Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Using Points of View with Restraint

As a reader, I have found that just as too many cooks spoil a broth, too many Point of View characters ruin a story.

Blame my revulsion on over-populated works of fantasy & sci-fi. The flat one-dimensional Point of View characters blurred together. I call them the "Never Ending Story with the Cast of Thousands." I'm talking about five or more volumes with dozens of characters and mind-boggling page counts.

I read one or two books, hoping the writers would either develop or drop some characters. Each book had a couple new, poorly developed, characters to track. I needed a database to keep track of them.

Frankly, it wasn't worth the effort.

One of the joys of reading is finding a character with whom one can relate. That's how I got hooked on 'Harry Potter', even though it is fantasy and YA, the story moved along with a limited number of engaging characters. I could deal with a few PoV shifts to other characters (Snape's subplot rocked!) – but I cared about happened to Harry.

My point is this: yes, it is more difficult to tell the story from a single PoV than it is to hop from head to head. As a result, the book is choppy, even disjointed. Worse yet, a PoV switch can destroy suspense instead of building it. Why expose the plot when you can have the reader biting their nails as they turn pages?

I'm going to plug "Writing the Breakout Novel" by Donald Maas, because he makes a lot of sense. Breakout novels have well-developed characters who have inner conflicts. Sometimes they're forced to do things they would never, ever do, in order to survive.

Breakout novels are carefully populated, each PoV character has their own subplot and story arc. Extra characters are combined creating plot twists. Think about it – take two random characters – combine them in your head. What will this 'combination' character do? How will they react to the conflict of the two roles? If this is not a PoV character, how surprised will the reader be when they discover the second role?

The first draft of "Lunch" had fifteen characters. The final version has nine. The number of 'roles' remain the same. I also cut two Points of View, and most of the third. If I keep in mind that mystery is what the readers doesn't know – then it becomes less tempting to 'tell all' in a story.

I have half a dozen unfinished books on my hard drive. I gave up on most of them because of a lack of plot structure, however most of them included shameless bouts of head-hopping. When I read the best of them, I notice how shallow the main characters are. They are blithely unaware of what's going on around them. Why? I wrote the scene hopping from head to head instead of requiring the MC to evaluate her surroundings or the people in her 'life.'

What a cosmic 'oops' that turned out to be.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Equality for Women - 40 Years Later it's Still a Myth

I opened up my email today and glanced through the news feed. I found this little gem, which brings back many memories.

Sexism At Work speaks of the 1970 'uprising' at Newsweek Magazine. This was a time when women who worked at Newsweek were forbidden to write for the magazine. Called "dollies" they wrote for other magazines, just not the one they worked for.

I'm very happy to see that they have also mentioned "Men with Pens" the founder of this blog found that her income doubled when she assumed a male identity.

Oops - or maybe WTF?

Back when I was a child, I remember my mother railing against the fact that men working in her office made more money. In fact, that was one of several factors that made her open up her own business.

What I've found in my career in IT is that sexism is rampant; subtle but rampant. What has always frustrated me is that young women don't see it. I've watched the few, but brilliant, women I've worked with be passed over for promotion - just as I am. I note it, they don't seem to.

They pat their male collegues on the back, not seeing that they are far more qualified for the job than the person with less time on the job, fewer skills, but the correct gender.

So, for all of my readers who inwardly feel frustrated and can't understand why they hate their job, I give you a website: The Equality Myth. I do this because, my dear reader, you are still being paid about 25% less than the 'other' gender. If you are a writer, it's more like 50%.

Think about it, look around. Pay attention. If this is bullshit, you'll see women in half the management postitions at your job. If this is bullshit, you will earn the same paycheck as your male collegues.

You won't, you don't.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Health Care - the Economy is Counting on Us

I'd never heard of him. I didn't think he was up for the job.
Time has proven me wrong - yes, we are in a recession, but I expected it to be much, much worse. We'll see if we can climb out of the pit dug by the previous administration. (The arrogant and economically clueless who...I'll stop now, before I rant and rave.)
This president has won my trust - I watch him closely, listen to his speeches and track the results of his polices. I will simply post this - an email from the White House because these words are more eloquent than mine.

