Friday, June 29, 2018

Staying Green: Recycling Plot Ideas

What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas that are too good to throw away but don't fit into your work(s) in progress?

by Paul D. Marks

I save everything. I’m a Plot PackRat. I have a file that’s 82 pages long for novel plots and another one 31 pages long for short story plots, though sometimes they intersect. I also have a file called “Bits,” where I save snatches of dialogue, characters, and other things that aren’t story ideas but that I’ve just picked up here or there. And I have a Use Later file, which is for things I cut out of a story I’m working on that can either be used somewhere else in that story or in that series. And I have a titles file. The problem is I don’t often go back to the plot files as I’m always coming up with new plots and because they’re new I’m always hotter to trot on them. I’m not saying I never go back, I do. But newer does often seem shinier. And, believe me, being able to have these files on a computer instead of in paper folders is like magic
.
When I was working on screenplays one of my then-writing partners would say to me in the highest-pitched, most sing-songy voice she could muster, “Now Paul, that’s a really good bit, and I really like it and we’ll use it…………(her voice drops) just not in this script.” So we’d save it and maybe trot it out again and maybe not and that was in the days before computers so it wasn’t nearly as easy to do.

You never know when or where something will work. In a story I’m working on I took out several hundred words of backstory. I liked it. I thought it worked. But I also wanted to streamline so out it went. It may appear in another story with this character or bits and pieces of it may appear in the story I’m working on. Very little is totally thrown away. Most things are saved for possible later use. Everything can be used again at some point it’s just like recycling your plastic bags or whatever.

And, just as plastic bottles can be recycled into a multitude of things, everything from sweaters to sleeping bags and carpet, plot ideas can be recycled into things that don’t necessarily resemble their original incarnation. One of my published stories, Continental Tilt (from Murder in La La Land), started out as rock n roll mystery that dealt with the Church of Dee Dee Ramone (of the Ramones) and was going to be a story revolving around the Ramones or at least their legacy, though with a touch of mystery and dollop of humor – a church I believe I invented but who knows. It morphed into a satirical mystery with very little Ramones references left.


They, the ubiquitous They – whoever They are – say there are no new plot ideas and that’s probably true, They, depending on which They you’re talking about, also say that there’s really only 5 or 7 basic plots and that Shakespeare did them all once upon a time. So it’s really what we bring to a plot, our sensibilities, our life stories that infuse those five or seven plots. And if we have to recycle some of them, so be it. You know what They say, or at least what Igor Stravinsky is supposed to have said, though I have heard it attributed to others (so someone stole it from someone),  “Lesser artists borrow, great artists steal.” So why not borrow from yourself or if you’re a great writer even steal from yourself. Everyone does it.

How ’bout you? What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas of yours?

***
And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows is coming (September 10, 2018) from Down & Out Books! And you might be able to get an Advanced Reader’s Copy at Net Galley. It’s FREE, you just have to agree to their terms and agree to give a fair and honest review. Their terms are not onerous. But there’s no guarantee that you’ll be able to get a copy. --Also available for Pre-Order in ebook and trade paperback on Amazon.

While the storm rages over California’s notorious 1994 anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.” Private Detective Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack Riggs, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church and state that hovers around the immigration debate. Along the way we explore the fiery immigration controversy from all sides and no one escapes unscathed. 




~.~.~


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Swerving dead things.

CRAFT:  What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas that are too good to throw away but don't fit into your work(s) in progress? 

By Catriona

One of the biggest challenges of my writing life- Wait. One of the medium challenges, coming in below the royalty structure, doing page proofs and shrugging off bad reviews- No, hang on. A tiny niggle just the right size to make a blog - there it is - is the problem of trying not to have ideas. 

Ideas suck. 

When I was writing my first book, I'd wake up in the middle of the night, seized with dread that I'd never have another idea. "Well," Neil would mumble into his pillow, "Try and have one now. Then you'll know you can. And you can stop worrying." So I made tea and sat in the dark and had an idea. Phew. 


