Tag Archives: fiction

The Uncooperative Character in Chapter Three

My name is Tracy “Smith.” I am twenty-six years old. I’ll be twenty-seven in April. I have been driving for several days, with no particular destination in mind, maybe someplace warm. After what went down in NYC I knew I had to clear out of town, but I had nowhere to go, no one I felt I could safely turn to. So I have adopted a new mantra. Let the dice roll. I threw my stuff into the car and started driving. I let the dice roll. They rolled south.

I kept driving south until there was no more south left. The road ended in Miami. I parked the car in front of the first bar I saw, the Flying Horse, and not knowing what else to do with myself proceeded to get drunk with the last of my funds, which meant I wasn’t able to get very drunk at all. The entire time I had the feeling I was being watched, but then I’d had the same feeling for weeks now, so I decided to ignore it and watched a game playing on a television above the bar for a while. The red team was winning.

Welcome to the diary of Tracy “Smith,” a guy on the run, who manages to simultaneously run away from and toward trouble. This excerpt from Wes Pierce’s gritty novel in progress prompted a thoughtful discussion of what to do when the character you create dares to defy the author’s plans for him. Here’s what we had to say about chapter three. It has a title, but we are sworn to secrecy on that detail:

Hey, Wes,

As I already told you, I opened the first pages of chapter three to take a glance and was so immediately drawn in that I read the entire excerpt right there and then. My first thought was: brilliant. Tracy’s first-person narrative voice is stellar in the way it hooks us in and keeps us entertained. We meet him while he’s driving, which isn’t such an original situation, and yet the way he tells it is original and pulls us right in, including perhaps my favorite bit where he decides to roll the dice, and the dice roll in a particular direction that seems to set the course of his unfolding fate.

Tracy is a complex and fascinating guy, and in him I can see hints of Huck Finn, Addie Pray, and Camus’s Meursault. At times, he seems to have the take-it-as-it-comes approach to life that we sometimes ascribe to Huck, although both Tracy and young Huck have an underlying agenda even as they take advantage of immediate opportunities to advance their goals. Then at times we get a more youthfully innocent point of view underscored by street smarts we might associate with Addie Pray, as when Tracy follows Claudia outside but then takes matters into his own hands after she abruptly departs. And finally, we occasionally see the apparent indifference of a modern-day Meursault in some of his choices and reactions, although Tracy ultimately seems to wear his heart on his sleeve both in response to Claudia’s femme fatale behavior and Emil’s (ultimately faux) fatherly demeanor. I didn’t want this excerpt to end, and I’m delighted to know that the chapter continues and we’ll get to follow Tracy around a while longer.

Tracy willingly goes off with two men who are strangers to him, and there’s a delightful sense of danger and sexual undercurrent to their initial encounter, where we see Emil and his companion drunkenly fawning over Tracy, at least until his new friends all of a sudden sober up in the cab. Continue reading

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Litquake Alert!

Got libations? Survival gear, including ibuprofen and rehydration tablets?

Ready. Set. Let it shake!!!!!

900 authors from all over the San Francisco Bay Area, the U.S., and the world.

Friday marks the 15th anniversary of Litquake, the best literary festival on the Left Coast. Sell-out shows include “The Best of Craigslist,” where writers give dramatic readings of found literature culled from REAL posts on Craigslist.  I’ve got tickets.

I’ll also be at “Drivel,” where some rather famous writers read some of their less-than-stellar prose.

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Who could resist?

Interested in poetry? Try “A Flight of Poets” or maybe “Dark and Stormy: Contemporary Swedish Poetry.”

Adventure travel? “Into the Wilderness” or “Bicycle book tours,” depending on what your idea of adventure and travel really is.

Sci-fi? Try “Into Tomorrow.”

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Something from the heart? Try “Tales of Love and Longing,”  “Hot Flash Fiction,” or “Family Secrets.”

Something edgy? Try “Walk on the Wild Side.”

Need to feed you inner chef? Try “Sausages and Syrah.”

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The opening night party on Friday, October 10, will be celebrated quinceañera-style. Think pink taffeta and a shot or two of tequila. Oh, and don’t forget your tiara.

On the last night, October 18, the world’s largest Lit Crawl commences, 101 events in three hours. 

See you there!

FULL FESTIVAL GUIDE PDF

MAP AND GUIDE FOR LITCRAWL 

 

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Life and Death and Storytelling

 

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I have reached the age where friends and family members begin to fold their wings and end their buzzing against the windowpane. My parents’ deaths came in the form of old age, and while I miss them terribly, I know they were ready. 

