Thursday, September 30, 2010

Sept Dare Day 29 - Tired, Possibly Virus Laden

Long tiring day at work but I think I'm clear for the rest of the week (some minor duties). The bad news is I may have caught something. A friend and co-worker has caught something that has left her ribs too sore to cough any more. I now have a cough and a scratchy throat. I sometimes get that this time of year because of the dry air, and the amount of talking I have to do with students. (I had a student today who, unfortunately, got lost at the beginning of her teacher's lecture and never understood a thing after that. So I had to go over the whole concept of setting up div tags and css files - all the theory behind it, and everything. This is, though, why I get paid the big bucks - at least when they pay me in those oversized joke dollars.)

Sales have been slow this late September, but I had and odd flash of sales, and my first review at Barnes and Noble. (Plus a couple more reviewers have requested review copies.) I will update you tomorrow on the overall progress of the eBook Experiment, and my new plans to shift into higher gear.

On the writing front - the ending is coming along really nicely. But it's slow because I am able to get so much more depth into it. It's taking multiple passes for every page. Some loose ends I was planning on carrying over into the next book (reluctantly) are tying themselves up just in the right way. I think I now have resolution with promises of things to come. But we'll see.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Legitimacy is Overrated - Thoughts on Konrath, Literature and the Future

Joe Konrath posted a little screenplay the other day that takes a critical look at what traditional publishing has to offer a writer now and in the future. This, of course, prompted a lot of discussion. (More than 200 comments - very interesting. I recommended reading it all.) One thing that keeps coming up in discussions of self-publishing vs. traditional publishing is that traditional publishers offer a legitimacy that you just don't get with any form of self-publishing.

And that is true. But here is a little story to illustrate why I don't think all that much of legitimacy.

When I was in grad school, back in the 1980s, I had a creative writing professor who was something of a minor literary star. He'd won prizes and been given fellowships in Europe and stuff like that. He was a bit of a jerk, but he was definitely legit.

It happened that I made my first professional sale the term I was in his class. I wrote for children in those days and the sale was to Highlights for Children, and I was paid $100 for a tiny story of about 400 words. Nothing to sneeze at, even today.

When I told my professor about it, he made it very clear to me that such a sale was not a legitimate publication. It was not to be mentioned, even. Like I said, he was a jerk. Maybe more than a bit of a jerk. But he was legitimate. Nobody could argue that.

Over the span of the semester, though, I discovered a few things. Such as the fact that he couldn't sell books to save his life. He required his award-winning novels as texts for his classes to force students to buy them. (This, of course, and should have got him fired, but he was SUCH an admired artiste that people gave him a bye on it.)

My little story, in the meantime, was probably enjoyed by a great many more readers on its first run through Highlights than any of his books (perhaps all combined). And over the years, the magazine has resold the rights over and over and over again - and sent me a share of the proceeds. I just got a check this week for $138. I'm quite certain that the total proceeds are now more than the advance on the novel he forced us to buy.

I've come to realize that legitimacy is something that professor needed. He didn't have much else for his books. And that's not just because he was a jerk. Literary and academic writers all need it - even the ones who weren't jerks. Literary fiction just doesn't pay, it doesn't get distribution, so you've got to go with prestige to make it worth the cost and trouble.

I learned early that legitimacy was never something I needed.

But now, on recalling this, I am twice as excited about the future. I realize now that even literary writers are no longer dependent on legitimacy. (Not unless they wanna be, or they want to go into academia.) The thing that forced literary writers - even the ones who were not jerks - to be so dependent on legitimacy was the fact that it's so darned expensive to be published. You needed some kind of justification for the powers that be to spend the money to grant you access to readers.

And that was also the problem for self-publishers, who didn't even have legitimacy - so no access to readers.

Well, now everyone has access to readers. And that includes the poets and literary writers and delusional dreamers.

I am grateful to Highlights for the access they have granted me over the years, and I hope they will continue to make connections with readers for me forever. I am grateful to all the publishers out there who made these connections possible for all writers.

Legitimacy was a ticket to those connections. But it has less and less importance and figures in smaller and more specialized audiences all the time. Publishers still have a lot to offer, imho, but legitimacy is the weakest of the bunch.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sept Dare Day 27 - 1000 or More Boring Words

I had a migraine yesterday, but I did get some work done. And after the long day today, I got a lot more done.

Unfortunately it's on boring stuff that will have to be rewritten. I'm writing the wrap up scene where the detectives explain everything to each other. I figure once I have all of this down, I will be able to figure out how to make some of it more self-explanatory in earlier scenes.

But I think I am going to have to do the classic thing and make it partly Story Time. Christie did that. Doyle did it. It is an effective way to end a good puzzler. But at the moment it's just people explaining things to each other because I've got to sort it out. I may have to rearrange the story. Maybe ditch Rosie, and have Karla relate what he's told her.

And then there is the problem of the transition into the final bit - the personal wrap ups. I've got to save some tone for that. (But on the other hand, the mystery wrap up could be more interesting if it is setting up the emotional tone for the personal wrap up.)

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sept Dare Day 25 - Hacking Away 1500 Words Or So

The days are blending together. I write a flash story and sent it out to publisher, but maybe I did that yesterday....

I did a lot of snippets, a lot of them on scrap paper. Chapter 12 is still going slowly. Chapter 15 decided to shape up a little. And the end started rolling out.

I could write a couple hundred more words, but I think I need to wash my hair instead. (Personal hygiene is not the enemy of the writer....)

(EDIT: and of course I got out of the shower and had a whole new scene from a different chapter live in my head, so there I was dripping wet, scribbling madly at 3am. Hey, when things catch fire, they catch fire.)

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Sept Dare Day 24 - Shifting Into Gear

We had such extreme heat, I was unable to sleep at all last night - which kind of shot my productivity today. But I'm hoping the heat is done for the season. The marathon run I seem to be on appears to be at an end (fingers crossed!) and so maybe I can really knuckle down at last.

Tonight I sat down and went through the manuscript for gaps and sections that will need serious revision. It looks like this thing is 30 chapters long, and will come to about 80-85k. I like short chapters, myself. I'll be doing more work tonight.

I think I have about four chapters worth of new material to write, lots of revision, and 26 days to go before my deadline. After that, I'm aiming at a publication date of March 1, but I plan on doing something like an actual "book launch" for it, so I may postpone in order to get all the ducks in a row.

