Thursday, February 25, 2010

Somebody save me...

There is an old 'joke' I of which I was reminded during this past week. It goes something like this:

Jesus and Satan were arguing one day about who had the best memory. God suggested they both start documenting every event since day one on a separate computer and after a year's time limit, whoever had the most events documented would win. So Jesus and Satan started in typing out events each on his own computer. Everything was going along fine until about the ninth month when a tremendous rain storm developed with lots of thunder and lightning. During one pretty severe round of lightning strikes, the power surged and both computers suddenly blinked out. After a couple of minutes, Jesus and Satan were both able to reboot their computers. However, Satan, upon returning to the file he had been working on, discovered a total blank. He'd lost all the information he'd been entering. He screamed in mortification and pounded the keyboard. “God,” he cried out, “what am I going to do? I'll never be able to retype all of the information in time.” Then he remembered that Jesus' computer had also conked out. He laughed in renewed delight. “I guess Jesus has to start over again, too.” However, Jesus calmly opened a folder and retrieved all of the information he'd been documenting intact and up to date. “How?” Satan asked. “Simple,” God said.

“Jesus saves.”

Of course, you get the double meaning from that last line. Anyway, my computer conked out last week and this week I've been rebuilding and updating files. I had saved a lot of information on some external hard drives so along with those files, my business accounts weren't lost, although I did sweat for a moment thinking I was going to have to retype everything in from January first of this year. Not a major job, just annoying. However, the external had the back up file, so I was saved. I did lose a lot of my downloaded files and am in the process of downloading them again. I will also have to reinstall some programs. Just a minor set back.

However, the Alpha rewrite, I'm sad to say, was lost. I managed to salvage Chapter One only because I sent it to a friend for critique, but I'll have to open up the notebook and start retyping in my handwritten manuscript. I also lost a bunch of short story edits I had made and will have to go back and do those over.

The problem I have is that when I edit something I think it's a pretty good edit and I feel the story is improved. I'll keep editing until I feel that I can't edit anymore and either submit it, have it critiqued (and then edit again) or wait awhile then go back and see if it still sounds good. If I've lost an edited file and have to read the original again and re-edit from scratch I feel as if I'm missing something, that it's not as good as the first time. I'm sure Alpha will be all right and I'll catch some of the errors I made on the long hand version this time as I did last time. It's just annoying to have to go back and do it again.

Writers, please, I implore you to save everything two or three or four times over. Somewhere. Disk, external hard drive, hard copy...somewhere. I'm not pushing any product, but at the time of this writing I have started the free trial from I signed up for it today and when I get back from black belt camp on Sunday, I'll delve into it a little more to see what further options I can choose. But, I figure for just about $55 per year I can have my files backed up and be able to retrieve them, even if my computer totally dies and I have to purchase a brand new one.

Think of what kind of power it takes for Jesus to save souls. Surely, we have enough power to make an effort and save, save and save again our important files.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Character Counts Part 2

The lone detective...not unheard of, but in so many instances, a difficult character.

I don't know from where the idea originated for authors to create partners or support for their detectives, but it makes for a fascinating study. When I was thinking about the next supporting character, I was thinking about discussing Archie Goodwin. I thoroughly enjoy this man. his exploits throughout the years are wonderful, humorous, dangerous, enticing, witty, maddening and intelligent. Of course, even he would admit, he's not as intelligent as his boss.

Then it occurred to me how the main character, the main detective, would be mundane, boring, or possibly not credible, were it not for the associates and or partners who provide an outlet for explanation.

I'm a Doctor Who fan and watching a special about all of the doctors' companions, it was mentioned the Doctor NEEDED his companions, if only for them to scream at the monsters or, more specifically to say, "What's that?" so the Doctor could explain matters.

