Sunday, September 18, 2016

TWENTY REASONS WHY @LucyBurdette #amwriting #Redsonwriting

LUCY BURDETTE: With each of the mysteries I’ve written and had published (15 so far*), I've been required to turn in three chapters and a plot synopsis to my editor toward the beginning of the contract.  (Except for the first book ever, which I had to write to completion.) And it has never failed that my writing comes to a screeching halt somewhere in the middle because I don’t know what’s happening next.

“What does your synopsis say?” my husband always asks.

“Nothing, it says nothing! I’ve got nothing!” I moan in reply.

Then I try all my tricks—whine on Facebook, brainstorm with writers group, attempt to start at the end and work back to the point where I’m stuck. Eventually the ideas do come and the book gets written and this mid-book agony fades.

Since I have all those books under my belt, my agent and I have been hoping that I could provide the same kind of material for a new book, even though it’s in a slightly different genre. The idea would be that she’d try to sell this proposal while I write like mad.

 So I sent her 94 polished pages and a 10-page synopsis that I thought was in pretty good shape. Excellent, in fact. The best so far! Compelling! Full of plot twists and deep character change!

As we had planned, she is sending the proposal around, and I continue to write, referring to the synopsis as needed. I’m broken-hearted to report that the same thing is happening with number 16 as happened with number two: I'm 100 pages in and I’ve run out of plot. The synopsis, it turns out, was a summary of the first 100 pages and the ending. I’ve got precious little to fill the empty space in between those two points…

I'm trying not to panic, trying to follow the characters wherever they take me. After all, Hank and Rhys and Hallie never know quite where they're going with a book in progress and they've done pretty well, right? I even signed up for an online class sponsored by our New England chapter of Sisters in Crime, mostly because Susan Meier, the teacher (who is terrific by the way), promised a technique for generating plot ideas when all the natural ideas have run dry. One of her many good suggestions was pinpointing a plot question, and then giving yourself a very short (1-2 minutes) time to generate a list of possible answers. The thought is that the first few will lack freshness, but as you force your brain to work, some wild ideas are bound to surface. And some of them might even work! Here, let’s try…

Suppose I want to write a suspense book about a psychologist who has had her license to practice suspended. (Then I might imagine moving her to Key West where she might volunteer in some way in the local jail and get in some major trouble.) Of course, I will want the reason for her suspension to echo in the plot later. So in this example, one question is why did the ethics board suspend her license? Here are the first few possibilities I came up with—you can see they aren’t very imaginative—yet…

1. She slept with her patient
2. She bought drugs from her patient
3. She sold drugs to her patient
4. Her patient killed himself and his family has filed a negligence complaint
5. He pretended to kill himself and persuaded…as above
6. She stalked her patient
7. She created false records of patients and billed for them
8. Her patient is able to persuade the review board that she did sleep with him (though she didn’t)

So you get the idea…I haven’t found what I’m looking for yet because while I want her to be troubled in some way, I also want her to be appealing. I know the answer is out there. Somewhere. Anyone want to try?

*I couldn't resist lining them all up for a photo opp:)--aren't they pretty? Though in the night I heard them squabbling over who got the best cover artist....


  1. That’s a very impressive [and pretty] row of books . . . .

    I love the story idea about the psychologist, but since none of the reasons you’ve listed would make your psychologist particularly appealing, I’m wondering if your psychologist might have her license to practice suspended for what is essentially a technicality in the licensing law.
    Perhaps she joined a small practice with two or three other psychologists and it turns out that one of the members of the group is not licensed. Under the law in many states, the board could rule that each member of the group had the responsibility to ensure the each of the others held a valid license and could then suspend your psychologist’s license for her unwitting aid that allowed the unlicensed person to practice. She would be in some trouble and, at the same time, she would remain appealing to the reader.
    And just why was the unlicensed person masquerading as a psychologist, anyway??

  2. Beautiful collection of your published works, Lucy!

    It's always interesting to me how authors get their ideas, and their writing process, so thanks for sharing. I have heard many variations at the Bouchercon panels this week. You know, they are plotters vs pantsers, and how even the detailed outline/plotters have to constantly revise their storyline as they are writing mid-way, or don't know where they are going.

    Love your list so far, but perhaps the reason she lost her license is not related to the patient per se? For example, maybe she sold drugs to a family member (or friend) and was caught and suspended. Or could she get suspended by buying drugs from an illegal source cheaply and selling them to her patients?

    I am not the best at this type of brainstorming, so I definitely admire how authors come up with their ideas, and keep writing no matter what!

  3. Aren't those books all lovely lined up together!! Lucy, you know I have the same problem. Every time. And I think: What ever made me think I could write a novel? And then, yes, it comes.

    My thought on why she's suspended... I'd want it to be something that she HAD to do because it was the right/humane thing to do even though it was grounds for having her license suspended. Maybe a boundary that she crossed because she felt she had to? She did something that she thought would actually help he patient (or someone related to her patient) but stepped over a line. And because BOUNDARY is a great word to go in the title of a book about a therapist.

