Saturday, January 15, 2022

What We're Writing Week - Julia Goes Hunting

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I wish I could come up with a theme for what I'm sharing with you today, like Lucy talking about distinguishing characters and Debs on revealing character with interior design. No, this excerpt from AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY is here because, as we can all testify, it gets hard to share pieces of the work-in-progress without giving something away!

This is a piece that comes at the end of the first act, when I've set up the protagonists, and the problem, and sent them on their journey. This is the point in the manuscript where I like to jump out and yell BOO! to my readers. I confess, the desire to have a shocker after several chapters of sedate sleuthing is what leads to my well-known habit of not having any bodies until a hundred pages into the book. 

 

When he saw the two men near a makeshift blind, his first reaction was annoyance. A birder had reported hearing firearms discharge in this area, so he had taken the day to check it out, but honestly, any birder who had trekked this far into the Adirondack Park at the beginning of December to knock a few nuthatches off their list couldn't be all that reliable. Although he had spotted a Golden-crowned kinglet when he disturbed a spruce thicket. That was cool.

No, he was annoyed because he'd been enjoying his so-far perfect day in the woods, and now these two were going to get up his nose when he ticketed them. It was one day past deer season, and there were always sports who couldn't get away from the office on Friday and figured it was no big deal to show up on Saturday afternoon instead. These yahoos didn't even have blaze orange on, and he'd have to write them up for that as well. He liked hunting as much as anyone, but rules were rules for a reason, and letting one day slide became one week, and then you had fools trying to harvest deer in January, and likely getting lost and frostbit to boot.

Hey, there, fellas.” He emerged from the brush he'd been using to get the lay of the land and waved. He wasn't worried about them bolting – there was no sign of an ATV anywhere, and neither of the pair looked fit enough to make it more'n a few dozen yards at top speed. Even dirt roads were scarce in this part of the High Peaks - he had left his four-wheel drive over a mile away. “Season ended yesterday, and you're not properly dressed. I'm going to have to see your IDs and hunting licenses.”

They turned, and their rifles came up, and he heard a BOOM-crack and a blow like an oak tree splitting and he tilted over and fell into the leaf mold and the long pine needles and saw the birds, more birds than he would have imagined, fleeing and shrieking into the dimming sky.

 

Dear readers, I have two questions: do I need to identify this viewpoint character as a NYS Forest Ranger? And should I give him a name? (He is named later on, when the question of what happened to him becomes relevant.)





84 comments:

  1. Oh, man . . . I just KNEW something bad was going to happen. [And now I’m wondering just what sort of nefarious thing those guys are up to, anyway, since they felt it was necessary to shoot the Forest Ranger] . . . .

    ::sigh::

    I didn’t mind not knowing his name in this piece and I don't think he needs to be identified here, especially since you’ve said readers will learn his name later on . . . .

    By the second paragraph it was clear that he was a Ranger [or someone official], so I don’t think it’s necessary to label him as a Forest Ranger in these paragraphs . . . especially since I imagine readers will know that, too, as the story progresses.

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    1. I know, Joan, I was sad to see him killed. :-)

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  2. Whoa. I love that the poor ranger knows his birds, and you gave him a distinct voice. I hope he survives - and expect he doesn't.

    I don't think he desperately needs a name, but it might help to anchor the reader. As Joan says, it becomes clear he is a wildlife official of some sort. Me, I would like know what sort.

    I also want to know when this book is going to release, Julia! Dying to read more.

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    1. At this point, Edith, I haven't decided if he's dead or not. He's the Schrodinger's cat of characters.

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  3. Julia, I don’t think he needs a name, nor identity as a forest ranger, especially because of what my imagination did with this short bit of your story. You see, this man felt to me like Kevin…who having had enough of crime and evil and fighting had moved to job that gave him a place for peace, and that the men in the blind were the victims. Finding them would smash Kevin’s peace. Lovely bit of writing. Like Edith dying to read more.

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    1. No, please let it not be Kevin!

