Monday, June 30, 2014

Plotting a Novel: Contest for Writers! A Chance To Find The Heart of Your Story with Bonnie Grove

Re-Run Post--but a current contest for writers! This post first appeared in May, 2011, but the contest portion is CURRENT!
Comment below to enter using the abbreviation: FYTS, and you could win me this summer.

Huh. That didn't sound right.

Read on!

To outline or not to outline, that is the question. If you as Roger Rosenblatt he'll say, "Never!" If you ask John Truby he'll say, "Always!" If you ask me, I'll say "Somewhere between never and always." What I mean is there are elements of a novel that I work out in advance of writing, and there are things I trust to the writing and don't try to plan out in advance. Today, I'm going to share some of my ways of plotting a novel (and at the end, there's a new contest!) with two disclaimers: Disclaimer 1) I write non-genre novels. If you are writing a genre novel, you will need to plot very differently as you will be expected to hit all the expected plot points of that genre. 2) There is no sure-fired right way to plot a novel. And every novel you write will make its unique demands. It's far more important to trust what the story is telling you then to worry about if you're "doing it right". Writing is fluid and any attempts to restrict the flow of story will result in a dried up narrative.
When I approach a new novel (this is after I've done all the preliminary work ensuring the idea is novel worthy), I focus on "plotting" key elements of the story before I begin writing. These key elements are:
1) Strong characters. I need a protagonist and an opponent. These two characters are after the same thing in the story (the desire line of the protagonist runs the story. Everyone else in the story exists to either help the protag to get what he wants, or to try to stop him from getting what he desires. Everything hinges on this element), so they both have to be outstanding. They have to be compelling even if they were standing against a blank wall.
1a) In conjunction with strong characters, I don't start writing until I can hear them speak. Dialogue is plot. Knowing how my characters speak is the first step to discovering what they will say.
1b) A moral argument/theme. In great stories all the characters in the novel live out various expressions of the stories moral argument. I need to plot my characters so that as many facets of the moral argument or theme is being played out.
2) A strong sense of movement in the story. I tend to start with theme when I begin thinking about a new story. So I need to ensure my themes have taken on flesh and started walking around before I start writing. Until there is movement in the story, all I have is a collection of interesting ideas, and pretty images.
3) Setting. My favorite editor will laugh at this (I'm notorious for vague settings), but setting or non-setting is a huge influence on plot. There are things that can only happen because of where the story takes place. And there are things that cannot happen because of the setting. Also, setting is another character in the story and must also reflect the moral argument.

Here are some Bonnie Grove FAQ:
Q: Do you write a "pitch line" for a story before you write the story?
A: Yes. It's a premise line and I think it's necessary to write one before I start writing the novel. It guides the writing. This is both more simple and more difficult then it appears.

Q: Do you write a synopsis before you write the story?
A: No. I write a great many details and do a great deal of planning before hand, but nothing that resembles a synopsis. When or if I require one, I can write it quickly enough.

Q: Do you outline?
A: As stated above, the answer is sort of. After I do the plot work above, I write a scene weave sequence--which is a sentence or two about the main action of all the scenes I want to write. (e.g. At the store: Dan and Bob argue about money. Bob leaves angry.) Doing this allows me to track the tension/action throughout the story and still be able to make tons of changes without having to do a bunch of rewriting.

Q: Do you know the ending before you begin?
A: Yes. But I've rewritten endings, too. I like to know where I'm headed when I start out, but I am prepared to be wrong about my choice. I try to stay flexible. And I know when I start, I'll likely end up in the expected emotional/moral place I wanted to, but it might look very different when I arrive.

CONTEST!! Find your True Story:
Comment on this post today and through the week to be eligible to win. A winner will be chosen randomly on Thursday, July 3rd.
Prize: The winner will submit their short synopsis. I will work with the winner, digging through the story to find the key elements, and the heart of the story. Then, we will craft a killer pitch line (premise) that will be the guiding force behind plotting and writing your story.
Got a story you that won't come into focus? Want a steady hand to help you work through a problem area? This is your contest! Enter today! Not everyone who comments is necessarily entering the contest. We welcome all comments! If you would like to be entered include the abbreviation FYTS at the end of your comment.
Good luck!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Out of the Garden - Part 20

This week's installment is the conclusion of our collaborative story written by Patti Hill. You can catch up with previous installments here.

