Thursday, February 28, 2019

The Arc

I’ve been thinking about the arc of a character a lot lately. About the ways my characters will seek and find redemption. About how the storyline wraps up.

In short, about endings.

That’s because I’m getting ready to begin. Again.

My wonderful agents Julia Lord and Ginger Curwen are submitting a novel I finished a while ago, and my downtime is about over. (I’ve spent the past few months playing around with a TV pitch and pilot for the finished book; sort of like learning to drive by jumping onto the Autobahn.) But now the little voice is calling again . . . Where have you been? . . . And a character has appeared. So it’s time to start telling a new story.

But I’m also trying to be more efficient with my time. I’m not certain I can do it. My process –– from idea to finished manuscript –– is messy. And I don’t mean tracking-a-little-dirt-on-the-carpet messy. I mean a 7-year-old’s-playroom messy. SJ Rozan describes her writing process as driving at night: She sees the story only to the end of the headlights and writes that far each day. I usually feel like I’ve got one headlight out, and the other is covered in fog.

So now that a character has appeared, one that interests me, I’m thinking about the story arc and the ways my protagonists will change and grow. Because of my “process,” the word “outline” frightens me, although I try. I usually create detailed character sketches, fleshing out motivations. But this time, I’m thinking about endings before I consider beginnings. Where do I want the husband and wife team to end up? What do I want them to learn from this character? What struggles should they face?

Maybe I’m really talking about outlining here. After all, isn’t the character’s arc the backbone of the story? Doesn’t is constitute the plot. Hell, maybe I’m an outliner after all.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Cozies and the Death Penalty

I turned my fifth book, GHOSTS OF PAINTING PAST, in to my publisher last week actually on the day it was due. I wasn’t convinced I’d be able to finish it on time until the last few days. But I did it! This week I’m in Las Vegas attending the Creative Painting convention so the most serious thing I’m thinking about is where we should eat our next meal or who we should get tickets to see.

I wrote this last week when I was in a more serious mood.

I thought I’d continue the thought provoking discussion about the death penalty and stories from the last couple weeks.

In the U.S., the death penalty still exists. People can be executed by the federal or state governments. Not every state has the death penalty. Some have opted for life without the possibility of parole.

I write cozies and most of the mysteries I read are cozies. As a reader, I’m interested in the characters, the setting and the puzzle of figuring out whodunit. By the end of the book, the killer is always unmasked and brought to some kind of justice. What happens after that is never really talked about. And, as a reader, I don’t much care. I assume the person will be convicted and get some sort of punishment. No one ever mentions the death penalty. I think a discussion of that sort belongs in darker mysteries.

Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of TV shows that explore the topic. The plot usually goes like this: (1) a man (it’s usually a man) claims he’s innocent, but is shortly to be executed, (2) a lawyer is brought in at the eleventh hour to stop the execution, (3) the lawyer meets his client and comes to believe in his innocence or, at minimum, said lawyer is opposed to the death penalty on principal, (4) the lawyer fails, the prisoner is executed and (5) after the execution, irrefutable evidence is found that the man is truly innocent. The lawyer feels awful because s/he couldn't help.

After watching a few of these, I started thinking, “Why can’t there be a happy ending?” Then it dawned on me why. If you’re trying to show that the death penalty is a bad thing, you need to show its consequences when it’s applied wrongly. Namely, you need to see an innocent man executed. That has much more power on the viewer than freeing said man.

So those are my thoughts on the death penalty and fiction.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Park your ego at the door

by Rick Blechta

Tom’s excellent post from yesterday got me thinking about something every author has to deal with and the importance of dealing with it correctly. A paraphrase of something Tom said should be on a sign mounted on the wall of every authors’ work area: Be Easy to Work With!

I doubt if you’d find any writer who enjoys having their work critiqued — assuming the reader doing the critiquing is looking at your finished product. The fact that someone is pointing out that you were wrong, or sloppy, or generally just messed up, is very hard to take. Someone is telling you your “baby” is ugly!

But to any writer who’s really serious about getting their work published, you have to be ready, willing, and able to listen and at least consider.

Yes, there are very successful authors who are notoriously difficult to work with, but they’re either certified geniuses or very, very successful, or probably both, so with big dollars on the line, publishers and agents are willing to put up with them.

For us mere mortals, we have to learn to roll with the punches.

I’m not saying that you have to listen to any criticism and take it as gospel, but you at least need to consider it. At the beginning, that can really be tough.

As a writer, I live by three rules:
  1. I want to be good, not right.
  2. Never dig in your heels right off the bat.
  3. If two or more people have a problem with the same thing, you likely have something wrong with your deathless prose.
Let me explain each.

When someone critiques my writing, they are giving me their viewpoint. Whether it’s valid or justified is immaterial. I have to consider it thoughtfully. Even though I might consider what they don’t like the best thing I’ve ever crafted, that is beside the point. It might very well not belong in my story.

Number 2…this was a hard-won lesson. Twice I dug in my little heels, stomped up and down and said, “NO!!!” right off the bat. In both cases I eventually realized the person was absolutely correct in what they told me. Now I was left having to repair the damage my little tantrum created. A far better response would have been: “Hmmm… I’m going to have thing about this for a bit. I’ll get back to you.” Enter Rule #2.

The last rule should be a no-brainer, but for some people I’ve spoken to, heard about, or in one case, worked with, they just weren’t willing to deal with finding out their work was not as good as they believed. As I said above, criticism is a subjective thing. If multiple people are identifying the same problem, you almost certainly have something that needs fixing. Ignoring that advice puts your creation in peril — especially if the critic is your agent or editor. If you feel very strongly, then utilizing Rule #2 is probably your best bet. Buy yourself some breathing room to consider the criticism carefully. In my experience it’s probably valid.

I once handed my primary reader (my darling wife) a newly-finished ms for a novel. She dutifully put on her glasses, picked up the first page, read for about 20 seconds, and then said, “Do you really want to begin your novel like this?” I was aghast. I mean I didn’t even last a full minute!

I ignored all three rules and had a relatively “polite” temper tantrum. I didn’t sleep that night and knew I’d upset her when she was only doing what I always expect from her, ie: “Hit me with your best shot!” But it was just so upsetting to hear I’d blown it right from the start, and that caused me to throw all sense right out the window. For her to comment that quickly instead of just making a note and moving on really threw me into a tailspin. I also thought my opening was really terrific.

She was 100% correct.

As I said, it’s tough being a writer.

