Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why I Started Killing People Off.

Why I Started Killing People Off.

I've never been interested in murder mysteries, honestly the idea of reading about people being murdered leaves me cold (pun intended), so how did I end up writing a novel with three murders in it?Someone in my Writer's Group once asked me if I'd ever thought of inserting a murder in my novel "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe." I'm still trying to figure out why this guy, who I thought of as being pretty sane and reasonable (well compared to most of people I come across), would ever even think that was an even remotely good idea.
Even if I thought a murder would be fun to write, there is nothing about "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" that would lend itself to a possible murder.
Meanwhile, though, I had begun to write "Bonita Verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-Go-Round." As an exercise (I thought), I decided to allow myself to imagine what the possible scenario could be for a murder to occur in that book (I'm really big on thinking outside the box especially boxes I find I've put myself in). Well, I came up with an idea that I found quite interesting and thought I could have fun with in this already quirky novel, and as these things do, one thing led to another and - though this novel does not fit the genera of "murder mystery" - I've got three dead bodies I'm now responsible for.
None of the scenes where the murders actually takes place are described - only eluded to - which is one way I kept to my personal sensibilities. But I do even start the book with one of the murders. Here's the opening scene for "Bonita Verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-Go-Round," (still in it's first draft form):

 "Wha' dis?"  Liston Taxi-Man stared gape mouthed at the white man laying in a pool of fresh blood on Miss Rachel's front porch.  "Nah, mon, nah."
The hush of a light trade wind dancing through the palms was pierced by a loud screech. Liston jerked his head toward the calabash tree across the dirt road.  A monkey, with fur glistening and matted by a sticky red substance, let out another anguished howl. 
"Mannix, wha' happ'n here?  You do dis t'ing?"

Friday, August 30, 2013

Using Setting in Dialogue

Using Setting in Dialogue

In real life, conversations usually have a lot of pauses - especially emotionally charged conversations. In fiction, much of the dialogue occurs in emotionally charged situations. A rapid exchange of comment and response will not ring true in this case. Adding, "he paused" or "She thought a bit" is fine once in a while, but that gets over used quickly.
One of the things I do to handle this is have my character's interact with their environment to show the pause or thinking occurring.
In "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," during a very intense scene in a coffee shop when Jim, my main character, reveals he's bisexual to someone very important to him who's homophobic, I breakup dialogue and show his discomfort by having him feel the granules in a packet of sugar. In the same scene I have the person he's talking to stare fixedly at a car parked on the curb. I also show Jim gripping the edge of the saucer at one point, later, he's looking at the cold slosh at the bottom of his cup.
In "Bonita Verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-Go-Round," I have Bonnie's mother accidentally singeing the blouse she's ironing for work when Bonnie asks her if she'd been a planned child.
The trick is to intersperse dialogue with body language at key moments. This also has the handy effect of creating suspense for the readers - keeping them waiting just a bit for what's going to be said next.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Time a Writer Can Put into One Sentence.

The Time a Writer Can Put into One Sentence.

In "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," - which is written in first person from the character Jim's perspective - Jim mentions, in one sentence, what a particular sexual situation he had was like. I wrote that sentence and kept writing. When rereading what I wrote that day, the sentence struck me as lacking. I rewrote it. Later, in an edit, I realized I still didn't like the way it sounded and rewrote it again. This time I struggled some but left another not great sentence in it's place. In another edit - in which I specifically was working on all the places where I let myself be lazy in the writing - I struggled some more. This time I wasn't going to let myself off the hook. I put it aside after several attempts, to rework the next day. That day I had a talk with Jim (my fictional character) out-loud as I was driving to the store. I said, "I'm not getting this. Something is wrong. Somehow I don't really have a feel for what that was like for you. You have to open up to me Jim; you have to tell me what you two did that night." I was a bit shocked by what he revealed, understood his reluctance to tell me, but finally got the sentence to my satisfaction. I don't tell the readers what Jim told me, just conveyed the sentiment that summed up the experience for him. It wasn't even an important part of the book - other than every sentence is an important part of the book.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Promoting One's Work