I wanted to take a moment to thank you directly for the outstanding work you've been doing as part of Organizing for America's Final March for Reform. I can tell you that your voice is heard in Washington every day. I see how your efforts are moving us toward victory.

But I also know that with just days remaining, the final vote is shaping up to be extremely close. Everything we've worked for is on the line, and your voice is needed now more than ever before.

Raise your voice today: We must all speak out together to finish the job.

In these final, crucial days, much more will be asked of us. Our resolve will be tested.

During moments like this, I believe it's important to remember why we have worked so hard for so long. That's why I spoke to the country Monday at a gathering in Ohio and said it plainly: I'm here for Natoma.

Natoma Canfield is like most of us: She works hard, and tries to do what's right. Years ago, she had battled back from cancer, so she always maintained health insurance in case she ever really needed it again. But because of her medical history, the insurance company kept raising her deductible and her premiums.

Last year alone, Natoma paid over $10,000 in monthly premiums and co-pays, while her insurance company chipped in just $900. And then they hiked up her rates another 40%. She simply couldn't afford it -- she had to cancel her policy. That's when she wrote to me. I read her letter, and shared her story with insurance company CEOs as another reason why the system has to change.

That was two weeks ago. Then, just last week, the unthinkable happened: Natoma collapsed, and was rushed to a hospital. It's leukemia -- the cancer has returned. Now she's in the hospital, worried sick not just about her condition, but how she'll financially survive.

So why am I still in this fight? Simple. I'm here for Natoma.

I'm here because of the countless others who have been denied coverage because of pre-existing conditions. I'm here for the small business owners forced to chose between health care and hiring. I'm here for the folks who are forced to watch helplessly as their premiums skyrocket with no reason or recourse.

And I'm here for my mother. She died of cancer, and in the last six months of her life, I saw her on the phone in her hospital room arguing with insurance companies instead of focusing on getting well and spending time with her family.

As I was finishing my remarks Monday, a woman in the crowd called out, "we need courage." She's right.

The politicians in Washington need courage to face down the powerful interests who have held back progress for far too long. And all of us who share this cause need courage to speak up with persistence and clarity in these final days.

I've always found that courage comes from remembering that we fight for something and someone beyond ourselves. It comes from our faith. And it comes from our commitment to those we love.

So please take a moment to remember those who inspire you -- those who give you the strength to march on.

There's very little time left, and still much to do. But I believe to my core in the power of Americans to change history when we put our mind to it. And if you'll stay with us in these final days, I know we can do it again:


Thank you for making it possible,

President Barack Obama

In Search of a Plot Twist

 It was something I tried in "Let's Do Lunch" that went over well with my beta readers. (Bless them!) Just a little twist to get the tension from "Oh Wow," to "Holy Crap!"

It worked. They liked it - I'm hooked. I want to get that "holy crap" reaction a second time with the new WiP - so I'm looking for a good plot twist, or two.

Maybe two - I think - maybe - I've found them.

I'm looking at the central figure in the novel. He's dead - but the story still revolves around him. As I ask myself 'who was Roger Truesdale' I'm getting some answers. A perfectionist, a man with secrets, (who went to great lengths to keep those secrets) a man driven by his environment, blackmailed by his needs and desires, but - it's a big question mark - was he a traitor?

At this point, I don't know. Maybe - which is different from the 'hell yes!' I started with. Now it's Leo who thinks 'hell yes' and the writer who is working on fleshing out a character that she will never, ever use, who is no longer sure.

I love this part of writing - when the plot unfolds and the characters come to life. Sometimes they are meek, and do what they are told, other times they present this writer with challenges. I'm getting my ass kicked by a dead guy who isn't rolling over to play dead - he's fighting to have dignity and purpose.