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    2. I thought of Kevin right away, too. Just sounded like him.

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    3. Elisabeth, that's great, because one of the things I wanted was to make the reader wonder if there just might be a chance it was Kevin...

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    4. I thought it was Kevin, too!

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    5. and same with me. and I hope he doesn't have to die for us!

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    6. First thing I thought, please don't let this be Kevin. But when he identified the bird, I said Hmmm maybe not...��

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  4. JULIA: Yikes, I knew that was going to happen to the (unidentified) ranger! I don't think you need to identify his title but it would be good to have his name somewhere in the scene.

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    1. Yeah, when people go walking in the woods in my books, you know something bad will happen...

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  5. He knows his birds and doesn't need a name. For a nanosecond, I thought it was Kevin, but he's not a birder. Great scene!

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  6. It’s pretty clear to me that he’s a forest ranger. If he’s going to be identified later, I don’t think the poor guy needs a name here.

    When do we get the rest of the book?

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    1. I'm working on it, Liz - after, I have to admit, dropping it cold all through December. Every year I say I can do Christmas AND write, and every year I'm proved wrong.

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  7. WOW! I like the suspense of not knowing who it was that got shot at.

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  8. I agree with Lucy, it's perfect as it is! We'll learn all about him at the post mortem.

    Seriously, I knew it was not Kevin because he would not have naively approached two armed men in the woods assuming that they were just a couple of scofflaw hunters.

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    1. Good point, Judy. One of the things I learned from my friend Paul Doiron is that, while forest rangers (Game wardens in Maine) are LEOs, they're used to a lot of low-level, non-dangerous encounters with people breaking fishing and hunting laws. So, assuming these are two not-very-ept hunters, my ranger isn't going to be on guard.

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    2. I thought of Paul Doiron right away, Julia. A different voice, but just re-read "The Poacher's Son," so it was on my mind. I think your balance is just right as it is.

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  9. Perfect scene. Neither his name nor his agency need to be included unless the information serves some additional purpose. You've done a great job giving him a distinct voice and making the reader care about him.

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  10. I knew it was either a forest or park ranger, too. Cops rarely have the leisure or the focus on wildlife to identify birds. And a regular cop would not have automatically assumed it was a city slicker out for a spot of out of season deer hunting.

    Sounds like we will get to know his name, one way or the other.

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    1. I'm glad the details carried it for you, Karen.

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  11. This is terrific! Though I would journey into the woods to see a nuthatch ;-)
    Wouldn't he show some kind of ID or identify himself when he emerges from the brush?

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    1. I was thinking of you when I wrote this, Hallie! I didn't have him ID himself because rangers wear distinctive uniforms, and any hunter would recognize that.

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  12. I think we knew right off he was a forest ranger because of the neat picture you provided. Without it, I might be kind of slow to figure it out, although the ticketing should tell us that. I like this version of Joe Pickett! At this point I think his name would be meaningless. Unless it was a very familiar name to us.

    But I have a question: does deer season up there really end on a Friday?That seems awfully dumb to me. I'm pretty sure around here they all end on a Sunday. Well. I just looked it up and bowhunting and crossbow do end on a Friday while regular ends on a Sunday. At least this was true for 2021.

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    1. There are other kinds of hunting that start when deer season ends, too: bird (different kinds, like grouse, pheasant and dove), squirrel, and rabbit--although rabbits are usually hunted with dogs, and in brush rather than woods.

      Crossbow hunting is very popular, so that's entirely conceivable, right?

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    2. Yes, it is. You are right. But these guys apparently had rifles.

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    3. Judi, rifle (or "regular" deer hunting in NY State ends on a date, not a day, and the date varies according to what part of the state you're in. In the year calendar I'm using, that date was a Friday, and this scene follows another taking place at the same time with Russ and Clare.

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    4. Thanks, Julia. I cannot wait to read the book!

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  13. Ah, Julia! What a start to my Saturday morning, she whines. How long before I can read some more, she whines again.

