The End. Or is it?

Madeline GornellMadeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of six award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert. For more information, visit her at website or Amazon Author Page.

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In my last post, I talked about “Openings.” Recently, the knowledge our reading personalities (our likes and dislikes) differ, was not only reinforced to mebut also the thought of writing about “Endings” came to mind as a good idea.

On the “our reading personalities differ” front, after reading the latest selection from my Book Club, I mentioned the book in a couple places and to a couple people because I liked some parts of the book a lot. Then I asked for and received input from both fellow authors and my Book Club. All their thoughts caused me to think again about how important Endings are. I already knew how special they were to me (both as an author and as a reader). But there’s knowing, and then there’s knowing.

I liked this particular book especially for its opening and ending (fond of unresolved characters, symbolism, and lyricism). I found the middle sagged, and the issues weren’t ones that particularly grabbed me. So, here’s my “readers are different” reinforcement anecdotes. Among other items, feedback I received was:

  • Didn’t like the end because it was too open ended—i.e. what happened to…
  • Almost put it down because didn’t like beginning
  • Didn’t like beginning or end, but loved the story, mainly the dialogue and the issues…

Smile!

I’m what I call a “Pantster” when it comes to writing. That means specifically, I usually write the beginning first, then the end[i], and finally fill in the middle. And that filling in the middle jumps around a lot—but that’s the fun part. That’s where the plot twists and turns come in. My personal joy in writing.

So, at the risk of possibly once again offering more than you want to know about how writing actually happens for one particular author, here’s even more. The kind of endings I love to read:

  • Tie to the beginning, giving the reader that “Oh yeah, I remember how all this started” feeling,
  • Endings that leave readers with pictures in their minds—not just mental, but photographic too,[ii] (in color with all the senses involved is even better!)
  • And highly desired, is leaving a symbolic nugget of some kind.

I live in a rural desert area, and if I want to get anywhere near civilization, I have to drive over one of two Burlington Northern/Santa Fe railroad tracks. One train line I usually get caught sitting at runs along Route 66. Several days ago, the train was relatively short compared to some, and it stuck out visually that there was an engine on both ends. And in my mind, symbolic at that moment in time, the lead engine was pulling the reader along the story track, but when at the end of the line, the ending engine would take your mind farther past a particular book, or back into the book. I know, fanciful and a flawed example in several waysbut sitting there, waiting for that train to pass gave me several ideas on how to improve my current ending.

And yes, every time I open my WIP, I “touch up” not only the beginning, but also the end.

I’m hoping there might be a writing tidbit here about the importance of the impression your reader is left with at the end–given all our differing likes and dislikes. Having readers of your offering who not only say, “wow,” I liked that, or even “ptooie,” what an awful book; but more–such as a not easily forgotten image(s) left in their minds. And just maybe ideas and thoughts taking them farther than the tale just finished. For me it’s a lofty goal, but one that keeps me striving, keeps me writing.

I also want the ending sentences to be lyrical—and what exactly I mean by that is another blog for another day. (translation—I haven’t figured out yet what exactly I mean by that. One of those “I know ‘it’ when I experience it in other books” kind of thing.)

Happy (writing) trails!


[i] Sometimes it’s the end first, then the beginning. [ii] Fire Horses by Robert Haig is a prime example for me.

“OUTSIDE THE LINES” Book Review by Jackie Houchin

 

“OUTSIDE THE LINES”

  Book Review by Jackie Houchin

Sad young woman and a rain drops

Sheila Lowe’s newest Claudia Rose Forensic Handwriting mystery delivers just what you are looking for; murder and mayhem,  crime scene investigation, clues and mis-clues, secret assignations, lovers’ spats, blurred lines between right and wrong, escalating suspense, and unique to Lowe’s books, a protagonist who can read a killer’s thoughts and intents from a mere sampling of his handwriting.

OUTSIDE THE LINES begins with a bang, literally. A maid attempts to gather her vacationing employer’s mail one morning and dies after a mailbox bomb explodes in her face. LAPD Homicide Detective Joel Jovanic catches the case and quickly discerns the incident to be more than a prank.

Across town in the Los Angeles Criminal Courts building, Claudia Rose testifies as an expert witness in a murder trial involving gang member, Danny Ortiz.  Having given her condemning statement, she exits the stand, only to be ferociously attacked and nearly murdered by the unrestrained gangbanger.  Worse yet, clips of the incident replay endlessly on the local news channels, exposing not only Ortiz’s rage, but a good deal of Claudia’s brief undergarments.

