Getting the Hawk off the Ground: shot down

injured hawkHour 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was one of the few who read my e-book Never Tell, recovered memories of a daughter of the Temple Mater, as well as an unpublished manuscript telling about my recovery from life in the cult.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?

 

 

 

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Getting the Hawk off the Ground: editing a mystery

db exp:hatThis is the 4th in a series of posts about writing my mystery Hour of the Hawk. See links to the others.

https://115journals.com/2015/04/06/writer-unblocked/

https://115journals.com/2015/11/03/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-writing-a-mystery/

https://115journals.com/2015/11/07/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-editing-con/

At a certain point in the editing process, I began working on a more authentic voice. In Hour of the Hawk, I was using a first person narrator telling the story in the past tense. Past tense lends distance. First person doesn’t. Because my narrator, Joanna Hunter, had a history similar to mine, one of my first revisions had been aimed at eliminating quirks and ways of speaking that were more me than her because, of course, we were different people. I liked the new, sparer, less elliptical, more direct voice. Then I got the bad news. The voice was not authentic, which is to say, uninteresting. “A lot of it was only mediocre,” said Critic A.

So glad I keep my kitchen knives sharpened to a gleaming edge!

My authentic self was fascinating, she added, and so, therefore, was Joanna’s. Where was my effervescent personality, my wicked sense of humour? I needed to let things fly. Characters hooked readers and made them read on. And I needed to love all my characters, even the irresponsible guy who put honey in a tire swing to attract bears, and ended up getting killed by one.

I wrote the beginning again. I sent it off by email. “Not working yet,” replied Critic A. I went back to work. Several weeks later, I knew enough about Tom Braddock to write a book on him alone. He had a Chumash great grandmother and a college football career, as well as three kids, and an articulate, wife who worked at a Bakersfield hospital. Most of all, I liked him. He passed muster.

But Critic A had more to tell me. I needed to create a relationship with my reader. Joanna, for example, knew what it means to age. A person could be spiritual and loving but also skeptical and cynical. That reminded me of one of my favourite sayings: Samuel Beckett’s advice to a young writer, “Despair young and never look back.” I find that hilarious, especially with a glass of Guinness. (My biological grandfather was Irish, I have just discovered.) The notes I jotted down from that long distance conversation also include the words,”dangerously compassionate”. Don’t ask me.

So I went to see Phillipa C. on Dundas W. in Toronto and arranged for her to take a series of portraits. I brought along props. I thought I would be painfully self-conscious. I wasn’t. I have done enough acting to know how to slip into a character. When I saw them a few days later, I learned more about Joanna.

I knew she wore jeans and a cowboy hat. I’d forgotten the leather jacket. I knew she was the survivor of a dangerous family and had cop phobia. (Does knowing about a crime make you guilty?) I knew she had a rock and roll side, a toughness she could trot out driving on dark desert highways. She was capable of salty language and had once been taken to the principal by a senior student. Poor fellow had aggravated her while she was on top of a ladder adjusting a bulb high in a TV studio. Joanna also saw the world through the prism Shakespeare’s plays and the St. James Bible. Her heart had been broken more than once in a been down so long it looks like up to me sort of way. And she caught glimpses of the future from time to time, and could keep track of dead people. I went back and added this point of view in brief reflections throughout the action.

By now Critics C and D had finished reading the book. They were satisfied. Not about to sort through it again for such gems. Critic B plays golf a lot, and Critic A was now deeply into her own writing. I wait on tenterhooks. In December, we will be together in Pine Mountain Club, and we will sit down to sort our book out.

Meanwhile, Critic A/Writer B had a small breakdown on the phone because she couldn’t find her authentic voice. I thought of her horizontally stripped stockings and her three print  outfits. I thought of her exuberant dancing in hiking boots on the golf green. Only children dared enter her orbit. I said try zany. Then discovering that Roget regarded that as an insult, I came up with a list: joyful, full of life, eccentric, empathetic, outside the box, dangerously unpredictable, aggressive, digressive, diverting, out of left field, hippy, unexpected, nuclear powered love and empathy generator which heals on contact.

From what she’s read to me, she’s getting on better now.

Getting the Hawk off the Ground: editing con.

red tailed hawkThis post is one of a series of posts about my experience writing and editing my mystery, Hour of the Hawk, which may interest and help other writers and mystery readers. The previous two are linked below.

https://115journals.com/2015/11/03/getting-the-hawk-off-the-ground-writing-a-mystery/

https://115journals.com/2015/04/06/writer-unblocked/

When you go on-line for advice on how to edit your novel, you are advised that you need a professional editor – by professional editors, of course. They say this is essential if you are going to self-publish. Been there. Done that. Paid for formatting in both Kindle and Smashwords by 52 Novels and for a cover design by Stewart A. Williams. Still haven’t made back the costs, so I’m glad I didn’t add another $500 for an editor.

