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Uncharted Territory

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Questions From A Book Club

February 20, 2017

I recently spoke to a local book club about writing my Mad Max series of mysteries. Their questions were so astute that I wanted to answer some of them here. Hang on.

  1. Why did you set Uncharted Territory in post-Katrina Mississippi?  Max is entering uncharted territory as a grandparent raising her grandchildren full time. I wanted a landscape that resembled the situation she was in. Post-Katrina Mississippi, especially the area along the Gulf Coast, was barren, without landmarks, much as Max’s life is. Mississippi is an objective correlative where what is going on inside Max is manifested in the land she sees around her.
  2. How did you get the idea for the home-school teacher, Stuart Duxworth-Ross? He came through a discussion with a friend who had read the first book and decided the story was about him and his son. (It wasn’t, although two scenes came from his life and divorce.) Ducks rather defined himself. I knew he’d be gay, partly because this man who thought I was writing about him was adamant about “his” son being taught by a gay man. Challenge accepted, and Ducks was born.
  3. You have more than one character with second sight, or ESP, or some other paranormal traits. Do you know anyone with those traits? Do you have them yourself? The answer to the first question is easy. Emilie (who started life as Emily, but that’s another story) is modeled after my goddaughter. A triple Pisces, she’s spookier than Emilie is. The second question is yes, but not as well developed as some.
  4. Where did your themes of human slavery, child abuse, and racism come from? I like to work social themes into my books. I want readers to think while being entertained. Human slavery came to mind when I read a small story in the newspaper about a family held hostage to be breeders for a pair of men. I modified it but kept many of the overall events. I wanted to remind readers that racism isn’t always about black on white but can be on black on Hispanic or white on Hispanic. Most of all, it’s “them versus us,” when traditional ways of life are threatened.
  5. What about child abuse? That is very personal. I could not have written the rape sequence had my mother still been alive. I was abused by a stepfather. I told my mother who couldn’t handle it. It took years to forgive her for putting me in peril.
  6. Did you really stab your stepfather in the ass? No, but I wish I had. That’s the only part of the scene where I giggled. Actually, in all honesty, the entire rape sequence made me so ill that I couldn’t write for a few days after I finished it.
  7. Are you writing another Mad Max novel? Yes. Unsafe Haven is nearly done. Max, her boyfriend Johnny, and Alex are featured. I don’t know when it will come out, but it should be out before the end of the year.

Those readers were so interested in my books. I can’t thank them enough.

Cats, Featured, Marketing, Uncharted Territory, Writing, Writing Style

Paying Homage to Anne Lamott’s Shitty First Drafts

July 25, 2016

Anne Lamott will forever by memorialized (even though she is very much alive) for coining the phrase, “shitty first draft.”  That’s the draft where you basically puke everything onto the screen, knowing that many of the words might survive ruthless editing but never the entire draft. This is where the writer doesn’t give a damn any more than Rhett Butler did in Gone with the Wind. The goal is to get through the chapters, lay out the story, name characters, figure out a bit of the conflict and hope that you have enough endurance to reach “THE END” the first time.

For me, that shitty first draft is just that:  shitty. Let me give you an example. This is the original opening for Uncharted Territory, A Mad Max Mystery:

“To Maxine Davies, our dear friend and fellow life traveler,” Eleanor intoned.

“We will miss you and think of you often,” Grace continued.

“But you understand, dear, we do not associate with. . . ,” Rose added.

“. . . trailer trash!” Raney finished the toast.

Ching, ching, ching. . . . Five well-manicured hands raised crystal glasses and clinked rims.

I laughed and sipped my pomegranate martini.

“How many times do I have to tell you, we aren’t living in trailers? They’re RVs.”

Okay, not too bad. Kinda funny, but doesn’t set up any conflict or identify the tone of the story. This actually reads like the book is more of a comedy about women who drink.

Five drafts later, I produced:

Just after dawn I eased the door open and tiptoed down three metal steps to bare earth. With coffee cup in hand, I turned three hundred sixty degrees to survey my surroundings. A strong front had blown through during the night, sweeping the humidity out to sea and leaving a crystalline sky behind.

The underlying stench of death and decay, however, remained.

Hmm. Good atmosphere. A hint that the narrator is in an unfamiliar location. Hints that the book will have dark elements, that there is danger, that all is not rosy. So not the opening of the first draft, which survived as the second chapter, if you must know. With very few edits, this second example made it into the book. A comment a reader sent me via email said, “I read the first chapter and got chills. I don’t want anything bad to happen to Mad Max.” Who could ask for any better comment?

What about you fellow writer peeps? Want to share one of your shitty first drafts?

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