I'm going to challenge the writers in the audience to think about NaNoWriMo. (That's National Novel Writing Month - in November. It's a novel dare, something like what I try to do year around on this blog, except much more intense.) I myself never sign up for that officially, because imho their rules make it useless for real writing. However, I like to take part unofficially and encourage all writers to use it to light a fire under themselves.

I'm going to do something different for NaNo this year. A combination of essays and short fiction. This is a part of my plan to "launch" the book next spring. The essays I hope to turn into a blog tour and guest posts, and short stories ... well, I'll do with those what we always do - start submitting them. I'll probably focus on flash fiction.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Sept Dare Day 23 - Update - Chapter 12

The marathon is catching up with me, so I'll have to finish yesterday's think post tomorrow. I'm just updating - I worked on Chapter 12 today.

I also went to see Casablanca in a real theater today. This is actually the second time I've seen it in a theater. The first time was probably fifteen years ago. It was also probably on film. This time it was digital - though I really couldn't tell, and the restoration was a lot better than last time.

Casablanca plays a big part in Chapter 12, which is why I delayed working on that chapter until now. I know the movie so well, I have a hard time ever watching it fresh, so I didn't want to review it before it came to town. (I can - and usually do - miss whole scenes while watching stuff that goes on in the background, and never notice.)

I think it's interesting that four of the pictures shown in this fall's classics series are related to the book. And further more, the picture playing one the first anniversary of my blog - the one that I will see the day after I have set as a deadline to finish this book is.... The Man Who Knew Too Much! (1956 version)

Yes, that's right, the movie the book is named for is playing the day after I plan to be done with writing it. How's that for Kismet! (Which, as Karla would say, is another movie entirely.)

I wonder if I should do a viewing list for each book in this series. Maybe with commentary from Karla....

Oh, and here's a video of the scene that is referenced in my book. (It's not a spoiler for my book, but it might be a mild spoiler for the Hitchcock movie - although it's a famous scene.)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Life as Inspiration Vs. Writing as Therapy, Part 1

The reason I didn't post yesterday was because we had some news at the day job which I couldn't post about. There was some, um, reorganization done that made a lot of people really happy, but which social niceties required that everyone pretend they didn't know the truth. But it was a world-shifting event, that changed a long standing situation. (A situation that at one point had me home on stress leave for a week and a half.) So while this change could not be properly marked in an public way, it had to be marked privately. 'Nuff said.

Looking back on this past decade of strife, I can say it was certainly a learning experience. An awful lot of people would say to me, when they heard about various things that went on at the day job: "Hey, I bet that gives you great material for your books!" And I'd smile weakly and say "uh, yeah, sure."

Because it didn't, exactly.

I don't write non-fiction. I mean, I write it here, and yes the goings-on at my day job would be very interesting material for a blog, but I'm not interested in hurting people, or losing my job or getting sued.

I respect creative non-fiction. I have to admit, though, that I don't respect thinly disguised autobiography masquerading as fiction. I know, I know, there are great artists who do wonderful things with near-truth. But to me, that's writing as therapy. Which is fine as therapy (I do it myself), and I even recommend that writers do that privately, but it ain't art. It's the precursor of art. It's learning.

The heroine of the work-in-progress is Karla, a movie-buff like few you've ever met. She sees everything in life through the prism of movies to the extent that people often think she confuses reality with fiction. But they're wrong. She never tires of reminding people: "Movies aren't about reality."

And I have to echo her motto: Fiction is not about reality.

A story is not a mirror of life, it's an interpretation of life. It's not about what's out there, it's about what's inside. More specifically speaking: it's about motivation.


What drives people to do the crazy things they do? And what happens when their motivations are in conflict? To understand that requires a lot of thought and analysis. To then display it in a way that makes it understandable.... that takes MORE understanding and art and skill and most of all distance. You can't just grab it out of real life, splat it down on paper and expect it to mean anything. People can watch real life for themselves just fine. You, as the writer or artist, have to go deeper and further, and make it something more interesting and more useful than what people can observe for themselves.

I had a writing instructor who told his students to forget "write what you know" and instead "write what you understand." Anything that you have been through recently, he said, is probably something you haven't really figured out yet. In particular, it can take a while for you to understand your own part in it. Sometimes we never really figure out our own motivations.

So does that mean we just have to forget it when we experience some really great stuff? No, of course not. IMHO, there are three stages you have to go through to process it, and then start using it in your fiction.

The first is Writing as Therapy. This is not just good for people who need therapy - it's good for the writer to help process the event. You can come to a better understanding of your own relationship with the event, too. This is the part where you write in your journal, complain to friends, and write those angry emails that you never send.

It's also a good time to write what I call "wish fulfillment" stories. Rewrite reality to be a just and fair place. If you're frustrated with your doctor's office, then send your nastiest super-villain in as a patient next time. Give yourself supernatural powers to frighten a bully or reward a good person. Or just twist things around to show exactly how ironic it all is.

When you do this, though, do not publish the result. It may be satisfying to think it, or even write it, and you may come up with some interesting ideas - but satisfaction will not translate to the reader. That takes more art.

I'll talk about the more fruitful uses next time.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Sept Dare Day 20 - Drooling

Somehow my schedule has managed to be booked for 7 days a week last week and this one too. I don't see an end to this any time soon. How did this happen? I arranged for a three day workweek, and even those days have had extra hours tucked in.

Aside from drooling on my keyboard though, I did some business - contacted illustrators, posted some links, came up with a concept for the next book cover (well, I did that yesterday, really). I also managed to get some dialog snippets and to work out how to thread in some red herrings into the final big scene. The "Murder She Wrote" scene now has some real poignance. Also an ironic reversal.

I think I even came up with a good short story idea. Now if I can only remember it before I fall asleep.

I want to write a series on multi-threaded red herrings - in particular how to turn those overly convenient bits into really satisfying irony and suspense. But I am too tired.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sept Dare Day 19 - Bribing Oneself (Mateys)

Arrrrrrrgh! Happy Talk Like a Pirate Day.

For the past few days I've been poking around in the last chapter, writing new bits here and exploring options there. (Also, since I realized that something I had George doing in an earlier chapter would be better done by Rosie, I have to play around with how that changes things.)

But today, after messing around and doing just about anything except work, I hit upon a new strategy in my efforts to get this book done.

I need a new computer. I want a new computer. In checking my savings, I find that as of this coming payday, I can have a new computer without devastating my emergency fund. (But as far as I can tell, I cannot acquire any new toys without devastating my writing time.)

So, I get that new 13" MacBookPro when I finish the $&@#^ book. A book for a book.

Think it will work?

