Monday, January 30, 2012

Predictable? Me?

In our last blog, I alluded to the challenges Larry and I faced writing a novel with series characters and how it wasn’t really a whole lot of fun.
So he and I have decided to try another stand-alone to see if we could get back to having fun with writing. We are three scenes in and the good news is that yes, we are having fun again. Actually, I’m having a great time, and he’s busy trying to predict what I’ll write.
          Silly man.
          For those of you unfamiliar with our methods, I write a scene, send it to Larry, he writes the next scene, sends it to me, then I take my turn, and we work back and forth until we’re done with the story. There’s no editing as we go, no plotting, no planning. The only loose rule is that we try to surprise each other.
Larry didn’t disappoint. I laughed out loud at his scene more than once. Then he decided (without me knowing it) to write a scene three at the same time I did, to see if what I produced was close to his. After he saw mine, what he said was this:  

“I read your scene, it wasn't predictable, it was far different from what I wrote.  I'll attach what I wrote so you can see how differently we think…” 

“I was sure you'd go that direction but I was wrong. In my warped mind that seemed to be the most obvious way to go...” 

The first thing I thought was, “When have I ever been predictable?” It is always my ultimate goal to surprise the reader with my fiction, even if that reader is my writing partner. Then I thought, “We are VERY different people.”
It is our life experiences that make us who we are and influence what we put down on a page. The people we’ve known, our personal hardships, blah blah blah. This is not a literary novel where we are continually examining the human condition and bemoan fates and foibles, but who we are absolutely affects what we think is an “obvious way to go.” Because I didn’t think his scene was particularly obvious,either.
Now I’m waiting for his next scene. He said he has an idea, so I have to be patient and allow it to germinate and see what kind of craziness he produces. Because honestly, Larry is the predictable one—he seldom disappoints.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Series Novels or Standalones?

           I’ve often heard that serial novels sell well because people are already into the characters, writing style, and genre - like old friends to visit and revisit.
          For me? Definitely! Most of my favorite books are series novels, including Kim Harrison’s The Hollows and Dan Butcher’s Dresden Files. I’ve read them all more than once. On a yucky day when I need comfort, I settle in with some hot tea, a Snuggie, and old friends.
Writing them? A different story.
We’ve begun book 2 in our series, we’re on about page 24, and Larry wrote to me yesterday, “I'm not wild about our story so far. It's tame compared to the last one. I feel like I'm trying to steer it where I want it to go instead of writing stuff to throw you.”
And I agree.
Last time we were just writing for fun, deliberately throwing in cliff hangers and challenges for the other person to complete, creating new and interesting characters as we went along.
So the challenges for us are:
·       Interesting characters: will there be enough new characters to keep us interested in writing it? Creating characters is the most fun part for me.
·       Comedy/drama balance:  Drama is easy. Comedy is hard. I’m not saying we’re comic geniuses, but I think we’re funny. There just hasn’t been enough funny in this one.
·       Maintaining reasonable goals: Yes, we’ll try to make this one as good as or better than the last one. But we’re only on page 24, for heaven’s sake, we should just relax. It’ll come. Because, after all, we are comic geniuses. (Okay, fine, I’m saying it.)

I think it’ll take us a while to get our writing legs back. We’ve been beached reworking the old stuff so long that we’ve forgotten how to just let loose and have fun with it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Do you smell smoke?

“Liar, liar, pants on fire! Larry’s a fibber!” When I’m writing, my pants are burning up. I think I’m a pretty honest person but when I’m writing, I’m lyin’ my ass off. All fiction writers are (including Becky). We tell of things that haven’t happened, at least not exactly the way we claim. Some of it may be based on fact but embellished some---or a lot. We make up stuff all the time and try to pass it off to our readers like it actually happened… that’s the fun of it. We don’t really expect them to believe our lies but we sure hope they enjoy being lied to.

You can tell when Larry’s been writing because he’s racing around Sears, naked, searching for Levi’s. I, on the other hand, believe truth is relative. If you ask two people to describe a man leaving the scene of a crime, you won’t get the exact same description. Mary Lou Retton might say the gunman was tall. Shaquille O’Neal might say the gunman was short. Neither are lies, only perceptions. In our case, Larry perceives his stories are embellished lies based on fact. I perceive mine as truths based on how real people might act and why. Doesn’t matter who is right, though, because he gets to lie, which makes him happy, and I get to tell the truth about my relatives. -- Becky

Friday, January 6, 2012

Money Mouth

           Recently Becky and I took a tour of the Decatur Sewage Treatment Plant. In the next book some of our characters work there, so it makes sense for us to learn about how things operate. The man who gave us the tour, Harold, really knows his shit. (You knew I was going to say that). I think he must be a shit-plant genius.
He started the tour where the raw waste flows into the plant. The first building contained number of Parsons Screens. The screens look like big wide belts with a series of fork tines ¼ inch apart. They travel down beneath the floor through the sewage, and come back up with whatever debris went down toilets, sinks, and whatever. When the tines travel over the top of the machine to head back down, they deposit whatever was gathered into a chute where it slides into a dumpster on a lower level.
A variety of things are gathered by the screen. The employees used to feed the pop machine with coins or bills gathered from the dumpster. Harold told a story about the pop man when he came to empty money from the machine. When asked to make change, the pop man freed up his hand by placing a coin he’d taken from the machine between his lips.
No one told him where the coin came from.
Another interesting item collected is dentures. They save them in a lost and found to be claimed. And people actually do claim them. I couldn’t imagine it! Who would want something in their mouth that has been swimming with the sewer bass? Harold informed us that they can take the well-traveled dentures back to where they got them and exchange them for a new set.
Other items recovered included jewelry. I can see fishing out a ring for a birthday gift for my wife to wear, but I don’t think she’d go for the dentures.
Seeing how things work at the plant was eye-opening. And this was just the first stop on our tour!