Wow, so excited. I have been so busy trying to figure out how to make sure people will know I have a book out there when I e-publish. With no big publishing house behind you when you e-publish; one has to self-promote.
I set up this blog and a website among other things. However, over the last few days I was very frustrated to see what came up when I Googled my name. So I've been spending a whole bunch of time trying to fix that and my website which yesterday did not come up at all in searches suddenly is at the top of the list when I google Harrie Farrow!
So good to see hard work pay off! It's a complicated world on the web, that's for sure - the learning curve is huge. But the cool thing is it can be done with more than a little perseverance. Here's one valuable tool.
Another helpful thing to do is go to your website or blog host help and search :  "Search engine optimization."
Good luck; if I can do it so can you.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's a Quarter Worth?

What's a Quarter Worth?

When I was maybe seven or eight years old, I wrote my first piece of fiction. It was a short story entitled, "A Dog, a Cat and a Mouse." I sent it to my aunt. She was so pleased, she sent me a quarter to encourage my writing career. I don't have the quarter anymore (my guess is I spent it on candy), or a copy of the story, but I do still - after several decades and many, many moves - have the note of encouragement that she taped the quarter to.
Obviously I already had the writing itch within me when I wrote that story, but it's likely that my aunt's encouragement and that first paycheck for my writing had a lot to do with me someday becoming "Novelist, Harrie Farrow."
Is there some wee person in your life who might benefit from such encouragement?

Monday, August 26, 2013

Every Experience is Potential Fodder for a Future Novel.

Every Experience is Potential Fodder for a Future Novel.

If you're a writer, one way to help cope with a bad experience is to realize that it might come in handy someday when you're writing. Years ago, as I was being wheeled down a hospital corridor to go into surgery, I kept telling myself to pay attention. I may want to use this someday in a book. What does this moment feel like? What are the sights, smells, sounds? Of course, the irony is, what I was feeling at the moment was that the moment might someday be useful in a book. Oh well, I guess I can always write about a writer going into surgery and thinking about how that might be a good experience to put in a book some day.
In "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," my main character's parents turn fundamentalist christian when he is a teenager. I use statements that a born-again relative of mine used in conversations with me when writing dialogue Jim has with his parents.
Likewise, in "Bonita Verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-Go-Round" I have Bonnie's father, Ted, and her mother Karen make some bizarre comments to the mysterious Rachel that someone once said to me.
So remember when things get bad, at least your gaining another tidbit for a great scene in a novel.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Getting to Know Your Characters.

Getting to Know Your Characters.
Characters who seem like flesh and blood people to readers is an essential part of good fiction. Mainly this requires that a character is multidimensional - just like real people. A character needs to have a past, hobbies, issues, dreams etc. 
One way to get to know who your character is in-depth, is to imagine him or her in all sorts of scenarios. It can be especially helpful to include situations not related to your story at all. In my novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe," my main character, Jim, never once goes to a beach. But when I was on vacation during the time I was writing the book, even though I did not write during the vacation, I took the opportunity to - in my head - imagine Jim on the beach in Mexico. What circumstances would have brought him there? Who would he be with? What would they be saying to each other? What would he like or dislike about that beach? What kind of swimming attire would he wear? What beach activities would he partake in? Would he use sun block? etc.  
Once you have a real grasp on the people you people your novel with, it will come more automatically to you to know how they will respond to the situations in your book, what they will say and how they will say it. 
One of the things the other writers in my writers group use to say to me when I read from "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" is "you really get inside Jim's head!" The truth was, I told them, that Jim really got inside my head. 

Saturday, August 24, 2013

What Novelists Choose to Write About.

