it. Sometimes I don’t want to be a detective. I just want some entertainment. That doesn’t mean it can’t be thought provoking or touch my heart. It can be intelligent and unusual. It can be educational and stimulating. It just means I don’t always need to be surprised to enjoy a good read. A plot can keep me guessing what I’m going to discover in the next chapter, even when I sense I know where those chapters are leading to.

Knowing the destination doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the journey.

Rebecca

www.rebeccasbuck.com

First posted on www.rebeccasb.wordpress.com

What’s Your Point…of View?

by Clifford Henderson

One of the most important decisions you’ll make when you begin your novel is point of view, commonly referred to as POV. Get it right and your story will sing, your readers will fly on a magic carpet of words to places exciting, terrifying, magical. Get it wrong and your language will lie lifeless on the page, disconnected symbols offering nothing but a string of boredom.

In my first novel, The Middle of Somewhere, Eadie T. Pratt narrates her own story. It was important for me to deliver the narrative in first person, because one of the major themes of the novel is Eadie facing her prejudices. Immediacy, intimacy, and subjectivity were important to me. Eadie’s what you call an unreliable narrator; what she says may or may not be true. Of course, she believes her truth, but don’t we all? An example of this unreliability is when she first meets Piggin and Heifer and refers to them as Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum as if they are interchangeable, which the reader, and Eadie, learn later is far from the truth. I could have created an even more immediate quality by writing in present tense, which I believe calls for more clipped language, since we’re in the mind of the character as events occur. We don’t think in full sentences, but when recounting a past experience will do so. For this novel, I wanted the retrospect feel. Here’s Eadie at the top of the novel:

Left to myself, I never would have stopped in that eighty-grit-piece-of-sandpaper town long enough to pick up a soda and a bag of beer nuts. Thanks to Pebbles, my ’66 T-Bird, erupting into one of her anxiety attacks, I didn’t have that option. With Pebbles, it’s all about getting attention—my attention. She’ll break a belt or bust a hose just to see if I care.

It was important to me that Edie be able to fully describe her breakdown in the rural Texas town, even if her description was totally subjective. And this is important. When writing in first-person, everything is from your narrator’s perspective. She cannot recount a scene she did not see. She can tell you what she heard about it, or what she suspected might have happened, but that’s it.

When it came to my next novel, Spanking New, I also chose first person, only this time I opted for present tense. Why? Because I was aiming for that edge-of-your-seat rawness. The narrator is essentially telling the story of her creation, from dripping out of the ethereal Known to the bodily shock of being born. I wanted the book to read like an action novel, without the car chases. But there’s another major difference between the POV in The Middle of Somewhere and Spanking New: Spanky can read people’s thoughts, making her what’s called an omniscient narrator. This perspective allowed me to float from one character’s thoughts to another. Here’s an example. Rick and Nina are considering the possibility that Nina might be pregnant. Spanky is narrating.

Rick’s unsure if she really wants him to leave or she’s just saying that. He places the lily on the foot of the bed. “You want me to go?”

 

Nina doesn’t even look up. I’ve been so careful, she thinks. How could my body betray me like this?

“Honey?” Rick asks.

Nina thinks about what Iris would want her to do. Iris, she’s sure, would tell her it isn’t the right time. Iris would say she still has her whole life in front of her. Iris would say she should have a plan.

I wish she’d quit thinking about Iris and think about how much fun we could have. Cuddling, doing goo-goo ga-gas together, practicing saying words, playing open-your-mouth-here-comes-the airplane are just a few of the things I’m dreaming of that come to mind.

You can see how I go from Rick’s inner workings to Nina’s to Spanky’s. Jane Austen uses Omniscient Narrator to great effect, but too often it turns into a train wreck, hopping from one character’s POV to the next. My advice is: only use it when it serves your story.

My third novel, Maye’s Request, (officially released this week!) mixes it up a little, using both first person and third person limited. Each chapter begins and ends with Bean telling the story of her dysfunctional family: her mother was not only lovers with Bean’s father, but also with Bean’s father’s twin sister. I chose first person present tense for these sections. I liked the urgency. Here’s Bean at the top of the novel. (Compare the clipped language of present tense as opposed to Eadie’s retrospective narrative.)