Through the tangle of roots I supported Princess Orlagh as we moved toward the shimmer of light in the distance. As we moved closer, my spine straightened with a pop pop pop, strength surged into my legs and arms, and a surefootedness I hadn't experienced in decades made the travel seem more like a dance.

The princess pressed ahead, obviously feeling the power that came with moving toward home.

I stopped at the thought of home. I wiggled my toes in the rich earth without one echo of pain. I ran my hands over my face, now taut with rounded cheeks. The hair that water-falled over my shoulder was the polished mahogany of my youth. And yet, I turned back toward the chink in the rocks Callan had placed over the portal.


"Maeva," the princess said with snip, "I need help with this ragwort. My wing isn't ready for flight."

I stepped out into a world as familiar as my heartbeat--green and gray with a mist that caressed my skin. I looked up into the ragwort with its yellow windmill petals against a lightening sky. The princess could fly home on its stem, which grew as big around as my wrist.

"I haven't a knife," I told her.

"You're as forgetful as a mayfly, Maeva." She touched the stem with a finger and felled the plant. I cleared the plant of its leaves and blossoms and sliced a length for her to use as a flying stick. I stood in the debris of my work, happy with what I'd accomplished. I held out the stem to her.

She straddled the stem and looked over her shoulder at me. "Follow close behind," she said. "I haven't depended on a ragwort to fly since my wee days."

When I hesitated, she frowned. "You're coming, aren't you?"

The cord from Callan's earphones wouldn't hold Peta for long, and then I feared Callan would feel the full force of her wrath when I was the deserving one. And only I knew how to seal the portal. The few rocks Callan piled would only serve to point the way for Peta. Most importantly, when the time came, who would I pass my light to? There was no fae I loved quite so dearly as Callan.

As if she read my thoughts, the princess said, "We will tell stories of your sacrifice around campfires until the last fae has breath."

I curtsied deeply to my princess. "You think too highly of me, your highness." Staying meant youth for generations into the future, mischief among the humans, and the fellowship of the fae. But returning to my human home meant a fulfillment of the love commitment I'd made to Don, as real as any I'd ever made, and the protection of all I held dear in the world of the fae. "The portal must be closed from the other side. Any fae I could name would do the same."

The mist brightened and a breeze slit a hole to the sky, Donegal's bluest blue. From a distance the stuttering honk of the Brent geese sounded. The blousy frills of the wild roses bent and swayed. Above us a heron beat his wings and trailed his long legs like a rudder. I breathed in the deep earth scent of peat.. To leave once nearly ripped my heart out of my chest. To leave again?


"I must go." Before I could change my mind, I nodded my head and turned toward the portal. Returning through the roots, my energy sagged and my knees cracked with every step. I focused on the chink of light, pressing and willing myself to forget the land of the fae.

I pushed at the rocks closing the portal, but they didn't budge. I called out to Callan, hoping that with his new wings his hearing had grown more acute.

"Grandma, is that you?" I heard from the other side of the barrier.

"Open the portal! We've work to do!"

Outside the portal I took in the drama I'd left behind. Margaret was working at loosing Peta and apologizing profusely. Bree stood gape-mouthed, surely trying to adjust her belief that family was annoying and boring to what she had just seen. Everyone else must have left. All for the best.

As I grew back to my full stature, my knees fired signals of pain and my arms hung limp at my sides. My shoulders stooped forward. The portal had to be closed before Peta worked free. Turning toward the base of the tree, I struggled to remember the words that had only moments earlier played over and over in my head.

As seo go...?


From behind, Peta tackled me into the gladiolas. My right knee hit an exposed tree root and I screamed out. My face pressed into the flowers, their crushed flesh sending out a sweetness that seemed all wrong for what was happening.

Peta sat on my back, huffing and puffing from the exertion of laying me flat. My right knee throbbed, so I drew up my left knee and pushed against the ground to buck her off. For once my heft came in handy.

"Help me up, Callan!" To my surprise, Margaret moved more quickly to my side, pulling me to my feet.