I'm still not sure if I can pull this off. The plot of this novel is a woven fabric, not a couple of plot threads. Writing a synopsis of this novel is going to be a bitch. A bigger bitch than writing the synopsis for "Let's Do Lunch" which was a nightmare. (I dropped all the secondary plot threads from the one page synopsis - all the 'meanwhiles' looked stupid.)

All this for a few words from a reader - 'holy crap, I never saw that coming.'

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Let’s Do Lunch – Discarded Scene

A dozen men and one woman sat in a circle, some in wheelchairs, some on crutches, several were amputees, all were soldiers in various stages of treatment. Some faced forward, making eye contact with each other. A few looked down; others looked away, refusing to make any kind of eye contact.
There was also a tall, thin man in his sixties sitting quietly. He had the dark skin of a man who worked outside. Across from him was the 'hard case' of the crew. Bearded and shaggy-haired Sergeant 'Tag' McTaggart wore old jeans and an Army t-shirt, what he lacked in grooming, he made up for in attitude.
McTaggart understood those reluctant to participate. He understood the despairing ones, too. Out on his own for six months he'd been back twice, once in a coma, once in a straight jacket. The condition for his release included that he come to this group without fail.
"What a crock of shit," the speaker was in a wheelchair. "I'm supposed to LIKE the fact that my career is dead and that the Army that I served life and limb thinks I'm a helpless cripple?"
"Acceptance doesn't mean that you like it." The councilor, a woman in her sixties was a civilian. "You just get on with your life."
"Bullshit," McTaggart said. "I'm going stir crazy. The days drag and the nights are… horrible."
"Then get a job." One of the other men in the circle, named Smith, said. "Stop sitting on your ass. Find something to do."
Smith was dressed in new jeans and a polo shirt. He had been "out in the world" for a year, and they all knew that he was playing stay-at-home Dad for his three pre-school kids. His jeans hid the fact that he was missing a leg.
"Right," McTaggart sneered. "I've spent the last ten years learning how to kill people. That would look great on a resume" He looked around at the group. "Anybody know a Mafia boss who wants a one-legged hit man?"
A couple of the guys snickered.
"You can come over and help me with the kids, anytime." Smith grinned. "You can chase the youngest. She hasn't learned to walk yet, but she can scoot."
"A female that can't outrun him," Rodriguez snickered.
"Smart ass, you find a job," McTaggart flipped him the bird.
The councilor held up her hand, stopping the others from commenting.
"It doesn't have to be a job as a hit man, or the president of some company. Just find something to do."
"How did you survive when you first got out?" McTaggart asked the tall thin man across the circle. "You had a long time in service. There was none of this bullshit back in your day, eh?"
The guys respected the Vietnam Veteran. He'd told his story – Green Beret, POW, married to the same woman since the 1970's, with two daughters. He had no treatment for his PTSD until a year ago. He'd nearly killed two men with his bare hands because of it.
"I did 30 years in the Army, so it was tough," retired Colonel Jim Bennett looked McTaggart straight in the eye. "It got worse after 9-11. I lost my son-in-law at the Pentagon then my retirement money when the market crashed. My pension isn't enough to cover the wife's maintenance." They laughed.
"So I got off my ass. You know, 'suck it up and drive on.'" Bennett showed his teeth in a smile. "Now I work with my daughter. I have a market garden, two acres that I work every day. I'm up before dawn and I work outside, sometimes until dark."
"Sounds like hard work," one of the men said.
"I can take my time," Bennett shrugged. "I tried an office job. I hated it."
"Maybe you can put McTaggart to work." Rodriguez was in a mood for trouble. "I don't think Smith should trust him with his daughter."
They all sat back, inhaling sharply at the insult.
McTaggart stared Rodriguez down, until the other man dropped his eyes, muttering under his breath.
"Hey, I was just messing around."
"How about it, McTaggart?" Bennett broke the silence. "I could use some help."
"Doing what?" McTaggart was curious. "What can I do?"
"Help me plant, help me harvest," Bennett grinned. "It's not rocket science, just gardening."
"What's the matter, afraid to get your hands dirty?"
"I used to work in my Uncle Ray's garden," a double amputee in a wheelchair who hadn't spoken in weeks looked at McTaggart. "I liked it."
Everyone in the group looked from him to McTaggart. 
McTaggart took a deep breath then nodded.
"Okay. I'll think about it."
Rodriguez had to get the last word, but he said it under his breath so only McTaggart heard him.
"Lay a hand on one of Bennett's daughters and you'll take a long dirt nap."
McTaggart snorted - messing with women was the last thing on his mind.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Page 99 – Test Your WIP

