Thursday, September 29, 2005

structure of a story

I hate to outline because -- I can't believe I'm saying this -- I hate to push or force the Muse. Hehe. I have a rough idea in my head. The story already has a certain shape, texture, color, mood. It's almost all there; I just can't see it. I need to dig it up. But for some reason with my last book (Before I Wake) I decided I would try something different. The three or four act construction. (I think I chose four.) According to the rules of structure, somewhere around page 100 the protagonist is supposed to come to a BIG decision. (This already feels much too late to me.)

Yes, damn it. I will sacrifice everything to restore order to the planet! I will give a kidney to the asshole who broke my heart! I will accept the biggest challenge of my life!

The second and third act will contain some small climaxes and story arcs, and you should hit the beginning of the biggest climax around page 300. (I tried to find the book with all these rules, but maybe I burned it.) 300 seems too soon, but anyway I think it was 300 if your ms is around 400 pages. Anyway, 300 is when all shit breaks loose and people are running around, getting killed, hiding, getting killed some more. Guns. Knives. Crazy stuff. Put it here.

I don't think the process worked very well for me. The book felt forced, and the shifts between acts were too pronounced. Actually, I think I tend to subconsciously use a rough version of the three or four act structure anyway, but with smoother transitions.

Anyway, tried it. Can't say you don't like brussel sprouts if you haven't tried them. But I'm back to Zenning my way through a story. Thing is, I want the journey to surprise me. If that isn't happening, I get bored. I don't want to always be driving. I want to enjoy the ride.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

looking for video shoot location

this post is directed toward people in the st. paul/minneapolis area. we are going to be shooting a video for my next book, and are looking for nearby locations where it would be easy to get permission to shoot at night.

what we need:

an old, empty, two-story house
an old, neglected cemetery

Monday, September 26, 2005

when good books go bad

I don't know how many times in the past few years I've picked up a book that I may or may not have already heard a lot about, and had this happen:

Pages 1 - 20. The book grabs me right away. I reread lines. I marvel. Suddenly I want to tell everybody about this wonderful book. Ohmygodohmygodohmygod. I do tell people about this wonderful book. You have to read it. It's amazing! Amazing!! This is a BOOK. Everything I've written can't begin to compare. I'm a fraud. I'm your neighborhood Quick Stop where you can get gas, a giant pickle, a lottery ticket, and a soggy glazed donut that taste like exhaust fumes. But THIS. THIS is a real book. A real book by a REAL writer.

Page 30. Getting bored. I remind myself of my earlier excitement. I'm sure it will return.

Page 40. Bored out of my mind. Where's the plot? Is there no plot? Maybe it will get better. Is anything ever going to happen?

Page 60. Nope. Nothing happening. Let's skim a little. And a little more. Description of this. Description of that. Fifty pages ago I would have been amazed. Now I'm feeling a little queasy.

Page 100. At this point, I often put the book aside and never pick it up again.

The sad truth is that most literary writers can't plot, and beautiful, amazing descriptions can only sustain a book for so long.

An editor once told me that the beginning of a book should never be a lie. I've probably broken that rule a few times, because we all want an opening with impact. Lately I ask myself what was the promise I made at the beginning of this book? And did I stick to it? Did I carry through?

Sunday, September 25, 2005

25th annual midwest booksellers association trade show

the midwest booksellers association trade show was this weeking in st. paul, mn. i'd never attended before. i don't know why, because it's such a great way to meet booksellers -- and a great way to see old friends. i signed free books for an hour, met a lot of booksellers, then checked out the other booths, which were mostly publishing houses displaying their fall selections. the one thing i kept hearing was that there weren't the give-aways this year. i imagine this is a reflection of hard times.

cut to mall of america where eight members of midwest fiction writers later signed books in conjunction with their annual mini conference. a lukewarm turnout, but kathleen eagle asked me if i'd ever once had a publicity photo taken with a parrot on my shoulder. hmmm. don't give me ideas, kathleen.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

on the stereo

hard to believe this was released 30 years ago.

"November 2005 marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Patti Smith's debut album, Horses, a groundbreaking rock & roll masterpiece which continues its unparalleled influence on rock music, style and culture. Arista/Columbia/Legacy Recordings will celebrate this musical milestone with the release of Horses/Horses, a two-disc Legacy Special Edition of Patti Smith's debut album, on Tuesday, November 8."

more here:
Patti Smith

Friday, September 16, 2005

savannah footage -- updated

edit: okay, the video seems to be working now. if you tried to view it earlier, you may need to refresh the page.

this isn't a book video, just some cool footage put together in 2003. the first half is bonaventure cemetery, the second half shows a couple of the squares. i think you might catch a glimpse of the mercer house toward the end. and if any savannah peeps look at this and recognize the squares, let me know which ones they are!

bonaventure cemetery

Thursday, September 15, 2005

speaking in lowercase

writing is hard -- on your body.
after years of sitting in front of the computer, i've developed arthritis in my neck and shoulder. not unusual for a writer. it's taken me several more years to come up with promising strategies for getting around the pain. the biggest thing was to get rid of my desktop. with a laptop, you can change positions throughout the day. stand, sit, lie down, get the keyboard as close as possible. i'm not left-handed, but i learned to use a mouse with my left hand. and i quit using the cap key!! every movement you can eliminate helps. and if you haven't yet developed problems, take care of yourself now.

Monday, September 12, 2005

"We never expose ourselves, sweetie."

