Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"You all everybody
You all everybody
Acting like the stupid people
Wearing expensive clothes."

Drive Shaft

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Truth Is Out There

My current writing project is editing HEAVENLY MOVES, my set-in-1982 rock'n'roll murder mystery. This was the first novel I ever started - a long, LONG time ago - and the second novel I ever finished. Well, finished the first draft, at least, which turned out to be a behemoth (for me) at 116K words.

I love this book, I believe in this book and I know there's a great story buried in there amongst all the verbiage and fat. As I go through it, word by page by chapter, I'm reminded of two of the best bits of writing advice I've gotten so far.

The first has to do with editing. The question is: once you've finished the first draft and you're editing the manuscript, how many times should you go through the entire work to make sure it's the best it can be? And the answer/advice is: go through it again and again AND AGAIN, until you CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE!!! - then go through it one more time.

I'm not quite at the CAN'T STAND IT ANYMORE stage with HEAVENLY MOVES - but it's not far away! (this is a good thing when you're a writer, believe it or not)

The second piece of advice has to do with telling the story. Like many novelists (all, I suspect), there is an autobiographical element in my tales. Sometimes more, sometimes less. In HEAVENLY MOVES, my protagonist (whose name is Heavenly, by the way) works as a clerk at the county public defender's office. This is a job I once held in my 20s and for an aspiring author, it was an absolute gold mine of crazy characters on both sides of the law, melodrama, crime, punishment, office politics, and human nature at its best and worst. It was also a really good job for me at the time - thanks again, Anonymous County & Wonderful Coworkers!

Looking back, it may have been that time in my life when my desire to write a novel crystallized. I knew I wanted to, I thought I could do it, but I just didn't know what to write. Yet. But I was paying attention to the world around me and slowly collecting ingredients for a mystery. A few years later, I found myself living in a dilapidated apartment two blocks from the beach in Los Angeles. Like all new tenants, I kept getting mail for the previous tenant. Really cool mail. Way cooler than my own. I started to wonder about this stranger who had lived in my apartment... And BAM, I finally had my plot. HEAVENLY MOVES was born.

Which brings me back to that second piece of advice, which is: Just Because It Happened Doesn't Mean It Belongs In The Story. In other words, if you're writing fiction which is all or partially based on a true event, it's FICTION, not just a recounting of what actually happened. In true life, you go to the grocery store, you pump gas, you take a shower, you do a lot of really boring stuff. But fiction is lean, mean and efficient. Everything has a purpose and that purpose is to move the story along. Sure, there's room for flavor and color and the occasional wry observation - but even that stuff must have a purpose.

Which is too bad, because I've got a lot of great stories from those public defender years! Whether they'll make the final cut for HEAVENLY MOVES remains to be seen. Like this one time, this woman was yelling at me and insisting she had to see an attorney NOW, and I (uncharacteristically) lost my temper, yelled back and basically told her to shut up, sit down and we would deal with her after we'd helped the other folks who were ahead of her in line. We were separated only by a narrow wooden counter and, for a moment, I thought she was going to come across it at me. However, she (uncharacteristically) simmered down and took a seat. I then turned over her paperwork to find she was there because she'd tried to murder her common law husband. With a claw hammer. Yikes! I never yelled at another customer on that job.

So, there's a true story, an entertaining story, something that really happened - but does it belong in the book? Will it survive the editing process? Only if it serves a purpose.

And thus the moral of today's blog post is threefold: Keep editing until you can't stand it! Just because it's the truth doesn't necessarily mean it belongs in the story! The customer with a claw hammer is always right!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"I want to change the world. Instead, I sleep."

Ingrid Michaelson

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Who's On First?

SHADOW POINT is written in the 1st person, as is HEAVENLY MOVES. But I purposely wrote ROMEO FAILS in the 3rd person. (Quick Review: An example of 1st person, as you may recall from your 8th grade grammar class, is "I opened the door." 3rd person would be "She opened the door.") Writing ROMEO FAILS in 3rd person was, at first, quite difficult for me because it made me feel remote from my main character: Dorsey Lee Larue, lifelong resident of the tiny Midwestern town of Romeo Falls and reluctant employee of the family business, Larue's Swingtime Hardware. Dorsey - partly by design and partly as a result of writing in 3rd person - is a LOT less like me than the protagonists in the other two novels.

Some might argue that's a good thing.

