Hour of the Hawk, the mystery I have been working on for a year, was critiqued by editor B over breakfast. It is no longer on the wing. Or more positively, it has reached a new, exciting launch pad -at the top of a Jeffrey PIne. It lies there disconsolant, at present, but both critic and writer agree that there are parts they love: the goat chapter, the romance novelist, Arta Dietzen, and even the penultimate surprise. Both of us laugh at Jesus, the cable man. We want to keep the concept of the elderly, possibly psychic, Joanna and her friend, flying around on their golf cart in search of the serpent in the mountain Eden of Bear Mountain Place.
(Why am I not lying on the floor, kicking and screaming and bashing my head? For one, I’m told this is the nature of writing. Just when you think you’re done, you’re not. For two, I destroyed my-3 year-old MacBookAir ten days ago. The tea spilled south. The laptop was north, three feet away. Safe as houses. But… the intervening newspaper sucked up the tea and helpfully ciphoned it into the solid state inards through the USB port. I didn’t throw a tantrum then either. I spent two hours waiting for a Mac Genius to deliver the bad news, all the while worrying about Hour of the Hawk. When I plugged the new Cdn $1500 (with extended warranty) computer into my external hard drive, there was my hawk baby, alive and well. What’s money when life is at stake?)
Critic B has no complaint about the writing itself,and he likes the voice. He expected that. He was one of the few who read my e-book Never Tell, recovered memories of a daughter of the Temple Mater, as well as an unpublished manuscript telling about my recovery from life in the cult.
But Hour of the Hawk has too many characters. I had heard this rumor from Critic A and immediately, resolved in my heart that Evie, the telepathic goat farmer, was going to stay.
Critic B began by mentioning that. He had got confused trying to remember who was who. Much to my embarrassment, neither of us could remember the name of the kingpin in the conspiracy. That character is typically absent when he should be front and center. I mean he says he will be at this meeting or that and fails to be there. He has reasons for that. But he obviously isn’t real at present. Neither the protagonist nor the reader connects with him.
Some characters may need to do double duty, while others may be set aside for the next “Old Girl Mystery”, but still others, like Oliver Warren, CEO of El Halcon Ranch, may just need to be developed.
Soon the discussion of character morphed into one of structure, the real problem. It went on for most of the morning, sitting, standing, retreating to fresh air on the deck -very fresh, 40 degrees of mountain air swirling through the pines- pacing, hand-waving. Me still in my hooded onesie, which makes me look like a large white rabbit. The pellet stove belting out heat. A winter storm coming on.
I saw how my story was like washing pegged to a clothes line whereas it needs to be a power pulley line, each event powering the next.
I thought we had finished, but when Critic A returned from yoga, the seminar started up again. She is also in the early stages of writing a book, so now there were two students in this peripatetic class. Where was Save the Cat by Blake Snyder. (Any character can be humanized by one good act such as pouring a saucer of milk for the starving stray.) All we could find was Save the Cat at the Movies. Same theory, illustrated through the examination of many, many movies. We did manage to print out three copies of Snyder’s Beat Sheet, the fifteen steps of a screenplay. (Screenplays are typically 100 pages-20 intro, 60-rising action and 20-climax and resolution.) Critic B is most familiar with that type of writing, but I have come across similar structural breakdowns while researching synopsis writing for novels.
The prospect of listing major events briefly on 3 by 5 cards and arranging them on a tack board seemed less daunting then than it does now – we all got excitedly high on creativity- but what else do I have to do through the long Toronto winter.
My protagonist Joanna Hunter is not a detective nor a forensic expert, so she and her side-kick (the old girls) have to rely on MIss Marple’s methods- snooping, intuition and reasoning. I have to put Joanna in more danger as she closes in on the miscreants. And too much of the climax happens off-stage, reported rather than witnessed.
The first person narrator lends immediacy, but limits point of view. I already have two passages that are third person. Why not a few more?
All the books I have read about editing stress the need for a good editor. Good editors cost money. Critic B is my son-in-law. Do you suppose I will get invoiced?