The next morning, I started writing the WIP and the idea seeped into the draft like ground fog.  So a couple of nights later, I sit bolt upright in the small hours and say "But what if that's it? Just those two ideas - and I've used them both?"

"Have another one," Neil mumbled. "And if you're going downstairs to get tea can you bring me up a glass of water?" I got the tea and the water and sat up in the dark and had a third idea.

Day or so later, there it was in the WIP. Another idea gone; another sub-plot born. Maybe that's why my first book is a wee tiny bit overwritten. Maybe that's why all first books are a wee tiny bit overwritten.

After that, I worked at not having any more ideas and I've stuck with the same method ever since. I can tell where an idea is. It's like a drunk on the bus or - for pet owners - that certain unmistakable something in the air that tells you there's been a digestive adventure nearby.  I'm aware but I avoid the area.

Actually, the pet analogy is wrong. Of course I don't just swerve the spot on the floor where my cat started eating a mouse but couldn't finish it. Maybe it's more like a dead seal on a beach. It's there. You walk past. It doesn't spoil your day. But you don't have your picnic nearby. 


Then, when it's a sensible time to have an idea - at the start of a new book, or when you need a subplot to avoid the WIP being underwritten - you retrace your steps and scoop up the idea that's sitting there . . . decomposing. I wish I'd picked a different analogy. And not a drunk on a bus either. 

Retracing my steps is usually no more than repeating the words I picked as an aide memoire when I quick-marched away from the idea in the first place. Sometimes I write them down on a scrap of paper. 

I've just been through to my study to get my "scraps of paper" file. Here are some of my idea memory-joggers:

Cerumol ear drops
Dread stoner guy
Tarantella
Place mats
Shoe collection (wide fit?)
Horse logger
Urgent unique
Lifeboat alibi
Paper trousers

But wait, I hear you say, aren't those ideas going to spark back into life now  and ruin the end of your WIP (nearly done, should finish this weekend)? Well no, because I can't remember what any of them are supposed to mean.

I'm not recommending this system; I'm just reporting.

Anyway, as well as the lost horse logger ear drop paper trouser lifeboat masterpiece, I did uncover three decent ideas (on the flap of a Christmas card envelope, on the inside cover of a Malice-at-a-Glance booklet and on the level 3 map of a Tate Britain guide pamphlet) that are pretty good. And now they're humming and I need to stop thinking about them fast, because Dandy Gilver No 14 is just about there (see pic of desk below; I'm that close) and any of these ideas would be a major deus ex machina at this stage.


So I'm off to make tea and clear my mind.  Please don't use me as a shining example of how to write. I'm a much better dire warning. 


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Of fear, and phoenixes...by Cathy Ace


CRAFT:  What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas that are too good to throw away but don't fit into your work(s) in progress? 



Oh this is a good one…because we all have them, those brilliant ideas we end up tossing out for some reason or another, or those kernels of an idea for a plot for a book. Some of those "kernels" have, for me, made their way into short (or long) stories, because there - frankly - just wasn't enough MORE to make a novel, and they better suited a quick hit. (You can see how some of these worked out in my recently released anthology.)


However, as for what I do with the plots that don't make it into stories, or novels, and the "bits" I edit out, well, I file them…and know I have lost quite a few, because my filing skills are somewhat lacking. (I believe I make a logical decision, but it seems I forget my own logic when trying to track something down.) The best way I have found to winkle out documents I cannot easily locate is to search all the programs on my computer using what I hope will be useful keywords. Sometimes it even works! However, I have to admit I haven’t been able to use any of said “filed” passages that have been removed from previous books, largely because I’m very much a tight plotter, so the scenes from one book just don’t transpose to another. 

There's no scene in here with a pregnant PI tracking a suspect!
What has made the leap once or twice is an idea, rather than a fully formed scene/story line/subplot. For example, in my first WISE Enquiries Agency Mystery, THE CASE OF THE DOTTY DOWAGER, I had a pregnant PI Carol Hill donning various disguises to allow her to follow a suspect in a case that ran adjacent to the main story line. The whole sub-plot had to go due to length constraints imposed by my publisher (who wanted a manuscript not one word over 80,000 words). I kept the sub-plot, which I carefully weeded out of that novel, and, while I wasn’t able to use it as it had originally existed, I was able to use the idea of disguises and shadowing for another character, in another book. 