    I'm with Kait and Hallie--we have a feeling what's going to happen, but whether we need to know his name and position depends on what you need this scene to do for the story. Terrific scene!!!!

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  14. Love the way you set the scene, the peace, the birdwatching, and then the shock, and the sight of the birds fleeing. It works really well. But have you moved the story out of Miller's Kill? I only ask because the area you usually write about (the SE corner of the Adirondack Park near Lake George) is many miles from the High Peaks Wilderness Area. Very intrigued by this snippet - I am hooked.

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    1. JC, I am moving part of this story well away from Millers Kill, yes. In part because Russ isn't involved in any official police investigation, and can go where he will (or where the bad guys are, more to the point.)

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  15. Believe or not I have altar linens to iron this morning so a brief comment, then I'll be back later. Since I don't know if the park is federal or state, me being a west coast person, that might be the only bit of information I might want. Will the shooting of this ranger be a federal crime or state crime?

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    1. Good question, Deana! Adirondack Park is a state park, the largest in the United States. Any crimes within its boundaries are prosecuted by New York State unless they involve another federal statute (like, say, a civil rights violation.)

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  16. Oh, you say "when he ticketed them," and that "someone had reported" so he's clearly a law enforcement type, one who knows his birds. And yes, when he calls out, he'd say his credentials.. you are SO GOOD!

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  17. He was going to ticket them, so I knew he was law enforcement. But the first thing that popped into my head was why he was approaching two armed men, alone. They weren’t wearing orange, so it seemed to me they were up to no good. The Ranger needed help, in my opinion. I worried about him being out there alone, hunting for hunters.

    I want to read more!! You are a tease, Julia Spencer-Fleming!!

    DebRo

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  18. As long as the name was not Kevin I can wait to find out who Schroedinger's Ranger is/was.

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    1. I should start a fan club called Kare for Kevin. He's a popular guy!

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  19. Perfect as is. It is obvious to me he is a game warden and he doesn't need to be named at this point. We'll find out later, I'm sure. So perfect! A man out enjoying the woods, doing his job, politely confronts two yahoos. And they gun him down. Please let Schrodinger survive.

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  20. Just ecstatic to hear the next book is in process<3!

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  21. It works as-is and I spent the whole time wondering if Kevin had become a strangely relaxed ranger with a newfound enthusiasm for birds.

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    1. Well, it's never been said that Kevin doesn't like birds...

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    2. Right. So the guy can recognize a few birds. So what? I can too and that doesn't make me a birder. Anyone who spends time in the woods is bound to know several birds. Because he spotted a kinglet some people seem to think it must be a particular hobby of his. Julia is right in saying it has never been said that he isn't into birds. Who knows? Still might or might not be Kevin. And yes, Julia, we all adore Kevin!

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  22. Love that you are asking for readers' perspectives... And...I didn't think the guy needed a name at that point... BUT...please don't let it be Kevin... Best wishes to you for continued progress on this next book in the series. And...I hope that The Promises begin to come true for Clare on her road / journey of healing...

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    1. First I have to get her to stand up and say, "My name is Clare, and I'm an alcoholic." That's the hard step.

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    2. Yes...that is the hard step. Sometimes, the "definition" of what is an alcoholic gets in the way of a person admitting that they are one. But...to me...deep down...Clare loves the truth, because it is the path that she has chosen to walk as a pastor. A person who drinks to hide their truth is one who will hit bottom many times. I'm from an alcoholic family...and have grieved more than I can share...however, I can also say that in the meetings of AA, I have found that through truth, love and acceptance comes. I hope that Clare gets there. She deserves it. Please let her know and feel that, by saying it, she is sharing truth and love. And...that's what she really wants life to be. Clare...please open up to be truly free. Thank you for listening.

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    3. Thank you, U.N. Owen. I have the same family background, so I'm very much listening.