Trapped. Row twenty-two, center seat, Mexicana airbus roaring thirty thousand feet above the Earth. Occupying the window seat to my left is Joe Dude Laptop Junkie returning from his “vacay in Me-hi-co.” He’s blowing up digital aliens while rocking out to some heavy metal blasting from his earbuds, his elbow occasionally ramming my ribs. On the aisle: Miss Dorito-Smacking Everything’s-So-Cheap-I-Couldn’t-Stop-Myself who’s crammed the surrounding overhead compartments so full with her “deals” there’s no room for my backpack.

But the heart of the story is about the things Bean doesn’t know about her family, the secrets. So how did I do this? Obviously, she couldn’t tell it, because she didn’t know it. My solution was to insert a section in the middle of each chapter told in third person limited, meaning I jump into she/he, but stay in the mind of a single character. I go back and forth between Bean’s father (Jack) and his twin sister, Bean’s aunt (Jen). Here is a section from inside young Jen’s world. She’s eleven years old and riding in the back seat of a car while her mentally-unbalanced mother practices driving.

Jen stuck her head out the window to get a taste of sun. It was stupid they had to do this. Just because their mom was scared of everything. It wasn’t fair. Why couldn’t they have a normal mom? Jen pulled her head back inside and gave Jake a pathetic look. He rolled his eyes.

These forays into the past have a totally different feel from the Bean sections. They’re more removed and have that classic, almost fairytale like quality. The trick was to stay consistent, keeping the past sections set apart from Bean’s first person narrative, and always setting them in the middle of chapter. This way, I essentially train the reader for what to expect. It’s important not to jerk a reader around. It’s too easy to lose them. And lose them once, you may never get them back again.

Of course these aren’t all the POVs. There’s second person, straight-up third person, third person omniscient, third person objective… Each serves a purpose, creates the texture and feel of your work. So choose carefully. Then have a blast. Happy writing!

Write What You Know…Really?

 

When I first started writing, this was the advice I received most often. The problem was I didn’t want to do that. After thirty years in law enforcement, I wasn’t thrilled about giving one more ounce of energy to it. Don’t get me wrong, it was an exciting, challenging, and profitable career (in that it allowed me to retire early and pursue my passion for writing, not because it paid extremely well) but I was over it! The job demanded more of me than I realized until I retired. I needed to do something completely different. So ‘writing what you know’ became a double-edged sword.

 

Law enforcement and writing romance novels seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, but would writing romantic books with a level of intrigue be enough of a separation? When I asked myself that question initially, I wasn’t sure of the answer. But when I thought about what I’d like to write, my life flashed before my eyes like an unfinished movie—a life complicated and sometimes devastated by a demanding career. What better way to work through it than writing? Thirty years of catch-up therapy was way too expensive. And how better to keep a story moving than with tales of a chase, a mystery, or a challenge?

So I had to acknowledge that all those years of walking a beat, patrolling the seedy sections of town, playing undercover druggie, and bossing people around might actually be good fodder for stories. Next I had to figure out how to write about it without sounding like a bad version of Dragnet: “Just the facts, ma’am.” Police work was all about the facts and giving them as succinctly as possible, no frills and no embellishments. The edits for my first book, To Protect and Serve, were filled with comments like, “too many details, not enough description.” It’s a wonder the manuscript didn’t end up as a doorstop.

Another challenge proved to be just how deeply to delve into law enforcement procedures. How could I portray certain situations with authenticity without betraying trade secrets and/or giving the bad guys an advantage? Sometimes the things you see on television are true, sometimes not. Often the procedures are exaggerated for dramatic effect and some are deleted completely for obvious reasons. Writing what you know intimately requires a constant vigil to keep the extraneous bits from creeping in and putting readers to sleep—only you know if I’ve been successful.

My second and third books, Suspect Passions and Fever, were a bit less police procedurals, but still contained a law enforcement component with intrigue, and of course, romance. In my fourth, Justifiable Risk, out in January, I go back to the full-on police element. Hopefully I’m learning to balance writing what I know with writing what I love. Please send me your thoughts. We authors are all about the feedback.