After a while, though, I felt more comfortable writing in the 3rd person and found my groove. Oddly enough, that "remote" character ended up speaking some truths that neither of the 1st person protagonists ever did. And I certainly appreciated the power that the omniscient narrator had in ROMEO FAILS - I was not stuck with just the main character's point of view. Now, as both a reader and a writer, I do love experiencing the arc of the story firsthand with a 1st person narrator. For those of us who truly love to read, the intimacy of that experience is exquisite. But it sure was fun in ROMEO FAILS to jump from one perspective to another - I was the heroine, the villain, the police chief and even a spunky little tabby cat named Ira, for one scene! (give yourself 10 points if you can figure out the last name of the two cats in the story, George and Ira :-))

When I was initially struggling with writing in the 3rd person, an acquaintance - who also happens to be a high school English teacher - suggested to me that I go ahead and write the book in 1st person, then go back and change it to 3rd person after it was all done. She meant well, but I gaped at her in horror and dismay when she suggested that to me! That would be a completely different writing experience, I knew. Not to mention untrue to my intentions. Plus, I imagined it would be like writing a novel in French, then translating it into English. No matter how good the translation, it just wouldn't be quite the same. Thus the phrase "lost in translation."

As with most things in this life, there are both pros and cons to writing in 1st person or 3rd person. I'll probably try writing in the 3rd person again. (in fact, I already have in the short story
LUCY FRENCH'S HELL) I guess the protagonist will let me know which voice she or he needs to use.

So, are more books written in 1st person or 3rd person? I don't know. (and neither does she!) I love a good story, regardless of who the narrator is or other stylistic considerations, but if I had to pick, I'd say I prefer reading a story in 1st person. I've read, however, that most works of lesbian fiction are in 3rd person. My own experience as a reader backs up that theory.

I wonder why. Do readers prefer that? Do writers prefer that?

Just as a practical matter, I must say a story written in 1st person makes it much easier to differentiate between two female characters who are having a conversation when one is "I" and the other is "her." (as opposed to two shes) If you're writing in 3rd person, you either have to use both character's names all the time to make it clear who is speaking - and that gets annoying real quick - or use other tricks, like identifying one of the speakers as the taller woman, the older woman, the city girl, the brunette, etc. Which is also annoying (to me, at least) in the long run. And heaven forbid you have three women in a conversation!

"What?" she said.
"How dare you question me!" she replied.
"Now you two stop squabbling," she interjected.

Who's on 1st???

Well, SHE is, we know that much!

Wait... I just realized... is it Saturday night and I'm blogging about grammar stuff? Because only a super cool person would do that, I hope you know! Well, in any event, I/me/we/she bid you adieu for now, dear Reader!

Saturday Quote-O-Rama!

"...the blues are because you're getting fat or maybe it's been raining too long. You're sad, that's all. But the mean reds are horrible..."

Holly Golightly

(OK, Truman Capote)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Wherefore Art Thou - oh, there you are.

I'm very excited, Dear Reader, to announce that Bella Books (publisher of my first novel SHADOW POINT) will be publishing my second novel, ROMEO FAILS, in February 2012. Yahoo!

ROMEO FAILS is a very different story from SHADOW POINT:
  • It's not a ghost story. It's totally normal, not paranormal!
  • It's set in a tiny (population 3,557) Midwestern town, not in California like my other two books. A town called Romeo Falls...
  • It's written in the third person, not first person like SHADOW POINT. That may or may not make much difference to a reader, but it was HUGE for me as a writer. More on that later, no doubt.
So, just to recap. SHADOW POINT came out last month - woo hoo! ROMEO FAILS is coming in 2012 - woo hoo! And I'm slowly but surely editing/refining/rewriting HEAVENLY MOVES, my set-in-1982 rock'n'roll murder mystery extravaganza. Well, maybe extravaganza is a bit much. Vaganza alone doesn't sound quite right, though... Well, while I ponder that, you look for the hidden Elvis Costello reference in this blog post. And did I say happy new year? Happy New Year, blogsters!

Delivered By Kate Moennig, If Possible

A quick update for you on my adorable neighbor, Screamer McHelltot - just a few days after my recent blog post about Screamer and other obstacles to writing, I'll be darned if the entire McHelltot family didn't up and move away!

Arkansas is lovely this time of year... I hope they'll be very happy there.

It's blissfully quiet here.

And I had NO idea this blog was so powerful! I must use this power only for good. And I'm going to get right on that, right after this one last request: I'd like a million bucks, please.