Monday, February 25, 2019

How I Found My Agent

Recently, I attended a Carteret County Writers Network luncheon and listened to a delightful author talk about her writing process and publishing. One of the questions she fielded was, “Is it true it’s impossible to get an agent unless you know someone?”

Obviously frustrated by agent rejections, he was implying that ‘the fix was in’ and that it was impossible to get an agent to represent you purely on the merits of your writing.

That wasn’t the case for me. Back in 2001, I found an agent in New York who, upon reading my second book, Pieces of Jake, signed me to a contract. I won’t tell you his name, but frankly, he was awful. He spent no time talking with me, had an editor suggest some minor edits to the manuscript, and shopped the book to only the top publishing houses in Manhattan. He never took my phone calls and never kept me informed about the publishers’ responses.

Nine months after we signed the initial contract, I got an email telling me he’d snail-mail the publishers’ rejections and that he was giving his notice that he was dropping me like a bad habit.

I was so depressed that I didn’t write another word for nearly a year. Ugh.

But a writer’s gotta’ write, so I went on and authored two more books garnering an impressive collection of agent rejections. Ugh.

But I knew Random Road was different. I loved the characters. I loved the story line. And I loved the first line of first chapter. “Last night Hieronymus Bosch met the rich and famous.”

Okay, that’s all well and good. How did I find my agent?

Confident that Random Road was ready (after untold number of edits and rewrites) I Googled: Literary agents, debut writers, mysteries. A fairly lengthy list popped up.

Now, my past efforts at writing queries were admittedly slapdash at best. Find the name of an agent, send an introductory email (a form letter I'd created that was the same for all submissions…just changing the name of the recipient), attach a synopsis and a few chapters. As I said, rejections. Or worse, no response at all.

But with Random Road, I painstakingly researched the agents and their clients. What were they looking for? What was their style? Were they REALLY looking for debut authors? What authors do they represent?

Then, when I queried, it was unique to each agent. I was meticulous in sending them what they specified in the ‘submissions’ page of their website. Some wanted sample pages, some wanted first chapters, some wanted the first fifty pages.

Four agents asked to see the complete manuscript. That had never happened before. I sent them the manuscript and then really did my research on them. What was it they were looking for in their clients? It wasn’t always just a good story (although I can’t stress how important that is), but some wanted their clients to be easy to work with. I understand, after all, if they take you on as a client, they’re taking a chance with their time and reputation.

Let me take a moment to talk about why I wanted to work with a good agent and not try to reach out to publishers on my own. Many publishers simply won’t look at unagented manuscripts. Agents act as the gatekeepers. Plus, they know the business. I don't.

They have the up-to-date contacts and the knowledge of what publishing houses are looking for.

The agent I signed with (I thank her in the acknowledgments of my published books if you’re curious about her name) gets over a hundred submissions a day. Every. Single. Day.

I attended a panel discussion she chaired at a mystery conference a few years ago and she talked about how important it is to grab a reader right from the very first sentence. Knowing I was in the audience, she asked me to stand and quote my first line. It was what had stopped her from moving on to the next submission.

I knew she was the right agent for me when she initially emailed me and told me to have a hard copy printed of Random Road and we’d talk about it over the phone. Then over the course of a few hours, we went over the book page by page, making revisions along the way.

She knew my book as well as I did. She was passionate about it.

Once we were both happy with the revisions, she began submitting the manuscript to publishing houses. As we received responses, she shared them with me. None were negative. Some were very positive. But publishing houses, just like agents, are nervous about working with a debut author.

She was always reassuring. "We'll find the right publisher for this," she said. "I have no doubt."

Then came the phone call. She’d gotten an offer from Poisoned Pen Press. Needless to say, I was elated. I have a terrific agent and a fantastic publisher. I’m also happy to say that my third mystery, Graveyard Bay, is scheduled to be released in July.

Yeah, it was worth all the effort.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

These Kids Are Murder

Sometime back, Lighthouse Writers Workshop invited me to lead a class in their Young Writer's Program. Because of my background in writing mysteries I was specifically asked for this assignment since the kids would be tasked to craft a mystery story. My students were from 11 to 13 years old, with ten girls and two boys. My sons have long since matured past that age bracket and so I was curious about my students. We hear anecdotes about how out-of-control and undisciplined modern kids are, especially middle schoolers, however my charges were attentive and polite. I foresaw a lot of sneaking time on cell phones, but the only calls any of them got were from worried moms. One of the girls mentioned that the class fell between the custody handover between her parents, and I was glad this was something neither my sons or I had to go through. To prep for the class I read a couple of stories from Encyclopedia Brown and so from my students I expected something along the lines of the "Case of the Missing Bicycle" or the "Purloined Hershey Bar."

Our writing prompt was a photo of suburban house surrounded by crime-scene tape. Despite my expectation of a mundane "age-appropriate" crime, my students immediately launched into a tale of murder. I assigned them various aspects of the case. Some worked the crime-scene evidence. Others worked on motives. Reflecting these kids' modern family experiences, it was the wife of an estranged couple who was found dead. Naturally, suspicions pointed to the husband. However, living in the home was the late wife's boyfriend, who the girls in my class emphasized was a mooch with a record as a petty thief. Emails between the wife and her husband indicated that she accused him of stealing her savings and some jewelry. In the husband's car the police found a small caliber pistol, which one of my young detectives insisted was a .22 semi-auto. The crime-scene team was keen on the forensics and noted that the lack of gunshot residue around the puncture wounds in the wife's body meant that she had not been shot, even though spent .22 cartridges littered the area. Furthermore, the puncture wounds resembled those made by an ice pick, plus no bullets had been recovered from the tissue. The motive team discovered that the boyfriend had pawned jewelry the wife claimed had been stolen by the husband. Plus the husband had an alibi for the time in question as he had taken his girlfriend away for a romantic long weekend. An investigation of the pistol revealed the boyfriend's fingerprints but none from the husband, indicating it had probably been planted. Then the motive team discovered that the boyfriend had a girl on the side, and he had deposited lots of money in her account shortly after it went missing from the wife. The police never found the murder weapon but had enough to charge the boyfriend for murder and his girlfriend as an accessory as she had provide the pistol used as the red herring. Definitely not Encyclopedia Brown.


Friday, February 22, 2019

As always, by the time my Friday comes up, my blog mates have written at least half-a-dozen posts I'd like to follow up on. So today, I thought I'd offer comments -- ideas that had occurred to me as I was reading. Yes, I'm cheating by not being original, but I'm still thinking through some of the posts I read this week. I bet you are, too.