Peta grabbed hold of my ankle, and Margaret couldn't keep me from falling again. There was nothing to do but close the portal from where I lay. "As seo go dtí go dearmad an ghrian a Shine, dún an sliocht seo!"

"It's gone, Grandma. You did it. The portal is closed."

Peta's hot breath filled my ear. "You may have closed the portal, Maeva, but the boy's magic is fresh and powerful. Soon it will be mine."

One look at Callan's face, and I knew his hearing was as sharp as a fox. "Grandma?" he said, backing toward the house.

"What did she say?" Margaret demanded, putting a protective arm around Callan. But only I could save him. Only I knew--or once knew--how to unwing a fae to take her magic. I'd never done it, of course. But every fae studies the Book, reads the words of warfare with discomfort, hoping the knowledge is never needed, especially that you are not the offending fae who deserves banishment and worse.

Peta moved toward Callan and Margaret. Margaret stepped in front of her son. My heart swelled with pride and dread. She had no way of knowing what Peta intended to do. Losing his wings meant losing his magic, which meant a gradual fading of his light and life. I could not allow that to happen.

I pictured the opened Book and the candle illuminating the words written with the pigments of snails and flowers. I rolled onto my left hip to heft myself up.

"Mom, stay down!"

Peta turned to me. "I won't be stopped."

I closed my eyes to read the first line from the page. "Leathnaigh do sciatháin!" Wings be unfurled!

Peta's wings rose. Through their translucence the flowerbeds behind her seemed to bleed into a watercolors. She looked bigger, more menacing. As she stomped toward me, I closed my eyes again to read. The words blurred in my memory. I rose to my feet just as Peta came near. We stood toe to toe.

"Problems remembering, Maeva?"

"Yes, but I have no problem remembering the sisterhood of the fae, how we fought side by side to protect our home, and how we dispensed our mischief as partners in glee. You were my strongest ally. Is tumbling among the gladiolas how we want to end our days?"

Peta put her hands to my throat and squeezed. I willed myself not to panic. Magic was too distant a memory to save me now. I touched her forearms, rubbing as if to soothe, sending my thoughts back to the Peta I knew in the fae court.

Margaret stepped closer. "Mom, should I call the police?"

I met my daughter's gaze. I hoped she saw the calm in me, the unreasonable, desperate calm I called upon to face Peta. Margaret nodded but showed me that she had her cell phone ready.

I said for Peta's ears only, "Do you remember the time we wove straw into the farmer's beard, dodging his snores and stifling our giggles? Or the time I lowered the monbretia into the bucket, so you could climb out? You would have drowned."

Her grip loosened, but she countered, "I distracted the farmer's cat. You would have been bones and gristle if I hadn't called out."

"I held your hand as your da passed his light to you." Peta's wings sagged and she cried into my shoulder.

"Mother?" There were too many questions in Margaret's utterance to answer in that moment, so I simply told her that Peta would be leaving, and that we should put together leftovers for her journey home.

Margaret, Bree, and Callan stayed at the house until my scrapes and bruises healed. They peppered me with questions of my life among the fae and what waited for Callan if he chose to live among the fae. I even caught Bree checking for wings in the mirror.

"It's an odd business," I told her, "how these things get passed down. I haven't a clue why Callan and not you."

"What if Peta comes back when you're not around?" she said. "How can I protect Callan?"

I took her in my arms, the first time since her preteen years, and she didn't resist. "I've remembered more. I'll write everything out for you. I needed something to keep me busy. This ought to do it."

"I won't let you down, Grandma."

"I never dreamed you would."

I felt the space between her shoulder blades. "Boy fae mature faster than the girls. I wouldn't give up hope, not just yet."