Traumatized and nursing her wounds, Claudia hides at home, jumping at every noise, seeing shadows where none exist; the classic symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Det. Jovanic is both enraged by the attack on his fiancé and anxious about her emotional state. To relieve the tension at home, he submerges himself in the mailbox bombing investigation.

Relief from her growing paranoia comes in the form of an invitation to speak at the prestigious British Institute of Graphologists Conference in the UK. Claudia gratefully accepts, but before leaving, she helps Jovanic identify the author of the bomb threat from a writing specimen found inside a nearby geo-cache container. Under the “People for Safe Food” moniker, she detects an erased signature, that of a known eco-terrorist.

In London, a surprise interview by a TV journalist puts Claudia in the limelight, and on the spot. Asked her opinion on a handwritten note found in a similar geo-cache container in London after a local bombing, Claudia is reluctant to speak. The two samples were not written by the same person, but this contradicts the resident expert’s opinion, a man Claudia knows to be untrained and biased.

Across the Pond, Jovanic’s investigation leads him to the CEO of Agrichem, a company that produces toxic pesticides. Lab reports from the mailbox bomb confirm the lethal chemical is used in Agrichem’s pesticides. The detective senses something is off, especially after interviewing the company’s reclusive “mad” research scientist.

Meanwhile Claudia meets with members of the People for Safe Food activist group and responds to their grief with compassion, earning her the ire of New Scotland Yard.  Jovanic’s interviews produce testimony just as compelling about the need for pesticides in feeding a hungry world.  Two sides of the world and two sides of a controversial issue. Which side is responsible for murder?

More cruel attacks and homicides keep Jovanic working at a manic pace, while Claudia is politely asked to leave the UK. At home, she and Jovanic face another more personal issue, which could determine the future of their life together. Finally a truce is called and the pair work together using their specialties to identify a very cold and ruthless murderer.  The detective determines to take him down, and now Claudia is the one fearing for her lover’s life.

Part fast-paced police procedural and part Sherlockian puzzle mystery, Lowe’s OUTSIDE THE LINES, delivers food for the intellectual as well as the suspense addict. And for readers like me who are fascinated with the Forensic Handwriting Analysis profession, it’s a treat indeed.  The police have sketch artists, Crime Scene Investigators, and DNA testing. Handwriting examiners testify in court, bringing evidence that often brings a guilty verdict.  But Sheila Lowe has an unstoppable crime investigating team in Claudia Rose and Detective Joel Jovanic.

OUTSIDE THE LINES Amazon link: https://amzn.com/B01IPKPRNG

sheila-uscOUTSIDE THE LINES is sixth in the popular mystery series. Sheila Lowe has also written a stand-alone thriller in which her Handwriting Specialist appears in a minor role (What She Saw). Like her fictional character Claudia Rose, Lowe is a real-life forensic handwriting expert who testifies in court cases.  She has begun work on the 7th book in the series, UNHOLY WRIT.

As the current president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation (a 50 yr old non-profit), Lowe is working with their Campaign for Cursive committee to bring attention to the importance of maintaining cursive training in the public school curriculum. A recently published white paper on the topic is available for free download: http://www.ahafhandwriting.org/sites/default/pdf/white-paper.pdf

For a live podcast (and transcript) interview of Sheila Lowe by Laura Brennan of Destination Mystery visit: http://destinationmystery.com/episode-17-sheila-lowe/  In it Lowe reveals more about the two major areas of handwriting analysis, as well as a formerly unrecognized “theme” to her writing that Brennan identifies.  As to her writing fiction, Lowe discloses the title of the book that got her started on her mystery writing career… at the young age of 8.  

Can you guess what it was?   Nope, not Nancy Drew.

 

WinR profile pic Jackie Houchin is a Christian writer, book reviewer, and retired photojournalist. She writes articles and reviews on a variety of topics, and occasionally edits manuscripts. She also dabbles in short fiction.  She enjoys creating Bible craft projects for kids; growing fruits, flowers, and veggies; and traveling to other countries. She also loves cats and kittens and mysteries.”
 

What’s a Hundred Years? …by Gayle Bartos-Pool

99be9-gayle51closeupA former private detective and reporter for a small weekly newspaper, G.B.Pool writes the Johnny Casino Casebook Series and the Gin Caulfield P.I. Mysteries. She teaches writing classes: “Anatomy of a Short Story,” “How To Write Convincing Dialogue” and “Writing a Killer Opening Line.”

