Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Peopling your story

Some other site today talked about choosing the right name for characters. which reminded me of an issue I am constantly confronted with. Is it permissable for me a white, middle-aged woman of European descent to make my characters black, ethnic, male, young ,etc?
Well maybe some of these things, but what about portraying African-Americans? Am I claiming ownership of experiences I haven't had when I write about a black man? Is it offensive? Should I even think I might be successful at it.
I wrote one story about a black man and his grandson a few years ago for a journal that deals with disabilities. The man was deaf in the story. Now I had no problem with thinking I could show what it was like to be deaf but I chickened out on his being African-American and took out all the hints. I probably know more about being black than deaf but didn't concern myself with offending the deaf community who would be more likely to read the story in the journal it was in. Should I stick with portraying a white world? Isn't that more offensive in the end?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

First Reader Sends Me Back to the Drawing Board

All right, not on the whole first 50 pages. Just on Chapter Four-the protagonist's childhood. According to first reader, (also known as my husband), I changed my tone in that chapter and began writing in the style I usually use in literary short stories. All the tension drained away. At least, it returned in Chapter Five and Six, thank, God.
I admit Chapter 4 was almost a cut and paste job so I'm not surprised. And, on the bus today, I suddenly saw what has to happen in her childhood. The tone reasserted itself when I thought of the story I should tell about this period.
I am still unsure how much childhood is good for the story. Very little, I expect unless it is as dark as her adult years.
My husband, a great fan of Sara Gran's, waved Come Closer in front of me this morning. I read half of it on the bus. She does manage to sustain tension, doesn't she? I'm not much a fan of horror (although I loved Dope), but as a roadmap to what I want the book to be like, it's right up there with Megan's Queenpin, Duayne Swierczinksi, or Anne Frasier's novels.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Everyone has a Boo Radley. Right?

Reading To Kill a Mockingbird for my bookgroup, I am reminded of the Pershings who lived on my street in the West Oak Lane section of Philly in the late fifties. Mr. and Mrs. Pershing, elderly and childless as far as we could tell, was the family that scared us.
We lived on a street of rowhouses, of course, (this is Philly) and about one-hundred children populated that particular block in the babyboom era. After dinner on summer nights, most of the kids under fourteen played games in the back alley--baby in the air, dodge ball, etc. Midway through the games, when the noise level reached a certain pitch, the Pershings, in the center of our street, would set their dog upon us, dispersing us to our homes. The dog was a terror, big-jawed and a loud barker.
This trick was more effective in sending us to bed than a thousand parental calls. The Pershings were not as mythical as the Radleys but they were the family on our block that terrified us. To my knowledge, no one ever reported their behavior to the police or even commented on it. Parents then were not so easily enraged or proactive. Maybe our parents were grateful for another fall guy.
Did you have a family like the Pershings on your childhood street?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Novel

I have definitely left the short story range with the novel finally, having forty pages. (Or do I need to think in Ks instead of pages). It's not exactly the story it started out to be, somewhere the story of Detroit is pushing out some earlier ideas but it's as dark as I hoped. In trying to get rid of the hint of a short story though, I am still finding myself writing little epiphanies every so often. Now I have to get rid of them. I think they are functioning as little wrapups to chapters. Just cut the last line of each chapter and it will go away perhaps.

Megan arrives today for a three-event deal in the Detroit area. What are you supposed to serve people after a book signing? Last time, we didn't know any better and just had wine and cheese. This time I've been buying food and drink all week and am still wake at two wondering if I have enough. Maybe those little fingers sandwiches will assure enough food. I know nobody ever eats the veggie tray.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Fifteen to Eighteen Years ago

These is some of the crime fiction I was reading between 1989-92. I found the log cleaning up in the attic. This was during a period when I was trying to wean myself from reading so much of this genre. What were you reading? (I know Bryon Q. was reading Horton Hears a Hoo but the rest of you?)
Sleep and His Brother-Peter Dickinson
Well-Schooled in Murder-Elizabeth George
Burden of Proff-Scott Turow
Nemesis-Rosamond Smith
Going Wrong, The Crocodile Bird, Anna's Book-Ruth Rendell
Icy Clutches, Old Scores-Aaron Elkins
The Wench is Dead-Colin Dexter
H is for Homicide, I is for Innocent--Sue Grafton
Dancehall of the Dead, Coyote Waits--Tony Hillerman
A Ticket to the Boneyard, A Dance in the Slaughter House-Lawrence Block
Body in the Vestibule-Katherine Page
Shadown Play, Not That Kind of Place, Deep Sleep-F. Fyfield
A Simple Plan, Scott Smith
A Literary Murder-Batya Gur
Sculptress-Minette Walters
Past Reason Hated-Peter Robinson
Devil in a Blue Dress-Walter Mosley