Sept Dare Day 18 - Darlings Redux

Here's an old post which is another take on what I'm talking about when I say Nurture Your Darlings. It's advice I got from an artist friend, who is a wise and longtime teacher as well. (It illustrates why I now think it might be a good idea to nurture your Dancing Bears as well as your Darlings.)

Today was another one of those frustrating days, but it did end with a family celebration over sushi and Michigan State defeating Notre Dame. (Fight! Fight! Rah Team Fight! Victory for M. S. U.!) Now we'll have to see if my Parental Units manage to make it out of East Lansing on the bus before the riots begin. (People on campus have been drinking since 1pm, when the campus rules allow them to start. Who knows how early they started in East Lansing proper?)

So I'm sitting by the phone, waiting for the rescue beacon. Maybe I'll get some more writing done....

(NOTE: before I could even finish this post, the Parental Units made it out of town. They must have really cut a chogee.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Sept Dare Day 17 - New Great Material - NOOOOOO!

You see, this is why I think the whole "Kill Your Darlings" advice is utterly and totally wrong.

It happens every time. You have some favorite little bit that you think you have to cut because it throws off the story. There may be some real logistical problems in making it work. However.... If you love it, it probably reflects something that the story is really about.

Which means if you put it back in and give it free rein and commit to making it work - maybe even making it the focus of the scene or chapter or section or book - you will probably end up with something a whole lot more interesting than you would have if you'd cut it.

In this case, I just discovered a goldmine in what I thought was the little post-climax "Murder She Wrote" style capper scene. It's going to take longer to write, but I think it will be worth it.

NURTURE your darlings! Go after them! Dig deep into them! To paraphrase Seth Godin: let them be remarkable.

I suppose I should officially extend my book finish date to October 20 (the first anniversary of this blog).

(And I was just reminded that I wrote earlier on this subject. You might want to check out these posts: Nurture Your Darlings and The Dancing Bear Liberation Front. )

Friday, September 17, 2010

Sept Dare Day 16 - Betraying Characters

As usual, not as much done as I'd like, today. I did see Singin' In The Rain in a real theater. (During a rain storm, actually.) That is one brilliantly written movie, with many many lessons in how to write. I do advise anyone to see it, as I have, about fifty times. It's an astounding lesson in theme and subtext - no matter how far you dig, you never get to the bottom of the layers in that. But that's for another day.

Today I just want to talk briefly about betrayed characters, because I'm dealing with some issues in the book.

The particular issue is something that never bugged me much as a reader of cozy mysteries, but it's bugging me a lot as a writer. To whit: you've got all these puzzles and misdirections and frame ups and lies in a mystery. When it comes down to it, everybody in a mystery ends up betrayed in some way or other. Not only do people lose loved ones, or suffer from frame ups, but people are just plain fooled. Sometimes over a long term. And you don't always get to see the emotional result of that.

Part of the reason is because in a mystery (as opposed to suspense) you never get a real close look at the real emotions of the suspect characters. Or even the witnesses. Even in Christie, they're often specimens as much as people. We're interested in their reactions as it pertains to the mystery, and overt plotlines.

So when a character is betrayed, we're used to large overt reactions. The killer is revealed, and the husband of the victim attacks him with rage. The person who was fooled into helping the killer might also react with fury. But an awful lot of the reactions at the end of a mystery - as the detectives sit around and discuss the case and sort out the last details, the reactions are more on the order of "Golly, and here I was listening to sermons every Sunday from a murderer! You just never know, do you?"

Part of this is because the stories are light toned, and so, like sex and other raw emotions, these things are kept behind a curtain. Sometimes the deeper emotions are implied, and sometimes just obscured by the fact that we only see certain characters with their most public faces on.

I, however, seem to get my viewpoint characters wrapped up in this kind of thing. And while many detectives can remain detached, I find that I have to acknowledge when my viewpoint characters feel the weight of the world.

For instance, in Have Gun Will Play, Mick McKee is a gunslinger. A nice, kinda cute young gunslinger who would rather schmooze than shoot, but a gunslinger never-the-less. Still he's one of life's innocents, and though he can deal with having to get in a gunfight with bad guys, he has a harder time with 'good' people who lie, cheat or betray. So when a person he thought was his moral superior turned out to be a liar and no better than anyone else, he cannot forgive. It doesn't matter that he totally understands the motivation. It doesn't matter that he is willing to work with this person. He does not get over the betrayal, and has not finished mentally processing it even at the end of the story.

That one, though, was pretty easy to write. For one thing, Mick is the narrator, so what he thinks and feels it out there in a consistent way. Writing such things in third person is a little harder, because the characters aren't choosing to let you in. But if you have multiple points of view, you can always choose to draw that veil by addressing the issue while in the point of view of a character who is not so personally involved.

Except that I have written myself into a corner. I realized last spring that some of the secondary and minor revelations would cause the whole world to spin for certain characters - so I couldn't just off-handedly reveal them while everybody does a Murder She Wrote ending and laughs. So I moved that info to be a part of the big revelation, and thus a part of the emotional climax.

So far so good.

Except now I realize that, at a moment when the police have taken over and everybody has a chance to retreat and start processing emotions, I need one of these blindsided characters to be on top if things and to still contribute to the clever Murder She Wrote ending.

Furthermore, the scene would work best if it were from that character's point of view. Crap! What do I do with the emotional baggage? I can't draw a veil over it at this point, and I can't just stow it. I'll have to give up on that clever turn that requires that point of view....

Unless, of course, I use the right point of view and actually deal with the emotional baggage. The scene could actually be richer if the character sucks it up and pauses to deal with one last thing before going off to lick wounds and face demons. And maybe I should do the same with the other characters who were affected by the revelations.

I'm the writer. That's what I'm supposed to do. Dig in and expose raw nerves (even in a comedy) and then deal with them.

It's just ... work.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Guest Posting and My Books in UK Store

Loooooong busy day again, but I had hoped to do more than just tread water.

I have a guest post up today at David Wood Online. It's about why straight-forward old-fashioned adventure has been hard to find in fiction for grown ups lately, and why I think we're going to see more of it again.

In the meantime, my books are now on the Amazon Kindle UK store. I have so many updates I need to do on my book links, etc, but I thought I would at least put up a post with links for my UK visitors. (Note, these are all ebooks in Kindle format. You can get other formats at Smashwords.)

Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! Five Short Mysteries (short collection of previously published short fiction)
Have Gun, Will Play (a cozy mystery set in the old west)
The Wife of Freedom (women's fiction/romantic adventure set in a fictional world something like colonial America)
The Adventure of Anna the Great (a Ruritanian swashbuckler for children and adults)

Tomorrow, I will be watching Singin' In The Rain in a real theater. And next week will be Casablanca! (And there is actually a chapter of the W.I.P. I'm putting off writing until next week because it involves a screening of Casablanca - and I have put off watching it again recently so I could really enjoy this showing.)

Sept Dare Day 14 - A little progress and an excerpt

It seems like every day is a really long day any more. Maybe I was overly ambitious to think I could finish up this book this month. But I'm still trying.

Here is a little clip of the new material. I think it stands reasonably alone, even if it is from the middle of the book. I think all you need to know is that Karla is an intelligent ditz whose house was broken into and trashed the day before, George is slightly drunk, and Orson is a cat.

"The thugs opened my books," said Karla, all of a sudden. "They had to have, because when you just knock books straight off the shelf, they mostly stay closed."

"Do they," said George flatly.

"Because of paper suction."

"Paper suction?"

"You know, when there's no air between the pages so they stay closed."

"Do you have a lot of experience knocking books off shelves, then?"

"Orson does," she replied. "And when he does it, the books stay closed, mostly. Especially the new paperbacks."

"And your books were open."

"Some of them. And I know this sounds crazy, but the new paperbacks were kinda poofy."


"They had air between the pages like someone fanned them. If they'd come straight off the shelf, they might be a little open, but they wouldn't be poofy. They'd be compressed. Because I had them packed in tight."

"Paper suction," said George thoughtfully. Then he suddenly sat up. "Karla, when you took care of Elias, was he ever in your house?"

"Sure. We watched movies after we went to the Playland. Why?"

"What if the thugs actually knew what they were doing?" he said. "What if the MacGyver actually is in your house?"

"MacGuffin, George. It's called a MacGuffin."

And though that is not all she wrote tonight, it's all I'll write here. Say goodnight, Gracie!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sept Dare Day 13 - Creeping Along

Mondays are very very long days for me. I get up early, I get home late.

I have some obligations to meet too - critiques and a guest post that is scheduled for Wednesday. I have not been in the mood to write anything for it for two weeks but I finally sat down and just wrote it.

I've made a few breakthroughs on how I want to handle the gaps in the story, and also some big breakthroughs on how I want to handle elements of the larger story arc between the characters. (I actually wrote a few scenes from the next book.)

One thing I've been thinking about is restoring a scene I cut. There is a moment when personal life issues get to be a bit too much for George and he cracks. He's very good at dissociating, so what he does is interesting and fun. But it comes at the end of a long sequence of "character development" stuff. Personal story arcs dominate the plot more than the mystery does. And the way I had it written, it happens just as they get back on track with the mystery. So it felt like the pacing was wrong and I cut it.

The character development and personal arc stuff is important to the mystery, of course. It's a section where there are hidden clues and we learn a lot of context. In some ways, it's kind of an act unto itself. If I could only get it to weave together with the main story a little more overtly....

Two things happened to make me decide to restore the scene. One was a blog posting at Mystery Writing is Murder, about "Pushing our Characters to the Edge." I think George's story NEEDS this moment to happen. I can't cut it. It's got to be there.

The other thing was just one of those head-slapping "D'oh!" moments. I realized I didn't have to force the mystery into this character development bit. I didn't need to have bad guys lurking or actual adventure elements enter (because those can take a lot of setting up) - all I needed was to dig a little more deeply into the motivations of other characters. And it didn't have to be important characters. All I had to do was think, given what the thugs were after when they trashed Karla's house, what would they have done that Karla would notice was different from what she expected.

So the characters need to investigate why Karla's paperbacks are "poofy." Which brings us entirely back into the mystery.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Sept Dare Day 12 - Covers, Proposals and Pitches

Yesterday got eaten up, but in a good way.

I have two illustrators who are working on some covers. One normally specializes in webpages, and has never done a book cover before, but her style seemed so exactly right for "The Untitled Future Project Known As 'The Serial'" that I asked her she'd be willing to try, and she was interested. Unfortunately, I haven't even outlined that book yet, so it's a case of the blind leading the blind, but we're having some fun. The other artist is experienced with ebook covers, but is not expensive, so I thought I'd give him a shot at redesigning the Wife of Freedom.

Both artists, of course, need information to do a good cover. The experienced cover artist wanted info very much like a proposal - not a query, but the more indepth stuff you might do in a longer pitch. What's the character's motivation? What does she fear? (yadda yadda)

And here I thought that Indie Authors didn't have to write book proposals any more.

But I learned something. If I were to need to write an in-depth pitch for an editor or producer in the future, I think I'd start by writing up a description to give to a cover artist.

It really gets you thinking about the theme and the tone as well as the characters and vivid elements of the story. The cover is a visual logline. It's the poster for your book. And the trailer. (I know people do so called "book trailers" but I don't really think of them as like a movie trailer. They're more of just an ad.) Because the cover artist doesn't need to be sold on the story, you aren't tempted to call it "the intriguing new novel" or "a laugh-out-loud jokefest."

Such a description is not a pitch... but what's in it is everything you need to pitch your novel. Because the cover IS a pitch.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

9-11 Thoughts

We live near a firehouse. As I hear the firetrucks rumble by this morning, shaking the house as they downshift for the light at the corner, I have a little flashback to the days after 9-11 of those trucks festooned with flags. I think about how at that time we felt no hate. Just pride and sorrow.

Seth Godin wrote a post last year about Righteous Indignation. He pointed out that it really doesn't work and posed the question: What if you took it out of your toolbox of responses?

It's a short and wonderful essay, and I think on the anniversary of 9-11, it's something we should all contemplate. You could say righteous indignation caused 9-11, and that no amount of additional righteous indignation could have stopped it.

Sept Dare Day 10 - Writing Progress

I didn't do a think-post for you today. I concentrated on writing. I realized I've been slacking a little, and if I'm to get this book done by the end of the month, I'd better hit it.

I rewrote chapters 9 through 11. I reviewed chapter 12, and may split it in two. (Chapter 13 is one of the missing chapters I have to work on, so I suppose I'll figure out where to split it when I've actually written it.)

I've also started doing scenes from the next book or possibly the book after that.

This is one of the reasons I'm holding back on writing some of the sequels I should be working on. I wrote the earlier books a while ago, and I didn't take advantage of the momentum to write more. I did as I was told by publishing gurus and moved on to other series, so I'd have more 'first books'. I was going to take the time to get that momentum back, when I realized that I HAVE momentum on this series. I shouldn't lose this one too. So the other books will have to wait until I need a break from this series.