Patti Hill is the author of six novels. You can learn all about them here. She's also a founding member of Novel Matters, which means she has five of the loveliest friends a woman could hope for.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Get Your Story Straight--A Best-of Rerun

Asking people for interviews can be intimidating and it can be downright difficult to find the right person to begin with. But your interviewees can also be goldmines of information providing nuggets of new story ideas and directions for development. Here are some of my observations from interviewing people:

  • If the book or article for which you are doing the interview doesn't get published, you can feel like you've let the interviewee down. They've probably already told their friends the exciting news that an author interviewed them. Some may even expect to be on The View once the book comes out. I once interviewed two fantastic young people who rode endurance (horses) and they were so excited that their stories might end up in a magazine article. I was careful to say that I was writing it on speculation and didn't know if it would ever sell. It never did, but I was fortunate to spend that time with them hearing about their passion for endurance riding. 
  • It can be challenging to find the person who can help you without feeling like a stalker. It's unsettling to feel the distrust of others. "I'm really a nice person," you want to say. If you can get a referral or an introduction from someone who knows the person, so much the better. I was incredibly fortunate to find a Family Law Court judge in Los Angeles who allowed me to interview him by phone at his home during the Superbowl. That would never have happened if I hadn't known an attorney who was his close friend. I didn't know the connection, but I asked and hit the jackpot. The judge's advice in regard to family rights and kids switched at birth was incredibly valuable. I spent several sleepless nights worrying over the accuracy of my research until he confirmed that the story was legally correct. 
  • People have expectations that are hard to get around sometimes. No matter how often you reiterate that you are not telling their stories, some just won't get it. They will contact you after reading the complimentary copy of the book to tell you that you got it wrong. They might be angry or disappointed because they thought that finally their tragedy, their experience, would have meaning. This happened to me and there was nothing I could do about it except to feel very bad and question whether I wasn't clear or could have done the interview better. Thankfully, I was contacted by the person later and her outlook was so different. She was finally okay with it and loved the book. Phew!
  • Do your research before you conduct the interview so that you can ask pertinent, intelligent questions. The interviewee will appreciate that you are not wasting his or her time and recognize that you are serious about your craft, perhaps being more willing to allow follow up interviews or take a look at some sections during the rewrite process.
  • When you do so much research, you need to be sure you've processed it correctly. I have passed along sections of my manuscript to the interviewee to make sure my facts and understanding of our conversation were correct. For example, I interviewed a veterinarian and later sent her the pages that I wanted checked for authenticity during the rewrite stage. She graciously looked them over and crossed out the sentence where the main character buys hair color at the store. This was a young woman, but again, NOT about her. Whatever. I also interviewed a new mom who had a baby late in life through in vitro fertilization. She compared her experience to what I had gleaned from the tons of new information I'd gathered, and cleared up a few misconceptions.
  • Be sensitive to your interviewee's frame of mind, especially if he or she is visiting dark or painful memories. Offer the option of cutting the interview short and starting again at some prearranged time. Perhaps they would be more comfortable writing down their answers and emailing them, which is not ideal for the writer but could be in their best interest.
Do you have any tidbits to share about interviewing people for your writing?

Monday, June 23, 2014

Summertime and the living is easy

Novel Matters is running favorite posts from over the years. We're pleased to bring you, over the next couple of months, some of our favorite articles about writing. We will still interact on the comment page.
Here's a favorite from Bonnie Grove.

I was an actor in my former life. My high school years can be summed up in two words: drama geek.
  I love the sweaty palm feel of a night at the improv—you know, when you jump onto a bare stage, someone yells out a situation, or maybe just a character trait, and then says, “GO!” You start acting your heart out, creating scene, tension, character, and reaction on the fly.
There’s nothing like a creative riff to blow the rust off your brain.
There’s a secret rule to improv: never say no.
No matter what happens, no matter what a fellow actor insists of you, don’t resist. The challenge is to find a way to go it. Run with an ever changing, ever evolving moment. If you’re up on stage pretending to fly a kite and another actor comes in and tells you he’s a lion tamer and starts cracking his whip at you, you don’t turn to that actor and say, “I’m not a lion.”
  You embrace your inner creative and bend to the lion tamer’s will (not to mention that whip), by reacting in a way that allows the kite flying scene to evolve and become more than it was. You are no longer a person flying a kite, but a lion clawing at a rope, trying to escape.
You go with it.
Writing prompts are the improv of words: permission to let go of our preset ideas and splash in the puddles of our minds. And when we let loose, when we go a-playing for the sheer fun of it, something amazing happens.
We get real honest, real fast.
When we let our mind fly, the fetters come off. We let go of our fears. We're no longer worried what an editor might think. We let go of social constraints, family, church, fussy friendships that hold us back from riffing on what we truly think, feel, ache for.
Writing prompts help us stuff our inner nagging Granny in the closet. They invite us to, mentally and emotionally, take off our girdles and scratch. Words flying without constraint. We only react. We only pour out the words. 
And that’s why we should all be riffing with writing prompts.
Burn the thing afterwards if you have to, or bury it in the backyard, but get to that honest place.
If the golden rule is to write what you know, then the governing rule is Writer, know thyself.
 Here are a few more prompts to nudge you to the knowing place. Have fun with them, and, if you’re daring, please share your riff with us in the comments section.
1 1  A bag lady finds a crying baby in a back alley dumpster.
   2 Write a paragraph about orange.
3 3 Write a stream of consciousness sentence that begins with the word “noise”. Write down the next word that comes to mind, then the next, and the next. Do not stop to think, just write the words down for three minutes.
4 4 Describe falling asleep.
The above prompts are original to Bonnie Grove. You are free to share them as you like, just please reference Novel Matters when you do. Thanks!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Out of the Garden Part 19