What Novelists Choose to Write About.
Yes, often our characters dictate our stories and it feels like we have very little control over it. But what was the impetus that developed the character in the first place? We - as authors - breath life into a new (fictional) being; what was our intent? People have myriads of reasons to create a story. Often the desire to entertain is really what it's all about. Sometimes a desire to educate in an entertaining matter is more the point - think "To Kill a Mocking Bird," or "Lord of the Flies." These books each highlight a reality of life in a way that keeps readers interested, and helps them understand the issue on a deeper level or from a new perspective.
My novel "Love, Sex and Understanding the Universe" was not written by me but by Jim, my fictional character. He told me his story and I put it on paper. But I created Jim as a vehicle to help me impart a greater understanding on the issues affecting bisexuals, in a way that would keep readers interested.
My novel, "Bonita verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-go-round" is more about entertaining readers, but also deals with bisexuality, and the aftermath of alternative lifestyles of the Age of Aquarius.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Why I Never Wanted to Write a Novel

Why I Never Wanted to Write a Novel
Commitment, commitment, commitment - writing a novel is a long term commitment and there is no guarantee it will payoff. Not only do you not know if it will payoff financially, you don't know if anyone will ever even enjoy it. If you're going to get it done and do it right it takes lots of time away from other things you could be doing or writing. I have not ever taken even a second to contemplate how many hours I put into my novel "Love, Sex and Understanding the Universe." I think I'd get dizzy and faint if I did.
I wrote the book simply because I had no other choice. It was intended to be a short story but the short story, which I really was excited about, would not fit into the confines of that format. My main character, Jim, would not be satisfied with me telling just that one little bit of his life. He wanted the whole thing told, and I could see too that without his back-story the short story did not make sense. Jim was not the kind of guy to get himself into the mess he was in. I wanted to know what happened to get him there and he told me, and told me and told me. But I answered back that this was all fine and well but I was NOT going to write a novel. He wouldn't shut up and even went on to tell me what happens after the slice of time in the story. Finally, I gave up and did as he insisted, and told his story.
So, was it worth it? Do I regret the time - years - I put into that book? Well, of course it was worth it to get Jim to stop his incessant narrating in my head. More importantly though, I love the novel. The few others who have heard parts of it - no one else has ever read the whole thing (YET) - have been intrigued too, and that's very encouraging. However, what's most telling about how I feel about having put that time and commitment into the book is that fact that once I was done I wanted to do it again, and thus, my second novel, "Bonita verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-go-round."

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Are Novels Largely Autobiographical?

Are Novels Largely Autobiographical?
People who have read my fiction often make comments that assume much of what I write is autobiographical. My character's all live lives that are extremely different from the one I've been leading, but that doesn't mean my experiences didn't help me write my novels. Events, people I've known, things people have said to me, and places I have been, have frequently inspired me. For example, in "Love, Sex and Understanding the Universe," my minor character, Carol was initially modeled after a woman I once saw on a bus. I have my character seeing her on the same bus route, wearing the same outfit, but when I couldn't get a good grasp on this woman's personality, I went and borrowed the physical attributes of an acquaintance of mine in the Ozarks. Suddenly Carol came alive and she's nothing like my acquaintance except in looks.
Likewise, for years I poked around with the idea that eventually became my second novel, "Bonita Verses Ivan Rastaman and the Monkey-Go-Round," but could not get it to take a hold on me. When I had my main character say and do some things a woman once said and did with me this brought Bonnie alive, though she is extremely different from the real woman I know. Then after I went to the Rainbow Gathering here in the Ozarks I decided to put Bonnie and her father in a scene there. While she sees some of the same things I did at the Gathering, her experience is her's alone and the people she meets are fabrications based on bits and pieces of people I have come across in my lifetime. It is this scene that made the novel finally take off for me.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Writers Have to Actually Write.