The other thing I did was fool around with doing a cover for this book. I came up with a great simple cover... but it's great for a generic mystery/action/thriller. It doesn't really indicate "cozy" or "humor" at all. But it will be a long time before I publish this one, so I have time.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Sept Dare Day 9 - Strong Language at Full Saturation

Caution! Still talking about the f-word! (And sometimes using it.) This should wrap up the series on the extreme language.

I've talked a little about why you might want to rein in the tough language in your fiction. Is it right for the character, or the story? Is it necessary, especially if it might offend part of your audience? Even more important, will holding back make using it more effective?

Now I'm going to talk a little about why you might just want to let loose.

Before I get to The Big Lebowski and the Coen Brothers, I want to talk a little bit about some rom coms, one of which set the tone perfectly with judicious use of a few too many f-bombs, and one of which, IMHO, hurt the tone with some explicit material.

The first is Four Weddings and a Funeral. The story begins with a montage of people getting up in the morning and clearly getting ready for a wedding. During this montage, Hugh Grant's character does not get up, but instead hits the snooze alarm. At the end of the credits he wakes up, looks at the clock in horror, realizes he's terribly late for the wedding, and says "FUCK!" He wakes his female friend (I don't remember who she is - but she's not sleeping in the same bed) and she takes one look at the clock and says... "FUCK!"

The dialog pretty much sticks with that one word for a few minutes as they madly run around to get ready and get to the wedding, while everything goes wrong.

This scene, all by itself would probably have been just as funny if they were screaming "NO!" These are perfectly nice characters who are not trying to offend, and the scene is not looking for shock value. And yet I would say that the use of the f-word here is critical to the set up of this nice romantic movie.


Because this is not a sweet romance in which the birdies sing and nobody dies, and all broken hearts are healed by finding the right person. This isn't just four weddings. There is also a funeral. This is about mature, sophisticated adults who are a little ... decadent. They're a little too experienced and careworn to worry about their language. These beautiful people have been rubbed raw by reality here and there. This opening sets us up for the fact that we are going to experience some real emotion.

The rom com where the r-rated material did NOT work for me was Love Actually. I liked this film, but one of the subplots of that story is a pair of sweet innocent young people who happen to meet and fall in love on the job. What job is it? They are stand-ins for the porn industry. They are fully clothed and not actually doing anything - they just take up simulated sex poses while the camera and lighting people get their equipment set up.

It's a funny idea. It's handled with reasonable delicacy. Frankly, in a more crude movie, it might have been hilarious because of the unexpected sweetness. But the mood of Love Actually is a fairytale - so it's the crudeness that hits you as an unexpected surprise, and the sweetness here loses all of its punch.

That's something the Coen Brothers understand. The persistence of sweetness in a terrible world can be very funny, and sometimes very appealing and even uplifting.

I'll start with funny - their movie Fargo is a crime story. It's shocking and gritty, and it takes place in Minnesota where people are habitually nice. So at one point, when a a guy gets shot in a highly tense and violent scene, he doesn't say "fuck!" He says "Oh, geeze!"

But Fargo, for all you hear about the humor, is not really a comedy. It's a real crime story and drama first. It's rooted in the violence and human weakness.

The Big Lebowski, on the other hand, is about the triumph of a kind of sweetness. It too is set in a relatively crude world, but not a horrific one. The Coens, though, wanted to highlight the sweetness by contrasting it with a gritty world. One way they did it was to carpet bomb the whole movie with the f-word. It's used so frequently (260 times) that the characters don't even seem to notice they're using it.

My favorite scene reflects this. The story is narrated by Sam Elliot, in his most iconic, drawling, good-natured cowboy form. He's "The Stranger" and he tells the story of "The Dude" - a laid-back slacker who spends his days drinking White Russians and bowling - who is drawn into a hard-boiled mystery plot straight out of Raymond Chandler. Partway through the movie, The Stranger makes an appearance, sitting at the bar in the bowling alley. He and The Dude strike up a conversation, and after a bit The Stranger says:

"Dude, you're a great fella, but I wish you wouldn't cuss so dern much."

And the Dude replies, "What the fuck do you mean?"

By this time the audience has been numbed to all the cussing too, and this is refreshing. But even more important, because The Stranger is not of that world, he is able to help highlight that The Dude is a pretty sweet guy. He is lazy and a little selfish, but he tries to do the right thing. He's patient. He listens. He tries to cooperate. He doesn't hurt people. He stands by his whacky friends, even those who are too disturbing and even frighting for the rest of the world to tolerate. And in the end "The Dude Abides." He keeps sailing, good natured, steady, tying the room together like a slightly soiled rug.

I don't see myself ever writing something about a world that goes to those extremes. But I think it's important to understand the techniques. That when you don't say/use something, you can draw attention to it and it becomes more powerful. When you say something so much you get numb to it, you draw attention to other things, and they become more powerful.

I do want to get around to talking about the related issues of sex and violence and a character's moral compass but I'll be sticking to the much less extreme versions. (I think much of what I've said about strong language goes for these other subjects.) Both mysteries and romances - even the cleanest of them - are largely about violence and sex. Also about people doing each other wrong.

(Earlier posts in the series: Part 1 - Cussn' and other issues of Standards and Practices, Part 2 - A Little History of The Production Code.)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Crash and Burn

Too tired to post intelligently today. (Don't get off work until 8pm on Mon/Wed most of the time.) I will continue my discussions of naughty language in entertainment tomorrow.

I will talk about some examples of effective high-volume use of expletives tomorrow, one of which is The Big Lebowski. I was looking for a clip of my favorite scene from that movie (a great illustration of differing mores - when "The Stranger" meets "The Dude") but that particular scene is just not on the internet that I can find. (I'll also talk about some places where going for the R-rating failed, imho.)

In the course of my search I discovered a few things. First, that in The Big Lebowski, they use the f-word 260 times. Second, that you can find information about ANYTHING on Wikipedia. Including a list of the films that use the f-word most frequently - in spreadsheet form, including total number of uses and the number of uses per minute. (Pulp Fiction comes in at 265, but since it's a longer film, it has lower "density of use.")

God I love the internet.

Sept Dare Day 7 - A Little History of The Production Code and Ratings

Yes, we're still talking about the f-word and sundry other expletives. If you don't want to hear about it, cover your ears and sing "la la la la la la la..." really loud. The rest of you gather around.

