Monthly Archives: February 2008

Greetings from New Jersey…


… So be nice, or we’ll have to hurt you.

Layers, Chevelles and the Fuzzyloris

On occasion I’ve been questioned about how I create my plots, with all their complexity and details. It isn’t all that difficult, actually; it’s simply a matter of building in layers. I start with a basic, bare-bones outline. From there I flesh it out with key action, dialog, turning points, and reference notes, <<bracketed out like so>>. Scenes seen through Hazel’s eyes get yellow highlighter, Hammon’s, gray. Turning points are bookmarked and highlighted red, notes, pink. There’s still gaps, but the general storyline is complete, and that’s where I am now. The hull is solid, the engine runs, and the whole thing floats. Now it’s time to caulk the leaks, add the rigging and gear. Finally, I paint, polish, and tune things up. (revisions, revisions, revisions!)

Now I’m filling in the gaps, dumping anything that seems clunky or doesn’t work. Things will continue to shift as new inspirations come in, and it all starts to mesh and flow. Rather than losing momentum dwelling on areas that need additional attention, I throw in a <<fuzzyloris>> (see below for fuzzy little slender loris). Basically, it’s a nonsense word that has no place in the story, and I can easily search later on. And while I’m working on one spot, I realize what’s happening there requires something be established in an earlier or later chapter, but again, I don’t want to shift my attention, so I throw that on the Chevelle List. Towards the end of Last Exit, I realized a character needed to borrow a distinct, recognizable car, one solid enough to take a beating, but one without an airbag. A Chevelle fit the bill. But it was key to the plot that it be clear who owned the Chevelle, and that had to be established earlier in the book.

It’s a building process, a constant puzzle, and there’s numerous variations to how the pieces can fit. The challenge and fun comes from finding the best (or worst) possible route for the story to unfold.

This is a fuzzy little baby Slender Loris, with an expression matching mine after too many all-night writing sessions!


Snow day…

The forecast said it wouldn’t start until 4am-6am, but by 1:30 this morning the ground was already covered. Why was I up? It seems every animal in the house, including those who never set foot outdoors, was awake, likely due to some barometric/atmospheric/lunar combination. So I didn’t get much sleep. But it’s a snow day, and I don’t have to leave the house today, so I could sleep late? Yeah, right. Frank’s up early for the bus, so now it’s 5:30, and I’m moving now, so I might as well shovel the 5″ while it’s still light and fluffy, before it doubles. Shovel the drive, the walks, the deck, while the dogs go wild in the yard. I’m soaked through by time I’m done, so I head straight to the shower. Feed animals, cook breakfast, and on to the computer. I’ve been on a roll the last few days, writing well into the night, overflowing with thoughts of mayhem and making wonderful progress.

These late February days recharge my batteries. The snow is just a passing thing. The days keep growing longer, and the trees are already shaded faint red with hints of buds. Within weeks the ground will be muddy, then green. The cover comes off the boat, and the real work begins. As I write this, I’m surrounded by boxes of gear, replenished through the winter, just waiting to be stowed aboard. I need to check the control cables on the bridge, they were sticking last fall, and I think there’s air in the steering hydraulics. Scraping the bottom, repainting, and countless other things I don’t even know yet.

It’s still snowing, and should be for hours. I’ll have to shovel again later, and set off some more fireworks tonight. Right now, I think I’ll take a short nap!

Plot Evolution

I’ve been busy writing away as the storyline has turned in some interesting directions, and haven’t updated the blog in a number of days. This happened on the last book as well, and as disruptive as it can be, I’ve come to expect and enjoy it. I’m moving along fine, but one piece of action… well, it meshes with everything else, but I think it could be MORE. I’m just not satisfied. So I think, and rethink, then think, hey, what if instead, the other character, the one originally meant to help this character after things go bad, ends up in trouble instead. (Insert evil laugher here.) That would be BAD, which in my writing, is good. Okay, just how bad could I make it? (Maniacal giggles.) What’s the worst possible thing that could happen? Perfect! Flipped around, this scene reveals key things in a new light. It works even better. It ups the action, and the stakes. But it also means I’ll have to scrap some things I’ve already written, some I really liked, that no longer fit. But I’ve learned to let go of what doesn’t add to the story or move it forward.

Today’s research…

I consider research a vital part of the writing process. While much of my work ties into my own knowledge, I will happily admit, I don’t have firsthand experience with the effects of depressants and ‘club drugs’, and put my time into researching what doses of which combinations guarantee lethal side-effects. So I do my research, reading and talking with people who have the answers. Accuracy is vital. True, this may be fiction, and at times I may drop a building location into what in reality is a vacant lot, but other than that, I check and double-check every detail. If my characters stop at White Castle at 3am, I can assure you, I’ve already checked it is, indeed, open 24hrs. If I state a specific diesel can be disconnected from all electrical power and still run, I already know this engine doesn’t have an electronically regulated fuel pump. You won’t see my characters putting friends in the back seat of their Viper, checking the spark plugs on a diesel, or driving a 78 Fairlane around NJ. I’ve read every one of these and more, some written by big name best-selling authors, and each time I cringe. True, many readers may not notice or realize. When I read a medical or legal thriller, all the inner workings stuff goes right over my head. But I read on, figuring the writer must know what they’re talking about. But when I stumble over some glaring error, it’s distracting and lowers the credibility of everything else on the page.

