Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Turning Point with a Twist

The Unexpected Resolution, tenth in the Jolie Gentil cozy mystery series, took a while to write. I wanted the characters to take their lives in a different direction, and that took some planning.

Along the way, as often happens in my books, the direction shifted. I don't outline my books, though I do start with a premise and a few major plot points. Then I jot ideas as I go.

Eventually, I get to a pause point. Some authors call it the muddled middle. I think of it as a fork in the writing road. I'll deliberately have a character ask a seemingly unanswerable question or get on a train (or in a car) without a certain destination.

While the character hangs in abeyance, my brain keeps working. In The Unexpected Resolution, a key character asks,“When Dad and me didn’t make it to the wedding, why didn’t you look for us?” I did know the answer to that question. The issue was how the groom would respond. There were several possibilities, and each would take a new relationship in a different direction. After a week or so, I picked the response I thought worked best.

Several longtime readers have asked if this will be the last book in the series. In a word (okay, two),  no way! In fact, at the end of "The Unexpected Resolution" you'll find the opening to book 11. (If you want to catch up on earlier books, visit http://elaineorr.com/Fiction.html)

The Unexpected Resolution is available for preorder on Amazon, with a release date of July 25th.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.
 

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Truth in Fiction: Guest Post by Sue Stewart Ade

          I invited Sue Stewart Ade, a member of the critique group I attend in Decatur, to share thoughts about her recent story, “Pumpkin Blossoms,” which appeared in Food and Romance Go Together. I’ve read Sue’s fiction and a memoir she is crafting, and wondered if she blended any of real life in her fiction. Turns out, she sometimes does. Let's hear from Sue.
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 I write fiction and memoir and love talking about writing. But I never thought about how much of my fiction was true until I was in Gulf Shores last winter and attended a book club. We were discussing a novel by a local author, and the woman next to me asked, “I wonder what parts of it are true?”

My first reaction was, “Well, it’s fiction, so it’s not true.” 

Then I thought about my own fiction, and parts of it are true. In fact, a lot of it is true!

In “Pumpkin Blossoms,” Jillian yearns for love and falls for a dog and her sister’s former boyfriend. But the dog bolts, and the boyfriend seems to still have feelings for her sister. So she goes about her summer, hoping for love, but prepared for what comes.

The opening scene has Jillian chasing a Saluki. The dog is based on a Saluki I saw on TV. His eyes were so sad, I just wanted to take him home. So I did, and named him Honda. But I didn’t realize how much love he would need before he trusted me—just like Jillian’s Honda.

When I started writing “Pumpkin Blossoms,” that experience popped into my head. That is what’s fun about writing. I’m not a planner. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I want to find out. So I try to set up my stories so the reader will want to know, too.

I like surprises. When I read a story I don’t want to suspect what’s going to happen. I want to keep turning the pages to find out. Of course, in a romance you’re always hoping the guy and the girl will get together.

Another part of the story is based on a college experience. I came back to my apartment one day to find my roommate, who was in a wheelchair, in her bedroom, crying. She cried the entire day. Later, I learned that was the date she was in a car wreck and lost her parents—and the use of her legs.

The pain of her experience informed my feelings as I wrote about Jillian’s’s loss of her parents.

As I writer, I also dig into why a memory is important. In “Pumpkin Blossoms,” Jillian and Honda are wounded souls. Both are healed by love.

The story’s pumpkin blossom are also based on reality. My husband plants pumpkins, but he picks the blossoms to cook and eat. The title also refers to Jillian being called Pumpkin by her dad. 

My advice to other writers is to use your memories. Then the question I love is, “What if.”

“What if” the memory happened a different way? Let your mind explore until you hit on the “ah-ha” moment.

I used to think fiction and memoir were opposite genres, but the more I write, the more I realize they are not so different. A good story is still a good story—whether it’s truth or fiction.
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“Pumpkin Blossoms” appeared in Food and Romance Go Together, an anthology published in May by Satin Romance, an imprint of Melange Books, LLC. Learn more about Sue Ade by reading Friends Forever (romantic suspense) or visiting www.sueade.com. To show food and romance really do go together, check out these crunchy fried pumpkin flowers. They make a great summer starter.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Books that Stay in the Drawer

Writers hone their skills in many ways. Tried and true, of course, is write consistently.

I'm not sure if writing prompt exercises are bigger now than a few years ago, or if I didn't pay attention to the activities. Not saying my ideas are always good, but enough pop up at odd times that I don't go looking for them.

At one Midwest Writers' Workshop, an author said that when she gets stuck or isn't sure of the direction to go, she does a 'what if' exercise. Generally it's something unexpected or off the wall. In the context of what I write, that could be something such as, "What if [one of my amateur sleuths] got offered a job that tied her to a desk?" Or maybe, "What would happen if instead of a finding a belt in the closet, Jolie's fingers wrapped around a snake?"

I used the "what if" scenario at the end of one book when I wasn't satisfied that clues for the murderer were subtle enough. Wandering through my mind was the thought, "What if so-and-so was the murderer instead?" A bunch of things fell into place, and I changed the killer.

The idea must have been in my subconscious all along, because it was a seamless rewrite. When people say they didn't figure out the killer until the very end, I don't say neither did I. But it's tempting.

No matter how much a book's direction changes, some of them aren't meant to find an audience. I worked for two years on a 100,000-word story that is a cross between a thriller and a traditional mystery. And therein was the problem. Readers searching the shelves are looking for a thriller or a traditional mystery.

So, though I keep the three-inch folder, I'm about ready to toss it. I came to that conclusion because this spring it's twenty years since I finished the book. High time to head to the landfill. (No, not recycling. I don't want to risk inflicting that plot on an unsuspecting reader.)

I know a number of authors who have books they never tried to publish, or those that an agent or editor said wasn't salvageable. I call these learning books. A wise friend wrote five before she thought her skills were good enough to send the sixth to a publisher. That book was immediately accepted. She learned well.

Perhaps those who've completed learning books are writers who didn't get a creative writing degree. I took English and journalism courses (and wrote dozens of nonfiction reports), but writing fiction used very different skills. There is no reason to think we "know how to write" just because we know how to present cogent thoughts.

If you're working on that first book, check out my post on What to Read When You Want to Write. In fact, the first book on the list (Jane Cleland's Mastering Suspense, Structure, and Plot) won the Agatha this year for best nonfiction. Well worth your time. You might end up with fewer books in that drawer.
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Check out Elaine's web page, look at online classes, or sign up for her newsletter.