Here's a little history lesson:

Before movies had the MPAA ratings we're all familiar with, there was just the Production Code. It was created around 1930 (though it wasn't fully in force until a few years later), largely by Will H. Hayes - so it's often called the Hayes code or Hayes era, or sometimes it's just called "The Code". (Movies made before that time are now called "Pre-Code" and there's some hot stuff out there.) It worked a lot like the broadcast Standards and Practices for TV: that is, it was basically a censorship board. All movies for all audiences had to adhere to the same codes. You either got approved or not. There were no gradations for children's films and grown up stuff.

When the sixties hit, the Production Code got real useless real fast. So by the end of that decade the MPAA has come up with a sliding scale for movies. Currently those ratings are G, PG, PG-13, R, and NC-17 (otherwise known as X). This is a straight up and down scale. It doesn't try to sort out cultural differences, it just applies a rule so people know what they're going to get. And though many theaters are reluctant to show NC-17 flicks, such pictures aren't not actually forbidden. (NC-17 itself was created to differentiate legitimate film that took things to extreme from the porn industry.)

I tell you this because I think these codes and ratings have shaped our whole perception offensive language more than any other factor in film. Violence and nudity and "mature subject matter" can be hard to measure, but a word is a word, and you can put it on a list and you can count the number of occurrences. So it's really easy to strictly enforce.

In the real world, we have varying views on what's a bad word, and which words are worse than others. For instance, for many Christians "damn" is a much worse word than "fuck." The f-word is merely crude and offensive. The d-word is blasphemy. However, The Code (and ratings, and common television "standards and practices" censors) did not agree.

"Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn," was said in 1939, when the Code was fully in force. (And I recently watched the full uncut Gone With The Wind at our local theater, and frankly my dear, I'm surprised at a LOT of scenes that got past the censors - but I'll talk about that later when I get to subjects other than words.)

Because the code accepted it, we were more exposed to it, and because we were more exposed to it, most of us are less offended by it. And even those who object see it as a lost cause.

But with the ratings system, at least everyone has a good idea of what kind of language to expect from each rating level. We may not all agree, but we have a good idea of what we'll get. Mostly. There are a lot of attempts to refine the system. Television, video and games now have ratings systems that break down into various elements. As each industry breaks it down, though, it becomes more variable, and pretty soon I expect a lot of this to be like plain old reviews. We'll read about the product and try to judge if the reviewer has the same standards as we do.....

Now I want to get back to the "we're more exposed to it, so we're less offended by it."

This is the major deal for writers. Back in 1939, saying "Frankly my dear, I don't give a damn" was stunning! Yes, it passed The Code, but it was still not something a gentleman would say to a lady. Not ever. But that was the point of the story with GWTW. For all the genteel ways of the South, and all the airs put on by the characters, he was no gentleman, and she was simply no lady. She tried, but she never did succeed. And that damning statement really brought it all home.

That line in modern times just doesn't mean as much. Yes, the personal connotations of "I don't care any more" is still there. It's still powerful. It still works. And part of the reason it still works is that it is delivered in such a plain way. There is no acknowledgment that this is a really blunt statement. But there was no need to acknowledge that at the time. It was blunt, and it was an extra layer of satisfaction in it for the audience. (Here's the scene in all it's glory - though all by itself it comes off melodramatic. You've got to remember that there were three and a half hours of drama going on before this.)

Strong language is like tears or romance or anything else - hold back on it, and the effect is stronger, and it has much more meaning. Use it too freely, and you end with with the "boy who cried wolf" syndrome. We get tired of reacting to it.

However, there are a few directors who have made effective use of carpet bombing with the f-bomb. What some of these masters of exploitation cinema have learned is that sometimes you can cure the problems with "too much" by using "WAY too much." I'll talk about this one next time.

(Part 1 - Cussn' and other issues of Standards and Practices, and Part 3 - Strong Language at Full Saturation.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Sept Dare Day 5 - Cussin' (And other issues of Standards and Practices)

Caution: this post uses bad language. Although in the end I have to come down in favor of moderation in the use of naughty words, it still might be wise to send the children and puppies out to play, turn up the volume on Grandmaw's ipod, and for some Christians to don their rose-colored glasses.

I'm about to use (and talk about use of) the f-word.

And I feel a multipost series coming on about the subject.


What brought this on was a comment in critique. It's a good comment that goes right to the heart of the fact that different audiences have different needs and standards, and how the heck... (Whoops, sorry. I forgot I was being R-rated in this post) How the hell do you handle things like ratings in fiction that crosses audiences?

The critique was in reference to a paragraph that I've mentioned before. It's in Karla's point of view, and she does a little internal censoring of something George says.

"All right, forget Zero," he said. Actually, he didn't use the word forget but something that started with the same letter and would get you an R-rating if you used it more than once in a picture.
I was worried that it might come off a bit too cute, and sure enough, I got this comment on it yesterday:

"This paints the author / narrator as prissy. Sounds like you’re writing for old ladies and children. I suggest you just use the word."
Which is definitely true. The short answer is: of course Karla is prissy. She's a 40-year-old virgin who thinks of herself as a cross between Mary Poppins and Margaret Hamilton, and who lives in an imaginary world defined by the Hayes era production code. (And when I write tight-third point of view, I write really tight-third - practically first person narration.) It's also true that the audience for a cozy mystery does indeed include little old church ladies and children.

But that's not the whole story, is it?

Not by a long shot.

I'll betcha that if I had just had George say "forget Zero," without further comment, the critiquer would not have even noticed the absence of the word fuck. If I were really writing it specifically for old ladies and children, I'd write it as if such words did not exist at all, and there would be no problem. The reader would simply set the language thermostat to "Broadcast TV" and move on.

And in the first version of the scene, that's what I did. George is not a man who throws strong language around freely, especially around small-town spinsters whom he has just met. But I changed it for three reasons.

1.) George has stronger feelings on this point than he lets on.
2.) I'm not writing about a world in which the word "fuck" doesn't exist.
3.) I'm writing about a complicated protagonist. She's not an innocent. She's 40 years old. She knows what's what, and she knows what she wants.

So she has chosen, consciously, to live mostly by Hayes era rules. But that doesn't alter the fact that she LOVES Quentin Tarantino. And the Coen Brothers. She is first introduced in the story wearing a Big Lebowski t-shirt for goodness sakes. It's not a moral issue - it's a lifestyle choice.

And if #2 is not true - if there is nothing in the world to be innocent about - then #3 can't be true either. And then where would I be? (With a boring protagonist, that's where.)

I can hear the voices of some of my writer friends saying "You better fix the way you put that. Readers won't have the patience to read beyond a rough moment like that to see what you're trying to do. They'll think badly of the character and you. At least take some time out to explain it...."