I found this on Madison Wood's Blog this morning. She got it from Selestiele who… No I'm not going to trace it back to the original, no time this morning. Maybe later tonight, when I have more time.

This title is based on the belief of Ford Madox Ford: “Open the book to page ninety-nine and read, and the quality of the whole will be revealed to you.”

However – I have it here. Page 99 of "Swallow the Moon" a conversation between June and the mad artist Van Man Go is taking place:

"I never interfere with things that don't concern me." Van shrugged.

"No?" June didn't believe him.

"Don't be a fool, girl. Once Cora gets her fangs in a man – it's over."

"I don't believe you."

"You'll see."

"Are you saying that she doesn't owe you?"

"She owes me," Van smirked. "Big time. But she's dead, I wrote her off as a business loss. I have to move on. Business is business."

June bit her lip and thought fast. She looked around the old building, the skin on her neck prickling with the feeling of being watched. Was it Jake, Cora or some other lost soul? She didn't want to know, not really.

"I think you have more influence over her than you admit."

"I'm flattered," Van leaned back in his chair, crossing his legs. An un-lit cigarette appeared in his hand. He took a deep drag; the end smoldered then burst into flame. "So tell me, if I had the power to have Cora do her – thing – elsewhere, what exactly would you have me do?" The smoke he exhaled had a green tint to it and smelled more like pot than tobacco.

"Have you asked how she got her hooks into your boyfriend?" His eyes looked right through her. "The answer might be enlightening."

"He's just a friend." June blushed, thinking of Eric and his hot kisses.

"Rrright, my mistake." Van flashed his fangs in a smile, cutting it short with a drag on the cigarette.

"You know, the universe runs on free will." Van exhaled more smoke. "People do marvelous acts of bravery or stupid impulsive things that destroy their lives. They lie, they cheat, they kill – they even torture. They do terrible things and justify it later as 'they made me do it.' Free will makes it tricky to sort out bad guys from the good guys."

"Hardly," June retorted.

"Oh, but it does," Van leaned forward. "Motivation is a wonderful thing, makes it all into shades of gray. Good and evil aren't separate items – it's a sliding scale from one extreme to the other."

"What's your point?"

"I'm a businessman; I make deals all the time. Some are on my own behalf, for some I'm merely a proxy." He took a deep drag, leisurely exhaling as he watched her face.

"I suppose I could help you, if you make it worth my while."

"Oh?" Maybe she could get somewhere after all.

"What have you got to trade?"


"Yeah, trade – business at its most basic. What you are asking for is – tarnished and well used. What have you got of higher value to trade? I think we understand each other. Don't we?"

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Authonomy Reeks of Idiocy

All that nice-nice I wrote in "Autho-crack Farewell" forget it. 

I take it all back.

I am thoroughly disgusted with the antics of the trolls and the proliferation of fake identities (aka sock puppets).

The Harper Collins staff may surf the forums and laugh about the situation - but I'm tempted to go to another site's forum and spilled the beans.

I wonder how many hits I would get on - say - Facebook? Ahhh - there's a good place to start. I could route them here to get the hit count.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Signs of Spring

Up and down the Dixie Highway motorcycles zipped or roared as the temps rose above freezing to tremble in the high forties and low fifties.

