As we drove across the San Joaquin Valley watching for high water, my husband asked me about a plot I was developing. He is a great listener, asks the kinds of questions that lead to better plots, and as someone who rammed through most of his nine lives, has a fine background in adventure. So, he was all on board with my plot involving three boys disappearing from school in hopes of floating down a tributary or two to the Mississippi River. Mind you he used up one of his lives on a homemade raft in a river at flood stage when a mite older than the boys in question.
He asked why the boys hadn’t chosen the closest tributary to their hometown. I explained it was across open ground and farmland. A far more romantic river was nearer, treelined, and wound around for miles before merging with the Illinois River, then the Mississippi. Besides, who wouldn’t want to float down Spoon River?
Then he asked what happened to the boys. When I told him. He gave me that look. You know the one, somewhere between are you mad and don’t do that, just don’t.
Holy smokes. I immediately began to retool the plot. I’d like to say this was the first time I’ve received the look, but it isn’t.
As for the rafting part, he is an expert on being swept off a self-made raft, driven under trees, and pounded on the bottom of a river dashing to the ocean. And if I ever need to know what it is like to leap off a cliff onto a beach, I know where to go.
Writers/readers who read a few drafts…
… and gently steer. Having read my latest book, two readers made the same comment. I responded to each that the paragraph in question foreshadowed the book’s conclusion.
Then, I read it again.
Here it is: “I believe I did. But, Cora, if you know who struck down that poor girl, you must tell me true. You must bear witness to it!”
When what was meant was: “I believe I did. But, Cora, I, too, have heard the Railtown men grousing that Eliza had another suitor. If you suspect a second suitor and know his name, if he exists, you must tell me.”
Notice any difference?
And later, another character says: “Constable McKie is but one who believes you know the killer’s name. And there is one man who will do anything to stop you from revealing it. Now, do you understand?”
Versus: “Constable McKie is but one who believes you think Michael Thomas innocent but are less sure of Eliza’s other suitor. Even if innocent, that man might wish to stop you from discovering his name hoping for a future in this town. And if he is Eliza’s killer? Now, do you understand?”
Thank heavens for readers, right?
I have a Russian Blue named Blue because it is a lot better than Do-do which was his given name. He is not the sort of cat who sleeps on computers or printers, but he is compulsive about his schedule like the Germans operating the Louisa in The African Queen.
At 9:15 he picks out his canned food. This entails walking up the hall, tail up, to the cupboard, waiting for me to open it, then sticking his head in for a look.
At 2:15 he demands I pick him up, hug and lug him to the sliding door so that he has a better angle from which to watch the birds on the deck. Mostly, he wants hugs.
At 4:15 he demands, in a loud Russian Blue voice, that his soup be stirred. I go to the kitchen and stir his wet food so that it is refreshed, or if he is having one of those gravy sorts of things, add water to make more gravy.
When he seeks my attention, he sits next to me, staring up until I respond. And in so doing provides me a bit of time to refresh my thinking, ponder my next sentence, and edit my next word.
I simply cannot imagine writing without all three. And, so you know, the book above, Unbecoming a Lady, will land in ebook and paperback formats around the Ides of March.