And here's the irony of it all: doesn't that sound like what people say to writers of risky and edgy fiction? I know I'm perverse. I like to push boundaries - but I don't want to push them from the edges. I like to twist them around from the middle.

AND YET... I still have a problem. I've created a character who is G-rated, and a world which is at least R-rated - but what is the rating of the overall story? Some of the story is written from George's point of view, so I could play with the idea of contrasting a "hard R" style with Karla's quirky point of view. Doing that, though, would mean I was no longer twisting from the middle, wouldn't it? I'd just be writing another "hard R" comedy - and gawd I'm sick of those. Most of them these days are not edgy. They're just stupid.

Besides, I am writing a cozy mystery.

Now I myself hate the way that some seem to want a cozy mystery to be 100 percent "safe for church." No thank you. Not interested. I swear that most Agatha Christies would not meet the cleanliness restrictions I hear some people espouse. (I just want it to be reasonably safe for moderately open-minded church ladies.)

So not only does the word "fuck" exist in that world, I also do not guarantee I will never use it

But if I do use it, I want it to be appropriate and effective. Furthermore, I won't hold back just because it might shock little old ladies who might otherwise enjoy my book. I'm also concerned that if I splatter it all over my sweet little light cozy mystery, that devalues what Quentin Tarantino does with it.

I respect bad language, dammit! (Which is what the next post is going to be about.)
(Part 2 - A Little History of The Production Code, and Part 3 - Strong Language at Full Saturation.)

Sept Dare Day 5 - Location, Location, Location

I wrote about 600+ words more on the "Wrap Up" scene. I also figured out how to make it fit with the best of the material I already had for that chapter.

While I was trying to stage the scene, I realized that my inner screenwriter was kinda getting in the way. The thing about movies is that you always look to set a scene in a visually interesting place. AND you don't have to justify it. At least not as much. The characters are just there, and they're talking. No explanation on how they happened to get there is necessary.

In fiction, it's harder to do that. For one thing, there's more set up and internal monologue and stuff like that, so you do have to address how and why the characters are there on some level. (I am a great believer in skipping unnecessary bridges and segues, but you usually have to at least know what happened in between.)

And for another, a visually interesting place is not as important in a book. With words, you can make anything sound visually interesting, and visuals aren't as important anyway.

Still, by the end of a story, there are usually locations with emotions attached. Each space has history and experience - for the audience and the characters. This spot might be where the lovers first met in Chapter 1, or where the murder occurred. And unlike in a movie, you can add connotations from outside the story. A character can pull into a parking lot and remember that it used to be a playground. In a film you might put in a flashback for that, but only if it's really super important. If it's just factually important, you can have a bit of dialog. But in a book, history can be like light. It's just there, infusing the scene with the connotations and emotions of life.

I want my last chapter to take place in a particular location for various reasons. And I have several other constraints on how I handle the scene to make it have the most emotional impact. Which means I've pretty much set myself up to do back flips to bring all the elements together and do it right. I've pretty much got everything worked out but the pony. We'll see.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Sept Dare Day 4 - Gathering Of The Suspects and Other Unmasking Techniques

I'm skipping Day 3, because I'm a day behind, and yesterday was just more of the same of Day 2 anyway.

Today I started writing new material. I thought I was going to work on ways to bring some important minor characters to the front earlier in the story. But as I thought about things that were going on behind the scenes, I found myself writing, instead, the "Secondary Wrap-up Scene."

I had not noticed how many unmasking and wrap-up scenes tend to happen in a mystery. I thought I had already written the key scenes for this book, but over the summer I re-read a lot of Agatha Christie, and I realize that in most of my favorite classic puzzlers, there are usually three major "detective reveals all" sorts of scenes. (Although simpler stories can get away with two.)

If there is an adventure or suspense element to the story, somewhere in the third quarter there will be an "Oh, my gosh!" moment. It may happen as early as halfway through the book, if there is a strong element of action or suspense. This is the moment where the facts come and get the protagonist. This might be the moment where the thugs kidnap and beat up the hard-boiled hero and he realizes that the mob is involved. Or the heroine might come across a stained shoe-lace in the kindly old-vicar's car, and before she figured out what it means, the vicar pulls a knife on her.

At this point a major part of the puzzle is revealed, and usually in such a dramatic way that neither the protag nor the audience realizes right away that the puzzle hasn't actually been solved yet. This is usually part of a longer revelation sequence, which ends when the protagonist figures out exactly how the vicar or the gangsters figure in to the story, and he or she gets to reveal the truth in a dramatic way as a part of defeating this villain.

This is equivalent to the "Gathering of the Suspects" moment in a classic cozy. Here the detective explains it all.... except that it's usually NOT all. And very often it isn't all even in a non-adventure cozy mystery. Very often the detective reveals most and there is one really important loose end. Which leads to a second revelation scene, which I call the 'Unmasking' since it tends to reveal just one more thing.

This is the scene where, after it is revealed how the Vicar had managed to cover up the disappearance of those young women so many years ago, that he wasn't the one who committed those older murders. He committed the current murders to cover up the older crime, but the older murders were actually committed by his crazy wife. Ta da! Unmasking of the real source-villain and the thing that drives the whole plot. This scene is usually pretty short, because we already know most of the story - and it tends to focus on those little tricks we see used in TV shows like Murder She Wrote. You know, where the killer is revealed because she's the only one who uses that shade of pinkish purple lipstick. It's usually clever and just kind of a little backlash surprise.

This second revelation works as a surprise because in a mystery, no matter how much has been revealed, there are always some unanswered questions, even when the story is over and the bad guy caught. "So just HOW did the Vicar know that Mrs. Cooper was on to him?" and "If Mr. Soames was driving to Portland, why didn't he notice the kumquats on the passenger seat of his car?" and "What did happen to the burglar?"

Which leads us to the third revelation scene - the one I called the "Secondary Wrap-up." That's where the detectives sit down to tea and explain to each other all of the little unexplained bits. Of course this scene also wraps up some subplots. What are the young lovers going to do next? Is Mr. Soames going to get in trouble for stealing the kumquats? What's going to happen to Mrs. Cooper's cat?

I like a good adventure suspense with an uncomplicated mystery okay... but I LOVE a story that seems uncomplicated, but turns out to have every little detail tied in. It's satisfying when you learn that every red herring had a purpose, though it may be in some indirect way. Because all those red herrings were things I wondered about. It's good to acknowledge them.

