Progress Report: Chapter One

My book opens with a bedbug scare in a thrift shop. Some people might not understand why that should be especially jarring. Others are sweating and checking their pulse by now.

The scare comes in the form of an anonymous caller who says that his wife may have donated some things that came from their house while it was infested. The caller quickly hangs up the phone but Olivia, the owner and manager of Keeler’s Mission is understandably nervous.

You see, the shop runs entirely on donations and most of those donations are clothes, as well as other household items that the 21st century pest likes to call home.

Originally I planned for a much longer chapter but after introducing the reader to the store level of the shop, I decided to end it at the point where Olivia alerts the head of her furniture department to a pending meeting. As she leaves, she takes note of an unusual bronze statue that was donated to the shop a couple of days earlier and also notices that it appears to have sold rather quickly.

The statue provides a brief respite from her worries but when she hears that it was the backroom supervisor that accepted the donation, she remembers that the backroom itself is full of places for a bedbug to hide. That’s where the first draft of chapter one ends for now.

 

Where The Weakness Was Is Open

In a moment of weakness, I thought of going to the writer’s group tonight. In another moment of weakness, I remembered what that one guy said about how he doesn’t like it when people read long form fiction at the group. That one guy is not the owner of the group but I can’t get it out of my head that he will harass me if I decide to read the story I had prepared.

So was the moment of weakness when I considered going anyway or when I decided I just couldn’t go to a writer’s group where poetry was more prevalent than fiction? Maybe it was when I realized that I couldn’t read this story in ten minutes or less.

People always act as if all I do is complain. But I’m just telling you what happened, this person got into my personal space on my way home, late at night, and complained about how the last person who read something read a long form story. This person was immediately critical and practically warned me against reading whatever I might decide to read at the next meeting. It’s all well and good for other people to play hindsight detective and tell me that I shouldn’t let him bother me. But he might still be there and he would be like every other bully and jerk I was forced to put up with in school and in work, and what motive is there to put up with him on purpose? What’s the risk reward ratio?

It’s also well and good to present magical thinking as evidence. Some might think that if I show up at the group, I’ll be able to sell my books. But if they don’t like long form fiction why would that follow into their buying my book which is full of long form fiction? That’s like saying, “I don’t eat meat but I’ll buy the steak and eggs you’re selling”.

 

Mentally Outlining and Planning

Life has been a consistent teacher in the dangers of placing my eggs in the same basket. But if you followed either of my blogs, you know that I am a problematic student. I still plan ahead because sometimes I just have to take a chance that the world is going to allow me to follow through.

Then there are my own personal shortcomings that get in the way. But I’ve completed three books so far. I can complete this fourth one in the manner that I plan without letting those shortcomings and the world, get in my way.

Air conditioned college library free of crazy people, here I come!

You’re Not Worth The Effort (Yet)

I had this conversation with someone not too long ago. They were worried, ever so slightly, that they would become so influenced by the ideas of another that if they wrote their idea down, the person who allegedly had the idea first would hunt them down and sue them.

Unless you’re made of stone, you won’t be able to write anything that isn’t in some way influenced by someone. We’re influenced by other people’s ideas the moment we set foot in a school and are told to read a chapter a week of whatever book the teacher drops in front of you.

And so what if your idea is marginally or largely similar to someone else’s? Neil Gaiman wrote The Graveyard Book which even he himself said is The Jungle Book set in a graveyard.

Stephen Moffatt and Mark Gatiss flat out admitted that their version of Sherlock is “fan fiction”.

And how many different versions of Snow White have their been in the past five years alone? Romeo and Juliet was heavily influenced by the legends of Tristan and Isolde, which also influenced the TS Elliot version of King Arthur’s story. Romeo and Juliet has had numerous adaptations, including added and extended scenes.

As long as you don’t do something incredibly stupid like Ella Grant Hutchings and claim that you wrote your story while contacting a dead writer through a Ouija board, you should be fine.

The aspiring writer wasn’t satisfied with this response. They cited an alleged incident wherein J.K. Rowling sued someone over a story that had a wizarding school.

The only majorly publicized lawsuit that I know of was over a genuine act of plagiarism. There was a Russian author who insisted his work was simply a parody of Harry Potter but at close analysis, it turned out this was not the case, so the lawsuit went through. Then there was that noise with the creator of the Harry Potter Lexicon that J.K. Rowling had praised openly, until the creator wanted to publish it shortly after The Deathly Hallows was released. She didn’t authorize the publication and he tried to go behind her back, which didn’t end well.