 

 

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Shakespeare died 400 years ago, but we all have read his plays. There is talk now that schools want to stop teaching works by the guys who basically gave us the foundation of our modern literature. I would give you their astute reasoning, but there is no good reason behind it. It’s a stupid idea.

Aristotle, Euripides, Aristophanes, Sophocles… I hope those names aren’t Greek to you (Sorry, that’s a little literary humor.), but these men crafted the basics of writing as we know it. Centuries later we got Shakespeare and Chaucer and Christopher Marlowe, Ibsen, Chekhov and, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain and the Bronte Sisters. And list goes on and on.

They make movies based on these books. People still read the classics. Some of the wording is a tad dated, but the stories are still relevant. Romeo and Juliet turned into West Side Story. How many retellings of A Christmas Carol have there been? Good lasts.
Anna Katharine GreenThis takes me to Anna Katharine Green and Mary Roberts Rinehart. These two ladies lived a hundred years ago. Anna Katharine Green wrote her Amelia Butterworth character in 1897, well before Agatha Christie wrote The Murder at the Vicarage (1930) featuring Miss Marple. Christie acknowledges Green as her inspiration. Green also wrote about a young female amateur sleuth, Violet Strange, years before the first Nancy Drew stories hit the bookstore shelves.

Mary Roberts Rinehart

Mary Roberts Rinehart turned out her first mystery, The Man in Lower Ten, in 1906 and The Circular Staircase in 1907, both astonishingly good mystery stories. She references both Edgar Allan Poe and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in that first mystery. She went on to pen her Letitia Carberry stories featuring three old spinsters who have adventures and calamities that are rollickingly funny and dead clever.

SCircular Staircasehe is considered the source for the term: “The butler did it.” She didn’t use that exact phrase, but the butler was the culprit. She even has a series of stories centered around World War I. She was a trained nurse and married a doctor; so much of what she writes has facts behind it. She even served as a war correspondent during World War I in Belgium and toured the front lines, so the visuals are based on things she saw firsthand. Not all her stories are mysteries, but they are all good, solid stories, some even slightly romantic, but nothing even remotely lurid. How refreshing.

AKG Mystery Megapack
I started with the Anna Katherine Green stories. When I first started reading these two ladies, I couldn’t believe they were written a hundred years ago. The writing is fresh, some of the social/political comments could have been written today, and the work is witty, clever, and occasionally deliciously sarcastic. I have to admit, both ladies used a few words that are no longer in the vernacular (look it up), but since I was reading on my Kindle, I could look up the meanings right there and then carry on. But the overall feeling was that I was reading something written yesterday, not a century ago. I was and am still amazed at the contemporary handling of the stories.

The list of literary greats from that time and earlier does contain preponderance of male writers, but that’s just the way it was for quite a few centuries. Health care got better so women weren’t dying during childbirth, household appliances were invented to make domestic life easier, and some women decided they wanted to write… and they did. Women wrote short stories for magazines and even penned a few books. They showed what was possible.

But these two ladies weren’t writing fluff or recipes. In fact, there was a lawsuit against Anna Katharine Green because some fool didn’t believe a woman could write a story with such an accurate legal basis as a plot. Well, the idiot ate his words. Green’s father was a lawyer and the lady knew what she was writing about.

If you can’t find hardback books by these ladies, there are e-book collections of their many stories available at remarkably low prices. Some single stories are free, the work transcribing their books to an e-Book format done by volunteers. God Bless them. Some books are only available for free. (I pay for nearly every book that I read. These tireless workers who provided the works of these great ladies and frankly all writers deserve that we pay for their efforts.) These collections contain both novel-length stories and short stories and novellas.

And something else for you writers, these ladies show how to tell a story with a ton of stuff in them, no repetition, lots of plot, character and setting that will make you reevaluate your own writing. Remember, they did these stories a hundred years ago. They were cutting edge in the mystery genre… some of the first to do this genre, male or female. And their works are good.

As many contemporary books as I have read by men and women, these books are rising to the top as my favorites because they did it first and did it beautifully. Cleanly crafted, lots of stuff happening, lots of great characters. Some of the stories you don’t want to end. That is literary gold.

