Monday, November 26, 2007

On ideas: And then the phone rang, and then...

Things come to me in driblets. and when the driblets come I have to work hard to make them into something coherent.
...Aldous Huxley

HALLIE: Taking off on a question that Mike Draper posted on Mystery Writers of America's listserv (EMWA) last week: Suppose a chapter of your book has just ended with your hero being told that a friend is dead and the authorities are saying it's suicide. How would you open the next chapter?

Does the room spin? Does your character dissolve into a tearful puddle? Is your character angry that, once again, her drama queen friend has made herself the center of attention... I know, I know, it all depends on the relationship between the two characters.

Here's one possible next-chapter opening:"At least now I wouldn't have to shoot her myself."

Anyone else want to take a few potshots at this??

HANK: How about: "Stella was murdered. Absolutely. No way she'd kill herself before the last episode of Project Runway. Plus, I knew she just paid off her Visa bill. If she were going to kill herself, why bother to write a check?"

Okay, I know I'm the fun-light one. Let me think of something else. Darker. Back soon.

HALLIE: See, this exercise is actually a kind of Rorschach.

RO: My character, Paula Holliday is a wisecracker, and if it was not a friend I can definitely hear her saying something like "Suicide? If it was, it was the only thing she ever did herself. Her servants had servants." But a friend...ooh, that's a bit different. My plucky protagonist would probably refuse to believe the death was suicide, would find the bad guys and beat the crap out of them.

JAN: Protagonist X would immediately charge over to the police/doctor/mother of the deceased friend to find out what she drank/inhaled/injected and whether the champagne/crack/steroid came from a suspicious source.Later, after Protagonist X obtained some stimulating, yet frustratingly ambiguous clue that could lead her in any number of directions, she'd see something on the drive home that reminded her of her deceased friend. Protagonist X then has a vivid, meaningful memory. She doesn't quite collapse, but emotes deeply, yet in an intelligent way that allows her to maintain control of the car, so she doesn't tragically veer off the road, way too early in the novel, and end up as a fatality before chapter three.

HALLIE: Okay, I wanna read that book. Especially the *emotes deeply yet intelligently but not tragically* part.

HANK: Said I'd be back. Hallie, I think this is a fascinating exercise. On the face of it, it seems like an off-the-wall idea. But I now think it's actually very, as you say, revealing. I've been experimenting all weekend (between reheating stuffing and deciding how long is too long to keep sweet potatoes) with openings for the next chapter.

And some I write (in my head) don't seem like me. The dark, writhing-in-pain ones, or the bitter self-blaming ones. The ones I COULD write are questioning, certainly, like:
"I tried to list all the reasons Stella would kill herself. Just like Stella did. She made lists, for everything, while she was alive. Maybe, somewhere, she left one last careful roster of pros and cons."

I could also go the conspiracy route. "I dashed for the kitchen.For my recycling bin. I suppose I could have gone on line, but all I could remember was where the article had been on the newspaper page. I had to see how it looked. I knew I had read articles about two other suicides of thirty-something single women, just in the last week. That seemed like too many."

And looking at those ideas, I guess you can tell I'm a reporter.

HALLIE: I can see it now - BREAKING NEWS: The first serial suicide novel!

So, folks, please chime in with your response to this challenge: Suppose a chapter of your book has just ended with your hero being told that a friend is dead and the authorities are saying it's suicide. How would you open the next chapter??


  1. Disbelief settled around me like a San Francisco fog. Suicide was out of the question. Too happy. Too much going for her. That feeling of taffy-pulling in my stomach told me all I needed to know. Her husband had learned of the plumber's weekly visits.

  2. "Alex," Katie Mahoney began, "I want you to do a complete forensic analysis on her computer and cell phone. I want to know every e-mail she sent or received, every website she visited, every instant message she sent, every phone call she made."

    Alexandria gently stroked the back of her pet tarantula, Divinity, as it perched on her knee and nodded.

    "Katie," Jane Landers began, "You don't suppose she could have actually taken her own life?"

    "No I don't. By the way, Jane, I want a complete dossier on her financials. Debt, income, credit reports, open accounts, the works."

    "Damn selfish way to go if you ask me," Margo Norton chimed in. "Leaves a damn mess that somebody else is left to clean up. Y'all want some chocolate brownies I just made?"

    "We need to think like Black Widows here. She had too much going for her. Someone out there did this. It's time we spun our web and let them crawl in..." Katie replied reaching for the hot steaming brownies drizzled with chocolate sauce.

  3. Suicide? Oh, my god. We'd just been planning the cruise. And betting on how many men would buy us drinks. And looking at new bikinis at the online store. We'd been laughing, talking, joking.

    And, with one flick of a knife, she'd let all that go.

    Wait a minute. Mary hated blood. She couldn't kill a fly without hurling.

    Pills? Maybe. A knife? No goddamn way.

  4. Fabulous, fabulous, fabulous. I love "disbelief settled around me like a SF fog" and I laughed out loud when that tarantula showed up--talk about giving your character a telling pet (Lawrence Block's hit man has a stuffed dog.) Bikini-shopping and knives...ack!

  5. Of course you guys probably know my mystery DEADLY ADVICE begins with a suicide, so I'm going to cheat and quote from that. My psychologist character would immediately feel guilty:

    "I hoisted myself into the passenger seat of the detective's minivan, woozy and nauseous with disbelief. There's no such thing as a simple suicide--that much was hammered home to me in graduate school 15 years ago. Let's just say I'm careful--obsessive, my ex-husband the psychiatrist would say--when one of my patients hints at suicide. I don't want to feel the terrible weight of missing a signal they tried to send."

