Category: Fiction

The Plot

Here is the plot for the novel, The Plot. A down-on-his-luck writing teacher feels like his life has passed him by. Then, a brash student comes to him and tells him  he has an idea for a novel that is SO GOOD, it cannot fail. Whoever writes this novel will have a guaranteed best-seller. The writing teacher is dubious. Naturally. But then the student tells him his idea and, lo and behold, it is actually a fabulous idea. Years pass. The writing teacher continues on his downward trajectory. One day he’s thinking about his student and wonders why he hasn’t seen mention of his book. He does some research and discovers the student is dead. So. He thinks about it a bit, and then he steals the plot. Writes the book, and has fantastic success. He’s on Oprah. He’s wealthy. Life is good, and then he gets an e mail. I know what you’ve done. It’s a very entertaining book, and if you’re a writing teacher, as I am, there is boundless material to chew over, but I found myself wondering–Do you think that’s true? Are there some plots that are so idiot-proof that if you just write them down […]

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Have You Read All the Books Yet?

Who was the last person to have read every book in existence? Believe it or not, this is a hotly debated question in certain academic circles. Several names are commonly proposed. ARISTOTLE (384 – 322 BC) The Greek philosopher and scientist is said to have known everything there was to be known in his time. Tutor to the youthful Alexander the Great, Aristotle’s own writings cover a virtual encyclopedia of Greek knowledge. LEONARDO DA VINCI (1452 – 1519) Da Vinci is perhaps history’s most recognizable polymath (Latin for “having learned much”). Painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer, Da Vinci’s genius epitomized the Renaissance humanist ideal. DESIDERIUS ERASMUS (1466 – 1536) One of the last scholars prior to the impact of the printing press, Erasmus mastered all the European and Scandinavian languages of his day plus Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Erasmus is reputed to have said, “When I get a little money, I buy books; and if any is left, I buy food and clothes.” JOHN MILTON (1608 – 1674) The English poet is said to have read virtually every book ever written and knew enough about most things to discuss them with authority. […]

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Fearless Writing

I’ve been reading Octavia Butler’s novel, Kindred, which is about “a modern black woman, who is celebrating her twenty-sixth birthday with her new husband, when she is snatched abruptly from her home in California and transported to the antebellum South.” From the opening page, this book is just as searing as you’d think it would be, and as I’ve been reading it, I’ve been thinking that if I had an idea for a book like this, it would terrify me and I’m not sure I could go there. So my question is two-fold. Have you ever been scared by something you wrote? Or, alternatively, what books have you read that you thought took courage to write? Keenan: I think I suffer from adrenal fatigue. Or denial. I don’t get scared anymore. I get bored. However, to address the brave book, I’d say it’s “The Liar’s Daughter” by Claire Allan.  Here’s my Goodreads review: Meet Heidi, the long-suffering dutiful step-daughter, Ciara, the long-suffering spiteful biological daughter, and Joe McKee, the man who molded both their lives and knows he does not deserve forgiveness for his sins. Joe is dying of cancer. Heidi is caring for him, despite her feelings towards him […]

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Assembling a Cast or Creating Characters?

I have two sons, born three years apart—raised in the same household by the same parents, attending the same schools, going on the same family vacations, and sharing many of the same life experiences. And yet, in spite of all they have in common, my sons couldn’t be more different. Let me quickly say, they are great friends, and they are both delightful, intelligent, interesting, and talented human beings, but their looks, their personalities, their interests in life, and their gifts are so different, so unique, they might have been born on different continents—even, I sometimes think, in different centuries. It’s the differences between people that make life interesting. And challenging. The same is true of the characters we create as authors. Years ago when I’d “finished” my first novel, a mentor who was helping me with dialogue said, “Your characters all sound like you.” Not surprising since I’d created them, but I had to learn how to give each character, even the relatively minor ones, unique speech patterns as well as individual personalities, histories, and emotional lives. In the world of fiction, this is called developing “fully realized characters.” Recently I came across a helpful article in Dramatics, an […]

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How writers recharge

Retreat? Recharge? Is there a difference and do writers need both? I’d argue yes. My fellow MissDemeanors shared their official Retreat thoughts last week, while I was on a Recharge trip. A recharge isn’t the same as a working trip where I’m running around researching a place, taking notes, jotting details on a map about smells and sounds, hoping to capture that perfect element that says “here.” My trip was a vacation.

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Should we be writing about the pandemic? Now?

A few nights ago I attended a virtual reading at Neo-Noir at the Bar. Got to hear a number of exciting authors, among them Kellye Garrett, Lori Rader-Day and Ivy Pochoda. At one point, Pochoda mentioned that her new work was set during the pandemic. She’d gone to a panel where a number of writers were saying that they didn’t intend to write about the pandemic, and as soon as she heard them she thought, then I will. (She also read the opening pages of her new work, which started with someone looking at a tree, so you can imagine that I was on-board immediately.) She did get me thinking, however, about whether I intend to write about the pandemic. I’ve not been tempted, though not because I don’t find the subject intriguing. It’s the timing I can’t figure out. I’ve written a bit about 9/11, but years after the event. My concern is that I’ll be overtaken by events. By the time a book comes out, it will probably be in 2023. By then we might have forgotten all about it. Or we might be fighting off something worse. Coincidentally, I’ve been reading Alone in Berlin, which was written […]

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Silver Linings

Yesterday evening at 8pm, just as the sun in central Ohio was sinking below the horizon and the cicadas were considering the merits of silence at last, I logged onto Poisoned Pen Bookstore Facebook Live for a conversation with well-known bookstore owner Barbara Peters and the amazing writer and teacher Jane K. Cleland. What a privilege for a relative newcomer like me to be talking about writing mysteries with such kind and generous women. Barbara, editor-in-chief of Poisoned Pen Press and owner of The Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona, is a well-known advocate for writers. Her store has a worldwide clientele. She reads more books in a year than most people read in a lifetime and still finds time to host an incredible number of interviews and events. She does it all, as it turns out, not for profit but for the love of good books. Both Jane and I write stories about American antiques dealers who solve crimes on the side. I’m a relative newcomer. My protagonist, Kate Hamilton, owns an antiques shop in Jackson Falls, Ohio, but has been spending most of her time recently in a small Suffolk village called Long Barston. The third in the […]

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