But I don’t feel that same sense of consolation when the one who succumbs has not lived through their 70th decade. 

The other night, I found myself crying at the dinner table after learning that a woman in our neighborhood, with twin boys the age of our son, had died. I knew she had a rare form of cancer. But I also knew she was strong and fierce, maintained a positive outlook, and had been an unstoppable force for good in our community. She was young and smart and beautiful, and I hadn’t allowed myself to believe that she could die.

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But she did, and now my grief for her and her family was deepened by my own sense of mortality. I had to face the fact that I, too, could die at any moment. For she was one of US.

So how does death inform the decisions we make? What do we choose to do with the 1,440 minutes we have in the day?

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What we choose to do shows what is important to us, right?

Hmmm, not so sure. I spent the morning paying bills, but then I suppose that is tangentially important.

But what about dusting? Perhaps it’s important if you’re OCD or if you’re afraid you’ll be judged lacking by your in-laws or dinner guests. What do your characters choose to do with their time? Why do they make those choices?

Death plays a starring role in our lives, whether it’s quietly personal or a catastrophic event. How does this reality leak into your stories? Does death inform your characters’ actions? Do your characters feel immortal, on the brink of death, or somewhere in between?

How would your character choose to die? That “how” carries two meanings, both of which are usually mentioned in an obituary: cause of death, and who was with them when they died. Would your character prefer to die alone? with their dog? surrounded by family? Do they want to live fast and leave a beautiful corpse? Do they wish they could live that way, but something inside them foils those wishes?

Even if there’s nary a wisp of death blowing through your manuscript, it is still a silent partner, affecting your characters’ decisions.

And if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be?

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Filed under Craft, Howling at the moon

Tree Plotting

Tree ClimberTree climber. Yep, that’s gonna be my next job.

Well, it’s gonna be the next job of a character I’m dreaming up ever since a guy scaled a 100-foot tree in my front yard and chopped it down with a chain saw.

My last job went pretty well – backhoe driver. The pay was great, the foreman wasn’t a bad sort, and I got a date with a hot red head named Mona. Things went great until they didn’t.

Tree CuttingSo I’m excited about this tree climbing gig. I do a lot of research. Take pictures, say “wow, I can’t believe he’s up there so high,” and then deny that any of my interest in the future potential character is at all tied to the general hotness of the tree crew.

I’m still in the creative stage, so it’s important to draw on any and all inspiration, right?

My other excuse is that I’m fifty and can start to blame lots of what I think, do and say on my age. (I reckon it would take about two and a half of them to make my age. So none of the professionals pictured in this story are named, to protect them from me.)

Tree ChoppingLike, thinking I can write about scaling a 100-foot tree with a running chain saw dangling from my belt with any degree of realism.

Isn’t that what we do? Write about stuff we’ve never seen and done, characters we’ve never been or will be, places we’ve never been.

Except for the writers who actually do those things and are those characters and go to those places.

Continue reading

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Thoughtful Readers/Reviewers

I’ve been reading Fiction Fan’s book review blog for quite some time, but a recent post piqued my curiosity about why she found a particular novel wanting. For those only interested in writing “literary fiction,” I believe the discussion here is instructive for all writers despite the genre.

I asked in my comment:

Since it didn’t work this time (sounds like the subplots detracted from the tension), I’m curious to hear about when you think it does work for a book to reveal the “what” or “who” and then discover the “why” or “how” throughout the rest? Would it have worked without the subplots/length? Are there other flaws (you mentioned implausibility, but sometimes a little of that can be overlooked if the rest of the book receive high marks, yes?) that kept it from being engrossing? I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately since I’m struggling with this issue in my own work.

Her response, as I should have expected, was insightful: Continue reading

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Notes From Squaw Valley Writers Workshop – Day 1

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View of Lake Tahoe from Squaw Valley in Winter

As promised, I’m sharing a few notes from this summer’s Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Continue reading

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Potty Head

Hello from Bellingham WA on this windy evening. Which brings me to my topic—not the wind but the worry.

If worrying were an Olympic sport, I’d be caption of the U.S. team. If I listed everything I worry about, this blog would get far longer than Rapunzel’s hair, it would take up too much space, and WordPress might crash. That’s how much I worry. Enough to potentially crash WordPress and make me worry about the poor guy named Ted or something, who has to get up in the middle of the night and fix it. Sorry, Ted.

My itty bitty house is surrounded by 100-foot trees, and when the wind blows through the willows (okay, pine trees), I worry one or more trees will fall on my house. Or on my car. Or on me.

I have CSI-like evidence of the potential for this calamity. Continue reading

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Filed under Howling at the moon, Rants