What the Heck Do You Write? by Kate Thornton

Reading and Writing – The Basics by Kate ThorntonKate Thornton is a retired US Army officer who enjoys writing both mysteries and science fiction. With over 100 short stories in print, she teaches a short story class and is currently working on a series of romantic suspense novels. She divides her time between Southern California and Tucson, Arizona.

 

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I write Mystery and Science fiction.

I used to say, I write short stories. And while I do indeed still write short stories, I also write novels.

We tend to identify ourselves by the most comfortable label, or by the one we’d like to fit, as well as by the one that seems to fit the best, based on what we have actually written. Or maybe just by what we wish we could write: “Yes, I write archaeological papers with a bit of whimsy,” or “Yes, I write about the cosmological implications of French cooking.”

So I have identified myself for decades as a mystery and/or science fiction writer. But even as my short story career – long and semi-illustrious as it was – began to wind down, I started writing real full length novels, whole stories over 65,000 words, some of them in the 85,000 word range..

I found that I liked it. It’s a whole other world. Worlds within worlds. Multiple characters, multiple settings, a story arc that can encompass several plot threads. It’s wonderful, and the discipline I learned as a short story writer helps me to keep it concise and not wander all over the page.

But there was a danger I had never thought about, a hidden pitfall to the novel-writing game that never occurred to me. The characters, so spare and driven in a short story, are under no obligation in a novel to do as the author says.

The characters, fully fleshed, do as they please. Whether you outline meticulously or are a seat-of-the-pantser, the characters have a way of driving the story, sometimes into a ditch or over a cliff. They become real enough to take on their own lives and are no longer a simple Mary Sue reflection of the writer, but become individuals who possess a weird amount of self-determination.

You might want them to murder or solve murders when they are busy developing relationships with other characters. You might plan for them to journey into space, when what they decide to do is stay home and build a fire in the fireplace. You might outline a tidy little puzzle, and they may turn it into a messy romance.

Yes, you are the all-powerful Author and can line your ducks back up into their neat little rows, but sometimes listening to your characters can help you take the story in a completely different direction, a better place, a more interesting and life-like place.

So before you proudly say, “I write such-and-such!” take a look at where your story is going. You might find that your characters have taken your sweet little cozy into noir territory, or burned up the spaceways with hot inter-species encounters.

I used to say I write Mystery and Science Fiction, but now I have to add Women’s Fiction and Romance to that description.

So what do you write? And has it changed from what you thought you would write?

PS – It’s all good as long as you keep on writing!

 

What Is a “Book Club” Book? by Bonnie Schroeder

4618c-bonnie

Bonnie Schroeder started telling stories in the Fifth Grade and never stopped. After escaping from the business world, she began writing full-time and has authored novels, short stories and screenplays, as well as non-fiction articles and a newsletter for an American Red Cross chapter.

 

 

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In today’s publishing environment, with millions of books competing for a reader’s attention, having book clubs discuss your work is one sure way for recognition.

But how do you get on the book club universe’s radar?

I wish I knew.

Oh sure, there are websites out there offering to help connect you with book clubs—for a fee.

There must be a better way.

And what defines a “book club book?” Does anyone know? Some clubs go for the best-sellers and prize winners. Others seem to focus on genres, like mysteries.

One way to figure out what makes a book club tick is to join one, which is what I did.

Several years ago, I joined the Brown Bag Book Club at Flintridge Bookstore in La Canada, not as a sneaky way to find an audience—my first novel hadn’t even been published then—but as a means to gain insight into what readers like and don’t like in the books they read.Book Club

Being in that club has enriched my life in many ways. I’ve made good friends, and I’ve read books I’d never have chosen on my own—for example, The Help. A novel about Black maids in Mississippi in the 60’s? I figured it would be too depressing. I would have missed a wonderful, uplifting story if I’d gone with my first impression.

Our club uses a variety of criteria in picking our books: we do some best-sellers and prize winners, but only after they’ve been released in paperback (which is why we’re still waiting to read All the Light We Cannot See.) We also ask individual members to recommend books, but only books they’ve actually read and, preferably, loved.

We take turns “moderating” the hour-long monthly discussions and usually bring a list of Reader’s Guide-type questions to fuel the discussion, but sometimes just asking “How many of you liked this book? And why?” will fill up the hour with commentary. It’s fascinating to see how people’s minds work!