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  23. Good scene, Julia, with perfect underlying tension. And obvious to me that he was a ranger

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  24. It is pretty clear that he is some kind of ranger but wouldn't he identify himself out loud when he came out of the bush? Not knowing that he is law enforcement might play into the plot later, though I don't suppose it really matters who you shoot in the long run. Pretty tough to survive two rifles at close range though, so I would presume he was dead and would have some trouble with the idea that he survived. The riff on the birds actually gives some depth to the guy since he seems to be critiquing the obsession of birding rather than the art of knowing the birds.

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    1. Thank you, CD! Those are some very thoughtful comments, and I appreciate them.

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  25. Perfect as is. I feel I must already KNOW his name, as I live in the very highest of the High Peaks of the Adirondacks. Delighted to have you venturing up here!

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    1. I love your user name! And I'm happy to be able to get out of Millers Kill in this book - although not TOO far away. I want to keep my ADK cred.

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    3. Thanks, Julia. Your books are very popular in the local library! I wanted to add that your point, made above, that forest rangers are accustomed to a lot of low-level stuff is even more true in this high tourism area. We certainly have an enthusiastic hunting season, and it is regulated, but here in the High Peaks my own bet would be that 85%+ of Rangers' work is dealing with tourists who are clueless hikers and need rescue. We have these headlines every month of the year. https://www.newyorkupstate.com/outdoors/2021/11/hikers-reach-summit-of-mount-marcy-wearing-sneakers-in-8-inch-snow-then-call-rangers-for-a-ride.html

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    4. Oh, good lord. Hiking Mount Marcy in sneakers. I believe it.

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  26. Julia, this is perfect. I wouldn't change a thing. I knew he was a ranger, and I didn't think it was Kevin. I do hope he survives, but given that this is a murder mystery, I'm not too hopeful. On the other hand, there can be more victims!!!

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  27. You've reminded me of why my Minnesota friends stay indoors or away from the woods during hunting season. One year a woman was shot hanging her laundry, and the hunter wasn't charged.
    It does seem odd for him to be unnamed, but it's clear he's a wildlife officer.
    BTW, I was told that during the Depression, in MN it was "open season on rangers." People feeding families didn't fool around.

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    1. My father and I had quite the argument about that case!

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    2. There was a similar case here in Maine in the late eighties, Mary - a woman was out in her backyard, wearing white mittens. She was from away, as we say, and in an area where suburban-style development was encroaching on wooded areas. The hunter was acquitted.

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    3. Yes, that's the case we argued about. My father said she shouldn't have been out there, waving her white mittens around. I wanted to scream!

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    4. I agree with you, Judi. There should have been some penalty. My hunter friends say you shouldn't shoot unless you KNOW what you are shooting at.

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  28. I assumed he was a ranger, although I suppose you could make it clearer if you feel the need to. I think it's fine not naming him until you hear about what happened. His seeing the birds broke my heart a little bit. Excellent piece of work, my dear.

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  29. A member of the Kevin Klub here. While I considered him a possibility, I c/n remember him ever being involved in hunting--the Park Ranger was a hunter per the text. I could see Kevin as someone who is familiar w/ various bird species. He is a bit eclectic in his interests.

    Keep his name under wraps for a bit but do emphasize that park rangers, wardens in many states can arrest for crimes beyond expired hunting/fishing licenses. Can see these two dolts being involved in human trafficking or the drug business. In addition they have delberatly shot/killed a LEO. They are in deep trouble

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    1. They are, Darlene, and there's another ranger in the story who explains how they're fully functional LEOs. I don't want to step on my friend Paul Doiron's toes, but I do find rangers/wardens fascinating.

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  30. I knew his official capacity immediately because here in Harrisburg PA area we had a real life game officer killed a few years ago by two poachers.

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    1. Oooo, Emily, I'll have to look up that case.

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  31. I figured out it was a person of authority,
    But I don't need to know the name - yet. It could be Kevin or Russ?

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    1. I wanted it to be mysterious and anxiety-provoking for the reader, Saxlady!

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