Stud muffins on their sport bikes popped wheelies like colts rearing up to box. Testosterone fumes  mixed with the smoke from burning rubber.

The mating games begin.

Bundled up bikers hit the pavement on their gleaming Harley bikes - the thunder of the V-twin could be heard for miles before the bikes themselves came in view.

Is it spring yet?

Friday, March 5, 2010

Structure Strikes

When I started writing 'Let's Do Lunch,' ten years ago, I had nice characters, pieces of plot and sub-plots that were very engaging – but after 50 pages the story went nowhere. I had a dutiful daughter, a shy gardener, a snarky sister, a sneaky waitress and a lecherous cook. Certain scenes hinted that the gardener had a crush on Lindsey. Others hinted that the cook was up to no good.

Then I had the 'outline' epiphany at our face-to-face writer's group Bard's Corner. I ran down some 'if/then' statements on the spot. What if the cook was the real villain? What if the waitress had two kids to raise. What if they were moving dope, not just stealing? What if the shy gardener was a soldier just back from Iraq – gravely wounded, shell-shocked but healing, a brave man made shy and self-conscious by war?

From there I created motives, conflicts and back-story for every character. I also made the commitment to one point of view character – this was Lindsey's story.

The next step was a timeline – I picked Derby Day as the start date – the story would end on July 4th. Everything that was going to happen would take place in eight weeks. I figured my villains couldn't hold on much longer than that. Eight weeks on speed would burn anybody out.

After that, writing was easy.

As I got closer to the end of the first book – I started working on the second. I had a bunch of ideas from the Breakout Novel books and a book on character archetypes & the Three Act structure.

Since I was better educated, I outlined the plot, created the calendar, typed up a few sample scenes. I was ready for NaNoWritMo – though I didn't bother to sign up. I had 25k words by the end of the month because I knew where this story was going, and how to get it there.

The result is 'Swallow the Moon' a paranormal romance, now in its second draft. While the book is short – I think that it will be a publishable length at 55k words.

For the 3rd book 'Tempest in a Teapot' I'm putting each plot-point on an index card. I have two parallel plot lines (his and hers) that need to mesh. There are two Point of View characters – Wendy and Leo – with all kinds of plots and counter plots swirling around them. It will also get a calendar so I can keep the plot moving.

Why go to all this trouble?

All my research into publishing has shown me that selling one book isn't going to cut it. Nor is it a 'one book a year' business any more, the mid-list is dead. So much has changed in the last 5 years – what a pity that I didn't try to sell the book I wrote 20 years ago.

Staying visible is going to mean a book every 6 to 8 months. Making money is going to mean a back-catalog of 4 books (barring the sale of film rights.)

(BTW - That's a joke.)


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Autho-crack Farewell

Having a career as a 'published' author has been my goal since I was a child.

Authonomy may have fed the fantasy, but it didn't get me closer to the goal. The time I spent on the site contributed to the loss of my job, conflict with my husband – and my written word count dropped to NOTHING. Sitting at the computer for hours on end has also contributed to my injury.

When 'wasting time on Authonomy' topped my list of self-destructive behavior AND obsessions, I knew that it was going to have to go. Everything that gets between my life and my goals has to go. I can't afford to retreat from reality, today. I need to be responsible.

After weeks of toying with the idea – I made my decision. I took "Moon" private –debated some more – copied my profile, comments, blurbs, deleted "Lunch" – debated with myself – deleted "Moon" and sent the "fatal" email.

To the Authonomy Team: I'm not blaming the site for my issues. 
I'm getting real with myself; my behavior and the site are not compatible. I enjoyed my time on the site. I'm very glad that the site is highly successful in getting books for HC and highly entertaining for the employees.

I've learned a lot on the Publishing DIY forum. I intend to pursue that venue in the future.

Just for today – I have goals. To face life on life's terms, suit up and show up.

I have responsibilities to meet, while I have injuries that need tended. Life is calling – I'm going to answer. I'm not burning any bridges – don't want to – but it's time to move forward.