No overt romantic actions for the happy couple in this book!


I have been told to drop various “bits” from my Cait Morgan Mysteries over the years, as my editor and publisher didn’t want to stray from the plot-driven style of the books. An example of that was the removal of two paragraphs from a Cait Morgan Mystery (THE CORPSE WITH THE GOLDEN NOSE) where I had Bud Anderson placing his jacket over Cait Morgan's chilly shoulders late one night when they were enjoying a discussion about a victim (along the lines of "did she kill herself, or was she murdered?"). It was a tiny scene which I hoped would give the reader an insight into their growing, but still young, relationship...as well as illuminating Cait's raw emotional state, insecurities, and - even so - hope for love. I argued about it with my editor, but eventually dropped it; this was only my second novel ever, and I wish I had fought harder to keep it in. But...we live and learn, eh?

What that - and a few other examples - taught me was that, if I wanted to have a more character-driven story line, I’d have to write a different series of books; this led me to begin the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. These, while they certainly have multi-layered plots, provide readers with enjoyment (I have been told) as they get to know the characters and their lives beyond their roles in solving puzzling mysteries. 


One other thing – because the Cait Morgan Mysteries are traditional, closed-circle mysteries which are, necessarily, plot driven, and the WISE books are cosy and character driven, I have found that any writing with a slightly darker edge is something I have steered clear of – until now. I am up to my neck in the manuscript for a new novel, which I’m planning as a standalone, though I know there’s a series begging to leap out of it. 

In this anthology there's a character who has strong-armed their way into my new novel...


It’s still not gory, hasn't even got as much “foul language” in it as a Louise Penny book, and is a story which is allowing me to mix and meld a domestic thriller with a different take on a procedural. I’m enjoying the journey a great deal, and wait to see what my editor thinks about it when I submit it mid-July. The good thing about this one? It’s going to be a tad longer that I usually write, which means I get to develop characters AND have a plot with twists and turns aplenty. I’m really hoping this one will hit the sweet spot for me, and readers.

Overall, maybe I haven't used dropped passages, scenes, or treatments, but their loss has propelled me toward varying my writing output to allow for the introduction of those different styles of writing which I am (obviously) yearning to produce. So...maybe that's a good thing? Readers will decide, I am sure. 

Now for the promotional blurb and begging....
Cathy Ace writes the Cait Morgan Mysteries and the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries. Find out more about Cathy and all her characters here: http://www.cathyace.com/
and please consider adding her work to your TO BE READ pile? 

MURDER KEEPS NO CALENDAR has been available since November 2017 via amazon and on Kindle...now it's also available via KOBO, and can be ordered by bookstores and libraries. 

 

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Lost & Found - RM Greenaway




Those extra ideas and where do you put 'em?


Are any writers organized enough for this not to happen? You keep finding scribbles from your past-self written to your future self, and they're often mystifying, sometimes hilarious, and usually not much else. Wouldn't it be good if we wrote them out in full and then filed them in some smart place?

Sometimes I've gotten serious and written those ideas out, and THEN lost them. Then it's just a matter of discovering them in some defunct notebook and being able to read my past self's handwriting, which is really bad.

For the purposes of this blog I managed to find a fistful of notes to try to decipher. One here I thought up while spending much time at a long-term care facility visiting Mom, and it's set in just such a place. In this plot twist, the killer turns out to be ... Actually I'm not saying, as this one is pretty good, and is sure to become my first stand-alone New York #1 thriller one of these days.

Another idea in this bundle of notes is just ridiculous, some apocalyptic zombie number. I think that's been done....

Or this one I can't quite make out: "cy kills pharm exec - det feels sick" cy is probably a cyborg and det is probably a detective, but other than that, it's never coming back. And probably a good thing, too.

But sometimes these little brainstorms take root. I discovered one excellent scribble from some years ago that I recently developed into a short story that's actually going to be published this year! Proud of my past self on that one!

If wishes were horses I would be better organized, and keep all my character notes, plot ideas, timelines, free-floating thoughts, and flashes of inspiration all in one place, fully fleshed out, and easily located. But wishes aren't horses, so I'll just have to keep working at those virtual index cards, etc. I'm sure my future self will appreciate it.

If there are any super organized writers out there, please let us know your secret!


Monday, June 25, 2018

So Many Plots

Q: What do you do with those extraneous plot ideas that are too good to throw away but don't fit into your work(s) in progress? 

- from Susan

Good question and I really want to hear what the rest of the Minds answer.  I keep little files with titles that grow increasingly difficult to interpret over time:

Dani in LA – defaced murals?
Peter / Indian art, SF?
Teeni’s new job goes crazy
David – music teacher, obsessed girl
Who killed the dealer? Not a stranger
Dickie Swiss Alps ski mystery?
K&M on tour – bassist killed – does P show up w P?
P opens agency, client is killer
K in Provence w kids – cave death

It’s difficult to decipher what I meant at the time, but, truthfully, coming up with a plot based on any one of these nebulous ideas is easy enough, even if the plot idea doesn’t work any better the second time I try to wedge it into a larger novel than it did the first time.  But what usually happens is that the idea gets cobwebby in my mind, feels tired because I rejected it once. I realize I’ve never gone back to any of these snippet files for inspiration, so perhaps I should select and delete them. Maybe. But you never know, Katherine might get wildly ambitious and unrealistic and take Jeannette and her two un-socialized brothers on an art education trip to St. Remy. But then, Katherine would have to be crazy and rich to do that, and I’m not ready to let her descend into mental chaos even though I’d love it if Michael’s music comeback goes well. (Oh, that’s right. I invented these people. I can make his comeback a roaring success, can’t I?)

BSP: Speaking of successes, even if they’re not roaring, I’d love to see the new book hit some success markers, so if you’re looking for summer reads or birthday presents and want a traditional mystery with some heart, two options:

The book

 
The audiobook


 "Not since my first visit to Louise Penny's Three Pines, have I encountered a more beguiling fictional world than Susan Shea's Reigny-Sur-Canne." - Catriona McPherson

Friday, June 22, 2018

Fight Hard. Lose Well. Go Home.

Society seems to be more divided than ever, with strong feelings on every side of every issue, and very little middle ground. How do you deal with putting your views out there? Have you ever had to deal with a flame war?

Flame war? War, period.

I won't take the position I don't have the luxury of developing and maintaining a comfortable position outside the fray. I do. I live and work in a place where I'm free to be myself and think however I want. It's very blue here, so unless I dig deeper into the political dynamic and take positions with more granularity (schooling, policing, affordable housing and rent control, statutes and ordinances, ballot referendums on what grade of toilet paper is acceptable, the fight for/against plastic bags and flushable wipes,) I can keep it mellow. Just wait every four years for that big national election to get involved, same as how I don't follow the Cubs unless/until they make the playoffs. White Sox for life.

At this point, seems to be I'm built for the fight. Doesn't mean I go looking for it. I'm smart enough to avoid it. I know how to diffuse it. And yeah, if it comes down to fighting, I'll fight. Ain't no thing. Last thing in the world I'd want. And I can make it what gets me up in the morning. It's in the blood.

The purely American part of me comes from my black heritage. If one kept score, I’d cop to being black American via the migration which brought a Louisiana Creole into contact with a half-Sicilian/half-African American woman which produced my mama and her brothers, those wacky hot-headed blacks with the Italian first names. My pops had some Sicilian as well, and a lot of Irish. You knew how he felt when he put his fist through something fists normally shouldn't pass through. Dead silent all day, until he laughed so loudly it shook the house. One drink—only one, a sip of vodka or a can of Old Style—he was singing songs. You could pick his pocket. Kissing you all the time. Such ebb and flow from a big, young guy with a loud voice and a deceptively brilliant and articulate tongue. Levels and layers.

I'm packed with so many cultural influences from peoples known for their deep emotions. All that stuff simmered on the burner in the South before it arrived in Chicago. Like attracts like, so in the early aughts of the 1900s into the 20s, everyone is falling in love and having great sex and trying to forget the dark days of the Great Depression by producing mixed children with deep passions. The Midwest being all about propriety, everyone's packed with pressure and wrapped up tight. This grandmother was this, with a bit of that mixed in. This great-great someone or other had a father who was such and such. Who begat whom. It was all above board. We owned it all, even the rough edges. 

"So and so pulled a gun."

"You're kidding."

"Well, he has that (insert race here) in him."

"There it is. Hot-headed."

"Yep. In the blood. Y'all alright now?"

"Yeah. He came through for the Bulls game. Brought dip and brews."

If the cops came, and you told them whatever racial/cultural composition was responsible for the disturbance, you'd get a warning and time to cool off if they didn't have any warrants.

So let’s just say black, Irish, Italian, some Louisiana creole with deep farming ties, a bit of Choctaw Nation sprinkled in, and a big city consciousness where politics was life. Add to it the constant oppression—sometimes you can feel it, sometimes it sneaks up on you and you realize it—and it's going to be LOUD. Every woman I've ever been involved with thought I was crazy unless they were black, Irish, or Italian from the Midwest. Can't trust a guy who won't fight. Sure, she'll clutch the pearls and stand between you and the fight, demand you calm down or it's quits. And if you didn't drop your coat and put 'em up when her honor was challenged, she'd never talk to you again. It was wrong to want a fight, and it was wrong to avoid a fight that found you.

You learned to watch what the unions were doing. Cooperative covenants in organized labor meant that the old man may have to show support by picketing, even if the firefighters themselves had no beef. He could bring home a fight we as a family would have to support, even if it didn't mean anything for us directly. If the teacher's union bristled, there could be a strike, which would affect everything so my mother would have to check in with the school, other parents, the PTA, and still get herself to her own job in a career that was affected by Chicago politics: health care for the chronically sick, infirm, and elderly. A lot of nights, I saw my mother drinking and smoking, in tears, filling out paperwork over a patient who didn't make it. I could see her anger, and her sense of defeat, that someone she gave her heart to didn't live with the quantity and quality of life they deserved because of, yes, politics. I knew she'd be a hard taskmaster the following morning. I knew if my game wasn't tight getting to school, I'd be getting a smack, because of those bastards in this office, or at that agency. Some crooked alderman saw fit to wet his/her beak on the backs of a vulnerable community so now I'm making my own damned lunch or I don't eat that day and maybe your brother ate all your Twinkies, boy, folks are dying, Danny, go make your own damned lunch.

Purpose. Duty. Honor. Compassionate brawling.

"We may strike this year," Pop would say, and everyone at the dinner table knew that meant sinched belts, outdated fashions for my brothers, a new dynamic for me since schedules would shift and my smart kid school needs would be affected. You had to argue to get your damned street cleared of snow. Had to argue to get your neighborhood repaved, or policed appropriately. That one house on the block with the overgrown weeds, peeling paint and broken windows that Mrs. Hayden always complains about in the block club meeting? There go my parents, with a few other parents, standing on a doorstep, ringing a bell, holding paint cans, gassed lawn mower. You just gonna stand on someone's stoop, wait for them to come out, and tell them their house is bringing down the neighborhood so you're there to help, and you expect not to fight? Not to yell? Where I'm from, people argued, yelled, threw hands, out in the open.

To love each other. To save each other. To save ourselves.

Where I’m from, you had to fight. If you wanted something, even respect for your own authenticity, you had to humbug.

“Take it outside?”

“Shit, bet! Beat yo' ass, right quick.”

Everyone drops the video game controllers. If it's over sports, it was "Aight, at half-time." Marv Alpert is talking, everyone goes outside. "No face." See, face punching made it serious. Can't come back from that. Body punching only. Respect all calls for time-outs. If anyone falls, it's over. And before you’re thinking this is the most hyper-masculine affair ever, at The Crib, a girl/woman will ask if what you’re arguing about was important enough to you to take it outside. My mother would box a dude, no question. A girlfriend was expected to knuckle-up. You'd pass on a fight with a guy depending upon who his lady was, because you may be able to whip him, but you can't whip them both. My father taught me basic boxing, Marques of Queensbury-rules. My mother taught me how to streetfight. She once made me box an older, bigger cousin who pushed me down and took my toys. I was getting picked on because I was lighter than a paper bag and smaller. She had one of my brothers referee to keep it fair. You fight him, or you fight me, and she didn't play. 

Fight, with your cousin, for what's right. It'll hurt. You'll live. You need to do this. For yourself.

The first fight I lost, badly, was to a girl. The next summer, we were a thing. No one batted an eye. In Chicago, everyone fought. It's how we bonded. It's how we learned the other person was sturdy in the high winds of fate.

Ay, what that white boy say? I know he isn't talking at me like that. Take it outside. Slap box? Bet. Oh, hell. That white boy can fight. Shit. Aight, then. Convictions challenged, defended, respected. Bet, my fault. We good? We good. Shit, white boy had some technique. What he say his name was again? Mike (everyone in Chicago is Mike or Bob. Or Chuck.) A week later. "Mike! Ay, I got Mike's beer. 'sup, man. Y'all, this my homie White Boy Mike. Ay, whaddup, White Boy Mike. White boy can fight. Knows his sports. Cool as hell. In the electrician's union. Good people." 

By the summer, if White Boy Mike isn't holding up the end of the bar, it doesn't feel right. The playoff series against Cleveland is coming on. Someone call White Boy Mike to make sure he's coming to The Cove in Hyde Park for the game. Hey, how's it going with that lady you told us about? Getting serious? Naw, Mike. It's alright. Just buy me one the next game. See you Wednesday night? Okay, Friday then. Be safe getting home. My dawg, White Boy Mike.

"How'd you two meet?"

"He beat my ass."

"Whaaa?"

"Slap-boxin'."

"Aw. Aight. He cool?"

"The coolest. Good people."

Fighting is another form of love, but you have to leave room for the love to come through. You have to fight until the path is clear for loving. Can't be afraid of that. Just don't get too personal. Don't fight dirty. Don't call out and take down someone's family. Hug it out. Give up some dap. Back to baselines. Hard fighting. Good losing. Unless you were friends with real assholes with no honor, and the thuggiest thugs back then had honor, it was over. No need for grudges. We're all real people here. The Hawk is on its way. Soon, it'll be 40-below for everyone, regardless of positions. No agreeing to disagree. you agree to fight it out. Impressions made. Deep convictions exposed and respected. Days later, your worldview is altered slightly, as is the worldview of the new best friend you made from fighting. You moved on. And if you couldn't move on just yet, it was alright. You can always go back outside and settle it with them hands.

"No face."

"Aight, bet."


- dg



***

For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.


         

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Sometimes I Despair

Society seems to be more divided than ever, with strong feelings on every side of every issue, and very little middle ground. How do you deal with putting your views out there? Have you ever had to deal with a flame war?

From Jim

I avoid airing my political views on social media.

But just this week I reached my limit with the cruel, un-American (and unchristian), inhumane separation of children from their parents at the border. I put up a couple of posts on Facebook to express my shame, outrage, and hope (via donations to organizations to help those poor, suffering people). A flaming war quickly ensued, and I spent the day in a shaking rage.

And so I’m back to keeping my political thoughts to myself on social media. The fact is I’m not going to change the opinion of anyone who believes that caging innocent, weeping children is somehow okay. And for the people who agree with me, I’m preaching to the choir. I will continue to voice my opinions in my private life, and I’LL VOTE.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Escape artist

Society seems to be more divided than ever, with strong feelings on every side of every issue, and very little middle ground. How do you deal with putting your views out there? Have you ever had to deal with a flame war?

by Dietrich Kalteis

I don’t regularly pick up a newspaper or turn on a newscast, at best I skim the news, a headline here and there. There’s little about it I need to know, most of it’s fear-based and often depressing. So at best, I’ve got a passing knowledge of current events, so I usually haven’t got much to offer about the issues of the day. Nothing wrong with a healthy discussion among friends, but sometimes talking about what’s making headlines can seem like striking a match and lighting a fuse — especially in a public forum. 


I write fiction, I make stuff up. When I stumble on a news gem that interests me — especially if there’s some dark humor attached — it might spark a story idea in my head. The kind of news that might get me thinking, “Well, what if this happened.” A number of my short stories and novels were influenced by actual events that I stumbled on. Ride the Lightning came about after I read on an article a few years back about the number of grow-ops in this province, how pot was the biggest cash crop, worth billions annually, rivaling softwood lumber. And not a tax dollar was being collected while talks of legalization continued. The spark for Triggerfish came after I read an article about a captured narco sub used by a cartel to transport cocaine from South America. Authorities established that the sub, which was constructed in the Amazon, could travel two thousand miles virtually undetected, and that got me thinking …

As a story takes shape in my head, so do the characters, and I like to let them loose and allow them to express their own views, which don’t have to line up with my own. I don’t step in and inject my own viewpoints.

There’s a natural seclusion that comes with writing a novel, which can take a year or longer, so I spend a lot of time working on my own. When I’m not writing, I like to spend time with family and friends, and there’s so much more to talk about than what’s making headlines. And of course, I sometimes add comments on social media sites, the perfect place not to get into heated discussions on hot-button issues of the day.

Some of my favorite authors were reclusive, greats like Lee Harper and J.D. Salinger. Some like Thomas Pynchon and Cormac McCarthy still are. While others are outspoken. At times Hunter S. Thompson came off half-mad in those dark glasses and golf hat, behaving like he’d been imbibing in something stronger than the office coffee, and often while wielding a firearm. But he wrote with passion and fury and had a great sense of humor. And if he was around today, he’d likely have a hell of a viewpoint to share on some of those hot-button issues.
I’m not reclusive and I don’t consider myself outspoken, so maybe it’s just the polite Canadian thing, but I tend to keep my two cents to myself, especially on public forums. One thing’s for sure, life’s far too short for flame wars. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Only when absolutely pushed

By R.J. Harlick

Society seems to be more divided than ever, with strong feelings on every side of every issue, and very little middle ground. How do you deal with putting your views out there? Have you ever had to deal with a flame war?

It’s a tricky question. As an author, I am ever mindful of my readership. I don’t want to turn off fans because of my political views. But I suppose given the types of issues I like to explore in my Meg Harris mysteries, I suspect most of my fans share a similar view of the world. 

Nonetheless, I do try to shy away from voicing political views on my social media platforms. I don’t want it to become a platform for divisive argumentation nor do I want it to take away from my main purpose for being on Facebook and Twitter, which funnily enough is to promote me as a writer and my Meg Harris series. 

But that said, there are times, when I feel I can’t keep quiet. Often this is when there is an election happening and I am convinced the winner projected by the polls will do more harm than good once in office.  At other times, it is when the powers that be are planning to implement something that I believe is unfair and blatantly wrong. Lately I’ve been posting articles from established Canadian media about happenings south of the border that affect my own country. I want to give my southern friends an opportunity to read perspectives that come from beyond their borders. What I won’t do is comment on internal happenings of another country no matter how much I dislike what is going on. I believe it is none of my business. 

We are only a few days from the longest day of the year, so I thought I would include a couple of photos taken during my research trip to Canada’s Far North for Arctic Blue Death. They were taken on June 21 at midnight in Pangnirtung, Nunavut, on Baffin Island.  The sun basically drew a circle in the sky. It slipped behind the ridge across the fjord for about an hour before popping up further along the ridge. I don’t think there was a single person asleep in the town. Everyone, including children were out cavorting, enjoying the white night. A magical moment. The building in the foreground of the second photo is the Hudson's Bay Company trading post built in 1921.