On Monday, Aline wrote about "The Death Penalty." When I read her post, I thought about the conversation I've been having with the students in my undergrad class on gangster films and gangsters in American culture. This is the first time I've taught the class. In fact, it's a spin-off from a reference book I was asked to write about gangster films. As we go back to look at the Prohibition-era films, I have reminded them several time that the Hollywood Production Code (administered by the Hays Office) mandated "crime must not pay." So, the gangster might rise, but must also fall. Soon we're going to compare the classic gangster film with its modern descendant and discuss whether gangster films were/still are morality tales.

Thinking about gangster films has me thinking about crime fiction in general. In crime fiction, the criminal is sometimes the protagonist. Sometimes even the most dastardly villain lives to make a return appearance. I did that with a character who was not dastardly, but had killed someone. I knew by the time I got to the end of the book that the character was too fascinating to kill off or too leave sitting in a prison cell. Did I sacrifice some moral lesson for the sake of an ending I loved? Is it even my responsible to punish my characters who behave badly? Of course, readers want to see justice done, but isn't it possible to do justice by making it clear that the character will not live happily ever after because of the events in the book? In my case, the character had a relationship to the protagonist of my series that needs to be explored. Barbara;s post on Wednesday, "A question of just desserts," posed those questions with regard to crime fiction much more elegantly than my musing.

And the there Donis's post yesterday -- "What if. . ."  That got me thinking about "What doesn't . . ." My new neighbor has a dog who is friendly (has dropped by twice to visit with me as I walk up to my door). This lovely dog has also gotten into the habit of barking a greeting when he happens to be at the window when I'm leaving for work. That reminded me of the stories of dogs who become heroes by alerting mail carriers or police officers who see them that something is wrong at home. The "Lassie effect" -- "Follow me, human, something is wrong." But there are also recurring stories in the news about wild animals who do the same when a cub or a puppy is in trouble. While I was thinking about this, I begin to think about the other things that we expect to happen -- the other customer that we expect to see buying coffee at the same time, the woman who is always getting on the bus as we park across the street, the neighbor who leaves every morning with a gym bag. What if something that should happen, doesn't? Starting point for a story. . . and certainly has been used before.

On Tuesday, Rick's "Cinematic genius in a single minute" post made an important point about how much storytelling can be packed into a short film. I stopped to ponder whether it was because a film is visual and so much can be communicated at a glance or whether the same can be done in fiction. Rick mentioned flash fiction. Every year at the New England Crime Bake, attendees are invited to take part in the flash fiction contest using words from the titles of the guest of honor. I tried once, but was not terribly good at writing a mini-story. But the effort did pay off later when I was trying to write a full-length short story. I'm going to try boiling my historical thriller down to a "micro movie" and flash fiction. That should get me to the core of the story.

I'm thinking about these ideas that occurred to me as I read this week's post because I'm going to be teaching at a workshop for several days this summer. See the Yale Writers Workshop Summer Session II. Thrilled to be asked, thinking a lot about what we will be doing.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

What If...



This coming Sunday, Feb 24, at 2:30 p.m., I (Donis) will be teaching a free class at Tempe, Arizona, Public Library on research for writers. I’ve spent the past couple of days getting my notes in order. The usual things : eschewing anachronisms, maintaining authentic cultural attitudes, avoiding data dumps, gaining information from internet/interview/travel/hands on experience, and so on.

As a historical novelist, one of my favorite sources for research about early twentieth century America is the newspapers. Before I even begin on a new book, I spend a fair amount of time perusing the newspapers from the place and time I intend to write about. Nothing is better for discovering what people knew about an event that may be historical to us but was happening at the moment to them, as well as discovering what they thought about the events of the day. Which believe you me, was not necessarily what we’ve come to believe. Besides, you can come across all kinds of fascinating information that may have nothing to do with what you were thinking about, but ends up leading you in directions you could never have imagined on your own.

I call this “serendipitous research.” It’s the accidental discovery of something that gives you an idea you would never otherwise have imagined. Perfect example: a couple of days ago, just while reading my morning paper I came across this delightful tidbit in the Arizona Republic :

February 17 : On this date in 1913, a prehistoric graveyard was unearthed along Sycamore Creek near Prescott containing the skeletons of people who appeared to have been at least 8 feet tall.

There’s an idea just a’waiting for some imaginative novelist.

How real do we need to be when we write, anyway? I’m not advocating playing fast and loose with history. The reader should never be disturbed or pulled out of the story. Caesar shouldn’t check his wristwatch. But let’s face it, the story is the thing. If you’re going to insist on absolute squeaky-clean accuracy, write a history book or a how-to-do-it or a biography. We all screw around with reality to some extent. Murders happen where none actually occurred. I decide that there should be a storm in Muskogee County, OK, on June 3, 1917. I could easily discover what the weather on that day in that place was actually like, but why bother? I’ve already decided that there’s going to be a storm in my fictional world whether or not there was one in the real world.Over my little universe-of-the-page, I am God Herself.

In fact, some authors change major historical events to suit themselves. This is called “alternative history”, and I love it. I am intrigued by how the past can be reconfigured by an imaginative writer. Have you ever read Fatherland, by Robert Harris? What if the Nazis had won WWII? Philip Roth’s Plot Against America is another popular alternative history. I also liked Robert Silverberg’s Roma Eterna. It’s actually a collection of short stories, but they all posit the idea that the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt didn’t go as planned, and Christianity never became the dominant religion of Rome.

I’d love to write an alternative history some time. But rather than change the outcome of world events, I think I might alter the past on a much more personal level. What if the circumstances of my birth had been exactly the same, but I had been a boy instead of a girl? What sort of life would I have lived? I am the perfect age for the Viet Nam draft. How would that have played out?

Now that I think about it, I actually do write alternative history, of a sort. In reality, I’m a childless, over-educated, ex-professional, left-leaner, who, through her series protagonist, has gotten to experience the life of a traditional farm wife and mother of ten children, and is now enjoying the lifestyles of the rich and famous in 1920s Hollywood.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A question of just desserts

Aline has written a terrific and thought-provoking post on the question of the death penalty in detective fiction. In jurisdictions that still have it, or in historical fiction, crime writers have to deal not only with the guilt and capture of their fictional villain, but also with the possibility that the actions of their clever detective will lead to the death of that person. Moral and emotional questions come into play that can add depth and power to the story.