All this talk of public image has me thinking about writing. Not writing as in conferences, but actual writing. With a writin' stick. With characters. Whenever you give a character personality, you risk alienating people. The more personality you give him, the greater the alienation. I'm reading a book right now that I absolutely love -- because the main character is so compelling. I keep thinking what guts it took for the writer to write it, because we've all become so cautious. In our lives. In our writing. With our public persona. There seems to be some unspoken understanding that you have to stay somewhere near the careful middle to make it in this biz. Out of curiosity, I checked out Amazon to see what readers had thought of this book. Yep. Some one-star rants, all focused on their dislike of the main character. And some five-star raves, all focused on their love of the main character.

Friday, September 09, 2005

conference meltdown

ah, now i remember why i quit going to conferences.

i've been reading several blogs recapping the bouchercon conference in chicago, and it seems as if a good time was not had by all. ten years ago, i quit going to writing conferences because they are so awful. it's hard to say why they are so awful, but i'll try. for one thing, you are plopped down in the middle of an alien environment where you are expected to dwell for several days while enduring sensory overload, very little sleep, and high stress. if you're bipolar -- and many creative people are -- just stepping into the lobby can hurl you into rapid cycling.

anything that may have grounded you doesn't exist there. you may be wearing what i used to call the costume. clothes i only wore to these awkward functions. i took all those ugly girly business clothes to Goodwill, and will never, ever, ever, again purchase a costume for a conference. unless it's a real costume like a sexy nurse or something. if your editor is there, you know she or he is watching to gauge how well you perform in public. how people respond to you. how well you can work a room. other writers are watching you, hoping you trip and fall on your face. some may even help you trip and fall. there are nice people there too. i've met a lot of great people at conferences, people i still keep in touch with. but this isn't about them. and i swear to god, i've seen groups of grown women bawling their eyes out simply because they wanted to get the hell out of there and go home to their own bed and blanky. i'll bet a few guys have wanted their blankies too. these conferences screw up your head, i tell ya.

don't forget to sign up for thrillerfest.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

weird news -- woman dies in cemetery

Inebriated Belgian woman dies in cemetery accident
Wed Sep 7, 2005 1:43 PM BST

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An inebriated Belgian woman died in a freak accident when she ended up beneath a heavy grave stone at a cemetery, local news agency Belga said on Wednesday.

The 33-year-old was on her way home from a bar in the Belgian town of Pulle in the early hours of Saturday when she took a short cut through the cemetery.

But she urgently needed to relieve herself and crouched down between two gravestones. As she lost her balance, she grabbed one of the stones which gave way and landed on top of her.

The public prosecutor's office said she died of suffocation as she was unable to lift the heavy stone.

prince sings about katrina

from the star tribune:
"After keeping quiet for most of the year, Prince couldn't stay silent about the Hurricane Katrina disaster. The Minneapolis rock legend released a new single via his website over the weekend called "S.S.T.," which was inspired by the tragedy and will benefit relief efforts. It's available for a $.99 download at
Written and recorded in one long late-night session after he watched TV coverage of the hurricane's aftermath, the song includes barbed lyrics about "giving guns to the poorest of our nation's sons" and "the one depleting our oil supply." The piano-led single concludes with Prince asking, "Did you have your arms open for each and everybody? Or did you let them die in the rain, endless war, poverty or hurricane?"
"S.S.T." refers to Sade's "Sweetest Taboo," a song looped on the NPG Music Club site after the hurricane hit. The site is also offering Mavis Staples' version of the Prince-written gospel tune "U Will Be Moved" to benefit disaster relief."
Chris Riemenschneider, Star Tribune


definition of a thriller

there are SO MANY different kinds of thrillers, and it can make your head hurt if you think about it too much. if you go to the International Thriller Writers site (link in sidebar), you'll find a good definition. i spotted my copy of the handmaid's tale in my bookcase, and started wondering if it could be considered a thriller. literary thriller? feminist thriller? that seems so wrong, yet so right. :)

Monday, September 05, 2005

silence of the loons

september release: thirteen tales of mystery by some of minnesota's best crime writers. One of the authors, William Kent Krueger, just won an Anthony Award for Blood Hollow. woot! woot!

Contributors: M.D. Lake, Mary Logue, William Kent Krueger, Judith Guest, Monica Ferris, K.J. Erickson, Ellen Hart, Carl Brookins, Lori L. Lake, Deborah Woodworth, Keri Miller, David Housewright and Pat Dennis.
With an Introduction by R.D. Zimmerman

read more about it here:
minnesota crime wave

and here:


group signing at Once Upon a Crime September 6, 7:00.
if you can't make the signing, you can always call Pat or Gary at Once Upon a Crime. 612-870-3785

it's in the mail

let the anxiety begin.
i mailed out my manuscript today.
i'm one of those writers who hovers over her story, hiding the print from anyone who might happen by. don't look! you can't look!

i don't like to talk about it. nobody sees it but me. it's mine! mine! if someone innocently asks, what are you working on now, i snarl at them. how dare you ask such a personal question! quit poking at me! i don't want to talk about it. it's private! private!!

the idea behind the craziness is to keep it pure. to keep it as close to the original shape and color and feel as possible. as soon as somebody else starts breathing on it, it changes. but the time eventually comes when you are ready. when you've taken it as far as you can take it. time for another set of eyes. my editor knows this book is a departure for me. she encouraged that. my fear is that it's too much of a departure. that i was maybe having a little too much fun. time will tell.