My novel Mending Dreams has been read by two different book clubs, and I sat in on both discussions. The first time it was still in draft form, and the feedback was very helpful in shaping the final version. The second time was with my own Brown Bag Book Club, and the members were ever so kind in their comments. But both times, I have to say it was almost an out-of-body experience to hear them talk about my characters and the story developments. I kept having to remind myself, “I wrote that.”

I’d do it again in a heartbeat, and I hope I get a chance.

Some advice if you are lucky enough to be invited to a book club discussion of your book:

  • Leave your ego at the door if you can. I found that some club members really personalized parts of the book, and I had to remind myself their reaction was colored by their own experiences. Focus on hearing what resonated for readers—and what didn’t—so you can build on that knowledge in the future.
  • Come prepared with a list of questions in case the discussion loses momentum—not just the Reader’s Guide type questions, but your own as well: things you’d like to know about how a certain part of the book plays out, how the members felt about a character, did they see a plot development coming?
  • Be sure to bring bookmarks and/or business cards to distribute, maybe an email signup sheet so you can build your contact base.

If you don’t belong to a book club already but are thinking it sounds pretty cool, where do you find them? All over the place! Many bookstores have them, and so do libraries. One member of my club also belongs to a neighborhood book club. Ask around. You can also find some in your area through the Meetup website (http://www.meetup.com/topics/bookclub/).

Besides getting to read some really interesting books, you might find an audience for your books, maybe even more than one audience. Book clubs often share information. Get in with one (or more), and your book might be chosen by others. Word of mouth is a powerful thing, and some book clubs can definitely affect a book’s success.

Happy reading!

INHABITING ANOTHER WORLD….by Rosemary Lord

9db14-rosemary2bat2bburbank2blibrary2bjpgRosemary wrote her first book when she was ten years old – for her little brother. She also illustrated it herself. It was later rejected by Random House!

She has been writing ever since.

The author of Best Sellers Hollywood Then and Now and Los Angeles Then and Now,  English born Rosemary Lord has lived in Hollywood for over 25 years. An actress, a former journalist (interviewing Cary Grant, James Stewart, Tony Hopkins, John Huston amongst others) and a Senior Publicist at Columbia Pictures, she lectures on Hollywood history. Rosemary is currently writing the second in a series of murder mysteries set in the 1920s Jazz Age Hollywood featuring Lottie Topaz, an extra in silent movies.

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I was going to write about my many Bad Hair Days. But I realized that, by deciding that I could not write another word until my current strange hair color was sorted, this was just another form of Writers’ Avoidance Tactics – albeit colorful! That is a subject for a whole other Blog to come!

But it reminded me how important I felt the color of my character’s hair was. In my current novel series, my protagonist, Lottie Topaz, has copper-colored hair styled in the 1920s fashionable bob with ‘spit-curls’ on her forehead. ‘Spit-curls’ are so called because you spit on your fingers, then make a couple of curls from your bangs, securing them flat against your forehead with spittle. (Charming – I know!)

Lottie’s best friend, Flora, has jet-black hair in a sleek bob with straight bangs – or ‘fringe’ as we Brits call it. Very sophisticated.

This is why I love writing this series that is set back in the early Twentieth Century. It is such fun exploring the styles and fashions of that era. But not just that: recreating the life-style and sharing the whys and wherefores of a by-gone time. So that I and my readers are immersed in another world.

For instance, I find it fascinating to use a mystery setting where telephones were not readily available. Certainly no mobile-phones. How would they communicate, especially in an emergency?

Mysteries set in today’s world have so many solutions to use: computers, emails, Skype, texting. It appears much easier to explain clues and resolutions of the who-dunnits when you can show your characters following an email trail or intercepting a text message on a stolen cell-phone. Researching people’s backgrounds or tracking addresses or locations for present-day books is swiftly done on the computer.

So, why do I give myself this headache of working out how Lottie and her friends can find out about potential suspects or track locations where they may have traveled to? I guess that’s because one of my favorite things is research. I have Lottie and her friends do what I have always done: Of course, today I do use computer research. But I have always spent hours at the libraries, pouring over musty tomes, looking up old newspapers, checking magazines and advertisements. This gives me the color to weave into my stories, words and names that are not used today. I also glean ideas from those pages as to how to provide clues as well as challenges for my characters.

It is imperative that the details are authentic and that everything rings true. Even when I create situations with a little ‘poetic license’ – I always check it out so that it certainly could really have happened.  As a reader, I hate it when something jars because it is out of the realms of possibility – or just plain wrong! I find it difficult to continue reading after that. So I go to great lengths to ensure I have my facts right.