Today's installment comes from Debbie Thomas.  (To read the story from the beginning click here.)

I dropped Hector and followed close on Peta's heels. Callan tried to block her way, but she elbowed him aside, saying, "Out of my way, boy."  She continued on into the living room, sniffing like a wolf after a scent.

"You can't hide her from me, I don't even know why you would try."  She opened the hall closet and stuck her nose into the winter coats.  She shut the door and turned the corner into the bathroom, her dark gaze sliding over every crevice large enough for a faerie to hide in.

"Peta," I said, drawing on all my courage.  "It's time for you to go.  I...I mean it.  Go. Now."

Peta paused and slowly pivoted.  She took a step toward me, and in spite of my resolve, I stepped back. Her look pinned me to the spot where she held me, squirming. "Poor Maeva," she said, finally. She looked me over like I was a specimen.  "You still don't remember, do you?"  She turned back to her search and said, almost to herself, "Dara.  Cait.  And that stupid Torin."  She glanced back over her shoulder to gauge my reaction.  "They made it so easy."

Members of the court.  Some of Princess Orlagh's inner circle.  A shooting pain blinded me and I pressed my fingertips into  my forehead.  I sagged against the wall until it subsided.  When I looked up, Peta was rifling through my bedroom. 

Callan caught my eye and slid his gaze toward the dresser.  It took a moment to find her.  Princess Orlagh was crouched by a bottle of Youth Dew with her wings folded as best she could.  The strong scent was potent enough to disguise her faerie musk.  Peta had her back to me and I motioned toward a blanket on the edge of the bed.  Callan licked his lips and nodded.

I stepped to the dresser and scooped up the Princess, carefully slipping her into my pocket.  Peta turned to see what I was doing and rage filled her.  She reached for me, but Callan threw the blanket over her head and tackled her to the floor.  I raced for the back door, throwing it open with one hand and protecting the Princess with the other.  Hector ran ahead of me to the tree with the exposed roots by the wall.  I looked over my shoulder, but saw no sign of Peta.  I could only pray she wouldn't hurt my grandson.

I carefully removed the Princess from my pocket and set her on the ground.  Her luster was dimming and I feared that she would be too weak to cross over.  Muffled scuffling could be heard inside the house, and the Princess lifted her eyes to the sound. 

"Brathadair."  Traitor.

 "Yes, she is.  I remember now.  Go,"  I urged her. 

She reached for my hand, and at her touch, I felt the queer sensation of shrinking.  The tree roots climbed twisted and dark above my head, the sword blades of grass past my ears.  Hector's feet and legs stood like silent columns just outside the portal.  From the corner of my eye, I saw iridescent shimmer from my shoulder blades. I felt light and airy as a sunbeam.  A wondrous feeling after years of pain and loneliness.

The screen door slammed and Callan ran up to us at the portal.  His speed and the sight of his enormous shoes and pumping legs overwhelmed me, but he stooped down when he approached us.

He looked at me.  Words failed us both. I touched his hand, feeling the loss of him already.  And gently from his shoulder blades, iridescent wings unfurled like a newly hatched butterfly.