So, friends, what novel mistakes have made you laugh (or cry)?

A lovely night to blow something up…

It started snowing here around noon, and by dark several inches had accumulated, coating everything in a shimmering blanket. The dogs couldn’t be happier, rolling around and running figure eights in the yard. Everything is tranquil and beautiful… in other words, a perfect night for FIREWORKS!!!

Truthfully, just about anything is a good excuse for fireworks. New Years, birthdays, the Giants win the Superbowl, and of course, the Fourth of July. Any celebration. Or just any old day when blowing something up will blow off some stress. Fortunately, my neighbors have become accustomed to these random unannounced pyrotechnic displays, and usually just come out to watch as I set off a few fountains and mortars. But snow is one of the prettiest settings for fireworks, reflecting the colors in a way photos can’t capture.


You’re gonna need a bigger boat…


And the man who uttered those memorable, and for me so very relevant words, is gone. Roy Scheider passed away at 75. Jaws is high on my list of favorite movies, and one I can watch time and again. In fact, it is what I consider essential mid-winter viewing, keeping me from climbing the walls while the river’s frozen, the docks pulled, and Annabel Lee is wrapped beneath her cover awaiting spring. Jaws has some of the best ‘on the water’ scenes of any movie, and the Orca is a beautiful example of an old wood fishing boat. As a kid, all I ever wanted was a boat like that. I think I’ve come pretty close.

But what makes Jaws truly outstanding, what elevated it beyond a mere ‘monster’ movie is what you DON’T see. You know there’s something out there. You’re shown a thrashing girl, a limb, a chewed up boat and more. You know the shark will appear but you don’t know when. It does at last, only to slip back out of sight, raising your anxiety even further. The key to this, for anyone who knows the history behind the movie, is that ‘Bruce’, the mechanical shark, was malfunctioning through much of the filming. But there were tight schedules to keep so they worked around the shark’s scenes with hints of its presence. Docks destroyed, towed floats and barrels, and of course, the music. Watch the movie and see how often you know the shark is present but unseen. It wasn’t deliberate at the time but ended out more terrifying. And it also focused the plot around the small group of people involved, people you come to understand as you see them responding to this unseen threat lurking beneath them.

Among the notes posted over my computer is “Leave the mechanical shark off screen.” As I write, I deliberately keep the scary stuff lurking just out of sight, and let the reader sense its presence through other means. I want you to focus on the characters, care about them, know they’re in danger, but not what it is or what the hell will happen next.

Inspiration, to go…

For the last few days, I’ve been stuck on a chapter I was only sort of happy with, and if I’m only sort of happy, I’m not happy. It needed something more, but what that might be, I couldn’t quite pin down. I only knew something was missing, and I was determined to find it. But searching for something when you don’t know what you’re looking for makes for an interesting challenge.

My muses are an amusing, twisted bunch. Sometimes they hold out on me, but rarely for long. Over the years I’ve found the trick to dealing with them. They can’t be bullied or badgered into offering inspiration. But cooperate and give them what they want, and they return the favor. And what do my muses demand? Recess. A break. They want me to step away from the computer, and let them wander unrestricted. Sometimes it’s a walk with the dogs. Or a long drive, especially with the top down. Loud music. Maybe a nap. They’ll even surprise me while I’m folding laundry or making dinner, though they’d rather be on the highway, with the top down, the music loud, and the dogs in the back seat, eyes narrowed and ears flapping. They enjoy working on the boat, and being underway, or anchored somewhere quiet. So whenever I find myself stuck, I step away and give them some breathing space. And I keep my notebook close on hand, because before long, they’ll be bombarding me with inspiration. The bottom line; some of my best ideas come when I stop looking. And once again, my muses delivered!

On another note, I picked up my new glasses today. Considering the time I spend in them, I decided to treat myself, and picked a pair of cute, fun frames, rather than the usual non-descript flexon wire-frames. And I treated myself to the anti-glare coating AND the Transitions lenses, the ones that darken in sunlight. After last summer, realizing I couldn’t read the chart without glasses, but blinded by sun glaring off the water, vowed I’d pay the extra for the better lenses. Of course, it rained all of today, so I haven’t seen them do their nifty trick yet.

My trust…

funny pictures
moar funny pictures

Rejecting Fashion…

Last night I spent some time watching TV, which is my last choice for entertainment, usually opted for when I’m to tired to read or write, and just want to take off my glasses and shut down. But I have little patience for commercials and less for laugh tracks, so I check what’s on PBS. Fortunately, I caught the start of a wonderful documentary on Grand Central Station. Unfortunately, I fell asleep shortly after, which is a shame. What little I saw was fascinating, but exhaustion and a comfy couch won out.