In most detective novels there is an implicit contract between writer and reader that justice will be served, which usually means that the "bad guy" will get their "just desserts". You can leave several loose ends at the end of your novel, but if you don't reveal who the killer is and give at least a hint that they will face justice, the reader is likely to throw the book at the wall.

But what constitutes just desserts? And indeed, what constitutes a bad guy?

Those of us who love to explore the grey area between right and wrong, between good and evil, often play with these two questions. Sometimes the victim is the truly bad guy, and the villain is the one righting a wrong, albeit in vigilante fashion. One of my books dealt with this moral ambiguity, and once my detective figured out who the killer was, he (and I) had to decide what would serve justice; compounding the suffering or letting the person walk away. Interestingly, I never had a single reader complain about the way I chose to solve that dilemma.

For me, the most complex villains are ordinary people pushed to desperate ends or thrown into extraordinary situations for which they know no other answers. Ending the novel in a way that acknowledges that desperation but also serves the course of justice is part of the challenge. That's why serial killers and psychopaths don't interest me. Unless you want to argue they are victims of their faulty biology, there is little moral ambiguity there. Little humanity to sink our teeth into.

Another question raised by Aline's post, and by the thoughtful comments on it, is whether the detective (and writer) need concern themselves with what happens after the killer is caught. Of course some novels deal expressly with the trial process, but in the classic whodunit, the story usually ends when the killer's identity and motive are revealed. Sometimes the writer may hint at what comes next, but most is left to the reader's imagination. Is that enough? Does the reader need to know the police have sufficient hard evidence for a conviction in court? Or conversely, that although the detective knows the killer is guilty, there is not enough evidence to go to trial? How much certainty do readers need to feel satisfied?

I rarely worry about what will happen in court., but I do have the luxury of writing contemporary stories set in jurisdictions without the death penalty. Having that hanging over my head would add a whole other level of moral complexity to my detective's choices. But justice can be served in many other ways besides in a court of law. Life itself can provide its own punishments. I usually end my novels not with a certainty but with a hint of what is likely to happen to the villain, either in court or on the streets of their life to come. I make a moral decision on what punishment I think fits the crime, and I hope my readers share my sense of satisfaction. Those who want the definitive answer of the hangman's noose are unlikely to enjoy my novels anyway.

I will end these rambling philosophical musings with the story of two horrific murderers recently sentenced in Canada. Both men pleaded guilty. One killer was a young man who shot six people (and wounded numerous others) during prayers at a mosque. In Canada, a life sentence means twenty-five years before the possibility of parole. Automatic life sentences can be served concurrently or consecutively, but in this case the judge chose the rather odd middle ground of 40 years before the opportunity to apply for parole. Both sides were outraged; the Muslim community who felt the sentence was an affront to all the lost and traumatized lives, and the killer's family, who felt it took away all hope. Two very different views of "just desserts".

In the other case, a 67-year-old serial killer of eight (at least) men who could have served 200 years in prison was given concurrent life sentences, meaning he will serve 25 years and be eligible for parole at age 91. Once again, outrage in the community. Although in this case most wanted him to rot and die in prison, some felt that the sentence almost certainly assured that he would do just that.

So equally tricky for the writer trying to see that justice is done, is that justice is partly in the eye of the beholder. Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Cinematic genius in a single minute

by Rick Blechta

Every so often you stumble across something that is simply breathtaking. The video below is just that: brilliant storytelling in one single minute. It’s all there, plot, character, setting and a story arc that’s over before you know it. But it is sooo good. Kudos to director Gaspar Palacio and writer Robert J. Lee for creating a masterpiece.

Watch this!



I believe what would be even more amazing is to not let viewers know that this film is so short. If you just said it was an amazing story about a survivalist and his family, and gave it the usual advertising spin, I, for one, wouldn’t feel I got taken in by what I was led to expect. I’m not saying that it should be shown in movie theatres at full price, but what you get with this video is a fully-fleshed out story. Call it a “micro movie” if you will.

Flash fiction indeed! Hope you enjoy this as much as I did.

Monday, February 18, 2019

The Death Penalty

'They hate executions, you know.  It upsets the other prisoners.  They bang on the doors and make nuisances of themselves.  Everybody's nervous... If one could get out for one moment, or go to sleep, or stop thinking...Oh, damn that cursed clock!...Harriet, for God's sake, hold on to me... get me out of this... break down the door...'
'Hush, dearest, I'm here.  We'll see it out together.'
Through the eastern side of the casement, the sky grew pale with the forerunners of the dawn.
'Don't let me go.'

You'll have recognised this, of course - the last scene in Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers:  Lord Peter Wimsey, in an agony of sensibility as he waits for the moment when the  man whom his power of detection has condemned to the hangman's noose will be executed.

Once I had graduated beyond the Scarlet Pimpernel, I was madly in love with Peter Wimsey for most of my teenage years but it's a long time since I read this. However, of late I've been reading a lot of historic crime fiction, right back to James Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner  (1824), and taking in some of the Golden Age fiction on the way in preparation for being on a panel in Alibi in the Archives on 21-23 June in Hawarden, Wales, the country seat of William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister of Great Britain in the Victorian era. (Tickets still available but selling out fast) It now houses all the archives of the famous Detection Club.

Busman's Honeymoon is what Sayers herself described as 'a love story with detective interruptions,'  but it is nonetheless a very well-constructed and intricate crime novel.  Reading this, though, did make me wonder how the death penalty would have changed my attitude to the way I view bringing the murderer to justice in my own books.

I know there are US states which still have the death penalty but it has been abolished here for so long that it's hard to imagine writing about the perpetrator being bundled into the waiting police car  to await retribution with the same satisfaction I feel at present when the outcome, at worst, will be detention at Her Majesty's Pleasure in a prison regularly checked by Her Majesty's Inspector of Prisons.  The tone would have to be very different.

The problem is still there in historical fiction. I've never written a historical; if you have, how have  you dealt with this situation?  I'd be very interested to know how you've felt.

And having reread Busman's Honeymoon, I now realise I still haven't grown out of being madly in love with Lord Peter.  Oh dear!

Friday, February 15, 2019

Three of Them Waiting

Three Sisters cover 1901.jpg
 
 
 
John Corrigan's post about starting his students thinking about beginnings for books and stories reminded me of a terrific workshop I attended. Michael Shaara was on the panel. His book, The Killer Angels, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1975.
 
He was a mesmerizing speaker and told of a technique he used in his literature classes when he taught at Florida State University. He gave this opening: "There were three of them waiting."
 