Then there is ‘the leg-work.’ Over the years I have been drawn to exploring wherever I go in the world. I stroll through streets, note book and pencil ready, checking out addresses and buildings, noting the conditions and architectural style of doorways, windows, even roofs that I can access. Up and down steps and stairways I wander. As I explore these old streets, buildings and gardens, I can really get a feel for what went before me. I get a sense of how people lived and worked.

Basements are especially fascinating. Because they are rarely cleared out thoroughly, I find old magazines, pages of newspapers, abandoned cases, luggage tags and labels on shelves and doors. They all tell a story.

I am very chatty. So in my wanderings I will always chat to people I come across: those guarding old buildings, neighbors in old houses, cleaners, workmen – just anybody I can. “How long have you been here?” I ask. “What was here before?” “How many generations of your family have been here” I ask lots of questions about the past. I am very nosey! But most people are eager to share whatever they know. They love to repeat stories they have heard or tell me about their grandparents, aunts and uncles. I find that almost everyone has a fascinating tale to tell. So I borrow and steal unashamedly from the past.

As I have previously confessed, I have an abundance of scraps of paper with these many notes on them.  Although I do occasionally get overwhelmed by the sheer volume I have accrued, mostly I absolutely love surveying them spread all over my desk and my floor as I piece together my stories.  Like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, I work out what gem I can place where and string together a necklace of a mystery.

I have written contemporary stories. In many ways they are much easier, as I don’t encounter an ‘oops’ moment when my character switches on a light – at a time before  electricity was available.

Writing historical books and novels is considerably more time-consuming. But, for me, it is so much more fun.   I love to share what I have discovered about times gone by. I love the intricacies of weaving historical facts and people into my stories. I love using a vocabulary from earlier generations.

Although I am very grateful for modern plumbing, medical advances and internet access, I often feel that the world I write about was a kinder and gentler place – most of the time, anyway.

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A Life in Pages by Miko Johnston

FROM SCREEN TO PAGE, Part 3 with Miko JohnstonMiko Johnston is the author of A Petal in the Wind and the newly released A Petal in the Wind II: Lala Hafstein.

She first first contemplated a writing career as a poet at age six. That notion ended four years later when she found no ‘help wanted’ ads for poets in the Sunday NY Times classified section, but her desire to write persisted. After graduating from NY University, she headed west to pursue a career as a journalist before switching to fiction. Miko lives on Whidbey Island in Washington. You can find out more about her books and follow her for her latest releases at Amazon.

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Please excuse me while I wipe tears from my eyes. Someone very dear to me has died. Or to put it more accurately, I had to kill someone very dear to me.

Now before you dial 911, let me explain that the person I killed was one of my characters, someone beloved by my other characters as well as my readers. It was difficult, but necessary. My continuing saga would not have the same impact, nor would the surviving characters develop as they must, if this character were allowed to live. As Star Trek Commander Spock famously said, “Logic dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few”.

00b5d-pinthewii

I also needed to do this to prepare myself for what will be coming. My historical fiction
series revolves around a Jewish family living in what is now the Czech Republic. I’m working on the third book, set during World War I, but the final installment will take place after the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia. As you may surmise, this will not bode well for some of the characters.

Although my story is loosely based on my family history – my maternal grandparents endured pogroms in Russia and Poland, and my father survived the Holocaust – it has been suggested that my characters could escape prior to the invasion and make their way to America, thus sparing their lives. After all, I’m writing fiction. I can change it at will.

But can I? I think not, because when you’ve been involved with a story for over twenty years, it takes on a life of its own. I wish I could change their destiny, but it would ring false to me. Early on I made decisions about the characters: who they were, what they would do, and to an extent, how they would develop over time. However, after awhile some of them began to make decisions on their own. Most were simple and minor – a preference for a particular color or beverage – but one unexpected action taken by two of my characters resulted in converting my trilogy into a ‘quadrogy’.

In a sense, I gave birth to these characters. Early on I guided them, taught them, made sure they were always where they were supposed to be. Now they have a life of their own, and I must respect that. Within reason. I still have final edit. But I can’t ignore their wishes and directives, no matter what I, or some readers, may think. Why? As Captain Kirk observed, “Because the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the many.”

When you create your fictitious world, is it set in stone, or do you change it at will? Have you ever found yourself letting your characters decide where they’re going and what they’re going to do? Or do you maintain full control over them?