Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Talking, Listening, and Really Hearing

I must have looked frustrated when my son walked into my office one day last week. He found me staring at my computer screen and the manuscript open on it. "Just kill them all," he said. "And get it over with."

I explained how that was not an option. Especially considering that this was book #2 in the Button Box mystery series that premiers in September. I need these people–some of them, anyway–for at least one more book that’s already contracted, and hopefully, more.

"So what’s the problem?" he asked, plunking down on the step stool I use to cover Perry the Canary whose singing keeps me company while I work. "Tell me."

A mighty generous offer from a 25-year-old who works the night shift at a local microbrewery and who had just returned home after a long eight hours of doing whatever it is brewers do. I was skeptical, but I started talking.

See, I was nearing the end of "Kill Button," and what I’d realized in a moment of clarity a few days earlier is that especially at the end, mysteries are harder to write than anything else I’ve ever done. (And believe me when I say I’ve written in a whole bunch of genres.) The trouble with mysteries is that there at the end, all those loose ends the author’s been dangling throughout the book need to be gathered and dealt with. The biggest problem I was having, I realized as I talked through my quandary, was figuring out the logic of the math.

How many sets of phony buttons were there?

How many buyers had agreed to purchase them?

These seem like simple questions, but with almost 300 pages already written, the details were getting lost in the fog and every time I considered them, I hit a brick wall.

While we talked, I made notes, and I finally got the whole number thing worked out. Four sets of buttons. Four buyers. I wrote it on a notepad in great, big letters and set it in front of my computer so I wouldn’t forget as I did my final edits.

And while I was talking, I realized the number of buttons and buyers wasn’t my problem to begin with. In setting up the story (way back in chapter 4), I’d mentioned off hand that something was supposed to happen on Tuesday morning. But after talking out my plot with David, explaining who the bad guy was, how the victim had been killed, how my heroine was going to expose the murderer, I realized that all my problems stemmed from that Tuesday morning. The victim was already dead by Tuesday morning. What I said was supposed to happen, couldn’t.

It was a small thing, sure, but somewhere in my mind, after I wrote it, it was–at least to me–set in stone. And it was stopping me. Big Time. My subconscious knew that, and it was telling me that there was a problem that needed to be worked out before my heroine could point a finger and name the killer.

All it took to figure it out was the chance to talk to it out and for that, I’m grateful for the help of my sleepy son. No, I didn’t need to kill them all. Thank goodness! I only needed talk, then stop and really listen, and in the quiet, hear the message my subconscious was sending.

Next Wednesday, I’ll be visiting Lily Dale, New York, the largest Spiritualist community in the world. I’m not taking my computer so I won’t be checking in. I promise a full report on Lily Dale the week after! Happy Fourth of July!


Sharon said...

My daughter does that with me. She comes to me and says "I need to figure out how to make this work" and she launches into her plot line and what is going on. I listen and make comments, the light bulb goes on and off she goes.... it is a beautiful process.

Casey said...

It takes two (or more!) special brains to work that well together. You and your daughter are lucky, Sharon. I have tried this process with various and sundry friends only to find out it DOESN'T work!

Sharon said...

lol. I know what you mean. Having a dynamic and fluid imagination isn't something everyone has, or the ability to problem solve.