Thank you for taking your valuable time to just relax and read!

 

VK Powell
Fever
(Rainbow Awards Best Lesbian Contemporary)
(Rainbow Awards Best Writing Style)
Suspect Passions
To Protect and Serve
Justifiable Risk, 2011

Bold Strokes Books, http://powellvk.com/, www.facebook.com/vkpowell

“For One Million Dollars…”

by Jess Faraday

When I was asked to write about why my upcoming novel, The Affair of the Porcelain Dog (June 2011), features a gay protagonist, I felt a bit as if I were being invited to whack a hornet’s nest. For anyone who hasn’t had their whiskers singed by the debate over women (lesbian, bisexual, hetero–different people take different exceptions) writing gay men, let me assure you that for many, it’s a hot-button issue. And that’s all I’m going to say about that.

I’m not here to annoy hornets, after all. I’m here to gloat. I write historical mystery and suspense, which is one of the best jobs in the world. I get paid to read about sewage recycling in Victorian London, occult revolutionary movements in 19th century Paris, and medieval Central Asian warrior women. A large chunk of my yearly book budget is deductible. And that stack of J.M. Redmann novels on the nightstand? Research. I need to surround myself with examples of well-written mysteries to make sure I’m doing the job right, you know.

But back to the original question.

I love reading history almost as much as reading mysteries. History inspires me. It makes me think not only about what happened in the past, but also what’s happening in this present world, and where we might be headed as a species. It inspires me to look for threads of human continuity across time and across cultures, as well as to appreciate the differences, which can be shocking in their vastness. And when I come across some fact or idea or person that absolutely flattens me with its awesomeness, awfulness, irony, originality, or daring, it inspires me to write about it.

 started as a 750-word exercise for my writing group, in which we were invited to put a character from our WIP into a different setting. I took a magician’s apprentice from a swords-and-sorcery story and plunked him down in Victorian London.

The desire to get the setting right for even this little piece (yes, I really am that tightly wound) led me eventually to the Labouchere Amendment, that is, section 11 of England’s Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. For those not familiar, the amendment criminalized public and private acts of undefined “gross indecency” between men. Oscar Wilde and Alan Turing were prosecuted under section 11. Because no evidence was required other than the word of the accuser, section 11 was often referred to as a blackmailer’s charter.

What I found interesting was the fact that the criminalization of real, attempted, and imagined acts between consenting adults was part of a larger law aimed at protecting women and children from sexual exploitation. Plus ça change! I wonder how many modern-day bigots think that they invented the false equation of homosexuality with child molestation. I wonder how far the idea goes back. I wonder how long it will persist despite the preponderance of evidence to the contrary.

Eventually, my 750-word mystery became a story about blackmail, and my magician’s apprentice became an amateur sleuth with a blackmailer to find. While setting himself to the task, my protagonist turns up–and busts up–a child prostitution ring, ironically at the same time he is facing prosecution under the same set of laws for his consensual acts with a fellow adult.

Could the hero of this story be anyone other than a gay man? Certainly, but I argue that his peril wouldn’t be nearly so perilous, and the resolution wouldn’t pack the same punch. Considering that lesbianism (though punished in other ways) was not illegal under Victorian law, neither a straight hero nor a lesbian heroine would have had the same, highly personal stake in the story’s outcome. What’s more, after reading Nene Adams’s spectacular Gaslight books, I realized that it was futile to try to top the adventures of the formidable and much-loved Evangeline St. Claire and Rhiannon Moore.

But that doesn’t mean that I’ve given up my heroine addiction.

The protagonist of my current work-in-progress has been showing up in different forms for years. She has been the chief of police in a village beset by mischievous magicians, a drug-runner in a post-apocalyptic Sonoran desert, and a grad student who learns that the odious head of department is keeping Something Untoward in the basement. Finally, though, she has found a setting that fits her–and me–like a good pair of boots. And her present incarnation is as much a function of plot and setting as the protagonist of Porcelain Dog.