Feeling the growth coursing through him, he turned his head this way and that trying to see the wings, reaching his hands around himself like a cat chasing its tail. 

An angry curse went up from the kitchen, and he said, "Go.  Go on.  We'll stall her."

"You and Hector.  There's more to him than meets the eye. Take care of your mom and Bree."  I blew him a kiss.  "Slan agat, my sweet Callan."

"Slan leat, Grandma,"  he answered, clearly surprising himself.

Callan piled rocks in front of the portal as the Princess and I moved deeper into the base of the roots toward an unexpected pinpoint of light.  I glanced back one last time when the screen door slammed.  Through a chink in the rocks, I saw Peta huffing and disheveled from her struggle with the blanket.  Her wrists were bound with the cords to the earbuds of Callan's IPod.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Talking Back to Markus Zusak (Because I Can)

Many thanks to Sharon for sharing the interview with Markus Zusak on Monday here.

She posted two interviews, and I watched both of them--and took notes! The Book Thief is one of my favorite novels, which is exactly what the author intended. (I talk back to him about that in a moment.)

Yes, the novel is fabulous, wonderful, poignant, contradictory, spine-chilling. But mostly it is human, so I wanted to hear what he had to say.

Markus: The inspiration for The Book Thief came from my own life, the stories I grew up hearing at the kitchen table about my family's experience in Nazi Germany and Austria. (A paraphrase. I never took shorthand, a true regret.)

Me: Hey, that's where I get my inspiration, only my family didn't live through a horrendous war and the cruelty that rode its back. My family's history is boring. But you're so right about writing out of your own life.

It took me three novels to write through my biggest fear, being left alone like my mother. My father died when I was three, so the reality of brevity is very real to me. I'm surprised I didn't fill a bookshelf with that bit of inspiration.

The rest of my novels are like that, too, Markus--ordinary people caught up in dramas that require extraordinary strength. Not so different from yours, really, if you squint down hard.

Markus: Try to write someone's favorite book.

Me: What do you think I've been doing? Sorry, that was snarky. Obviously, I have some room to grow here. The key, I think, is that I must, must, must forget about selling the story, which is tough, but oh so necessary if I'm to write my favorite book. Only by writing my favorite story will I write someone else's favorite story.

Markus: I edited the first 80-90 pages of The Book Thief 150 to 200 times.

Me: Shut up! That's crazy. You weren't under contract, were you? This is how it was for my first book, too. I have a tub the size of a casket filled to the top with my edited pages. I use the tub as a visual aid when I talk to classrooms about self-editing. Kids are relieved to see all those pages. They mean they don't have to get their words spot-on perfect the first time. Thanks for reminding me of the same thing.

Markus: The Book Thief changed my life. I always want to write stories that means something. This story meant everything to me.

Me: The trick then, I suppose, is to write about things that move us as authors deeply, so that every story we write means everything to us. We'll need a vacation to places with umbrella drinks between those stories, or, at least, we should need a vacation.

Thanks for letting me talk back to you, Markus. Do you have a critique group? Yeah, that's what I thought. Just thought I'd ask.

Where do you get your inspiration? Do you think book contracts stifle creativity or spur it on? Is it possible for every story to be our everything story? 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Monday at the Movies: Markus Zusak

Today we're sharing an interview with Markus Zusak, best-selling author of the acclaimed The Book Thief. He talks about the inspiration for and the evolution of his remarkable story, which started out as a novella. I hope you enjoy.
And if you'd like a longer interview, here is one where Markus talks about the writing process.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Out of the Garden part 18

This week's instalment comes from Catherine Leggitt

(To read the story from the beginning click here.)

Callan and I stared out the window at the commotion in the garden, which seemed to have escalated to a cacophony. Peta and Margaret, faces inches apart, gestured and ranted at one another, though I couldn’t make out their words.

The rest of the family resembled circling vultures.

“Looks like they need a referee.” The smirk in Callan’s eyes belied his serious tone.

Dare I leave The Her alone?

“Hurry.” Callan waved me out. “I’ll guard Her.”
From the bed, The Her beseeched. Get rid of them. The chest rattle now a snare drum. There wasn’t much time left.