  4. Great to write from what you know. Why not go back to the ethics canon for her particular field and find a reason from each violation. I like Joan's suggestion that someone in her group was responsible and all the group suffered/ Did she do "it" hers self or was it done to her? i.e innocent or guilty? If guilty were there mitigating circumstances that caused her to take action? Is she angry or remorseful?
    This really sounds promising.. 16 times you have climbed out of I dunno what to do or where to go.. you can do this again. I promise. ps. keep her in the Keys but move her to No Name Key. Not as well known, name gives possibilities.. hope some of these musings serve as a spark.

  5. How about she falls for her male client and they try plot to murder his wife who is very very rich.

  6. How about she falls for her male client and they try plot to murder his wife who is very very rich.

  7. Your books look fabulous! I love that there is tangible proof of such hard work and success, you know? As for your problem, the good news is that anything can work, you know? And maybe wait to see what the crime is, and then work backwards to see what she did to make it somewhat parallel. But I know that is difficult to do…
    Another idea, as we discussed on the phone :-) would be to have her be tricked into doing something , or conned into doing something, or led to believe something that is not true, and then she acts as a result of that.
    I like the idea that her license was suspended essentially because of what someone else did to her but she could not do anything about it.
    Google a story in the LA Times about parents taking revenge on a teacher. I'll try to find the link and send it to you.

  8. We know you'll get where you need to be in the end--those 15 books are proof positive (and tell them to play nice!).

    What if she abandoned a patient and won't say why? And was she set up by this patient? How could something so far in the past hurt her now? Or is it? Is she imagining things? Does SHE need help? And how far and fast can she run? As far as Key West and No Name Key?

  9. I found a news article where a psychologist was suspended after a prostitute stole his laptop with his patients' personal information. There was more to it than That, but you can Google the story.

    What if your psychologist was mugged or had her car broken into and her laptop yadda yadda stolen. The psych board believes she should have had the info more secure and she negatively affected her patients' lives through her actions. They've suspended her license while they investigate.

    There are, of course, mitigating circumstances why she had all that data on her lap top. Perhaps even mitigating circumstances she can't talk about without harming someone else.

  10. Hi!! :-)

    What if it was something totally not related to her practice? Could she be suspended for 'getting arrested' as part of a rally for an environmental protest that was very important to her?


    This one, Hank? I saw that last week, and it's mind-boggling!

    Lucy, would something with identity theft work for your loss of license rationale?

  12. That's called your Shelfie, Roberta! And it's a lovely one.

    Brain is too fried (a week of New Orleans and associated food and wine, plus days of non-stop talking...) to help you brainstorm, but I like Hallie's ideas.

  13. Hallie, this has nothing to do with today's topic but is just for you. In today's edition of the NYT Book review, Paula Hawkins is interviewed in By the Book." The last question is:

    "If you could be friends with any author, dead or alive, who would it be?"

    Her answer is this:

    "Nora Ephron. Brilliant, funny, glamorous and a good cook"

    What a love note to your sister.

  14. Joan--that's a good question! and a corollary, why wouldn't she have known this? She must have a blind spot or she wouldn't be interesting, right?

  15. Grace, thanks so much for commenting from New Orleans! Isn't it interesting how every writer's process is different? And you see you are on the same wavelength as Hallie, although she's added the twist--maybe she did something wrong by the books, but morally and ethically she felt it was right!

  16. Coralee, thanks for the cheerleading and the ideas. No Name Key sounds like a good choice, especially if she's getting away from something...

  17. and ps Hallie, yes, boundaries are key...

    and I am overwhelmed with all the great ideas! Thank you Nina, FChurch, Hank, Nikki, and Sal--so much here to chew on!

    And Jennifer, going to look at that story right now...

    A shelfie Edith--love that! Sounds like you had a wonderful and productive conference:)

  18. What if your psychologist was a free spirit, had all the education and training, heart in the right place, etc., but felt it stultifying to go through the hoopla to ever get a license in the first place. Or maybe she did once, put in the 4000 hours of internship and all that, satisfying the licensure requirement for
    California, but not she wants to move to another state and finds her license won't transfer. This is true by the way for a MFCC wanting to transfer her license to Oklahoma. No shit. She is not one whit less capable than before, is just in a different venue. What if she decides to practice but not take insurance, Medicare, Medicaid? What if she wants to practice pro bono?

    Seems easy, but there are a ton of laws out there that could prevent this, all the while letting her carry a concealed weapon. Pftt. There I go all political again.

  19. that's good food for thought--thanks Ann!

    Jennifer and Hank, just read the article about the PTA lady who was stalked and framed. Yikes, that's a scary story!