Look back at the history of mysteries (and I'm going to miss a whole bunch, so I if I forget one of you favorites, forgive me) and see how partners play a valuable and vital role. I mentioned Della Street last time. How successful would her boss be without her? How about Watson's continues ignorance to 'elementary' observations. The fat man may have been the brains, but most of the content of Stout's stories are about Goodwin's accumulation of the facts, about his pushing and goading Wolfe to act. The love shared by Velda and her tough guy boss. Hastings' continued astonishment of the 'little grey cells' of his mentor. Lewis' apparent failings to his enigmatic inspector. How would the Bailey's veteran attorney exist without "She-Who-Must-Be Obeyed"? Wouldn't Pascoe be absolutely bored without his own fat boss's bluntness? Lula, Connie, Grandma Mazur, Rex, Joe, Ranger and others all provide the craziness for the star who maybe couldn't find solutions without them. Stankowski's following after the eccentricities of his detective friend. (Anybody scratching their heads on this one needs to check out Richard Queen's frustration with his son's ideas is essential for the stories to be complete.

Partners add life to the main character. They also allow the reader to become more a part of the story. If all you read about was a murder, the detective looking for clues, then explaining it to the police or just arresting the perpetrator (if the detective is a cop) the mystery might be fairly average. The reader gets to become more involved in the story if he/she can sympathize with the role of supporting character. "I don't understand." "That idea is ridiculous." "What do you mean?" We as readers can enjoy not being the all-knowing, master of crime detection and enjoy when the solution is finally revealed.

In Beta, Mallory's support comes in the form of Darren, her secretary with the unpronounceable last name. She relies on him for computer support, friendship, and sometimes, a calming influence. With night Shadows, I try to equalize the characters, making each support the other. Campisisi's and Reznik is a complicated relationship that I hope to expand on in the second novel. I hope, however, the reader will be able to see how they mesh even as they conflict with each other.

Partners can be fun, sexy, exasperating, loony, and always seems to get the best lines. In Too Many Women, Goodwin describes a particular woman.

"With her black eyes saying plainly that they had never concealed anything and didn't intend to, her lips confirming it and approving of it,and all her making the comment on geometry that a straight line is the shortest distance between two points but you can't prove it by me, she was obviously the kind of that gets nicknamed."

Isn't that just a great line?

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I've discussed before the different disciplines different authors have about writing. Some rigidly write every day for two hours or three, or an entire afternoon. Some, who may be starting out on their writing venture may be satisfied with a page or two. There are several methods to which one supposedly is able to complete a novel in a two or three week period or a month's period or a year's. As I've also said, whatever works for you, fine; if it doesn't, don't be afraid of change.

However, I also want to discuss something every writer feels to one degree or another. That feeling. That urge.

When I don't work out at the gym for a few days because of some change in my erratic schedule, my body feels weaker. When I haven't practiced my taekwondo form for awhile, I feel I've taken a step backwards. When I finally hit the gym or really concentrate on improving my form I feel better. More tired, maybe a bit sorer, but better for having taken the time to work out.

The same goes for writing. There are times in my story, one just recently, when I have to stop and think about what comes next. I'm at a point in Alpha where Mallory meets her next surprise in her latest case. I started writing a couple of days ago, scratched over it, started again only to scratch it out again. Then I decided I wasn't going to accomplish anything substantive that time and I needed to let the next scene sit on the middle burner, figuring itself out. I didn't want to write what I had written all those years ago with the first draft. Now, it's seems silly. But I did feel there was a need for this next scene. A couple of days have passed and the beginnings of the climactic scene near the end are starting to come together and with this next scene, I can start to set up for that final chapter. Now, I have the feeling I can write the scene.

I now WANT to write. When I don't write for awhile, the mind is weaker, it lacks something. The time will come when I feel the urge to write. I've discussed this with critique group members and they understand, so I know it's not just me.

It's passion for the art and craft of writing. Musical artist must feel the same 'something', writers do. That need to write something; whether it will be thrown out later or revised or actually used, remains to be seen. But it's that feeling that you want to write and it's almost irresistible. I've put down good books I've been reading to pick up pen and paper and write for a couple of hours. Or at least until my hand hurts so much I can't write another word.

When you write, you enter that zone and what a marvelous place it is to be. When the words just flow and the scene or the chapter almost writes itself. Then, and this is something that is most wonderful, there's a moment-it may not come very often and the intensity is not always very strong-when what you've written affects you. That's the point when you know you've accomplished something. My friend Mary feels that when she reads or listens to a book. It's almost as if she's personally involved and the characters become real to her.