Talk about immediacy! I borrowed this and used it time and again in my own workshops. The results were astonishing. Not only did this beginning spark students' imaginations, I was fascinated by what I learned about the students.
 
It's a terrific beginning and kicks off other necessary fictional elements. Often I would have participants write the first thoughts that popped in their heads on a 3 x 5 cards and pass the cards to me. Who or what were the three? What were they waiting for? Where were they waiting? (Setting) Why were they waiting? (Immediate suspense) What was the problem (Beginning plot)
 
Michael said one of his students won an important award.
 
I selected a card for the whole class to work on. That's all it took. After that it was a free for all. They called out answers to follow up questions. Who, where, when, why?
 
Here are some of the responses:
 
Three nuns. What were they waiting for? A train. Someone piped up "An orphan train." They couldn't call out ideas fast enough. For instance, one nun in particular had a profound sense of dread. Why? She had an illegitimate child years ago. She had reason to believe the child was on the train. Wow!
 
One responses was three soldiers. That's always loaded.
 
One group of raucous boys snickered about three guys in a bar waiting for their GED teacher. The banter got complicated. They planned to kidnap Arnold Schwarzenegger's kid. I said "okay, the kid is one of the Kennedys. You've involved the FBI" You could have heard a pin drop. It was a great space for a mini-history lesson. Serious plotting followed. How does one deal with the FBI?
 
The story Michael said won a big award was another story inspired by the "big three." The three waiting were ambulances. The setting was the Indy 500. Two times during the race an ambulance was dispatched.
 
The third and final ambulance came for the narrator of the story. . .

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Collision

This is one of those weeks when my day job (teaching) collides with my other job (writing). And the crash has me thinking about en media res and back-story, two things all writers contemplate and with which all writers at one time or another struggle.

I asked a group of students in my Crime Literature senior elective at Northfield Mount Hermon School, the boarding school where I live and work, to write a fictional account of Massachusetts’ oldest unsolved murder, one which has been well documented and just happened to take place on campus about 80 years ago. The story has long fascinated employees, students, and crime enthusiasts (if that phrase makes sense . . . can one be enthused by crime?).

The assignment called for students to research the case by reading four primary documents, attend a Q@A with the School’s archivist, then write a narrative that offers a plausible account of who did it and what took place, paying careful attention to motive, means, and opportunity.

Working with talented writers –– for whom this was their first step into the world of fiction –– reminded me how important beginning en media res is and how challenging it is to effectively incorporate the backstory.

Here’s my next assignment. It’s an activity I’ve had a lot of luck with, one that illustrates for beginning fiction writers a story arc and forces them to select a starting point somewhere on that arc and effectively deal with the backstory.

Give it a try. And if you do, shoot me a copy at jcorrigan1970@gmail.

What’s My Back-Story? A Plotline Activity

Must every story be told in a linear narrative style? No way. Readers want a scene that allows them to figure out the story on their own. So how do we tell stories cinematically? By using scenes to convey the storyline. This allows the writer to use flashback sequences while starting in the middle of the action and continuously pushing the story forward.

Read the following plotline and determine which numbers (there are several, after all) at which you could begin. How will you include the information that came before your starting point? Must you include all of it?

Write a first- or third-person opening scene (narration and dialogue) beginning at one point on the line and dropping in the necessary previous material as the scene moves forward.

  1. Mary Howard grew up in Readfield, Maine, the daughter of a doctor. 
  2. She went to UMaine at Orono, where she studied history, graduating with a 3.5 GPA, and met Steven Smith, a political science major, whom she married following graduation. 
  3. After graduation and one year of marriage, Mary dutifully helps Steven launch his political career.
  4. Mary, now in her mid-30s, helps Steven becomes a Maine State Legislator and raises their three kids.
  5. Unbeknownst to Mary, Steven begins an affair with a fellow Maine State Legislator. 
  6. Mary gets a phone call from an intern in Steven’s office, who tells her of the affair. 
  7. Mary confronts Steven. This takes every ounce of courage she has. In 15 years of marriage, she has morphed from the confident, bubbly Mary Howard, to the housewife of powerful Maine State Legislator Steven Smith. As his career has taken off, her identity somehow got lost. 
  8. Mary listens as Steven tells her the affair is just “a sideline” that “this is how some political marriages are.”
  9. Mary packs her bags, grabs her kids (now ages 11, 9, and 7), and walks outside, determined to start a new life. 
  10. She drives to Santa Fe, New Mexico, a place she’s only seen on TV. 
  11. In Santa Fe, she enrolls the kids in school, gets a job in a bookstore, and hires attorney Phil Rogers, who is 35 and single.
  12. Mary doesn’t know what to do when Rogers asks her to dinner six months after she’s been in Santa Fe and following what was a surprisingly easy out-of-court settlement with Steven. She wonders what message a date would send to her kids. Would her acceptance tell them that they are all starting over? That it’s okay to move on? Or would they think she’s callus? 

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Googleganger and Dracula Sneeze

With less than a week to go before my deadline, I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and it’s not an oncoming train!

On my breaks from writing, I’ve been watching lectures from the Great Courses. Nonfiction topics seem to clear my mind so, when I go back to work, I can more clearly see the story I'm writing.

I check the courses out from my local library through Hoopla. (It’s a great resource, by the way. See if your library subscribes to it. My own books are available through it, both in e-book and audio formats.)

The latest course I’ve been enjoying is “Secret Life of Words: English Words and Their Origins.” Anne Curzan is the lecturer. She’s a professor of English and Associate Dean of Humanities at the University of Michigan. She also is a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel and co-host of That’s What They Say on Michigan Public Radio. She’s a great lecturer. I highly recommend it.

Secret Life of Words covers a number of topics including The Life of a Word, The Human Hands Behind Dictionaries, and Often versus “Offen”. There are 36 lectures total. I’ve only viewed a handful so far.

In the first lecture (Winning Words, Banished Words), Professor Curzan talked about how the American Dialect Society chooses its words of the year. It’s interesting enough, I thought I’d tell you about it.

The ADS conference meets every January and votes. Anyone who attends can take part in the discussion as well as vote. There’s an open floor for debate on the choices, ending in the participants raising their hands to vote on which word they believe should be the “word of the year” for the previous year.

The word of the year for 2018 was tender-age shelter. I admit I’ve never heard of this one. It refers to the government-run detention centers that have housed the children of asylum seekers at the U.S./Mexico border. That has been a bit of a preoccupation of the U.S. this last year so I can understand why it was selected.