But there have been stories of wizarding schools before Harry Potter and there will be such tales long after the ink has dried on the next work set in the Potterverse. Also, J.K. Rowling openly admitted that Harry Potter was basically a straight ripoff of Timothy Hunter, from Neil Gaiman’s work. Neil Gaiman knows about this and doesn’t care. Harry Potter itself is still it’s own story and aside from the titular character, 99% of the story is completely original with notable influences.

There really isn’t a lot of grey area when it comes to plagiarism. It is taking a story word for word and passing it off as your own. But even if your idea is remarkably similar to someone else’s, that is not in and of itself the textbook definition of plagiarism.

Furthermore, the reality of lawsuits is that they cost time and money. For someone to sue you, they have to believe it’s worth the time and effort of filling out the paperwork. If they have a lawyer do all that for them, that’s an added expense. Then they have to actually prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that you stole their work, which in and of itself is expensive and time consuming.

At the end of all this, if the judge decides your story was not plagiarized, the person who sues you has to pay all of the court costs and the other associated fees. As much as you like to believe otherwise, you’re probably not worth the effort, yet.

So my advice is to hang your insecurities and the excuses and just write the story. Or don’t write it. Works either way.

More Writing To Come

I’ve been managing my writing schedule nicely, in spite of the challenges life has thrown in my way.

Now I have a project that will force me to get up, get out there, and get a couple of interviews with two men who may have interacted with John Lennon when he was in town, washing dishes at an Italian restaurant.

But this project will come closely on the heals of a rather bold request. I aim to bring light to a footnote of Salem history. For that, I don’t think it would go amiss to do a little fundraising to keep my blog going another year and to make some ends meet.

 

John Lennon was in Salem

It turns out John Lennon was in Salem, briefly. He washed dishes at a restaurant and I have a vague amount of access to someone who had a rather unpleasant encounter with him.

If nothing else, I’m tempted to find this person and ask for an interview.

But I’ll only do this if I get a certain amount of replies to this post. I think it’s fair that I ask my readers to tell me whether this would be something they would like to learn about, or not.

So it’s down to you, faithful reader. Do I get the interview?

The Alpha Reads ~ Murder At The Playgroup By Liz Hedgecock

When I first saw the cover I thought, “I have to read this book.”

Liz Hedgecock, author of Murder at the Playgroup, asked if I would like to receive a review copy. I said, “Okay, okay, stop twisting my arm.”

Joking aside, they tell you not to judge a book by its cover. But since I was one of many people who voted for this cover that would be a superfluous argument. I had read snippets of this story and I was like a duck at the pond, drawn to the toddler with a slice of bread in his hands.

Pippa Parker takes her place among good company. I have no doubt she will be on the same bookshelves as Miss Marple, Agatha Raisin, Rosemary and Thyme and a host of other women sleuths who have called the cozy villages of England their home. But Pippa stands apart from them in that she is also mother to an adorable toddler, with another one on the way.

Sure, there are female leads in detective stories that are married or have children. But usually those children are school aged, college, or already adults living on their own. And it’s rare to have the children actually having enough of an impact on the main character that you know they’re not just background noise. Little Freddie is a force of nature unto himself, with the powers of beans and toast at his command and the uncanny ability that all toddlers have to need the bathroom at the worst possible time. Although it is hard at times to gauge just how old Freddie is supposed to be, going on the varying levels of speech and awareness. But I know that children develop differently, and I personally know children who can go from sounding very much like they’re in the early stages of speech, to suddenly dropping clear concise sentences. Children are always a challenge to portray in literature, even when actual parents are writing the story. It’s going to be down to the reader to decide how believable Freddie is. For my part I can say that his characterization is consistent enough to be plausible.

While her husband wages war in the boardroom, Pippa is settling into the town where he grew up but she barely knows anyone. The monotony is broken when she visits the local playgroup and meets with the other parents of Freddie’s future playmates. As if being weeks away from giving birth isn’t bad enough, a murder takes place at, to no one’s surprise, the playgroup.

It’s always a challenge to keep the reader from guessing who the killer is and Liz does a great job of keeping you in the dark until late in the story. However it wasn’t too hard to guess who the victim was going to be. As the first book in the series that takes place in the real world, there are so many ways to set up the main plot of a cozy murder mystery that won’t make the reader roll their eyes. My eyes never rolled once. I have no doubt that Pippa Parker, her family, Marge, Lila, and a retired cop turned librarian will find their places in the hearts of readers.

My only regret was that I didn’t write this review a couple of days earlier for Mother’s Day.