Leaving Callan with The Her, I headed for the garden, Hector padding close behind. I pushed through the screen door, letting it pop-bang shut, and I spoke above the din. “What’s going on out here?”

Margaret bellowed. “Why should Peta make decisions about my mother?”

Her mother. Me. “What decisions?” My gaze bounced between them.

Margaret squeezed her lips shut.

Peta narrowed her eyes to slits, a familiar trick to keep me from reading her thoughts.

“Come on. Out with it.” The Her’s life depended on haste.

“Peta talked to Dr. Marigold.” Margaret blurted. “Aren’t doctors bound by confidentiality?”

They are, of course, but Peta had her ways, abilities Margaret knew nothing about. “And?” I said. “What did he say?”

“She said… he—,” Margaret teared up.

“Oh for granny’s sake,” Bree interrupted. “Peta wants to have you put into a nursing home.”

Hector hissed, then vaulted onto Peta, claws extended, completely deranged.

“Get this bloody beast off me.” She slapped at Hector with bony hands.

I wrenched Hector off of Peta, though it wasn’t easy. “He’s never done that before.” He relaxed in my arms.

Herb and Greta, my daughter’s in-laws, snatched up their belongings, mumbling about rabid animals. Klaus scurried after them. “Come along, children,” he called to his teenagers.

Margaret lingered to give me a hug. “Never mind, mother. We’ll sort this out later.”

Peta’s beady eyes probed the house. Nose in the air, she sniffed. “She’s inside. Don’t for a moment imagine I won’t find Her.”

Memories of Peta’s temper left me speechless.

With a hard look, my cousin flounced to the kitchen.

Callan stood behind the screen door, face ashen. “She’s gone.”

Catherine Leggitt is the author of the Christine Sterling Mysteries, PAYNE & MISERY, THE DUNN DEAL, and PARRISH THE THOUGHT published by Ellechor Publishing. A native Californian, Catherine raised two daughters, taught school, and cared for aging parents before retirement drove her to the keyboard. These days Catherine crafts suspenseful and convoluted plots—exploring God’s mysteries through fiction.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Holden Caulfield Leads the Way

On Monday, Anne Rice suggested we "go where the pain is," in our writing.

Are you like me? Did you lift your head from your nail-painting/paper-clip-sorting/whatever-it-is-you-do-in-a YouTube-watching-moment and ask:

 "What pain?" I know, for some of you the pain is big and immediate and sits right there on top, and you may or may not be ready to write about it yet.

But others of us may have submerged a few things, so we can get through the day. But what if now, for the sake of writing in a voice that's yours alone, you want to dig them up? Where do you look?
I have some thoughts. 

I recently read Catcher In the Rye, because I wanted to watch Salinger, the film Bonnie talked about a few weeks back. It just seemed right to read his book before I watched the film.

It's a good book, and very subtle, and strangely transparent in it's subtleties. Salinger was a master at telling it slant. The plot takes form between the lines. The main character, Holden Caulfield, repeats certain phrases like nervous ticks, and each time he says them, each instance, is like a little signpost. The signs may not be in a language you understand, not at first.

But soon enough you get that they mean something, and you start to pay attention, and they start to tell you what you need to know about Holden Caulfield. 

Phrases like, "I can't stand it," "I hate it," "Boy, do I hate it." 

Phrases like, "If you want to know the truth," "It really does," "I really do." 

Here's how this connects to finding your pain:

Next time you sit down to write, play with those phrases. Start with "I can't stand it when..." and finish the sentence as many times and as many ways as you like.

Play with the others. What is it you hate, boy do you hate? Your reader does want to know the truth. What comes before "I really do," or "It really does," for you? 

Make up a good character, and let your answers shape him.

Then, read the following paragraph: 

"I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody's around--nobody big, I mean--except me. And I'm standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff--I mean if they're running and they don't look where they're going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That's all I'd do all day. I'd just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it's crazy, but that's the only thing I'd really like to be. I know it's crazy."

Now ask your character what he sees, what she would really like to be, crazy or not. 

Oh, and one last thing, for no other reason than I want you to notice: Read the last paragraph of Catcher In the Rye, and ask yourself:

What's it means to miss someone?