In 2000, the ADS also voted on “Word of the Millennium”. The finalists were “the”, “she”, “government” and “science”. “She” won out. Here’s a few interesting things I learned about the pronoun. (1) No one’s sure of its origin, (2) The word is new to the millennium. It first appeared in a written document in 1154, and (3) It may reflect language contact with Old Norse.

There are several categories the ADS votes on besides “Word of the Year". One of the more interesting categories is "Most Creative".

Past winners of Most Creative Word have been:

Googleganger: when you google yourself, these are the people who come up that aren’t you

Dracula sneeze: a sneeze into your elbow

Recombobulation area: area after security at airports where you put shoes back on and basically put yourself together before heading to your gate

gate lice: airline passengers who crowd around a gate waiting to board

You can find all of the nominees and vote tallies for all of these words and more on the ADS website.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Scene blocking

by Rick Blechta

A good reason to use paper slips for moving characters!
Something came up in the past few days with my novel-in-progress and I want to share a little trick I was taught years ago by a director of stage productions. I’d forgotten all about it since I normally don’t write action scenes with large numbers of characters doing critically important small movements. I’d sort of forgotten it in the intervening time.

The director had read the ms for one of my novels (When Hell Freezes Over) and our conversation started with something like, “You know, the climactic scene at the end made no sense to me. In fact, it was impossible the way you’ve written it.”

My response was probably something exceptionally erudite like, “Huh?”

“You need to block your scenes. It was obvious you didn’t do that. Your characters were in the wrong places to do the things they needed to do.”

As soon as I got back home, I ripped open the binder filled with my copy of the draft I’d shared with my friend, and found, damn it all, that he was completely correct.

The little trick Tom (my director/friend’s name) taught me was to write the characters’ names on little sheets of paper, draw a simple floor plan of the space where the scene is taking place on another sheet of paper and put the characters in position on the floor plan. If I wished to describe something in the room, a door or window or desk for instance, I should also add those to the floor plan if they’re fixed throughout the scene, and if they were to be moved (well, not windows and doors), then put them on a slip of paper too, so they could be moved.

“This is what probably every director does in some form or other when blocking a scene. Your memory is fallible. Don’t rely on it!”

So, back to the drawing board yesterday using Tom’s trick and I soon realized I was about to fall into the same trap I had back in the story on which he was reading and commenting.

I’ve now got a large sheet of paper, many slips of paper and I’m rewriting the scene, moving everyone around to make sure it’s all workable. A side benefit is that it really makes things come alive and several good ideas have been the result of that.

My only problem was that my wife used the table last night while I was out at a rehearsal. When I got home, everything was neatly piled on the desk in my studio.

Fortunately I had actually used my noodle for once and taken a photo of my blocking diagram with my mobile phone. Otherwise, I would be one frustrated author right now.

So thank you again to Tom (wherever you are).

To the rest of you, feel free to take advantage of my hard-won knowledge.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Our Fascination with Bad Guys and Evil


I enjoyed reading the latest blogs from Donis Casey and Frankie Y. Bailey about their take on their literary villains. When blocking out a story, I often fixate on the villain and then I wonder why. Why do we have such a fascination with bad guys and evil?

I reached out and asked a number of writer friends who their favorite villains are. Some of the answers were quite interesting: Randall Flag (from Stephen King’s The Stand), Tony Soprano, Jack the Ripper, Long John Silver, The Joker, Draco Malfoy, Maleficent, the Pied Piper of Hamelin (well, when he wasn’t paid for eradicating the plague ridden rats from town, he reciprocated by stealing all the town’s children), Hannibal Lecter, Nurse Ratched, and of course, Darth Vader.

Some answers drew more than a one word answer. “Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley. He could seem so normal as to be a sociopath. She really placed a light into that dark world. A villain…anti-villain.”

“Jack in Lord of the Flies. He is proof we are all base when stripped of rules, that hunger is what drives us all.”

“John Wilkes Booth…even though he killed Lincoln, he was a somewhat sympathetic character, a lost soul, pathetically delusional.”

When she mentioned John Wilkes Booth, it stopped me in my tracks for a moment. Booth thought what he was doing was the right thing. Don’t most villains rationalize their crimes as ‘doing what’s right’? Don’t they view their actions as beneficial for the greater good…even though their ‘greater good’ is criminal, repugnant, and destructive?

And the statement about Tom Ripley seeming so normal? The philosopher Hannah Arendt, while watching the Nazi engineer of genocide, Adolf Eichmann, stand trial in Jerusalem, realized that the most striking thing about evil was its banality. Eichmann looked like a bank clerk not a textbook villain. He was a bureaucrat who murdered millions of innocent people.

Ted Bundy, boyish, handsome, and charismatic, was a sadistic sociopath who confessed to thirty murders. But he looked so normal.

John Wayne Gacy tortured and murdered at least thirty-three teenage boys and young men. Before he was caught, he attended parades, children’s parties, and charitable fundraisers dressed as a clown. A CLOWN!!!! Okay, that’s pretty scary.

How many times have we heard the television interview with the neighbor of a serial killer who had been arrested say, “He seemed so normal”?

So back to why we’re so fascinated with evil.

Carl Jung believed we need to confront and understand our own hidden nature to grow as human beings. Healthy confrontation with our shadow selves can unearth new strengths, while unhealthy attempts at confrontation may involve dwelling on or unleashing the worst parts of ourselves.

Sigmund Freud viewed human nature as inherently antisocial, biologically driven by the undisciplined id’s pleasure principle to get what we want when we want it. We’re born to be bad but held back by society.

In the early 1970s, Stanford psychologist, Philip Zimbardo carried out his infamous Prison Experiment. The mock jail he created in Stanford’s psychology building where “guards” abused “prisoners”, revealed the speed with which ordinary people can begin to carry out depraved acts in a toxic environment.

I’m certainly no expert, but is it possible the reason why we’re fascinated with bad guys is that the line that we need to cross to get to the Dark Side is incredibly narrow?

Or is it that being good is boring and being bad is wicked fun?

Saturday, February 09, 2019

The Ideas Factory


By Vicki Delany

Where do you get your ideas? That’s a question authors are always been asked, and in a lot of cases we can’t answer. Ideas just come.

Entering The Ideas Factory

But, right now, they are not coming to me.

I’ve written more thirty-five books. I’m currently writing four series , and publishing three novels (and some years one novella) from major traditional publishers each year.

And I’m running out of ideas.