I woke later on to find Charlie Rose speaking with two people, discussing fashion. The neat, conservatively dressed young lady, apparently from Elle Magazine, said something along the lines of how ‘some people reject fashion. But to reject fashion is a fashion statement itself.’

Wow. All these years, I’ve been making a fashion statement! Who woulda thunk? You see, I lean towards whatever happens to be A. Clean, B. Comfy, and C. A few sizes too big. Colors are muted, layers are good. Doc Martins are the footwear of choice. I may wear a cute tank top, but it’ll be combined with men’s cargo pants and a flannel shirt. I suppose it ties into growing up wearing my brother’s hand-me-downs as play clothes, and spending too much time mucking about in boats. Or maybe it was the Barbie-deprivation. When I was little, my mom strongly believed Barbies were awful toys for little girls, for all the obvious reasons. Instead, I was provided Tonka Trucks, toy boats, and all the rubber lizards my heart desired, and couldn’t have been happier. True, I didn’t spend my time dressing and redressing dolls with other girls, then again, I had my very own little sailboat to sail around the world, (or at least as far as possible before my parents sent my brother in his outboard boat to tow me back.) By high school, I’d missed that whole clothes and make-up memo, though I was more preoccupied with getting a bigger boat and heading off to far away places than I was with the mirror. But along the way, I missed the boat on fitting in to general society. Sometimes channel surfing or a trip to the mall leaves me feeling as though I’m visiting a foreign land, observing a culture I don’t fully grasp.

Before I go any further, I should mention I can, and often do, dress very nicely. I have a select collection of stylish shoes, elegant black skirts and blouses, classic, tailored dresses and jackets, and I get regular complements on how well I dress. But I don’t consider this “Fashion.” At least not fashion in the sense of what I see in those telephone book sized magazines in my dentist’s waiting room, where stick figures strut and pout in what resemble trash bags. I just don’t get it. When I clothing shop, I seek out things I could imagine Audrey Hepburn wearing. And anything I buy must play nice with with everything else already occupying the closet. It is a simple method, and an effective one. I have a tasteful, flattering collection that is neither in or out of fashion, and so long as I keep walking the dogs and stay in shape, does not require seasonal replacement based upon what the fashion industry dictates. Still, when I flip around the TV, scenes from Sex and the City and the recent clones, (I know, I don’t watch them so I shouldn’t say that,) with women gathering to shop or discuss designers and shopping, leave me baffled, and ultimately, switching back to Channel 13 and documentaries on lava flows, birds in Australia, and Grand Central Station.

BTW, Thanks, Mom! :-)

Am I soup yet?

I suppose this gives me a place to vent, rather than walking around in circles, mumbling to the cats. Not that there’s much need for venting at the moment, just a general ennui, and trying to get all my muses in a row. The frustration of writing suspense, and most anything else, I imagine, is that as you’re working, everything is in your head. You, the author, know what’s around every turn and under every rock. You know the red herrings, and you know the red shirts, (the fifth crew members on Star Trek, the ones that wound up vaporized or condensed into a neat little geometric shape of minerals,) and you know who is really good/bad/out of their minds. So, as I write, I’m wondering, am I really pulling this off? Will this make sense to my readers, am I giving too much, and will they see it coming a mile away, or am I giving too little, and the pieces won’t mesh in the end. According to my kind victims, uhm, test readers, for the most part, yes, I pulled it off. Which doesn’t mean there isn’t tweaking to do, but that’s to be expected.

So now I’m doing it again. I know what’s in ‘the snow’, where, why, and how it plays out. I have everything outlined, and it is all coming together very satisfyingly. My characters are throwing me a few curve balls, which I expected, and I roll with it. Sometimes a scene isn’t working, so I back up, hit the delete key (okay, cut and paste it into a scrap file) and start over. Minor characters stepped up to bigger roles, action shifted. I try to write with a general idea of where I’m going, then figure the worst possible route to get there. What could go wrong? With my characters, that’s not too hard. How could it go even worse, and what, in turn, might that lead to? Sometimes I find myself on an entirely different path, and the outline gets overhauled. Overall, it’s a fun process, though at times it leaves me pacing and mumbling ‘I need something.’ Those around me have learned not to be alarmed by this behavior.

Presently, I’m in one of those spots. My mood tends to reflect my characters at the point of a scene. And presently, my most antisocial, snarky, difficult character is trapped in a tense, stuffy, social scene. She’s at her best alone or in life & death situations, and while it is necessary she be there, she, and consequently I, am not happy about it. So ‘we’re’ sticking it out, and by the second draft I’ll work in more humor and/or violence to satisfy us both.

Thank goodness my husband understands, when he asks how my day was, and I say “I really need to kill someone.” (That’s in two chapters!)

Hello world!

Okay, here goes. I’m new to this whole blogging thing, so it’s going to start slow. Exciting, eh? Well, stand by. This is February. The weather’s cold, there’s ice on the river, the boat’s wrapped up, so there’s not much to say at the moment.