Monday, October 26, 2009


About a year ago (or was it two? They all blend together sometimes), I was fortunate enough to hear a talk by crime writer Mark Billingham. For those of you who don't know, Mark is an actor, stand-up comic and bestselling crime writer. It wasn't surprising that his talk was entertaining, funny and on point.

Something he said stuck with me. More accurately, his remark bounced around in the back of my head for eleven-and-something months until it finally hit me in the bath tonight. And the nature of this wonder comment?

A murder mystery is like a joke. In both cases, the storyteller sets up a situation, carefully leads the audience down a false path only to deliver a big twist at the end. We know we're being duped, and we go along willingly, happily even! That gap between expectation and delivery touches some deep and primal sense of human enjoyment.

With a joke, the gap is a twist of words ('Nope, I'm a frayed knot'), of situation ('Shut up and keep swimming') or perception ('But this one's eating my popcorn!'). With a mystery, the twist is finding out who the *real* killer is, and why. In both cases, the storyteller is deliberately lying to the audience, and the audience is happy to go along with the lie.

The full truth of this finally occurred to me tonight. Call me slow, but there you are. :)

One further insight: I realized I also structure my chapters this way. I'm just coming up to the end of a chapter, and the cliffhanger-y, suspense-y note I decided to go out on is also something of a punchline-- a small reveal that shows the situation is not what the reader thought.

You see, story is a protagonist wanting something, and being frustrated in the getting. Each scene plays out need, action and frustrated desire. And as part of that old adage 'Enter late, leave early', I try to leave scenes at unexpected moments and in unexpected ways.

(And yes, I am feeling rather well rested at the moment: last night I fell away from the earth for eight or nine solid hours. Like a switch being thrown, it was though for a few short hours I ceased to exist...)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Anybody who wants to learn to write can do worse than to study Langston Hughes

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.

I'll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody'll dare
Say to me,
"Eat in the kitchen,"

They'll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed--

I, too, am America.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

A Deepening Madness

So here I am in Act II. Still approaching my Big Middle, already deep in the belly of the Big Madness.

Maybe it's because I plotted this one out first, but this time the madness took me quite early. I was barely a few chapters in when I hit my first bad morning-- instead of my usual 1000 words I did something like 100. This kept up for two, maybe three days before I had hit my first sleepless night. I got a lot written that night, dragged my ass through the next day.

Since then, this has become my process. I'm averaging two or three insomniac episodes a week. It's thrown my sleep patterns all out of whack-- I fall asleep suddenly, completely, and briefly, like someone stuck a naptime pin in my voodoo doll. Most days, my fatigue drags behind me like a black and rusted chain.

I tell you, it's enough to make me nostalgic for my razor-mania...

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Topic Free Frippery

I've been stuck for a bloggable topic lately, most likely

because I'm coming up to my Big Middle and stuck deep,

deep, *deep* in the throes of Second Act Insanity. So, in an effort to break the Bloggy Ice, I thought I'd do this meme I stole from Charles and Candy.

Reading Habits

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I read whenever, feeding times included. My favorite reading snack would be beer. My most likely would be coffee.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I'm not much for marking.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book flat open?
Bookmark, or, in an effort to foster neuronal connection and stave off dementia, one simply remembers one's page.

Fiction, nonfiction, or both?
Both. Most books I read are fiction these days, since I got the hang of using the interwebs to do nonfiction research...

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of a chapter, or can you stop anywhere?
I can put a book down whenever I need to, though I do prefer to at least reach a scene break.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away?
Nope. Sadly, I tend to drop the word and the context in which it was used in a sort of mental file, that I may bring it out later, often horribly misused.

What are you currently reading?
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (an old friend and constant comfort in times of darkness)
a biography of Henry Miller, title and author of which escape me

What is the last book you bought?
The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

Are you the type of person who reads one book at a time, or can you read more than one?
I’ll frequently have several going at a time. But one will usually be my main focus.

Do you have a favorite time/place to read?
I grabs it where I finds it.

Do you prefer series books or stand alones?
I'm easy.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over?
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
The Bottoms by Joe Lansdale
The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

How do you organize your books?(by genre, title, author’s last name, etc.)
Organization is a strong word for what I do. A *very* strong word. There are... groupings, but attributing any intelligent design to my shelves is like seeing a sense of purpose in the formation of a sand dune...