Writers Have to Actually Write.
If you fancy yourself a writer, remember, it's only okay to think about writing, talk about writing, and read about writing, if you are also actually writing.
Ideas not coming to you? Ideas too malformed? Just write anyway. Write anything. Describe your blank mind, describe your blank paper or screen, describe how you hate writing when you don't know what to write. Write the monologue of the laundry screaming at you to be washed, write your inner dialogue that insists/resists writing. Write the plot of your worst day, write the plot of your best day, write the plot of your ideal day. Write the words the wind is speaking, write about how stupid it is that I suggested you write about the words the wind speaks, write about how you'd like to hear the wind speak.
Writing these things is great practice; if you can find the way to describe a unfinished concrete floor you are doing much to perfect your craft, and one day, someday, this writing will lead to a story forming in your head.
How do I know these things? Been there - done that (often).

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Stories Within.

The Stories Within.

Lots of people over the years have said to me, when they found out I was a writer, "Oh, I've got a great story for you to write!" I'm always shocked - though you'd think I shouldn't be by now - that people think I need help finding tales to tell.
One of the things about needing to be a writer is that there are stories inside that are constantly pushing to get out, and one of the best things about being a novelist is using the imagination to create new world and new lives. Writing someone else's story would be like repainting a watercolor. There is an art to retelling someone else's story, but it's very different from inventing your own.
The hard part for me isn't coming up with ideas, it's making those ideas gel into form, getting my characters to take on a life of their own, and then getting them to let me tame them a bit to make the plot work.
On the same note, when I was a beginning writer, I often found that creative writing classes focused on accessing your inner creativity to dream up stories. This was always frustrating for me because I had all sorts of ideas running amok and just needed to learn how to corral them; I needed the techniques for good story telling, and info like: how not to overuse commas - which I think I still do.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Why I Use to do all my Writing in Coffeehouses.

Why I Use to do all my Writing in Coffeehouses.
My first novel, "Love, Sex, and Understanding the Universe" was entirely written in coffeehouses. I worked on that book for so many years that the coffee houses include those in San Francisco, St. Thomas USVI, Eureka Springs and Fayetteville, Arkansas. Coffeehouses provided, along with - obviously - lots of free flowing energy educing warm beverage, an escape from dishes and laundry screaming to be washed, phones (pre-cell phone) demanding to be answered, bills needing to be addressed, family members intruding etc.
Libraries offer this same escape - minus the java juice - but libraries tend to be too quiet - except for those pesky books shouting "look at me, look at me!" - so quite, in fact, as to induce sleepiness. More importantly though, libraries do not offer the other great feature of coffee shops - inspiration in the form of life and activity. Now one might think these things would be distracting, what I found though is that when the writing flow is going, activity around me becomes vague background noise, but when the flow isn't easily forthcoming, the activity provides sparks of ideas, triggers memories or emotional reactions, and then here comes the flow - the words start to form, push their way onto paper and off I go.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Going with the Flow

Going with the Flow
Funny how what seems like a big loss at the time often turns out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you.
I'd felt bogged down for years in being the office manager for the restaurant I co-owned with my "life partner," but I'd been doing it for so long, and the money was pretty good, and I had to make my business work, and I didn't know what else I could do, so I trudged along. Then I had the business taken away from me and I freaked out because it was what I knew, what I had, what I'd worked so long at and what was successful financially.
Yes, it was a major trauma for me. But though it was done to hurt me, it turned out to be one of the best things that person had ever done for me - albeit unwittingly. It forced me to give up what was holding me back, and tampering my spirit. Losing the business meant becoming poor, meant being thrown into a sea of vast unknown, but it also meant being thrown into a sea of possibilities and opportunities.
I got work freelancing for a local paper. The money was not great but I was doing what I loved. Then another life trauma - having my tires slashed. This forced me out of journalism, which I enjoyed on many levels and could at least make a little money from, but this act, despite the hostile intent, got me to see that I need to do what I love best, what I never allowed myself to devote to full time - writing fiction and publishing my work. So, no, I don't appreciate those who've traumatized me, but yes, I do appreciate that endings bring new and often better beginnings.