  6. Happy Holidays from Author Island. Hope you have a wonderful holiday and a very happy New Year.


  7. Dear Hank Happy Holidays from Author Island!

  8. Great mystery writer scoop and Happy Holiday's from Author Island.

  9. Happy Holidays from Author Island! Continued success!

  10. Happy Holidays From Authorisland


  11. Happy Holidays from author island. Wish you much success.

  12. Happy Holidays from Author Island!Also, from me as well. Enjoyed your post.

  13. Happy Holidays from Author Island.

    I loved the post and here is my two cents.... way. I do not believe it. I need to get all the facts and find the one thing that is missing from these reports. I know my friend would not commit suicide. I need to find out the truth about what really happened.

    Billie Jo

  14. Happy Holidays from Author Island! But I wanna play the game too - so just off the top of my head - Here goes,

    LizzyBeth? Suicide? No way, I thought, LizzyBeth was her own favorite person. "How did she do it?" I asked Jerrod.

    "Well, they found her on the floor of her living room with her nail file sticking out of her throat, her hands still gripping it."

    And just like that, I figured it out. LizzyBeth didn't kill herself, the dumb bitch got drunk doing her nails and fell. If I had told her once I had told her a million times, DON'T DRINK WHILE MANICURING!

    OK, that was lame, but it was fun LOL

  15. Happy Holiday from AuthorIsland and me!!!

  16. Hank, Happy Holidays from Author Island!Congrats on your latest release, FACE TIME,I have read that it hit the Boston Globe Bestseller list the first week it was out! That sounds great!!! i've read the summery myself, i love the mystery and plot, (well what I see so far lol). great job and happy holidays from a fan!

  17. Happy Holidays from Author Island!

  18. Happy Holidays from the AuthorIsland chat today--neat blog! I'll be back :)

  19. I wasn't the only person at Jenna's wake to say, "I can't believe she committed suicide," but I was the only one who didn't follow up with a comment that indicated, yeah, actually, I did believe it.

    "I wish she'd told me how depressed she was."

    "She could have called me, anytime."

    "I guess you never know what someone's really feeling."

    "She should have known we'd help her, no matter what."

    They were all buying the suicide story, but not me. Not if it came gift-wrapped in gold foil with pave diamonds on the ribbon at a 90% discount and tax free.

  20. Happy Holidays to Hank! From author island!

    I wish I were savvy enough to participate in your writing exercise.

  21. Maybe its because I'm from New Jersey, but I LOVE the death-by-manicure scenario! Way to go Char-i-dee.

  22. While I'm here, I'm going to make a pitch for all book lovers who are also animal lovers.
    Robin Kall, host of Reading With Robin, WHJJ-Providence, is having a five year anniversary show at Books On the Square, (Angell Street) Wayland Square, Providence Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. She's going to have all sorts of things to give away and proceeds of the event benefit The Rhode Island ASPCA. Robin is a tremendous advocate of authors as well as animials. If you have a chance stop by, I'll be there signing copies of Yesterday's Fatal between 11 a.m and noon.

  23. “Jump,” Lila said to me, half a dozen times in our joint life together: at the edge of a picnic table when we were six, on the hood of my father’s truck at nine, from the roof of a chicken coop at age eleven. Later, when we were drunk with first boys and two filched six-packs, from the high branch of a tree stretched over dark river. I remember the letting go on that one, and her distant laughter, the long fall broken by cold and swift-moving water, a river always ready to be somewhere else. As she was. As she told me I was.

    I would say she scared the crap out of me, with her level gaze and her prematurely husky voice (after the circus, she once tried to swallow fire), but that isn’t quite true. Loving her was like picking a scab or sucking nitrous. She was a twisted little thrill. Because of her I broke an ankle, flunked chemistry, screwed a stranger, almost drowned. But I was addicted and I returned to her again and again, wanting Lila to urge me at the edge of known things.

    At this word of her by telephone (from my first ex and her third) I imagine that eighth-floor seaside condo that I had never visited, photographed for Architecture Today. I can see Lila there on the morning of, certainly, tummy-tucked and stitched into something like Deneuve in the Truffaut era. Lila throws wide the French doors and steps out onto the balcony, climbs onto the railing, bare toes warm in the sun. She is a lovely, tragic figure. And she knows it. Good light and physics are with her. She jumps splendidly, misses the untidy outcrop of rock—a flash of white nightgown like a wheeling seabird—and then she’s gone.

    Very cinematic.

    And far too solitary.

    I’d like to leave her to bad history, but my father says I’m anal and my therapist says I brood, and my brother called me codependent even in the years he lost his first wife and his credit rating to Lila. “You gotta cache purge that bitch,” says my daughter, but Lila perseveres. I feel the twitch of her breath in my ear, and though I refuse to grieve (and I am not) and I have other deadlines to meet (and I will), I think: I’ll ask around a little. Maybe make some calls. I can’t help but wonder what led up to dead Lila. Who finally bested her—or who she got to jump first.

  24. Susannah - If this isn't part of a work in progress, it should be. Gotta know more about Lila. - Mo

  25. Thanks, Mo!

    This isn't part of a work in progress (at least not yet), all just provoked by Hallie's exercise.

    I'm writing narrative nonfiction these days, but sometime maybe I'll come back to fictional Lila. When I posted this yesterday, I thought "Whoa, where did SHE come from?"

    I'm half afraid Roberta might be able to tell me. }:>

  26. Much as I love "San Francisco fog", it is Lila that really caught my imagination...whew!