Wednesday, May 20, 2009


A member of my writing group tells a long-winded story about a jackass and his master trudging through the desert. She keeps repeating the same lines over and over as a test of her listener's ability to wait for the punch line. Even the most polite member of her audience finally gets itchy and tries to hurry her toward the finish, and of course, that listener IS the punchline when he or she has the repeated line pointed toward him/her: "Patience, Jackass, patience."

I try. I really try to be patient, to wait humbly and silently for the group to finish their individual read through of novel number two. I work on other projects, read, or considering the season, garden. So far, I've planted ten oak trees (mostly because they were gifts from the forest service), two dozen Impatience, an Astrbilis, three Azaleas, twelve tomatoes, an equal number of pepper plants, four rows of beans (Blue Lake to be precise), and six rows of potatoes. I've read four short stories, all rather lengthy, and now I'm starting on a Stephen J. Cannell mystery (I won the book in a poetry contest. First place). Tomorrow? I'm dying my hair red....again.

See....patience isn't easy even when your brain keeps telling you it's all part of the process. Some time ago, I blogged about how the writer is very much like the hero in Shawshank Redemption, how we've all got our little rock hammer pounding against that concrete wall. I thought myself very wise when I wrote that, and now, I have to return to my words over and over again in order to reaffirm my own advice.

Only one pack of cigarettes remains in my carton, a carton that I promised myself would be the last. I'm sweating. After I plant the rest of my Impatience tomorrow and dye my hair, I'm sure I'll head off to the tobacco store to get the next "last" carton.

No one, and I mean NO ONE, is immune from worry. Although 'worry' is totally non-productive and, to the best of my knowledge, has never resulted in one, single accomplishment, we all do it. I worry about people who claim they never worry. I worry about the length of my dog's toe nails. I worry about the cat, the garden, the grandchildren, my truck. Now, I worry about that 120,000 or so words of mine that rest in the hands of my writing group.

The late Rita Riddle, my friend and fellow poet, once confided that she worried, too. She said that her poems were like her children and submitting one of them was like putting her five-year-old on the school bus for the first day of kindergarten. She knew what she had when she put the child on the bus, but she never knew what she'd have when the child got off the bus at the end of the day. Editors edit, and so do members of a writing group. It's all about trust. I trust my group, and I must trust that they will all operate in my best interests. They haven't failed me so far, so I've got the hair dye waiting in the bathroom and the shovel and gardening can are already by the flower bed.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's been a while, a long while since I was here. I tell my students that if life were a highway and each living individual was traveling down that highway, eighty-five percent of us would be in the passenger seat, letting someone else drive our vehicle. When we're unwell (if that's a word), invariably, someone or something else slips into the drivers seat of our life-vehicle. For a few weeks, I'm afraid I joined the statistics and moved over to my passenger seat. I didn't like it there, so I bumped the driver and took control again. So's working out all right.

Last night, I returned to the third novel. As always, I read what I had written earlier, performed some surgical incisions, removed a bump here and a scar there, and I think I might have something. I added another 500 or so words (Hey, I didn't start until like 10:00 PM, so don't fault me on word count), and I'm liking where it's going.

Problem? Of course, there's a problem. Research. I hate research, viewing it as a sort of cross between that proverbial sharp stick in the eye and constipation. I know what I want my main character to do, but I have to find out if it's really possible for someone to do that particular deed.

"But this is fiction," you say.

"Yep! This is fiction, but whatever the task you want your characters to perform, it must be possible. Without some measure of reality, the whole book might die of spontaneous combustion."

"Hey, don't give me that. What about that old 'suspension of disbelief' thing? If you're such a good writer, why can't you make the reader BELIEVE the impossible is possible," you scoff smugly.

It's true. Every writer must spin the tale in such a way that the reader believes that the consumption of mercury actually can create a mutant, twelve foot monster that eats babies for breakfast; however, the good writer must throw in just enough truth about genetic mutations, the long-term effects of mercury, and how and in what quantities mercury might be ingested in order to create the illusion that he/she knows what the hell they're talking about. Most people know it isn't nice to eat mercury, that it causes some pretty severe birth defects, so the writer must take that info and expand on it to build a bridge between reality and what might be possible. Research, therefore, is an essential part of any novelist's work.

Snake bites, for instance. In my first novel, I needed to have a character die from a snake bite. Through my research into how that might happen, I discovered I had the wrong snake. In the eastern US, we have a snake called a 'copperhead.' It's a beautiful creature but one to be avoided at all times. Copperhead's have short fuses, often attacking before they're really threatened, and I'd always heard they were deadly. Not so, or so says my research. Copperhead venom won't kill an adult, but it can make you wish you were dead, offering up a variety of symptoms which, although painful, do not usually result in death. I discovered that I needed an eastern diamondback, a purveyor of hemo-toxin. When left unfettered by anti-venom, the hemo-toxin races through the bloodstream of a victim and slowly dissolves internal organs, causing swelling, internal bleeding often characterized by large blood pools forming just beneath the dermis, delirium and then, you guessed it, death. Research. Without it, anyone who really knew anything about snakes would have thrown my novel into the fireplace, laughing heartily about my misinformed presentation.

I don't know why the word 'research' conjures up so many demons in the back of a writer's (or really anyone's) mind. We do research everyday without ever including the word in conversation. We look up phone numbers. We check recipes. We study the winning lottery numbers for previous weeks as we fill in the dots on our tickets, hoping we're choosing the numbers most frequently called. We research names for our unborn children. We research prospective colleges and universities. We ask questions about the new neighbors.

Researching the possibilities is just as important as writing the novel. Don't write about Paris if you've never been there. Lots of people have been to Paris, and they will recognize false information resulting in market loss, defined in this case as lost readers. As a would-be published writer, I can't afford to lose readers. I need everyone who can read to pick up my novel and 'ooh' and 'ahh' over the darned thing.

Well, that's it. I've put it off long enough. I need to find out how a hacker can hack, develop a cult following, and not be readily caught by the powers that be. Wish me luck!