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Stalkers, Anons, and Other Nasty Stuff

We're vulnerable in 2007. Not just the writers or actors or public figures out there, all of us. So much of what we have, think, or do is available for public scrutiny. A discussion on DorothyL brings this home. Several writers are enduring the harrassment of stalkers.
Then there's the problem of websites and blogs that allow people to post comments, sometimes anonymously. Even if the site does not allow anonymous comments, it's easy to circumvent this by setting up multiple gmail accounts.
How can we protect ourselves from this? Is it fair to give a forum to commenters who will not identify themselves? What's to stop someone from setting up a blog or website that engages in dirty tricks, scurrilous remarks? Nothing that I can see.
How public should we be? Should we answer emails from strangers claiming they liked our story, our book, our comment? Where should the line be drawn?
As the Internet draws us all closer, can we still keep an arm's length from people who wish us ill?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Reading Funk

I am in one of those reading funks where I start books at a clip of several a day and reject them immediately. I won't name names because it's not you, it's me. I need to read To Kill a Mockingbird for my book group, but I want something else first for fun. What have you got out there?

I bet Sarah Weinman finishes every books she starts. I look at her site in awe. I have friends who do this too. Me, I finish abut 20% of them nowadays. I am ashamed.

Additionally I have let myself become distracted from the novel for a day or two to write a story for Bryon's Q.s little challenge. Matter of fact, I wrote two of them and loved every minute of it. Why do I so love the 1000 word or less format? It feeds into my ADD, I guess. Oh, for the days of FITG. Some of the newer sites are fine, but stories turned up on Gutters at a ferocious pace and some of them blew me away. Tribe, we miss you.

Tribe, Tribe, are you out there? I guess not.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Deubt Dagger: Will I or Won't I?

My writing group took a look at my synopsis for a possible Debut Dagger entry last night and voted it about a C+ I'd say. I showed them the sample one the website emailed me first and they didn't much like that one either. My entry didn't pop. I agree. But how can I pop for 750 wrds. Don't I eventually have to give some of the more mundane details or should there be none?
I guess I don't understand synopses yet, which is probably why none of the 11 agents who read it took my novel in stories. I know I should read Ms. Snark, but damn she is a sassy, sarcastic lady.
How can I make every line pop? And do I basically spill all my beans in the synopsis? Don't the 3000 wrds count for more? Back to my computer/ Oh, here it is right here.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Podcast with Megan Abbott

There's a terrific interview with my daughter, Megan Abbott, on Behind the Black Mask - The other interviews on that site are well worth listening to also. These guys do a great job. They also have a series of shows on classic films that I love.

Megan does make it sound like we encouraged her to watch pretty racy movies by age five. I guess we did. We took both kids to their first subtitled movie-Grand Illusion, at the corner arthouse at ages six and seven, figuring they could read well enough by then. My husband told them it might not mean much to them yet but later they would appreciate the film. Of course, it's a family joke now.
Luckily the second film was Annie Hall, which they did enjoy. We were and are a pretty movie addicted family.

Anyway, check it out. Next up comes Allen Guthrie and Reed F. Coleman. Can't wait.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The Thirteenth Tale

I admit I am stalling here. I am approaching the dreaded middle one hundred pages, and it scares me to death. I know what happens in that section but filling it out with hand gestures and the like is not always fun. How often can people say something without scratching their head or closing the cabinet door? You know what I mean. I see vast stretches of untethered dialogue in ohter books but when I do it, it feels wrong. Yet too much tethering will bring it down too.
Meanwhile I am reading Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale and admiring the way she has written a nineteenth century novel and gotten high praise for doing it. You can luxuriate in her prose, roll around in it, because very little happens for long stretches. I can see why many like the book and there are some nice touches, some nice writing, but gee whiz, hasn't she watched The Wire.
I wish I could take more pleasure in it. I think I might have when I smoked twenty years ago.
How did I get to be in such a hurry? How did I get to be so ADD?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Will She Bake a Cherry Pie?

