Sunday, July 31, 2011

Point of View

For writers, point of view is important. For example, you can be pretty sure that this blog is written from Edith Maxwell's point of of view.

In a novel narrated in the third person from the protagonist's point of view (POV), a reader needs to be able to trust that everything she reads was experienced, seen, thought by the protagonist. I wrote the following passage this morning in my work in progress,
Murder on the Beach:

Lauren dug in her bag. She drew out her business card from the college. Laying it on the bed tray, she sai
d, "I hope you're feeling better soon. If you need anything or would like me to stop by again, will you call me?"

Bobby closed his eyes again, his ashen face uncommunicative. The nurse, thermometer device in hand, gazed at Lauren with what looked like an unspoken message to get lost and let his patient rest.

You don't get to go inside Bobby's head and find out why he closed his eyes. You don't get to really understand if that was the nurse's message or if he was just hungover or late for lunch. You have to trust the author.

Skilled writers sometimes use multiple POVs. But it's prudent to align the POV change with a scene change. I, as reader, am likely to be confused if the writer head hops, as it's called in the trade. How would you like it if I had written the preceding scene as follows:

Lauren dug in her bag. She drew out her business card from the college. Laying it on the bed tray, she said, "I hope you're feeling better soon. If you need anything or would like me to stop by again, will you call me?"

Bobby closed his eyes again, wishing that woman would just get out of his room. He never wanted to see her again.

"Ooh, she's hot," the nurse thought. "Wonder if she'd go out with me for a drink after work?" The thermometer in his hand hung forgotten.

Wouldn't you be confused? How do we know what Bobby and the nurse are thinking?

In Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible, one of my favorite books, each chapter is written in the voice of five different family members (the mother and her daughers). Kingsolver is so skilled at distinguishing those voices that the reader is not lost.

I'm currently reading through the works of a very well-known, highly regarded, and prize-winning Canadian author. I love her stories. She's brilliant as she enters the psyche of her characters and her setting. I HATE how she head hops. It drives me crazy. After I read her first book several years ago, I finished it feeling annoyed. It took me this long to get back to her writing.

What do you think? What kind of POV do you like to read?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Clamming Research: Part Two

New bit of knowledge. After a rain, Massachusetts state law mandates closing clam flats for several days because of toxic runoff, including e-coli bacteria. So this morning's dawn excursion to the flats was canceled.

But I was ready! I paid my thirty dollars and obtained my residential recreational license. The nice woman at Town Hall gave me a blurry map of the various flats in town, and the number to call to see if they are open. She also handed me a plastic ring. Any clam I keep has to be larger than that.

The librarian found me two how-to books on clamming. Very useful.

The local hardware store informed me that clam forks cost about $50. I'll stick with borrowing Elizabeth's for now.

All I need now is a few days of dry weather and an available dawn to head down there.

In the meantime, I can set up clamming date in my plot that is canceled because of rain. Who knows what will happen on that dawn instead?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Clamming Research: Part One

Any fiction writer will tell you that research is necessary, fun, and time consuming. We want to get the details right. What does a body look like after it's been dead for two days in the winter? How many gadgets does a police officer wear on her duty belt? Will someone poisoned by datura tea be able to dial a telephone for help?

Sounds a bit gruesome to the non-crime writer, but you can bet that readers nail authors if they get details wrong.

I've been working on a scene that involves digging for clams in a town similar to Ipswich, Massachusetts where I live.

I know clam digging goes on at low tide.
I know people use clam forks. That one has to obtain a $30 recreational clamming license from the town. That many people are very fond of local fried clams.

So I proceeded to write two scenes where Lauren goes clamming, and at the end of the second one finds a near-murder situation that involves a clamming fork.

But I've never been clamming! I've only even driven by the flats once, although they're only a mile away. So here's the plan: later today I'm walking over to Town Hall with proof of residency and $30 to get my license. Then I'm calling my friend Elizabeth who claims to own a clam fork and said she's never been either, despite being the new Chair of the town's Shellfish Advisory Board. And we're going to head down just after dawn Friday (low tide is at 6:34 AM) to the spit between the mainland and Great Neck where the public clam flats are.

I'll post pictures and a report of what I learned and what I got wrong in my 100% fictional scenes in a few days. Maybe I should get a book on clamming out of the library first? And maybe we'll be having steamed clams for lunch Friday.

What's been your favorite research for a book? What have you caught an author out on?

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Short Story Accepted

I am delighted to report that my short story, "Stonecutter," has been accepted for publication in an anthology to be titled Fish Nets!

I have reported here previously that I am a member of Sisters in Crime, a nationwid
e group formed to promote and celebrate women who write crime fiction. I'm even on the board of our very active New England chapter. Sisters in Crime has several online groups that are also very active. One is the Guppies, short for the Great Unpublished. I have learned much of what I know about the business of getting published from the Guppies. Many who have achieved publication stay in the group to impart knowledge and cheer on those of us still on the path.

The Guppies
decided to produce an anthology of short stories several years ago. I submitted a story for that edition which was not accepted. The book, Fish Tales, came out this spring from Wildside Press and is a great compilation of stories. It was expertly edited by Guppie Ramona Defelice Long. It's been selling well and is also out as an ebook.

When the call for stories for a second anthology went out this winter, I worked on a new story for a while (see the first two bullets in this post) but it wasn't coming together. I went back into my files and found "Stonecutter," which I had written about ten years ago. I'd worked on it in a writing group and felt pleased with the characters and the writing but it hadn't made it into publication anywhere. It wasn't originally a murder story. Hmm. Could I make it one? I changed a few things, added a satisfying twist, sent it in. And it made it through the competition (which is stiff)!

Each story is peer judged, using a common score sheet, by three other story submitters. The Guppies include some very accomplished writers, so the judging is competent and eagle-eyed.

(The acceptance was particularly good news this summer, since two other stories I had submitted to the Level Best Books anthology were rejected. Ah, the life of a writer. Who knows? Maybe one of them will be accepted elsewhere in the future, just like "Stonecutter.")

Ramona is editing this anthology, as well. I received her comments on my story this week. They were very positive (blush) and included only a couple of very small editorial revisions.
Way cool. We'll need to find a publisher, but since Wildside published the first one, they might be interested in this one, too. Stay tuned