Thursday, September 24, 2009

Oh, what a tangled web I weave …

A few weeks ago I noticed that Harlan Coben had updated his status on Facebook and his message perfectly matched my own sentiments.

Let me step back a minute and look at that sentence. It is filled with wonderment in so many ways, since it is not something I ever expected to be able to say, and it bears closer inspection.

I joined (is that even the right word?) Facebook earlier this year, with the help of my daughter, who is literate in it but is apparently somewhat of a stealth participant, since I surely can’t find her. Many writers advocated going on Facebook, in order to be able to promote their books. I had a new, now not so new, book coming out, so it seemed the thing to do.

I discovered that there are a lot of people on Facebook and many of them are willing to be my Facebook friend, even if they don’t know me. One of those people is Harlan Coben, who has so many friends he had to make a second page for himself. He posted a message one day complaining about knots in his plots, and those knots having knots.

Who knew a person such as me could get that close to one of the biggest mystery/suspense writers of the day? So close that I could know what was going on in his head! And who knew that such a successful writer could have the same problem as I had, at the same time?

This brings me to the point of today’s blog. It has nothing to do with Facebook or all the things that happen on it. It has everything to do with the knots in my plot. I am working on my first suspense novel. In the past I have written cozies, capers, a fantasy or two, a saga, some middle-grade fiction and some essays which irritated various members of my family. Luckily for everyone, only a tiny fraction of my “complete works” has been published. They would be the Wally Morris mysteries, from Avalon.

But like many people, I see different stories as belonging in different genres. What’s in my head (it really isn’t empty, despite what you might have heard) doesn’t always follow the same formula. A lot of what I write starts out as a dream, and my dreams are quite varied in both format and content, somewhat like the books I read, or the movies I see, or the too many hours of television I watch.

The idea for my latest work came when I woke up one morning with a strange feeling. I had dreamed that one of my children (I should mention, so that you don’t get the wrong image in your mind, that my children are both adults and don’t actually live at home) said, “Grandma called.” That, of course, is a perfectly innocuous thing to say. My kids called both their grandmothers “Grandma,” and while I never had trouble figuring out which one they were talking about, they can no longer say “Grandma called” about both. But what if a four-year-old child who did not have a grandmother said such a thing to her mother, whose own mother had died under hazy circumstances when she was just the age of her child? What if she did not mean her father’s mother?

That was enough for my inner author (the one who writes best sellers but won’t cough up a word when I am actually working) to start a book that is saved as “Grandma called” on my computer.

Writing this book is like slogging through sand wearing high heels. I can move along with the characters for a while, then when I know that something is supposed to happen, in this case someone must intentionally do something illegal, I get stuck. My husband, who is a lawyer, can’t seem to help me figure out what this character is up to. So I just leave those scenes and move on, with an asterisk to help me find the places that need work. I am now three quarters done with the book and there are many asterisks. Writing around them is working less and less. When I try to figure it out, all I get is more problems.

I have to ask: Do I really want to be banging my head against the wall like this? But then I remember my Facebook friend, Harlan. If he enjoys driving himself nuts with the knots, I guess I should too. Or, at least, I’ll work on the knots in my plots until I plotz. Or not.


Sandy Cody said...

As another mystery writer (and another fan of Harlan Coben), I identify totally with what you are saying. But I have to add that those problems that I have the most trouble figuring out are the ones that readers will tell me they liked about my book.

Nice post.

Now I have to log off and go see if I can find you on Facebook.

Beate Boeker said...

... oh, yes, the knots. I am stuck in the middle of a book that seems to go nowhere and look around for the remains of a plot that I used to know . . . let's hope a dream will come to get me going again! Liked your post!

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Oh, Joannie, how much I agree with you. Writing is hard. I get knots in my brain from this. Thanks for sharing your and Mr. Coben's similar problems.

Jane Myers Perrine said...

Sorry--JOANI! I shouldn't have trusted my memory for the spelling.

Tessa McDermid said...

Okay, two feelings came to mind as I read this post - shivers at your plot! (you must work out those knots!!) and relief that others work the same way. I'm rewriting a beginning for the sixth time and just hope this one works. I need to send the proposal off but I didn't know - until chapter three - that my hero and heroine already knew each other from earlier days! Aack!! That meant all those 'stranger' comments in the first chapter didn't work. And, yes, I did plot it out, lay out timelines. . .just didn't register that her college roommate's older brother's best friend would have been at the house now and then when she visited. Now I'm unraveling and reknotting the plot.

I love this job!!