Talking over an idea with a friend


There are some plot limitations in the cozy genre. The reason for the murder has to be personal, and it has to involve a close-knit community or group of friends. No international crime rings or random killers or threat of terrorism or organized crime. It has to be solvable by the amateur sleuth without the aid of reports from Interpol or forensic analysis. And, the amateur sleuth has to have a compelling reason to get involved.

So, as I’m running out of ideas, I went straight to the Ideas Factory.

Road to the Ideas Factory

Meaning my writers retreat.  Twice a year I get together with a small group of writers friends in some remote location, at which we write, talk about writing, take long walks, swim if seasonally-appropriate, and eat and drink well. (by a total coincidence Barbara wrote about her writers’ retreat this week: https://typem4murder.blogspot.com/2019/02/in-praise-of-writers-retreat.html).  It’s a time to recharge and – sometimes – get ideas and inspiration.



This year I didn’t do any writing while there, because I went with the aim of coming up with some plot lines. Over the three days, I talked with my writer friends on our long walks in the snowy woods, and over a glass of wine by the fireplace.  We threw out ideas, some pretty ridiculous, some mighty funny, I made lots of notes.  I got some good, concrete ideas that I intend to use.

At the Ideas Factory




The fifth in the Lighthouse Library series, Something Read Something Dead, comes out on March 13. I'm having a contest for an advance reading copy at my facebook page. If you'd like to enter: www.facebook.com/evagatesauthor OR leave a comment here at Type M.

Friday, February 08, 2019

About the Villain

I intended writing about something else today, but what Donis wrote about villains yesterday got me thinking.

I'm dealing with that issue of the villain right now as I work on my historical thriller. In my five Lizzie Stuart mysteries, only two of the villains die. On the other hand, in my two Hannah McCabe police procedurals, the villains both die. I didn't plan it that way, but that is what happened.

In the standalone I'm working on now, the villain is -- I hope -- a three-dimensional character with what he perceives as good reasons for his dastardly acts. That part works because I always try to understand my villain and give him/her a chance to make the case for what he or she does. But it is disconcerting in this thriller to have the reader know early on who the villain is and something about "why." This requires me to spend so much more time than I usually do inside my villain's head. He is not a serial killer. He is not insane. So I am dealing with someone who can rationalize what he does.  I don't agree with his logic, but I don't want to stack the deck against him by inserting my author's perspective.

I have to admit that I sometimes have empathy for villains. That could have something to do with the fact that I began to really think about villains when I was reading Shakespeare -- three quarters of Shakespeare in college. I found Iago fascinating. I thought Macbeth and his wife deserved what they got -- but they also had some great lines. Richard III had me from his first monologue.

I think the thing about villains is that they have so much energy. In one of my Lizzie Stuart books, the people who were behaving badly threatened to steal the show. Luckily, Lizzie is a first-person narrator. Even so, I had so much fun writing one of the characters that I'm already planning a return appearance.

One of the questions -- one that also comes up in other genres -- is whether the villain can redeem him/herself. If the villain feels justified and then later changes his or her mind and does the right thing, was he or she only a misguided protagonist? I'm playing with this idea. Maybe I will find it easier to stay in the head of the bad guy in my historical thriller if I think of him as both protagonist (from his POV) and antagonist (from my hero's POV).

Although it would certainly be time consuming since I have at least four viewpoint characters in this big book -- I'm thinking of writing the book with each of the main characters as the narrator. That would be four or five novellas. Then I could go back in and put them all together, with alternating narrators. I'm thinking of this because it would make it much easier to keep track of what my characters -- including my "villain" -- are each doing over the course of eight months. I would also be able to settle in and write from one POV from beginning to end.

It seems like a lot of work to take this approach, but I think it will save me time (less revising) and allow me to create characters who are more fully developed than they are when I'm simply shifting viewpoints as I write. For example, I will know what each character has been up to and how character arcs overlap and intertwine. My villain has a life. He doesn't spend 24 hours a day hatching ways to make my hero's life miserable. If I tell the entire story from his point of view, I hope I'll be able to really understand him.

Has anyone else taken this long way around when dealing with multiple viewpoints, including both hero and villain.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

The Bad Guy



I’ve been working on my bad guy today.

Is it true that in a mystery novel the author has to keep the villain a secret until the end?  Not necessarily, because the villain isn’t always the killer, sometimes the villain is the victim. Witness Christie’s Murder On the Orient Express. When I write a mystery novel, I try to mix it up from book to book. Sometimes the bad guy is the killer, sometimes the victim, and sometimes the villain is just a red herring. Perhaps in a mystery novel, there doesn’t even have to be a villain, just a killer. A person can do an evil thing without necessarily being evil.

No matter what kind of book, though, you can’t beat a great villain. The touch of genius in The Dark Knight’s Joker was that no reason for his evil was ever really given.  The tale the Joker tells about himself keeps changing - is one version true or are they all lies?  His most revealing explanation is when he compares his lust for destruction to a dog chasing a car. He doesn’t want anything. He wouldn’t know what to do with the car if he caught it. He just wants to chase it.

One of my favorite literary villains for sheer scariness is  Andrew Carlisle in J.A. Jance’s Hour of the Hunter. He’s a genius as well as a complete psychopath, and you wonder how he’s ever going to get caught. The possibility that someone like him actually exists kept me awake for a night or two. If it can be thought of, it can be.

A brilliant movie villain, in my humble opinion, is Archie Cunningham, the character played by Tim Roth in Rob Roy. He is thoroughly despicable. He never once in the entire movie does a decent thing. He also spends a lot of time staring at a miniature of his mother, which he keeps in a locket around his neck. As for Archie’s father, well, his mother had narrowed his identity down to three possibilities. Maybe we can guess why Archie is like he is, and even spare him a little sympathy, but he’s such a pig that when he finally gets his comeuppance, it’s only what he deserves and we are entirely satisfied
.
That movie, by the way, has several really interesting themes. How far would you go to survive? Would you be able to hurt yourself to keep from being killed? Would it occur to you to climb inside a dead cow to save your life?

But I digress.
 
We were speaking of our favorite villains. Remember Snidely Whiplash? Now there’s a villain.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

In praise of the writers' retreat

This is going to be a short post because I am far too busy with serious writing work to find time for it. Twice a year I get together with writer pals for a couple of days of synergistic renewal. In the summertime, we get together at my lakeside cottage and in the winter at Robin Harlick's cabin in the pristine woods of West Quebec. We are a core of close friends but not everyone can come every time, so this time we are just three.