For revelations to work, though, you have to use them all the way through the story. As I mentioned in the post about chapter endings - you have to make promises to the reader, and you have to pay off on those promises. If you save all the cool stuff for the very end, then the audience will be bored on both ends of the story - the beginning because they aren't getting anywhere, and the ending because it's all explanation.

IMHO, if you want a page turner, it's not about promising now, and paying off later. It's about constantly promising and constantly paying off. That's why the masters of suspense and mystery often use multiple revelation scenes.

I don't know how many words I wrote today, because most of it is on notepaper, and I'm not finished for the night -- but I think I've got off to a good start.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Sept Dare Day 2 - Policeman As Community Member

I'm a little behind on the critiques I meant to do yesterday. That's partly because the first one was tough. (It was a case where the author had a good thing going, and the problems were subtle but important. Hard to explain without making it sound worse than it was.)

In the meantime, I want to wrap up my series of posts on different kinds of police characters in the amateur sleuth story. (Most of these archetypes also apply to private eye stories too.) I'm talking about supporting and secondary characters, here.

The last archetype I want to talk about is the police officer as community member. Often police are depicted as outsiders, or at least someone in a position which strictly separates personal and professional. We assume that they have homes and families, and yes, a particular policeman may take things personally and not be perfectly armored and separated from society. But on the job, their position is to be a little detached.

But that's not always the place of the policeman in fiction. We can start with the negative stereotypes of the town sheriff who is also the town boss, or a corrupt cop who represents a community of gangsters instead of the law. These are common in hard-boiled detective fiction. Sometimes those policemen are bosses, and sometimes errand boys - but wherever they fall in the pecking order, they aren't about the law or the rules. They're about the clan.

And there are positive versions of these guys. From Andy Taylor to most of the sheriffs in westerns - these are the guys who take care of their community and protect it. I was just watching the wonderful Altman flick Cookie's Fortune. Like all Robert Altman films, this is a joyful story about community (even if there is a pot-boiler crime story driving the plot). At one point in the story, the smart detective from the state shows up to take over the investigation, and the local deputy insists he's wrong about the chief suspect. "How do you know it's not him?" asks the smart guy from the state . "'Cause I've fished with him," says the deputy.

When I think about it, I realize that this is the model used most outside of mystery fiction (which makes sense - the police as characters, not positions). And it's the model I use the most myself. It's very flexible. You can mix this model with just about any of the others. You can have any kind of character at all.

In my work-in-progress, Sheriff Walter "Rosie" Rosewalt is definitely the protector of the community type. I wanted to make him a chief of police, but I realized that this town is too small for it's own police force, and that in similar counties in the region I'm writing about, the only police are usually the county sheriff's office. As this town is the county seat, it works out in terms of location of the office as well.

Rosie has certainly fished with any number of local suspects, and been mushrooning, and donated stuff to the local rummage sales, and his wife undoubtedly has provided cassaroles for the funeral suppers of any number of victims of local crimes and accidents. (And probably was their teacher in school too.)

But more importantly for the story, Rosie is also the protagonist's uncle. And since Karla is the daughter of Rosie's hippy-dippy younger sister, the whole concept of authority is right out the window. (Not that she doesn't respect him, it's just that he's "Uncle Rosie" and besides he's The Man, and there are things you can't tell The Man about.) This gets around one of the problems with the police as a more fully rounded character who is tied up in the community: you don't have as much excuse for your amateur sleuth getting involved.

It's easier to use this kind of model in the more suspense type story. With suspense, the main character usually gets wrapped up in something that involves deep dark secrets, and often can't simply step back and let the police handle it.

I think Rosie will provide some good cozy conflict for the series. Both Karla and George like Rosie, and even look up to him, but Rosie knows that neither one of them can be trusted. He knows that whatever it is they are up to, it's probably benign (at least on Karla's part) but certainly misguided and possibly illegal.

And that's needed for this series. Unlike some sleuthing pairs, neither George nor Karla disapproves of the other's sleuthing and risk taking. They encourage each other altogether too much. They're like the original Chip and Dale. (Not the Rescue Rangers.) Any conflict is playful bantering. Rosie, I think, completes the model by providing a little balance.

Of course, this is the first story, so these elements are just developing. But for any series, you have to think ahead to where it is going. And I think in this case, the supporting cop is definitely a part of a sleuthing trio.

( The other entries in the series are Columbo Ex-Machina, The Dismissive Policeman, and Policeman As Nemesis.)

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sept Dare Day 1 - Chapter Breaks

A belated dare update: Yesterday I did as I'd planned. I gathered up Chapters Seven and Eight and split them in a different place. I'm not a big fan of interruptive chapter breaks, but in this case it just seemed right.

Chapter Seven is a transitional chapter. Things happen that change the direction of the characters and story. They have to stop, and gather themselves. At the end of the chapter George makes a phone call to deal with the change in plans (this is from Karla's point of view). And then he turns to Karla and asks a question. This question launches the story in its new direction.

So my experiment is whether that makes it a good place to end the chapter.

My normal philosophy of chapter breaks is that you shouldn't try to manipulate your reader into turning the page. You should trust your reader, and your story, more than that. Yes, you should create anticipation, but not with a club. IMHO, you entice the reader along with promises. And one thing that's very important is that when you make promises, you pay off on them. Which means you have to pay off quickly, especially at first. You need to earn your reader's trust, and then they will follow you eagerly and not by force.

I think this ending for the chapter works as a promise. I'm not withholding the payoff that the reader has been anticipating all chapter long. That tension is pretty much settled.

The problem I see is that the chapter break is mid-scene - so the next chapter starts with Karla's reaction to the question. And since it's Karla, she doesn't actually answer the question, she reacts to the subtext - including what she just overheard of the phonecall before the question. And you want that information fresh in the reader's mind when they start Chapter Eight.

I think it will be okay for the end reader. If an end reader has to put the book down at that point, he or she will either glance ahead when they finish a chapter like that, or they will glance back and refresh their memory when they pick it up again. Critique groups, however, are the extreme test of chapter breaks, because they often read and critique chapters in isolation - maybe taking weeks between reading one chapter and another. It could be a good test of the worst conditions possible for a chapter break such as that one.

And tonight, I hope to get my critiques done so I can freely post both chapters. Then I will turn my attenion to Chapter Nine - in which Sheriff Rosie makes his proper entrance. (He has a cameo in Chapter Seven.)

And with that I will probably finish up my belated "Police as Supporting Characters in the Cozy Mystery" series. Because Sheriff Rosie doesn't fit in any of the categories I've mentioned so far. But I think he plays a common role - but it's one with a lot of variety.