I experienced that moment with Beta. When writing the scenes with the horrors experienced by the kidnapped girl I became immersed in them. When I stopped writing and reread what was on the page, I paused and thought, “Wow, this is good.” I wasn't having an ego trip; I was feeling for the scene, the characters. When writing about the emotions felt by Mallory, I can feel them along with her. Because if I can feel them, maybe I've written the scene in a way so others can also feel. Every now and then when I'm writing, I wonder, “What would Mary think about this scene?” If it can cause her to jump in surprise or whimper in worry for the character or laugh at the humor, then I know I've accomplished something good.

Sometimes, the writing surprises the author. And that's really good!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Character counts Part 1

There are many things to be said about a story's characters. All of the 'how to write' books, including the one I follow, The Novelist's Boot Camp, by Todd Stone, mention a few paragraphs on character development. In Stone's book, I like the application of a character outline. A small biography of the character so that the author can stay consistent, true and 'real' with the character. Granted, the author may not include every little factoid within the story and probably shouldn't else the story is too bogged down by unnecessary details. Also, I also subscribe to the KISS principle. (Keep It Simple Stupid).. There is always room to add later, but don't let minutiae of every minute of a character's life take you away from what's important-writing the story. Even before I read Boot Camp I did an outline for Mallory Petersen. Height, weight (and a couple of women told me I had to, uh, have her weigh more than I did), eye/hair/skin color, length of hair, favorite: food, color, movie, book, etc, parentage and family members. Plus a few more. I needed to know those things before I wrote the first draft of Alpha oh those many moons ago.

I've run across many wonderful characters in my years of reading and I'd like to discuss one in particular. Actually, she's a supporting character and when I say supporting, I mean not just in the secondary role, but a support and encouragement to the main protagonist.

Della Street is her name and I think of all the women characters I've read, Della, if one could have dinner with a fictional character, would be my dream date. Well, as long as I could pry her away from her pesky lawyer boss. And that does not exclude a date with Sarah Jane Smith, which is another story.

Della is, I think, a role model for women. She's strong, beautiful, intelligent, loyal, hard-working, independent, and, if I can risk offending the women of today's world (and I won't if you know the character and understand what I'm saying), she knows her place in the world.

I like her because as I'm reading one of the novels she's featured in, I've also been listening to some old radio shows, The Shadow, in which the supporting character was the lovely Margo Lane. I love those old Shadow stories, but every now and then Margo gets on my nerves. She only accompanied Cranston on hundreds of mysteries, but in nearly every one she's overly fretful when he wants to go face the bad guys. “No, Lamont, it's too dangerous.” “Oh, Lamont, I'm so scared, let's get out of here.” Oh please, enough already, stop whining and buck up a little.

Compare Margo with Della. Sure, Della worries whenever her Chief enters a potentially dangerous situation but she wants to be by his side and balks whenever she's ordered to wait or to call the police. But, she's always willing to take a witness into hiding, run down important errands, but especially on assessing clients. Sure, she razzes her boss about his lingering eye on the beautiful curvy women in his cases, but he relies on her to size up the clients or suspects before he sees them. She knows women, she knows when people are acting. She offers advice, some of which can spark a clue or the solution to a case.. (I wish sometimes, though, she would have told her boss, “Uh, the phone's right there, answer the darn thing yourself because we both know the caller wishes to speak to you.” But that goes back to her 'place' in the world. That's how things operated and there was nothing wrong with it. Those scenes just get my eyes rolling sometimes.)

Della enjoyed being pampered, being treated like a lady, enjoys fine food or a show. She knew when to be demure and when to speak her mind. Her boss and detective friend both respected her and enjoyed her company.

When the series starring Raymond Burr was being created, Gardner, upon seeing who was playing the lead role thought Burr fulfilled the vision he had of his main character. However, I think Barbara Hale was the only woman who fit the mold of Della Street.

If you haven't read any Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason stories, you have left a major slot empty in your mystery fan files. Check out Della Street and see if you don't agree with me that she was a woman a couple of notches above most women.