Armchair ePublishing: We sent out the question, Who is writing this story? You or them? What happens when a character takes over?
Author, Judith Kirscht
Who’s Writing This Story? I think one of the most crucial lessons a novelist must learn is to let go of a character when he or she comes to life. I learned mine when I took a draft of my first novel off to Bread Loaf writers’ retreat back in the 70s. John Gardner, author of The Art of Fiction, was conference leader, and I had the honor of a personal review of my draft. He had much to say that was positive, BUT. Always the “but.” He went through one chapter underlining characters who expressed the author’s rather than their own viewpoint. Those characters were straw-men (or women) for the author’s point of view. Those who have read The Art of Fiction will know that Gardner’s central thesis is that there is a moral standard for writing fiction and its central principal is that the author must love his or her characters. Needless to say, I failed the test on those underlined. Lesson learned.
Sometimes that release is a real struggle. In a more recent novel manuscript, Hawkins Lane, I realized that the heroine was heading toward adultery. I have little sympathy with adultery and didn’t want to follow her; I actually stopped writing the story until I convinced myself I had no choice.
So, here’s the result.
The mountain ranger heroine, Erica, crippled in a riding accident, has discovered that her husband, Ned, has removed the key to the jeep out of fear that she will come to further grief. She has struggled down the lane that connects their home to the road and across the road to the campsite of Ned’s ne’er-do-well brother, Billy.
“Well, good morning!” [Billy]
She looked up, blinking, into Billy’s face. “Good morning. Thought I’d see if I could make it this far.”
“Looks like you did, and just in time for a cup of coffee.” He waved her to a seat.
She approached and looked down doubtfully at the log he’d indicated. It was too far down.
“Here,” he said, jumping to his feet. “I’ll get a more civilized chair.” He brought a folding camp chair from his tent, steadying it as she lowered herself into it. “That’s a long way.”
“Sure is.” Longer than he knew. She looked up and accepted the tin mug of coffee he held out.
“You’re a gutsy lady.” He lowered his bulk onto the log with a sigh. “Ned’s a lucky man.”
“Lucky?” She laughed and took a gulp of coffee. “With me hanging around his neck? I don’t think so.”
“You don’t do much hanging, I wouldn’t think.”
She stared into the embers of his morning fire. “I didn’t used to, and I have to get back to that. Ned doesn’t understand. I took the jeep for a drive yesterday. We had a row about it.”
“He’s scared, Erica. That’s all. Afraid it will happen again.”
She looked up at him. “I know. But—he’s also angry. I’ve never seen him like this.” Except for the face that came at her in dreams.
Billy let out a sigh and poked the embers with his stick. “Fear comes out that way, sometimes, in a man. Don’t know why. Just does.”
They sat for a long time in companionable silence, drinking coffee, poking the embers, listening to the plop of pinecones falling in the woods behind them. Somewhere, a long way off, water tumbled over rocks, and Erica quieted enough to ask herself what impulse had propelled her here. Defiance triggered by the missing key. That was easy; she shied away from the harder question—why she’d come here.
Billy slapped at the first mosquito of the day and stirred. “I was heading to the high ridges today, to clear brush from the trail. Would you like to ride along? Seems you could use an outing.”
“I’d love to.” She caught her breath at the gentleness of his tone. So like his brother, whose gentleness had been a casualty of his fear. He steadied the chair so she could push up with her hands as though it was simply the courteous thing to do. As she walked to the truck, she wore shoes of lead. She never could have walked back to the house. Thank God for Billy. She pulled the battered truck’s squawking door open, then balanced on her bad leg and tried to lift her right one. No luck. She’d burned them out. Billy put his hands to her waist and lifted her to the seat.
“Thank you.” She sighed. “I can usually manage, but—don’t tell Ned you had to help me, okay?”
“Okay.” He grinned like a little boy enjoying a secret, then closed the door without further comment and went around to the driver’s side.
Meet Judith Kirscht
I was born, raised, educated and married in Chicago, and raised my family in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I went back to school as an adult and began to write, winning two writing awards from the university—one for a novel and another for an essay.
Connect with Judith Kirscht
When we first started self-publishing, back in 2009, we started by doing photography books on Blurb. At the time Blurb, Lulu and few others were the only options available. Blurb catered to photographers who wanted to do Fine Art photo books of their work. It was a great way to start - their software was fairly easy to use, the quality of their books was fantastic, but the pricing was so high it was hard to make money off of a book.