  20. Roberta/Lucy,

    Maybe she was framed for something that resulted in the loss of her license, and she's trying to get her license/good reputation restored? I'm not sure readers would like a protagonist who actually committed a serious violation. If this were to be the beginning of a series maybe this could all be resolved in the first book; then in each additional book, she slowly tries to regain the trust of clients and other people who might be tempted to believe the allegations were true, and that she did something unethical to have her license restored?

    Deb Romano

  21. Yes, they are pretty! And have provided many hours of enjoyment. Thanks for sharing some of your process - we will wait (fairly) patiently until the next book is done!

  22. Love the books, Lucy/Roberta!

    Love Hallie's idea that she did something for humane reasons.

    Hank is referring to the story "Framed" that was in the LA Times about this couple that maliciously framed a teacher because the teacher made their errant child stand outside when the child didn't return to class on time after recess. As it turned out, it was an oversight. The teacher didn't realize the child was outside. The mother/parent was furious and decided to plant drugs in the teacher's car and then ratted on her. The teacher had to do everything she could to prove she was innocent. The mother and father were both lawyers. The mother had actually written a novel about someone getting away with murder. And she was having an affair (the father was basically a patsy). Fascinating story.

    What if your character actually attended an event where someone "humanely" took the life of a patient but that isn't allowed in that state. Being a witness would probably make her lose a license, right?

    Wishing you lots of luck.

    AS FOR ME - yes, the muddy middle, it's called. My husband used to laugh every time I hit the muddy middle. I'm in it right now. What do I do? I sometimes jump to the end and write those scenes, just to ignite a fire. I often try to think what the killer might be doing right now - figure out his/her life. Sometimes I think about the B story or create a B, C, or D story just to have something "new" happening. That might all get tossed out, but it breaks the barrier and gets me involved again.

    ~ Daryl

  23. Oh, I am so there right now. I keep asking myself who the heck did it and WHY! I like the query the plot point, can't do the write from the end, but the idea has a lot of appeal.

    Isn't it awful that even though it happens every time and you got through it, there's that tiny voice that keeps whispering, "But what if you don't this time?" URGH!!!!!! Picture me running with my hair on fire! I'm printing your post for the suggestions.

  24. thanks Deb R for those ideas...It's funny that I'm concerned about her being likable--the characters in GONE GIRL sure weren't and that book sold a zillion copies! But I don't think I could live with characters like that...

    Grandma Cootie--thank you!!

    Daryl, love your ideas for jumpstarting--it's like I've never done this before, every time!

    and Kait, yes! what if this time we can't pull it off? but we will! good luck to you

  25. Roberta,

    I don't like reading about unlikable characters. In one series that I've been reading for a couple of years, there doesn't seem to be even one person that I would ever want to know. I've borrowed the latest book from the library and am about halfway through it. Everyone is annoying or unethical, and I have no desire to finish reading it. I usually feel like I have a contract with the author to finish reading each book. Now I'm telling myself that I can instead use that time to something that gives me pleasure! I'm sure you can make your psychologist likable!

    Deb Romano

  26. "to READ something that gives me pleasure". Gee, Deb...

    Deb Romano

  27. Sounds like you should turn that one back into the library Deb!

  28. Looking over your list, it seems to me the most usable choice would be number four. Most, if not all, of the rest make someone very unlikeable,due to the immorality or unethical nature of their actions. The inability of psychiatrists (or psychologists) to know which patients will do something harmful to themselves or others would seem to be pretty well-established by now. I could easily see a professional getting sued by parents who want to blame someone for what they themselves could not prevent. I could also see a responsible practitioner doubting their own abilities following an unexpected tragedy,especially if the psychologist believed they had a close relationship with the patient.

  29. Anonymous, yes! that reasoning makes a lot of sense. Now today I have to look at all the wonderful suggestions again and see if I can come up with a page that makes sense...stay tuned...

  30. I totally agree with Hallie. Even though she broke the rules, it had to be for the very best reason. The kind of reason for which all of us would applaud her. It seems to me that psychologists would hear a lot of very deep dark secrets. Which one was so terrible that she acted on it, even though it was prohibited by the rules of ethics?

    Alternatively, someone could have used her, involved her in a scheme with a tragic outcome.

    And for the record, I have these problems, too. Every story has lots of arms, and I fear it's inevitable that as we write, we encounter one that we haven't thought through. I do a lot of pacing and get absolutely no sympathy. All I hear is, "You say that about every book!" Grr.

  31. Roberta -- she knew her patient was planning to kill someone and didn't notify the authorities -- can't therapists set aside confidentiality in cases like that? Aren't they supposed to? I do wonder about that--it's a lovely grey area that could be fun to explore. But then, the question would be: Why didn't she notify the authorities, and the answer to that could be something deep and dark in her backstory. :-)

  32. thanks Krista, it's always *some* help to hear other writers say they struggle with this plotting beast too (not that I wish that on you!)

    Lisa, thanks, yes. Therapists are obligated to tell the authorities when they believe the patient is a danger to him/herself or someone else. Of course making that judgement is not so easy in real life! And yes to the complicated backstory!!