The magic of fear in writing

Karalee’s Post #132

fearI was musing the other day, thinking about all the emotions and sensations people go through during their lives. Most of us at some point have felt excitement, joy, peace, terror, pain, sadness, ecstasy, fear, happiness, contentment, anxiety, cold, hot, restless, panicked, relaxed, blissful, etc.

Then, in my writer’s way, I wondered  what underlies all the bad feelings and what can change all the good ones into bad ones. I realized that the common denominator is FEAR.

The definition of fear is:  an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain, or a threat.

The magic of this definition for writers is the word belief.

Think about that. We can make our characters believe anything we want. We create their lives from inception to death, building their belief system through their experiences, and those experiences can trigger reactions and behaviors throughout their lives.

Why is fear so magical? Fear is a great motivator for action to get away from the danger that is likely to cause pain or threaten the character. The fear can be up front and physical like getting run over by a truck, or a swarm of bees heading your way. Fear can also be perceived in one’s mind. Now that’s magical. It’s also endless in the scenarios that can be conjured by the hand of a writer. Inside one’s mind is where psychological manifestations blossom, where beliefs flourish whether they are true or false.

For example, if a character was bitten by a dog when he was a child, he may panic when he hears a dog bark even if the dog is locked inside and can’t harm him. Even more powerful, the character could panic at the mere thought of a dog being close by even if there is no dog at all. The truth here is that there is no danger at all, but the character can still be in a state of fear.

Fear is a great tension builder. It’s the monster under the bed, the darkness hiding all the bad things in the night, it’s one’s imagination running terrifyingly free in one’s mind. Its a veritable treasure chest for a writer to pull from.

Does happiness or excitement compel characters to flee, or murder, or do other criminal acts? Or is it the fear of losing someone you love that causes you to murder the lover? It certainly isn’t in the moment of happiness that characters do bad things.

I can’t think of another emotion that’s as strong and compelling as fear to make characters engage in extreme actions to get away from danger or the threat of danger whether it’s real or perceived.

Can you?


Perspective Photos:

cypress snow








bird in snow







Happy writing!

Historical thrillers anyone?

maxresdefaultHelga’s Post # 120:

Those of you who have followed my blog posts know that I am a writer and devoted fan of reading fiction. Especially historical suspense fiction. British author John le Carré’s espionage novels have long topped the list of my reading pleasure.

But writers need to be flexible, casting their nets wide in search of worthwhile morsels for their own stories. With this in mind, I thought I should check out a non-fiction title on the list of my on-again-off-again book club: ‘Dead Wake – The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson.

The WHO? I was intrigued by the subject, admittedly unknown to me. What would motivate me to read a four hundred plus page book about a passenger ship (other than the Titanic) going down during WWI? Not that there is ever an event where lives are lost that is insignificant. Every one of them is. But in the overall scheme of history, aren’t there just as many, or more, sensational events to read about?

I was curious. There must have been SOME reason for my book club to select this particular title. When I brought it home from the local library I researched the author who at this point was unknown to me. My eyes widened. He’d written at least six highly acclaimed books, most notably In the Garden of Beasts – Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin. Most of his books had garnered solid five-star reviews.

In terms of Dead Wake, according to The New York Times Sunday Book Review, few tales in history are more haunting, more tangled with investigatory mazes or more fraught with toxic secrets than that of the final voyage of the Lusitania, one of the colossal tragedies of maritime history. It’s the other Titanic, the story of a mighty ship sunk not by the grandeur of nature but by the grimness of man.

I continued researching other works of the author. His next title, Thunderstruck, was equally starred. That story too had me going. Here, Larson gives us history, stranger than fiction, brought to life by his attention to detail and skilled writing:

“The saga of how the lives of the inventor of wireless and of Britain’s second most famous murderer (after Jack the Ripper) intersected during one of the greatest criminal chases of all time. The inventor was G. Marconi, the young Italian genius; the killer was Hawley Harvey Crippen, who murdered his overbearing wife and fled Britain with his mistress, unaware that Scotland Yard was hot on his heels. The book—an instant New York Times bestseller—brings to life a host of forgotten characters, including spirit mediums, ghost-hunting physicists, Scotland Yard inspectors, and one of the great pioneers of forensic science. The climax occurs during a trans-Atlantic chase which, thanks to the miracle of Marconi’s invention, was followed by millions of people around the world—with Crippen and his mistress completely unaware.”