It’s my fault Never Tell didn’t sell. It was a memoir about an abusive childhood , and, although it has a bouncy, resilient narrative voice, I lost heart trying to market it. Of course, I went the self-publishing route after a valiant effort to find an agent. Here I am again.

The Book Butchers also advise  that you do your own edit before you hire an editor, and let you download free advice: 25 Self-Editing Tips for Indie Writers. As we know, you have to give away your work to build a market these days. They say you can save money by getting your book into better shape before you submit it to them – if you have the nerve, given their name. Plus you save them the bane of my teaching life, correcting grammar errors.I found their ideas useful.

I downloaded Stein on Writing ($9.99) onto my iPad,and found his editing advice more helpful. By now I was taking multiple trips through my manuscript as I followed instructions. I also signed up for thecreativepenn.com. Joanna Penn advised a three step edit: a structural edit, a line edit for word choice, grammar and sentence structure and a proof reading edit handled by someone else. There were a number of other e-books I considered, but I figured the basics had been covered.

I have a friend who is a great proof reader, but she can’t do my book because a bear cub was harmed in its making. Off-stage,I hasten to add. We don’t witness the cub’s death by game warden, nor do we witness its mother’s revenge, which, while somewhat misguided, is fatal. I told her it is fiction, but she remembered that such a thing actually happened in the mountains where I was staying and that made it real enough for her. As I said last time, I taught English. Critic A learned from me. Critic B also taught English. Critic C can cover a page with red ink. I trust the real proof reader at the end of the line will find only typos. Or not.

In my next post, later today, I will go back to the topic of editing for narrative voice.

NeverTellCover-3

 

 

 

Getting the Hawk Off the Ground: writing a mystery

https://115journals.com/2015/04/06/writer-unblocked/

In the post above, I reported how I finally got started writing Hour of the Hawk, an eco-terrorist mystery, set in the remote mountain paradise of Bear Mountain Place, California. At the time I had written about  3/4s of a first draft- 70,000 wds. Finished, it came in around 105,000 words, which I think is about 280 pages.

“Finished” proved to be a tricky word.

The first revision dealt with logic and structure. P.D. James spent months planning her mysteries, and began writing only when she knew where she was going. John Irving  writes his endings first. When I began with the bear, I knew where the bear would end up, but that was all.  I thought I knew who the villains were. So did my narrator. We were both wrong. One by one, the suspects were eliminated while ever more heinous crimes were perpetrated. At a certain point, I had no idea who could possibly be to blame. Then, one by one, they crept out of the woodwork, a whole conspiracy of them, and each with a different motive for a common cause. I couldn’t keep the whole convoluted plot in my head.

I took a roll of brown paper and drew the plot line, the way I used to ask students to graph short story plots. I eliminated repetition, particularly where the “investigators” – two detectives; the narrator, an older woman; her even older friend and the rock band that is being framed – discuss the evidence they have gathered. I checked for clarity and whether I was giving readers some foreshadowing. It was hard to do that first time around because I didn’t know what was going to happen. I made sure that the characters held up. Were their actions believable, given their personality? One of them, for example, has some degree of psychic ability. Or has been told she has. That was a given. Certain events followed from that. The reader is welcome to call it coincidence.

The edit for syntax and grammar seemed to be completed next, but of course, I discovered it was an on-going process. Every time I reread a  chapter, I find a way to make sentences more concise and punchier- more punchy(?). I was lucky that I had spent 35 years editing students’ writing, although I didn’t feel that way at the time. I would just say that Microsoft Word 2011 has some very peculiar ideas about what constitutes a major clause. I nearly wore out the IGNORE button.

I gave this version to others to read. As reading progressed, two readers got irritated. They would get a third of the way through and I would say, “Stop. Don’t read anymore. It’s awful!” Two others thought I was right. One of them had told me as gently as possible that it was so.

So I went through tightening things up and taking out the archness, the ironic distance, the preciousness. I sent the new version back to my readers. By now they had got 4 versions and 3 “Stop”s. Critic A, as I will call her, gave me the new bad news.: the narrator’s voice was not authentic. Yes, I had eliminated the stand-off-ishness. The narration was more direct. But— the narrator was perceptive and far-seeing, someone who sees into other people’s souls, and that wasn’t coming across. Critic A also had a solution. It involved going to a portrait photographer and having pictures taken, which would suggest the narrator’s character. I did that, wearing clothes she wears in the book.

With one of these photos in front of me, I started again.

Stay tuned…….