As the industry changed, so did we. We now focus on all genres of books, including photography books. With POD (print-on-demand), this opened up doors to everyone and the cost/pricing of books made it affordable for not only the authors, but also for readers. The quality of POD, where Fine Art is concerned, is not quite up to the same quality as Blurb, but you can't beat the cost and pricing.
I often wondered why Blurb wasn't jumping on the bandwagon for putting your books up on Amazon? Today, in my inbox, was an email from Blurb announcing that you can now sell your Blurb books on Amazon. And, for right now it is free. I logged into my Blurb account and tried it. It was fairly easy to do. The problem - the cost is still high, pricing the books way up there, making it hard for authors to make any kind of decent money on the efforts.
But, what they hey, do it anyway. It doesn't hurt.
Where Does Your Stories Start?
What do you write first?
The beginning? The middle? The end?
By the time I start a story, I’ve already been thinking about it for quite a while. I know some of the basic plot points, such as where it starts, perhaps a few scene ideas, plus the climax. I also know who the story is about, including their basic appearance, back story, and a bit of personality. Finally, I like to know where the story takes place before I start anything (for a fantasy story, of course, more attention goes into this aspect than, say, a contemporary story, because the setting is a strong element of the fantasy genre…but that’s a whole other discussion). In that preliminary stage, I tend to take a lot of “what if” kinds of notes. What if this happens? What if that happens? What if the character reacts this way? These notes are my way of getting to know the story and the character before I start writing, so that when I do dive in, I have at least somewhat of an idea of how things will progress.
As far as the writing is concerned, I tend to work fairly linearly. I start at the beginning of the story and work my way toward the end. On occasion, I’ll write a piece of a later scene that I’m working toward, but it’s never a complete scene—usually just detailed notes with a few sentences I didn’t want to forget. Working from beginning to end allows me to view the story the way the reader will view it. It also allows me to keep better track of information and how things unravel, because my mind is moving forward with the story, rather than jumping around and becoming jumbled up in the details.
But that’s just how my brain works—every writer is different, and has a different process. I try to keep my process as straightforward as possible, so my creativity has room to breathe.
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Where Do My Mysteries Begin?
My mysteries always begin first with my infamous list, then a bit of history, followed by an extended visit.
The list has grown over the years and has been added to not just by me, but dozens of folks who have read my books. It has grown so long I would have to live well into the next century to write a book about each item on the list. Here are some of the latest additions: The Shamrock, The Bensen, The Excelsior, The Monticello, The Peabody, The Jefferson, del Coronado, The Biltmore, and the Crescent. If you haven’t already guessed, the list is made up of hotels—historic hotels—the settings of my Sydney Lockhart Mysteries, which takes places in the early 1950s. The hotels I choose have to still be in operation today.
Once I decide on a location, I give Sydney a reason for being there. This is where my research begins. I like to use an actual historic event to build my plot. For example, my latest mystery, Murder at the Galvez, takes place at the Galvez Hotel in Galveston, Texas. Looking through some old newspapers, I discovered a controversial project involving the development of Pelican Island, a small piece of land once used as on unofficial Confederate fort, complete with fake guns to ward off the enemy had a Civil War battle reached the Texas gulf coast. In the 1950s, the island was the depositary for the dredge from the digging of the Houston Ship Channel until the city decided to develop the island and turn it into a resort. The fictional murder that takes place in the book is associated with the project. In Murder at the Arlington I got a lot of mileage out of the illegal gambling that once took place in Hot Springs, Arkansas. And I couldn’t resist using the Driskill Hotel’s colorful ghost history in my upcoming book, Murder at the Driskill (Austin, Texas).
And finally, to give each story the feeling of authenticity, I have to spend several days or weeks at each hotel, soaking up the ambiance. Like the saying goes, “It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it.”
Kathleen writes the Sydney Lockhart Mystery series and the Classic Triviography Mystery Series published by LL-Publications. Her Sherlock Holmes and Alfred Hitchcock trivia books were finalists for the 2013 EPIC Award in nonfiction. Her nonfiction book, The Man Who Saved the Whooping Crane: The Robert Porter Allen Story, has been nominated for the George Perkins Marsh Award for environmental history.
The Author in all of us
There is a story inside. One that needs out and to be read by others. It's there and now it's time for it to flow from author to the reader. Join us as we celebrate Indie authors.