Sunday, August 10, 2008

Judy Starbuck,

Want to be a mystery writer? You've got to pay your dues, just like today's guest blogger, the deliciously named Judy Starbuck.
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THIS WRITER’S JOURNEY
A Story in Three Acts
By Judy Starbuck

I am thrilled to be a part of this terrific group of authors. So much so that when Donis asked me at lunch one day if I’d like to contribute to this blog, I spilled my ice tea all over her. Something tells me this better be good. Now I have to follow my friend, Hannah Dennison and her terrific guest column. Since I don’t drink cheap red wine like Hannah mentions (although, if I did, it would be cheap), I’ll have to rely on other vices. I guess having a library of books throughout my home qualifies as my indulgence. And that’s really how my story began.

I’ll borrow an example from the often-cited three-act structure of story writing to describe how I became a writer.

Act I – Get the girl up a tree.
Scene I – I walked into the Poisoned Pen bookstore. Like the children who entered Narnia through the wardrobe, I found an enchanting new world. The owner, Barbara Peters, hosted fascinating speaking events for a variety of writers and offered a store-full of diverse mysteries. Thanks to Patrick, Lorri, and John, the store was such a pleasure to frequent that I became a groupie in no time.
Scene II - About a year after I found the Poisoned Pen, my husband, Mike, said, “You should write a mystery. It’s probably not hard.” (That statement still makes me weak.) So I took classes, joined a writers’ group, and persevered.
Scene III - Then, at a Poisoned Pen signing, I met Carolyn Hart, the prolific author of three mystery series. She has become a mentor and guardian angel to me, and I’m sure without her sage advice and gentle encouragement, my enthusiasm would have waned several years ago. I finished my book, a traditional mystery, then titled ABC Death, which addressed some unsettling issues in today’s schools.

Act II – Throw rocks at the girl.
Scene I - Rocks came at me in the form of critiques, agent rejections, and editor rejections. For example, the front end was loaded with backstory, the hook wasn’t strong enough, and the protagonist was reactive, rather than pro-active. What could I do to enhance my school mystery other than throw it off a cliff? I decided to spice it up, adding a new ingredient to my soup (to borrow Donis’s metaphor).
Scene II - My interest in handwriting analysis started years earlier so I decided to learn more about it. I studied under graphologist Irene Levitt, author of Brain Writing. We became friends and eventually I asked her for a favor. I had discovered my birth mother several years before, but she had already passed away before I could meet her. I wanted to know what personality traits her handwriting indicated, since my half-siblings had differing assessments of her. Irene studied my birth mother’s writing and gave me an insightful description. I realized that I had to use graphology as a tool for detection in my mysteries. So I bought Sheila Lowe’s Idiot’s Guide to Handwriting Analysis. That poor book is now dog-eared and marked up, but it’s been worth a hundred times its original value to me.
Scene III – I had lunch with Sheila Lowe. Penguin has published Sheila’s first handwriting mystery, Poison Pen, and her second, Written in Blood, will be out in August. Sheila helped me immeasurably by recommending a wonderful woman, Ellen Larson, whom she had used to edit her book. Thanks to Ellen’s insightful edits, which came in boulder-sized proportions, I earned an M.A. in revisions (in my own estimation). My mystery is now titled Felon’s Claw, and each chapter begins with a handwriting stroke, and the personality trait it demonstrates. Some examples I use are:
“If your o’s and a’s are wide open, your mouth probably is, too.”
“ A wide y or g below the baseline indicates a strong sex drive.”
“If you have a writing sample with an extreme right slant, and heavy pressure to boot, run for cover. This person can go ballistic.”

Act III – Get girl down from tree.
Scene I - Things began to look better after I added handwriting analysis to the mix. But I needed one more ingredient. Since adoption has been such a significant part of my life, I decided to take a course offered by the Arizona Supreme Court to become certified as a Confidential Intermediary. That officious title means I am sanctioned by the state to reunite family members separated through adoption, but only if they are 21 years of age or older, and the reunion is agreeable to both parties. The CI course opened an understanding of the many detours these searches can take.
Scene II - In the CI course I met two sisters, Judy and Kristen, who are private investigators as well as being CIs. They have written a wonderful book entitled Back to the Beginning, which relates stories of many of the reunions they have handled. I highly recommend it. Judy and Kristen have become resources for investigative ideas, as well as devious plots, creative sleuthing, and lively humor. The knowledge I gained from the CI course and the investigative ideas my PI friends have shared have added enough spice to make my book significantly better.
Scene III – Since I began writing, I have had one newspaper article and two short stories published, worked with two agents, written three books, and received twelve rejections. With any luck, I’m on my way down the tree.

Before I write The End, I have to put in a plug for Sisters in Crime. What a great organization. Together we work hard to support one another’s projects, and to offer good speakers and programs.

For better or worse, I’ve had a wonderful time, and found myself in a nurturing community of friends. Thank you, Donis, for this opportunity, and I guess this is finally The End.



16 comments:

Lesa said...

Congratulations, Judy! And, good luck. I know it takes a lot of hard work, and you're willing to put in the effort. You'll get there!

Lesa said...

Congratulations, Judy! And, good luck. I know it takes a lot of hard work, and you're willing to put in the effort. You'll get there!

Hallie Ephron said...

Great story! Love the three acts...along the way someone must have said "Judy, you're a natural storyteller." The thing you have to read not-so between the lines to get is that Judy is a fabulous fabulous fabulous networker. I met her at my first book signing at Poisoned Pen (back in '00? boy that looks weird).

Lots of us out here rootin' for ya!

- Hallie
Hallie Ephron - "Never Tell a Lie" (1/09)

Louise Ure said...

Judy, this post reveals what a wealth of stories you have to tell. Congratulations to you, as you move up, up, up!

Sharon said...

Congratulations on a lively blog, Judy. I know one day very soon I'll be able to say, "I knew her when..."

Sharon

Deborah J Ledford said...

Thank you for this insightful article, Judy. You have adeptly shown what it takes to craft a fully rounded manuscript. Your use of handwriting analysis as a sub-plot sounds fascinating. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

rebecca cantrell said...

I'm glad that I'm posting this comment via computer and not sending a handwritten note... :) I met you at Book Passages, Judy, and was captivated by your pitch then. I can't wait to read the book when it gets published. And I think that won't be too far away!

Susita said...

Judy,

Wow! What a great read. Some of your personality showed through.

You go, girl!

Susita said...

Judy,

Wow! What a great read. Some of your personality showed through.

You go, girl!

Susita said...

Judy,

Wow! What a great read. Some of your personality showed through.

You go, girl!

Anonymous said...

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Vy Armour said...

Judy, although I have traveled so much of this road with you step by step, reading it in 3 acts made it sound like a new and exciting adventure. know that althugh it was (and continues to be) an adventure, it is often not so exciting, (we've shed many woes over BLT's) but I so admire your perserverance and know your persistance and talent will put you on many bookshelves--both in stores and homes.

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