The thing about research is that it’s never really done. One fact slides into another, and pretty soon, even before the first book has been submitted, the second one has started to write itself. Research into the history of Scotland Yard led me, inevitably, to the origins of the Sûreté, that is, the Paris police. Did you know that the grandfather of the world’s organized police forces was comprised almost entirely of reformed criminals, male and female? Pretty interesting, considering that it was 1812–though it must be said that at that time, England and France were more like different planets than different countries, from waste disposal to attitudes about sexuality.

Even more interesting from a plot-building perspective (though drearily inevitable from a course-of-human-affairs perspective) is the end of this highly effective though unorthodox force. Following the resignation of its founder, Eugène Vidocq, the Sûreté collapsed and was born again. Only this time, the women, former criminals, and other undesirables were purged and replaced by an unseasoned group of squeaky-clean, all-male “professionals.”

Imagine that, in this time of transition, there was a single holdout: one agent whose particular expertise made them an invaluable asset, no matter how much the new, less-experienced Chief of Police wanted them gone?

For one million dollars, what kind of protagonist would provide the most interesting plot complications, a man of any stripe, or a Lesbian Superhero?

I thought so =)

It sounds strange and possibly cold-blooded to admit that the specific characteristics of my protagonists generally arise as a function of setting and story than the other way around. It makes me feel like less of the benevolent, interested, personal god that I like to pretend to be. But every writer approaches her topic from a different angle. And how much duller reading would be if we did not.

Premature Creative Syndrome

Lisa Girolami

Carsen Taite recently blogged about a certain illness. This malady attaches to the brain right around the time she’s trying to finish a manuscript and some perverse set of synapses and other brain firings cause her to begin contemplating her next novel. This of course, blocks the flow of the current novel and wreaks havoc on her creative process, not to mention her completion tasks.  While this syndrome isn’t life threatening by any means, it is considered a threat to edit goals. I believe the technical term is: deadline killer.

I, too, am afflicted by Premature Creative Syndrome. And I struggle with that same devious pathological cognitive condition. It’s current outbreak happened the other night. And this time it was a case of premature onset of PCS.  Rather than striking at the end of work on a manuscript, I contracted the illness at the beginning of my novel. While writing novel #5, I lay awake last night and felt my synapses firing in strange ways. OK, maybe there’s no empirical data that proves that synapses are related to higher thinking, but I swear that that’s what was happening and I felt it in the right side of my brain, so there.

Anyway, as I lay there thinking about the first chapters I’d written of novel #5 , I jumped to planning novel #6.  How would the story start? Where would the story start? Sheesh. It was 2:30 am and I was pondering how to write a novel that I shouldn’t be spending brain time on for quite a while.

Novel #6  happens to be an adaptation from a screenplay treatment I once pitched to the movie studios. No, I hadn’t had a shot of whiskey that night nor had I become frustrated at my progress on novel #5.  The thoughts just…came. A stream of what I thought was brilliant consciousness (hey, it was 2:30 after all) flooded my head. It spoke like I was reading it from some already written manuscript, not from the years-old treatment which is a cut and dry outline, but from a fresh and lively character’s POV.

 At that point, I knew if I fell asleep, the next morning would bring a faint, foggy, and frustrating memory; one that would tease the peripheries of my recall faculties, dimly dancing just out of reach, so I got out of bed (Susan asked what the heck I was doing but has come to understand insanities) and I turned my laptop back on to write it all down. Naturally, I then had to go into my study to find the treatment from long ago (we’re talking 1992) and flip through the pages.

By close to 3:30 am, this disorder had run its course, my mind had calmed down, and I was able to go back to bed.

So here’s my question. When stricken with this illness, do we take some kind of pill that can suppress precipitative musings or do we just succumb to it’s feverish doggedness? 

One camp may recommend the former, for deadlines prevail and first things first. But those who prescribe to the latter may argue that any and all creative thought should not be quashed regardless of when said thoughts  occur. I mean, heck, it may never come back! Like Jackie Robinson said, “Above anything else, I hate to lose a new idea.” OK, maybe he stopped at “lose” but he could have been talking about a cool story concept.

There are no PCS support meetings. There are no PCS self-help books in Barnes and Noble.  

And still, I know I have to live with PCS and just hope its symptoms become precious sources of creation and productivity.


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 626 other followers


%d bloggers like this: