October 29, 2009

Priuser Than Thou Posted by Kate Flora I live in a green neighborhood. Not green as in the color of the leaves. Right now, our leaves are red and yellow and orange and multicolored and even today, when it is cold and rainy, the world is breathtakingly beautiful. Outside my bedroom window, the ginkgo tree is making its stately progression from tender green to pale yellow. Today, it is a bright, luminous yellow. Any day now, though, we will have a hard frost, and within a few hours, every leaf will have fallen. Last week, a storm with high winds brought down the annual carpet of pine needles. Driving back into the neighborhood after a trip out of town, the streets were all cushioned with a thick layer of russet, softening the sounds of tires and the remarkably loud crashing of falling acorns. In our neighborhood, though, there is less need than many places for cushioning cars, for we are Prius central. Take a walk through the neighborhood, and those silent stealth cars will creep up behind you, scaring the dickens out of you when you turn and see one bearing down on you, soundless and implacable. A digression: I'm a conscientious walker. Unlike so many of the people I see perambulating and jogging, in dark clothing, I walk like my mama taught me, facing traffic in our neighborhood without sidewalks, and I pay attention. Too often, I see young mothers out with strollers walking at dusk on the wrong side of the road, plugged into iPods or chatting on cell phones, here where the overhanging trees make dark tunnels and the narrow road winds sharply around curves. I want to shake them, or ask if they are intractably stupid, or call social services. All I want to do to the Prius is put a bell on it, like a bird lover might do to a predatory cat. But--true confession--there is something about the Prius that brings out the worst in me. I know the car is doing good for the environment, but there's something a little smarmy or ostentatious in the way it's distinctive shape declares that it, and its owner, are good. More than any other car except those driven by inattentive young women on cell phones, it is the Prius which likes to get in the passing lane and poke along at 55. So I find myself looking for the misbehaving Prius. So far, my Prius sightings have included the one that was weaving wildly through traffic (Doesn't Toyota repossess if they do this?), giving rise to the phrase, "Faster Than A Speeding Prius!" The one that blew down the street emitting a cloud of the smoking driver's cigarette smoke for the rest of us to breathe. The one that threw discarded lottery scratch tickets out the window. And just yesterday, the aggressive Prius that passed another car on a blind hill where there was a double line. I'm so impriussed. Don't they know that if they're going to drive an ostentatiously obvious "I'm Setting A Good Example " car, they have to set a good example? If you've had a good Prius sighting, please share.
The Mystery of the Plot or the Plot of a Mystery--Take Your Pick posted by Leann Sweeney With pressure from my editor to turn in a new book much sooner than I ever have before, I have been plotting in the last week as I await the latest verdict on my rewritten manuscript. I have been distracted by my cat Agatha's battle with illness, but now that we have reasons for her failure to bounce back from infection--she has heart disease--I am saddened but a little more focused. I once had the feeling that no one came up with a story the way that I did, that other writers are better organized or smarter or just good at it. But as I began to attend writer's conferences in the '90s, I learned of the great debate among writers: to outline or not to outline. And I believe that every time I have spoken for groups or on panels, that question comes up. Do you have an outline? For me, the answer is yes. But that wasn't the case with my first book. I always call that the book that wrote itself. It seemed so easy back then. If I thought about a plot, I honestly have to say, I could come up with maybe two sentences at most. That's usually my "What if...?" question. For example, with the first cat book, that question was "What if a cat was allergic to a person and not vice versa?" But I draw a blank if I try to think much past the first mystery questions. There's nothing there. But I have found that if I begin to write, that suddenly the ideas begin to flow. This isn't the type of outline that you learn in grade school with Roman numerals. It's a narration of a story that comes from ... well, I have no idea. Okay, I have one idea. Human beings are storytellers. I just happen to be able to tell a story better if I write it down rather than if I just spit it out. When I took a class from Elizabeth George in the late '90s, I was amazed when she talked about her plotting method, which as it turns out, is exactly like mine. I write a very long narrative synopsis that often has events out of order and doesn't make much sense to anyone but me, and then I begin to write the book itself. After about fifty pages I return to that synopsis and begin to revise it according to what I have learned about the characters and the story in those first fifty or hundred pages. It works for me and apparently it works for E. George. And I'm willing to bet this is how plenty of writers work. The best part about this method is that I have a road map. When I get in trouble, I always go back to my original synopsis and re-read it. The answers are always there. The original ideas are so sound that it truly amazes me. Characters--especially new ones--do want to take a writer to places they shouldn't go. There's some fun in that, and it probably does help me develop that particular character better, but for the most part, it's a waste of time. When that happens, I always end up writing myself into a corner. Plotting isn't difficult for me, but what always comes up in the plotting is that piece of the story that I know absolutely nothing about. I usually research when I get to that part of the manuscript, but this, too, is time consuming. So for my new idea that will require a quick turnaround, the book I am plotting now, I am doing the research upfront. Or trying to. That doesn't mean I won't come to a screeching halt during the writing and say, "Expletive deleted! I don't know squat about that! Yikes!" But I am hoping that this particular mystery plot will be much better detailed ahead of time than any I have done before. I do not have the luxury of thinking through plot points before I go to sleep or when I'm in the shower or as I am driving to appointments--all the things I take a lot of time doing. Nope. This book requires speed writing, something I am not familiar with. Ah, another challenge. It is about the journey, isn't it?

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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