History, told at its best. History that reads like the best of thrillers.

Larsen captured four more historical events that, by themselves, may hold little interest for the average reader. But with his meticulous research and skilled writing, he was able to forge these events into fascinating, richly coloured stories. His books are truly hard to put down after the first page or two.

What fascinates me about these non-fiction books is the way they are written. They lure me to keep on reading, even though I have never heard of the Lusitania before. It’s the detail that has me snared from the get-go. And this is what I would like to do in my own writing, in historical suspense fiction. Take Larsen’ first paragraph of Dead Wake:

“On the night of May 6, 2015, as his ship approached the coast of Ireland, Capt. William Thomas Turner left the bridge and made his way to the first-class lounge, where passengers were taking part in a concert and talent show, a customary feature of Cunard crossings. The room was large and warm, paneled in mahogany and carpeted in green and yellow, with two fourteen-foot-tall fireplaces in the front and rear walls. Ordinarily Turner avoided events of this kind aboard ship, because he disliked the social obligations of captaincy, but tonight was no ordinary night, and he had news to convey.”

What news? I had to keep reading. And the suspense increased with every page. And yes, the devil is in the detail – Larson made good use of archives and cleverly weaved in those seemingly unimportant and gossipy snippets of dialogue and letters that readers are so fond of.

In all, a good, no excellent, example of how skilled writing, with attention to detail – especially small detail – and relationships between various characters can propel a story to bestseller status. Even better if the context of the story is a true historical event. In a previous post I wrote about this topic between a captured Russian spy and his American defender (Tom Hanks) in the movie Bridge of Spies. Here too the actual event is overshadowed by the characters’ relationship and the small details that made it so memorable.

There is no moral to the story, to my post. Just random musings about how we writers can harvest useful morsels from a variety of sources – and enjoy ourselves in the process. Readers love to read about characters, their relationships and conflicts, interesting dialogue, colourful settings and detail, and especially if the context is a historical event.

Add a good dose of suspense and readers will be along for the ride. From page one to The End. Fiction or non-fiction.


Surprises heighten emotions

Karalee’s Post #67

My 5Writer friends have been discussing the need to have and the difficulty of creating surprises, conflicts, and suspense in their writing. Even the joy of reading for reading sake seems like a lost pleasure in today’s generation, taken over by social media, video games, movies and TV.

So is all the time and effort worth it to keep writing stories that we fear the new generation has no interest in reading anyway?

Well I must confess that I have spent most of my reading hours in the last couple of months viewing Downton Abbey (now into its fourth season) and House of Cards (in its second season). Before now I hadn’t watched either and I wanted to understand what my friends were talking about.

Beyond a doubt I’m enjoying both series, and although the plot-lines are very different I keep watching them for the same reasons: the characters and the element of surprise and suspense.

downton abbeyI find that Downton Abbey is more predictable in its plot-line, but I’m still entertained due to the  the awesome setting in the abbey as well as the characters and their interactions and changes.



house of cardsAs for House of Cards, the element of surprise has me intrigued. The protagonist Francis Underwood (an antihero) is devious and malicious yet shows that he cares for his wife enough that he isn’t totally unlikable (although he is becoming more unlikable as the series continues). By the time Francis murdered Peter Russo, a Democrat running for Governor of Pennsylvania, I was expecting it, but when Francis pushed the reporter Zoe Barnes in front of an oncoming commuter train, I was completely blown away.

At first I couldn’t believe it. Why would the scriptwriters kill the person that I related to the most in the series? I LIKED Zoe. She had balls to stand up to Francis (now VP of the Unites States) and I was rooting for her to take him down!

To dissect this turn-of-events, it isn’t the fact that Francis murdered Zoe that bothered me, it’s the fact that Zoe is dead. Out of the series. Gone. Kaput.

zoe in house of cardsNow what? I was depending on Zoe to do great things in the series. She was bright, cute and gutsy. How could the scriptwriters get rid of her?

I found my feelings of disbelief, disappointment- and yes- anger, quite intriguing. Then, before watching the next episode I put my writer’s hat back on and asked myself: What has killing Zoe achieved?

  • total surprise, which caused my above emotional responses.
  • curiosity. Now what? Someone has to take Zoe’s place and go after the antihero Francis Underwood. Francis can’t literally get away with murder and ultimately become the president of the US!
  • Zoe’s replacement will also be in danger, so suspense is still high and I want to keep watching to see what happens.

Now with Zoe being literally killed off, it made me think about the characters I’m developing in my next story. I had NEVER thought about getting rid of one of my main characters that I’m literally telling my story through. It’s like killing the detective in a mystery.

But why not? It is absolutely a way to bring a new main character on stage to keep the story going. It may not be what I choose to do, but on the other hand it has opened my eyes to seeing other possibilities.

And it’s these other possibilities that not only keep writers writing, it also pulls in readers (or even starts people reading) and gets producers excited about turning our books into movies.

No, I don’t believe that readers are a dying breed, but they do expect a good story with unexpected twists and turns in order to devote their time to reading the book or even watching it in movie form.

Have surprises you’ve experienced through someone else’s storytelling enriched your own writing? 

The Secret of being a bore…

Square Peg in a Round HoleHelga’s Post #72: … is to tell everything (Voltaire)

Joe’s previous post, ‘Surprise, Surprise’ opened up a vast opportunity for discussion of planning a novel. Why? Because so much of a book’s ultimate success hinges on this one part of a story. After all, who doesn’t like a story that’s unpredictable? But, as Joe said, it’s not easy.

In my own writing, I never know during the planning stage how I will surprise my readers. If I would know myself there’s the danger that my readers will smell a rat and can figure it out well before they get to the dreaded, sagging middle. Ultimately, I want to surprise myself, and I often do when I have to research a certain element in my story. Suddenly information emerges that totally catches me off guard, and this forces me to change my plot. Often it leads to unexpected opportunities that make my story more quirky, more unique. I think that’s the main reason why I keep resisting the outlining process. I realize that mine is a flawed process, but getting an organic writer to do a scene by scene and chapter by chapter outline before writing the first sentence is like… well, you know the cliché of the square peg.

I would like to chat about another important element of a good story, related, yet different to surprise, namely Suspense. I know this has been over-discussed and over-worked, but I always find it fascinating to explore new angles.

First off, what elements create suspense in a story?

Two things have to happen: Conflict and tension (no, they are not the same as suspense). Interaction of juxtaposing opinions is conflict; interaction of conflict and players creates tension. Add a time element to tension and voila, we have created suspense.

Suspense is not created equal. It comes in a myriad of forms. Readers who love police procedurals will be thrilled with a nail-biting denouement of a shootout or last-moment capture of a villain before he blows up a school. Romance readers will get their pound of flesh (cliché intended), when their heroine faces the biggest betrayal of her life – the man she sacrificed everything for has impregnated her younger sister and she has to decide on how to take revenge, or, escalating the suspense, find ways to forgive. Perhaps a mother has to choose between saving her small child on the railroad tracks or cause the train with two hundred passengers to derail. Or something.

Suspense can also be much more subtle, yet no less intriguing. In literary novels it can take on psychological or emotional suspense, like the protagonist’s spouse slowly descending into mental illness, or her closest friend revealing a personality trait that devastates her and she may never recover from the loss of loyalty. Just as antipathy, dissimilarity of views, hate, contempt, all can accompany true love, according to Canadian media guru Marshall McLuhan. That too is suspense in the hands of a skilled writer.
Either way, suspense, will keep your readers’ noses in your book and have them line up at Chapters on the first morning your sequel is up for sale. I was surprised therefore when a friend and one of my beta readers of Taste of the Past (culinary mystery co-written with Paula) said there was too much conflict in the book. “These people are always fighting”, was her feedback. “It spoiled all that delicious food and the sunsets and beautiful Tuscan landscape.”

Did she have a point? At first reflection I dismissed her feedback as coming from a reader who does not appreciate the value and necessity of suspense and conflict. After all, ‘Cut quarrels out of literature, and you will have very little history or drama or fiction or epic poetry left’, said American sociologist Robert S. Lynd some decades ago.

Upon further reflection, maybe my beta-reading friend was right – or partially so. Perhaps we missed some subtle nuances. We wrote that book eight years ago, my first serious effort at writing a full novel. ‘Conflict in every scene’ was the credo we’d been taught and that’s the one Paula and I wrote by. Could it be that the conflict my friend referred to was too obvious, too in-your-face? Maybe the stakes weren’t clear enough or high enough and we might have over-compensated with too much outward and petty fighting. I hope we find the time to do a serious edit of our manuscript. After having the benefit of eight years of learning and practicing writing with our capable critique group, who knows what good will come of it.

But I am sure of this: I am loath to bore my readers. I’d rather start knitting socks. As Jean Baudrillard reminds us, the world’s second worst crime is boredom. The first is being a bore.


The series game has one rule


Mea culpa – yes, I’m a day late again this week. Sorry to intrude on Paula’s Tuesday again, but the good news is that you may be getting two-posts-for-the-price-of-one today!

Silk’s Post #70 — Does anyone writing genre fiction even think about writing a stand-alone novel anymore?

Series. That’s the holy grail. The brass ring. The magic word that rolls off the tongue like the sexy serpent in the Garden of Eden. SSSS-e-r-i-e-s. Or, visualized another way:


But listen up, fellow emerging writers (aka the great not-yet-published hoard): if writing one novel – and getting it published – is a mountain climb, then writing a commercially successful series is like climbing every mountain in the Hindu Kush.

So, if this is what you’re up to, sharpen your pitons, load up your backpack that weighs as much as a small horse, and prepare to experience some oxygen deprivation. Best I can advise you if you’re afraid of heights or doubt your fitness for this trip is: don’t look down, lean forward, and just keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Truthfully, aren’t all genre writers — especially those of us who lust to see our names on the mystery-suspense-crime-thriller-legal shelves — really dreaming of series?

Who are our idols, if not James Patterson, Scott Turow, Sue Grafton, Ian Rankin, Elizabeth George, John le Carré, James Lee Burke, Jeffery Deaver, Patricia Cornwell, Donna Leon, David Baldacci, Sara Paretsky, Jo Nesbo, Tom Clancy, Anne Perry, Walter Mosley, Robert Crais, Janet Evanovich, Lee Child, P.D. James, Harlen Coben, Robert B. Parker, Peter Robinson, Elmore Leonard, Kathy Reichs, John Connolly and Michael Connelly?

And who were their idols but Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Erle Stanley Gardiner, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Mickey Spillane, John D. MacDonald … even Carolyn Keene and Franklin W. Dixon, who hooked them on mysteries at a tender age?

You can add your own favourite names to these lists, but it’s a good bet that most of them – like these – will have two things in common. First, they are authors of series. Second, they created famous protagonists – memorable characters who returned the favour and made their authors famous.

And that is the one inviolable rule in this business of series fiction. A great protagonist.

To climb the mountain, you need to invent an intriguing, enduring alter-ego to accompany you. Not just accompany you, but lead you through the snowdrifts of saggy middles, rescue you from the trackless wilderness of boredom and obscurity, and pull you up over the precipice when you’re dangling by a thread. A protagonist who is strong enough, smart enough, complex enough, resourceful enough, engaging enough, vulnerable enough, and likeable enough to climb to the heights, fall to the depths, recover and triumph. Again and again. Evolving somehow with each new story, but always solid at the core.

You can certainly have a memorable protagonist in a stand-alone book (for instance, it’s hard to believe that Dashiell Hammett’s larger-than-life Sam Spade appeared in only one full length novel, The Maltese Falcon). But it’s hard to pull off a series without a memorable “anchor” protagonist (it takes a talent like Scott Turow to establish a multi-protagonist series like his Kindle County stories, and even so he knits them together with recurring characters).

But remember: you will have to live with this protagonist for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health – possibly until death do you part. So you better love and cherish him or her if you want your readers to do the same.

Once you know that character to the bone, you can drop plot after plot on his or her head, and your protagonist will come alive and spring into action – and action is the lifeblood of story.

Okay, now to the fun part! Can you pair these famous protagonists with their authors? Answers are shown at the end for those who can’t guess whodunnit …



1-p; 2-o; 3-q; 4-t; 5-w; 6-y; 7-d; 8-l; 9-c; 10-r; 11-v; 12-g; 13-u; 14-b; 15-j; 16-k; 17-i;
18-n; 19-x; 20-h; 21-f; 22-z; 23-e; 24-a; 25-m; 26-s.


the-lineupFor an extremely insightful and entertaining look into the hearts and souls of some of the most beloved detective protagonists and their creators, read The Lineup edited by the legendary Otto Penzler, in which “The World’s Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives”… in their own words and style. Published by Back Bay Books, an imprint of Little Brown, this book is a gem that belongs on every crime writer’s shelf.

Make them suffer


Joe’s Post #42 – That was my mantra at the writer’s retreat. “Make your heroes suffer.” Make it hard for them.  Or, as Silk put it, torture them.

But here’s the thing. Like my fellow writers have said, that can lead to melodrama and pointless infliction of disasters upon the hero. Lemme give you an example.

We have our main character, Joe, a heroic sounding fellow, who gets hit by a car on the way to work. That’s suffering, right? While he’s lying there, his arm broken and the bone sticking through his skin (yuck!), someone comes and takes his iphone, his collection of vintage Star Wars figures (NOT TOYS!!!) and his shoes for some reason, then kicks him in the nuts. Ouch. More suffering. But wait, the ambulance arrives but skids on a patch of ice and runs over his legs, then crashes into a telephone pole that falls not to the left of him, not to the right of him, but bang, wham, right onto his chest, and before poor old Joe can say holy sh*t, wtf is happening, a bomb explodes and he’s riddled with shrapnel and while he’s screaming in agony, the last thing he sees is a meteor heading straight for him.

perilsSuffering? Sure. I guess. But would you want to read this? Maybe Jerry Bruckheimer would, but it’s just a pile of bad crap happening to heroic Joe. That’s not a story. That’s not what I meant by making him suffer.

Suffering is so much more. It’s about making the impossible choices. Which child would you save and which one would you let die? What are the consequences of the choices made and how can they affect the character? It’s about personal stakes and how can things matter to the hero?

Or, something simpler. Our heroic Cop-Joe walks into a bar looking to find a serial killer. He says, “hey, I need to know something,” and the bartender says, “sure, you need to know about the guy who came in her last night, all covered in blood wearing a name tag that said, ‘Hi, my name’s Bob Bobbington’ and oh he dropped his wallet so here’s his address and an NRA card that says he owns an AR-15 and he’s written on the back of the card that he’s booby-trapped the door with explosives.” To which Joe says, “Thanks, I was looking for directions to the bathroom but whatever.”

Who wants to read a scene like that? It’s way, way too easy for our hero. To make that scene harder for him, what if it’s an old bar he used to visit but now he’s a cop and not welcome there? What if the bartender doesn’t actually want to talk to him? What if the bartender lies? What if the bar is full of bikers or rabid Harry Potter fans who think Cop-Joe looks like Voldemort? Oh the possibilities.

Suffering should be less about random occurrences that plop on the character’s head like bird poo. They should be born of the actions the hero takes and the personal choices that are made, but also born of the wants/desires/hopes/fears of those the hero encounters, the obstacles faced and overcome (or not). The poor bugger doesn’t have to suffer on every page, but the harder it is for the character to reach his goal, the more the choices have consequences which may make things EVEN HARDER, the more the scene, the chapter, the story can sizzle.

At least for me.

As I start my rewrite, I know there are places where I can make the choices harder, make my stakes more personal, make my character suffer as much by their own hand as much as anything.

Oh, I have a few scenes in my book that are like that. One character ends up destroying what she set out to save. Another has to make a terrible sacrifice at the end.

But oh, I can do so much better.

And I will.

Pages Rewritten: 15

Queries this Week: 1

Rejections: 1

Cool Movies Seen: 2 (See The Heat, freaking hilarious. See Man of Steel, but go knowing it’s not the greatest movie ever made.)

Timing is everything, no matter the genre

Mexico resort

Karalee’s Post #28 — I took last week off with my family in Mexico for Spring Break. I knew of Paula’s imminent goodbye to Contessa and all our 5Writer’s hearts are with her and John.

Thanks for sharing your story Paula.

Time marches on and that is something none of us can control no matter how many anti-wrinkle creams are invented and applied.

Although all around the world time is measured precisely, to me it is also relative:

  • one’s entire lifetime can be reviewed in minutes
  • childhood is  measured in milestones attached to age, often in weeks and months
  • every day can be split into segments; daytime/nighttime, hours, seconds, minutes
  • a year can be measured in months, weeks, days, seasons
  • historical events are often referred to in hundreds of years
  • evolution is measured in thousands or millions of years

There is also time to (or not enough time to):

  • eat, sleep or do other physical activities
  • work and play
  • laugh, cry, love, hate, get angry, etc.

Then there’s the timeline of my novel and every other writer’s novels. Timing is important no matter the genre. A book has to start and end;  scenes, plot-lines and relationships take time to develop; and timing creates tension and suspense whether in a love scene, an epic novel, or like in mine, a mystery thriller.

And timing is my nemesis.

In my outline I drew a timeline based on my protagonist’s recovery from an accident and then returning to work in the midst of my villain’s case. Layered on top of this timeline is the timing of my villain’s crimes and happenings in my protagonist’s personal life. It seemed to work in the table I’d set up, but in writing it out longhand the spread over six months was far too long to keep up the level of tension I wanted.

So I took the advice given in many of the how-to-write-a-great-novel books in my library, and shortened the timeline. And then shortened it again.

I’ve done this and I’m excited about the change in pace. Now the difficulty is lining up all my ducks again so everything happens at the new “corrected” time.

And time is running out.

May 15th is our drop dead send-it-out-no-matter-what time.

And starting June 15th it’s time to start our critiques.

Time will tell.

Why do writers write? Because it isn’t there.

Helga’s Post # 23:

Thomas Berger thought so, and I agree. Here are some reasons why ‘I’ write:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrequently, I get asked what gets me to do this crazy thing, writing fiction. Why am I, and other supposedly rational folks writing a story that takes a fair chunk out of a person’s life from the little that’s left of it. A lot of those grains of sand sinking to the bulging bottom of life’s hourglass on something that may lead – nowhere.

Well, somebody has to tell that story. There’s no choice. If I won’t write it, it will never be told. Imagine the consequences: a story that nobody before me thought of, a story that is incredibly important to me, where I gave birth to people that nowhere else exist but in my mind but who matter to me, people who nobody will ever get to know? A story that I, or any writer for that matter, found important enough to conceive, to think through to the end, to embellish, to change, to improve during many sleepless hours of the night?

Clearly, not writing if you have a story to tell, is not an option. Especially from the point of view of the person who first created it, and, if he or she is a writer, to put it into words and save it for posterity.

Can there be a more noble vocation than writing?Build Your Writer's Platform & Fanbase In 22 Days front cover

Not that it’s a profitable vocation (unless you are writing ‘how-to-get-published’ books or ‘how-to-suck-eggs’ instructions for aspiring authors). Read Joe’s post of yesterday. He puts it bluntly. Even a pimply-faced kid makes more money working at McDonald’s. So writing is not a vocation for the needy.

Which is rather a pity, because they, the needy, are the ones who might have insights into the dark underbelly of society, thoughts about places in the mind where we don’t ever want to go, and of life itself, that those of us who own dishwashers and lawns and Kobo readers and toilets, lack by necessity. Sure we try in some of our writing to convey the raw aspects of life on the fringe. The defeats as well as the triumphs. But let’s face it, if it comes to trying to get into the head of a character who really, really, doesn’t have a clue where he or she will sleep that night, where to get the money for a fix to keep him from going mad, it’s a stretch.

So how to get that across to the reader? Who wants to read about people like that in the first place? Who wants to read about ‘losers’?

Maybe not want, but should. Because it’s a facet of our society that needs to be told. Not only told. Understood. Empathized.

To be sure, much fine writing exists about marginalized people everywhere. On a local level, we are familiar with the topic from authors like our friend and founder of our critique group, Sean Slater, who works as a cop in Vancouver’s downtown Eastside, noted for its high incidence of poverty, drug use, sex trade, crime and violence. Canada’s worst.

Fine writing. Yet, it’s a tall order for any writer to speak from the point of view of its inhabitants, the disenfranchised, unless we’ve lived it ourselves. To tell about their feelings, their hopes and their fears, their longings, their struggle of existence on the streets one day at a time, their view of life itself. Now that would be a challenge for the next novel.

220px-Beats-of-the-southern-wild-movie-posterMaybe it won’t have a wide readership. Then again, who knows? Super heroes don’t always make for the most interesting reading. Think about the movie that got a lot of accolades at the Oscars, ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’. In the hand of a skilled director (or yes, writer) if you push the right button, people will listen. And learn. And support change. Maybe. Unless they have to give up their dishwashers and lawns. And rain showers and French wines (I prefer New Zealand myself).

Good fiction entertains and transport us to different worlds for a while, as it should. As the author promised its readers. Great fiction does all of that, but more: it holds up a mirror and asks us questions that make us squirm. Questions that lure us to lift that rock to see what lives beneath. That makes us take risks discovering something we would rather not to see.

I am reading a novel like that right now. I wished I could write one like that. Maybe the next one.

For now, I am still writing my 5 Writers Challenge novel, a suspense story set in Vancouver and New York. Enjoying the process, and going slow and deliberate like a good tortoise should.

Why so serious?

Joe’s Post #17 — Ok, so it’s been a tough couple of weeks. Lost material. Cold. Blah, blah, blah. Time for some fun.

spamFor some reason I don’t completely understand, our beloved blog has been splooged by spam. Yesterday alone, I deleted 76 spam messages. I’m not sure what we did to deserve such attention, but I thought I’d share some of the spam with you all. For the record, not a single word or comma has been changed.

“so theyre sending i pot-dealing WoW player to prisonWay to continue, Johnny Law, thats about as harmless while he come.” Ok, wft? I mean, seriously, wtf?

“Right affinity foresees the requirements of other sorts of in lieu of glorify its personalized.” Sounds like a very bad google translation of something profound.

 “Bliss could be a essence you should not strain found on many and it doesn’t involve purchasing a variety of declines found on you and your family.”  Painful, just painful.

 “don’t want millions of people to see me in a bikini anyway. ” I loved this one, but then, what did it have to do with anything we’ve ever written? Still, it’s better english than some of the others.

“He was the top-winning Affenpinscher for several years. So the two frogs went to Mississippi River to look for Odie mother-in-law, which ask her to help untie the spell both of them.” It’s almost like I came in the middle of a conversation. But now I kinda want to know about Odie and the frogs.

“Never ever grimace, although the majority of a person is sad, to create do not no that is going down obsessed about a satisfaction.” Now, to be fair, I’ve said very similar things after two glasses of absinthe.

“hey, i like your valuable article in which you have described very well with point wise.” Me too.

“Its possibility are so fantastic not to mention working pattern so effective.” I know, right?

“cialis levitra ou viagra”  Ok, how in the world did we start getting french viagra ads?

“so informative site! big thanks!” Hey, no problem, you’re welcome, I think.

“Thank you for any other magnificent post. The place else could anybody get that kind of information in such a perfect manner of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such information.” Right, then, my advice, if you have a presentation, put down the rolled dollar bill, shovel the coke back into the bag and get some sleep.

“you need time to create that interesting and additionally real effort to make such a good article.” Truer words were never said. No I mean, it. NEVER.

“I cnduot bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dsenot mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.” Now this was totally intersesting as I could actually read this and I wasn’t completely drunk at the time.

However, some of the spammers actually spoke (or knew how to write) english. Here are some of the more generic ones:

“great website. thank you for the info. cheers!” Thanks, but I will still not buy your Gucci bags.

“that was nice to know about.” thanks. *delete*

“your post is really informative for me. i liked it very much. keep sharing such important posts.” Oh, we will, we will. You can’t shut us up now even if you wanted.

“excellent article , covers a lot of ground i’ve found a great article. Thanks”  Oh, so close, but a swing and a miss.

thanks for taking your time to explain that, i bet everyone likes your articles. You know what, I do, too.

So now, I look for those odd spamisms. I’ve even come to like them. “Me want can’t do like article you.” It almost makes sense. It’s so close to actually being something. Like me making a curry. It wants to be a curry, it almost looks like curry but boy, did I bugger something up along the way.

A part of me wants to spam back. Write something in english, translate it to french, then translate it to arabic, then translate it chinese then back to english again. I wonder what would happen.

Now let us all sing together. Spam, spam, spam spam spam spam spam,

Pages Rewritten: 102

Turkey Dinners: Still 0

Backups Done: 3 every day (sometimes more.) Save. Save to flash. Save to email and send.

Movie Seen This Week: Les Miserables. Freaking brilliant.

Rotten Tomatoes – a new candidate

Helga’s Post #8 — Collectively, there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth on our blog since it started. A quick review produced some real doozies. Like these: (by no means the unabridged collection)

– Traitorous Doubts: I could see it coming.  A wall.  A big one.

– Pages written to date: Zero! Which means by whatever formula you apply, I’m in trouble, with a capital “T”.

– I know, I should hunker down and write that novel, like my four writing partners. But…

– Worse yet, if I am to continue with my ‘true confessions’ I must admit to not having written a word since October 22nd.

– No further plots plotted, period, full stop.

– Next to “the dog ate my homework”, mine is probably the most common excuse of all time: I’m sick.

– But wait … do I really have 137 days? Of course not. There are at least 8 “holidays” over that period, when I am not likely to write a word.

And so on and so forth. What motivated me to look back instead of going forward?

Because – and this is the biggest confession until now, on the entire blog, one that would have a priest flee the confessional box, cassock fluttering wildly, a confession that will surely make you gasp collectively in disgust – one that…. no, wait. This sentence is getting way too long. ‘Must write short sentences’, gurus always tell their student writers.

So, to pick up the thread of the subject of this post – confession.  Reason I looked BACK at our posts was in hope of finding some solace, something comparable to what I have done, so as not to feel like an outcast.

You will agree, once you read on, that the Rotten Tomatoes Award (if one existed for authors) must without doubt, be conferred to me. At least that would be the case if the clock stops ticking now and we would compare progress as of today. Forget your extended periods of writers block, forgive yourself for tossing out 30 pages of your writing, ignore above mentioned citations of gnashing teeth, because this, esteemed colleagues and friends, is nothing compared to yours truly.

Before I go on (confessions never were my strong suit) this picture will help me explain. Or rather ease you into it. The 5 books (ah, the number 5 again: an omen?) are the bulk of my research for my NEW novel.

Yes. New as in new since earlier this week.

So, now it’s out. While you wring your hands and mutter disparaging remarks, let me explain. I put the blame squarely on the shoulders of my protagonist. She just wouldn’t shut up about how she is bored with me, and she wants to do something different, something more worthwhile than what I’d saddled her with. She had the nerve to visit me during all hours of the night with absurd statements like “I don’t want my lover to get a new kidney from an executed Chinese prisoner. Who wants to read about organ snatchers anyway? Been there, done that. How boring! How morose. Who would want to read that book?”

I just couldn’t get her to cooperate. Even after introducing another character, an intriguing sexy man, hoping I could con her. A guy most women would swoon over. But no, she didn’t want to speak to me any more. Dead silence. Writers block. Thick wall, much like Joe’s in his last post.

And then a new dawn. It came about over coffee with a friend. When she too agreed with my protagonist that this sounds like a really depressing book, I knew I had to make a change. Probably knew it all along, because my heart wasn’t in it. Because I found excuses not to write.

Out with the old, in with the new.

My new story, like my abandoned one, will be suspense, though nobody will snatch kidneys, livers, corneas and hearts from not-yet-really-dead people. But on a larger scale, it will be more sinister. In a less gory way, if you know what I mean. And there is hope in the end.

So for me, this is no longer a 5 month challenge. It’s a 3 month one. Given that I will be away for the month of December on another continent, where my writing time will be severely restricted, it’s more a 2 month challenge. And all I have to show for as of this moment, is an outline of an outline. And a protagonist that keeps following me. She wants a piece of the action. (Still working on the new villain).

You see why I chose the Rotten Tomatoes title? But I’ve made peace with my protagonist.