Okay you crime/mystery writers out there. Answer this one: someone left a cherry pie on our back step this morning. It was in a Kroger's bag and it was a Kroger's pie.
How can I find out who left it?
At first I thought it was our snow removal guy (he plowed the back lot at 5:30), but we live in a six townhouse group and none of the others, all who also pay him for his services, had a pie. Any friend would leave it on our front step because the back is more difficult to get to, especially with six inches of snow this morning. No relatives live near by. It's not from my husband; he knows cherry pies are my least favorite and I'm not really a pie person anyway. We are not particularly close to any of the six neighbors--cordial yes, but not close enough for Valentine presents.
So what to you think?

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The Future of Bookstores

My husband and I decided to forgo the usual Valentine's Day gifts and instead buy a book of photographs. Our corner big name store is a small one with little choice so we made a trip across town (45 minute drive) to the biggest one in the area and found a wonderful selection of books. We picked one out, a classic book figuring that we should start this new collection with the classics. It was $75, an amount we figured was equal to the cost of the cards and flowers and candy we usually bought. But the cover was dogearred so we went over to the Customer Service to see if there was another in stock. Putting down her cellphone reluctantly, the clerk said there was nothing in stock, but she could order a copy. We then asked "well, if she was doing that, could she have it delivered to the bookstores down at our corner." She said no. And no again. And no, a third time. We went home and orderd it on Amazon. The cost including handling was just over $50. Now why should I use the chain if they will not provide better service or the better price? You tell me.
The only reason I can think of is this--I couldn't have looked at the books on Amazon.
If those two "B" stores want to stay in business, why don't they provide better service?

Monday, February 12, 2007

Sweet Land

This may have been the first movie I've ever seen where the female lead was so pretty, it distracted me. Maybe I'm in the midst of a sexual preference shift.
This film has gotten rave reviews but I thought it needed to be edgier, rougher, less pristine. Okay, I know those Scandinavians were a real clean bunch out in Minnesota in 1920 but they must have occasionally left dirty dishes on the table or failed to bathe immediately upon rising. And did women in 1920 on the plains have long, loose, wavy hair? If she had pulled that hair back, I might have focused more.
Also what happened before would have been much more interesting than what happened after. Why spend so much time on their deaths years in the future when seeing where they came from, how and why would have been more enlightening?

Question: How close to real events do you go when the people in your book/story are still alive? The true story of my two central characters has suddenly taken a turn for the better as far as my story goes. Whereas I was formally just using the real story as a background, it is now tempting to include a lot more of the real stuff. What do you think?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Pan's Labyrinth

This was a terrific movie but I have one caveat. Why did the villain have to be so one-dimensional? And if he's going to be one dimensional-you can stop showing me his tools of torture after the first time. He did everything but roll his moustache. Maybe it's the fable/fairtale aspect that led to this sort of villain.
I very much liked that the women in this movie were heroic and able to save themselves/or others. I liked their sense of adventure. It was beautifully filmed, acted, etc. The big surprise for me was how little fanstasy it actually had. From the previews I had expected it to be the major element and it was definitely secondary to the Spanish civil war.

Isn't it nice to put on a warm pair of socks on a day like this? Unfortunately I thought so last night and put them on in the theater, then took them off and lost them. If anyone finds a hugely fat pair of blue socks....

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Short Story into Novel--Or not

For the last seven years I have been writing short stories. In these stories, I have learned to excise every unnecessary word. I try to keep my stories under 5000 wrds. Under 4000 even better. And I could learn to love under 2000.
Now, if I'm going to write a novel, I have to come up with at least 50,000 wrds. I can no longer say "That night she slept alone." Now I have to describe the tossing and turning, the trips to the liquor cabinet, the hysterical phonecalls. Or maybe I don't. Maybe that's not a sentence that should be expanded. Maybe I need to expand. "On Thursday, she bought a gun." Maybe writing about the gunshop, its location, the proprietor is what should be expanded. F***
Having the general idea of how this novel will play out is apparently not enough. I have to fill in the blanks. But what blanks need filling. HELP.
I'm delaying this process by entering the Debut Dagger contest. Maybe writing the synopsis will help clarify things. At least I've got those first 3000 wrds. You bet I do.