We have been doing this for years, and I am a firm believer in the benefits. Writing is a solitary, indeed lonely, profession. Whether we are hunkered down in our garret or sitting in the local Starbucks, we are living in our own heads, talking to our imaginary characters and spinning our own tales. It can get very dark and claustrophobic in there. Getting together for a few days with fellow writers is restorative. We remember how to talk, to laugh, and to reach out in support.


Writers, particularly crime writers, have a unique way of looking at the world and it's a delight to spend time with like-minded individuals. We realize we are not crazy when we obsess about the best places to hide bodies or to cover up a murder. It's very affirming.

Besides helping our sanity and validating our view of the world, writers' retreats are occasions to get inspired, rekindle hope, and solve storyline impasses. Many a plot idea has been generated by the free-flowing, wine-fuelled brainstorming that accompanies the happy hour or the after dinner aperitifs.

The business side of writing is equally confounding, and writers' retreats provide a chance to rant, rave, and problem solve about the promotional side of writing. What works, what is a waste of time, and what does your publisher do about ...? It's also a great place to vent about the frustrations and challenges of this crazy-making business we have chosen. Moreover, the helpful insights and suggestions about the business and the craft of writing are always useful.

And finally, I don't want to understate the power of nature to bring peace and inspiration. Escaping from the clamour and distractions of the city and our busy lives allows us to spend a couple of days focussing on our writing and get on with the stories we want to tell.

All in all, writers' retreats revitalize the soul.


Tuesday, February 05, 2019

More thoughts on favourite months


by Rick Blechta

I found Aline’s post yesterday really interesting and it got me to cogitating.

If I had to pick a favourite month — or one that I find more interesting than the others — I think I’d have to nominate March. “March?” you say. “Dull month.”

Not so fast! I grew up just north of New York City and winter was pretty well done and dusted — to borrow a British term. Snowdrops were up and blooming under the saucer magnolia in the front yard. In the back yard our crocuses were doing their thing, and next door, their pussy willow tree was covered. (I’d sneak over and clip some when they weren’t looking, little scamp that I was.

That was my youth. Then I moved north to Canada during university and never went home. March in Toronto is certainly better than March in Montreal where I first lived, but it’s not as “friendly” as it was back home. We generally still have snow on the ground, certainly in the early part of the month and will experience some pretty cold temperatures. But the ground will have begun thawing and towards the end of the month, our crocuses and snowdrops will at least be poking their heads above the ground, harbingers of what will come in April — besides showers!

So from my youth I remember warm days, cool nights and the early plants blooming. In Toronto, my great joy is hearing melt water flowing. It can be in something as un-glamorous as a roadside catch basin, but hearing water moving means that winter’s grip is loosening and at long last there’s so much to be looking forward to just around the corner.

Let’s boil this down to the essence: March means hope to me — and I’m a hopeful person.

Out with it! What’s your favourite month?

Monday, February 04, 2019

January: the Case for the Defence

So that's January gone again to wherever it is that the lapsed months go once we've finished with them. It gets a bad press: Dry January, Veganuary, the sort of nicknames that suggest gloom, misery and depression, even if you're paying no attention to the recommendations for infliction of self-torture.

But I like January. December is such a frantic month, when you're not only shopping for presents, cooking for celebrations, cleaning the house, going to parties when your back is sore and the conversation is even more achingly boring, while the social smile is so fixed that it's actually hurting your ears, and you wake up at four in the morning wracked with guilt about the time you've spent away from your desk, with a deadline approaching.

I look forward to January 2nd. This year, with the way the dates fell, there were only three days before the weekend and in that blissful spell, nothing at all seemed to happen. I could even make peace with my professional conscience, knowing that the quiet weeks of January lay ahead, and had a proper break when I sat by the fire and read books that were the ones I wanted to read, not useful ones.

This is when I can really get my head down and get on with the next book. No one arranges book talks in January or crime festivals; social life dwindles away to almost nothing. What's not to like? I have time to work on a resolution or two to improve my working life – not too many, or it gets depressing all over again – and no one minds if you hibernate.

My study is my den – indeed, it's more than that. I'm like a hermit crab and it's my shell. If for some reason I have to move out of it – painters, cleaning, grandchildren visiting – I scuttle about feeling absolutely lost. I was interested in John's post about places we like to work; but I've almost got to the point where I can't imagine working anywhere else.

Perhaps I'm feeling even more indulgent towards January than usual since we have had so much perfect winter weather: windless, with clear, pale skies, crisp air, sunshine, a frost at night and an occasional icing-sugar sprinkle of snow but no more than that. I've been thinking about you all and hoping none of you have been too badly affected by the extreme snow and frost.

This year I was given a little tear-off desk calendar claiming to be 'The Wit and Wisdom of Women'. Judging by this women tend to think in cheesy cliches. However, as we move into February which I think is a much less appealing month – worse weather, more demands – I have decided that perhaps Lilly Pulitzer who contributed the thought for today could be right; 'Despite the forecast, live like it's spring.'

Friday, February 01, 2019

Crash Crash Boom Boom

File:Car crash 1.jpg


I've led a charmed life. Not a single broken bone. No injuries other than a tiny stress fracture from using a treadmill. So I can only imagine what a serious injury would feel like.

However, like most fiction authors, I have a vivid imagination and from the minor aches and pains I have been exposed to I can sense what these ordeals must feel like.

There is something unrealistic to me about characters--usually the hero--in a book who has broken ribs and heaven only knows what else and can spring from his bed the next day in full pursuit of the evildoer. I don't think it makes sense.

Ditto, the unreality of someone who unplugs all the machines in a hospital room or pulls out IVs and sneaks away against medical advice. How fast can the human body recover from a grave injury or function without lifesaving devices?

Another turnoff to me is car chases in movies when vehicles careen from street to street getting and receiving endless damage and still, by George, manage to run. Not my little Subaru. It's as temperamental as all get out. And wouldn't these collisions jar? Produce headaches, at least? Double vision?

For that matter, why pursue someone who is going to beat you up? If you are hoping this person fleeing is going to lead you someone in danger that's one thing. High speed chases with no plausible outcome just for the thrill of the chase is another.

It's possible to set this up, but using a man with broken ribs who needs crutches and a blood transfusion doesn't cut it.

It would be interesting to hear about other situations that turn my fellow Type M'ers off. And I would love to hear from readers also. We all know about the TSTL (Too Stupid To Live) scenario when the heroine bypasses all regulations and is devoid of any common sense and confronts a serial killer all by her courageous little self.

Are there others?