Introducing “The Last Page of Friendship” (Trio 1, Story 3)

Rock, Paper, Scissors --- Image by © Royalty-Free/CorbisThis story was inspired by two events, the first being a visit to Seattle,which plays a large part in the story, from downtown and the Space Needle, the infamous drizzly weather, to the ferry over to Bainbridge Island, a secluded an affluent enclave where you wouldn’t expect bad things to happen.

The Last Page of Friendship” is the tale of two middle-aged women, old friends who have reached a plateau in life: married, bored, and seeking career revitalization. What better way than becoming writers for redeeming their flagging egos, shoring up their reputations, and giving a competitive jolt to their friendship. Only things go too far…

Which brings me to the other aspect of the story, namely a percolating interest in the case of Juliet Hulme, who along with her adolescent best friend, Pauline Parker murdered Parker’s mother, Honorah Rieper. The fact that Juliet Hulme went on to become best-selling crime novelist Anne Perry, is another twist in the real-life tale. (Her story was adapted into Peter Jackson’s 1994 movie Heavenly Creatures starring Kate Winslet and Melanie Lynskey).

Rather than involve intervening parents, “The Last Page of Friendship” makes the women middle-aged, and uses Seattle as a backdrop. The engine of the crime is their literary rivalry, which could only form in the cauldron of an over-intense friendship. People seem to be more ardent on oneupmanship when it focuses on those in their inner circle. A little schadenfreude never hurt anyone. 🙂 And these women are not used to losing.

What could possibly go wrong?

The importance of readers for work-in-progress…

Importance of ReadersWriting for years, I’ve learned the hard way that I make mistakes. Lots of them. In fact, it’s so easy to make mistakes, you can spend all your time correcting past ones when you should be writing new material.

Errors are there to be corrected, but wouldn’t it be far nicer to write on, a little less haunted? James Joyce once said: “I don’t make mistakes. My mistakes are the portals of discovery.” I love the sentiment, but arguably I’m not James Joyce (last time I looked).

One answer is to try and get readers for your work. In the past, I’ve baulked. What, showing my work to someone? I had to get over this. If you can’t show work-in-progress, how will you ever release writing to the big, bad world? My advice is to just get two readers.

Why two? Well, it’s enough to manage. Not only do you have to write to a schedule, you have to incorporate their edits. That’s the idea: they comment at the macro level (characters, story, setting) and micro (language, pace, typos), and you have to interpret it all.

I’m very grateful to my two readers currently offering feedback on Rising Apes, Falling Angels. I offer them a small fee per story, and in return I plan a schedule of turnaround dates. I leave it open what they work on exactly: I’m happy for them to read the story, and focus on whatever strikes them as needing most work, including what I did well (something!). It’s good to know what you write well, in order to write more of it. Of course, it’s even better to know what’s pretty poor, in order to rewrite or cut.

Readers also notice factual and continuity errors. One of my readers noticed a continuity mistake in (He) Said, (She) Said, a story about consent (or perhaps lack of) from The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes. Here’s the reader’s comment:

Alsoyou make such a deal out of Danny not having his watch on at the bar and on the walk home but you say that he clicked his watch on after the non-rape-rape encounter…not sure if I misread this but I think you may have made a little slip up.

Of course, in a story where facts and point of view are paramount, I hadn’t intended the error. Danny will no longer have a magically appearing watch, given he never brought it out to the bar in the first place.

Just as important, readers pass opinion on believability and levels of excitement or apathy.

Ultimately, having readers of drafts ‘in your corner’ is a social connection for the isolating business of the daily writing grind. It’s a way of connecting with ‘real readers’ (which they are too, of course). That’s what writing is all about“only connect,” as E. M. Forster said.

So bringing the process forward is both professional and a step toward answering messages from more people, once the time comes.

Happy reader hunting!

 

Introducing “(He) Said, (She) Said” (Trio 1, Story 2)

beer-wineThis story was influenced by a 2014 court case at the Old Bailey, London in which a public schoolboy was accused of raping an ex-classmate. There were also a spate of similar stories in the US, often on college campuses or fraternity houses, and a debate grew around the subject, particularly the idea of consent. (According to the University of Georgia’s University Health Center, “consent is sexy,” the strange notion of using sexual appeal in trying to get college kids excited about asking permission.)

The accused man in the London case, Archie Reed, was eventually cleared of all charges, which is not to say that plenty of cases have judgement passed that neither side feels satisfied by. There must always be a friction in such cases, two sides to one story, often taking place in confined space and time, and yet resulting in such polarizing, violently different interpretations, especially once the law gets involved.

In effect, the story “(He) Said, (She) Said” grew out of these media stories, particularly the Archie Reed case, although ultimately the story’s intent is to remain finely balanced over the question of guilt, on both sides, as well as other ideas of reconciliation, remorse, memory, and reputation, especially among friends.

It’s an ominous subject, and yet certain absurdities are revealed from such cases, especially in the case of an acquittal. They becomes tales of character and personalities, of people unleashing forces more powerful than their ability to control — forces of social, legal, and individual judgement.

Judge for yourselves!

…And Other Crimes…Inspired by a Spike Lee Joint

spike-lee-joint-1.2A couple of weeks ago, I was wondering how to title my first collection of three stories. Since they were crime stories, I hit on the idea of replacing Stories with Crimes, so instead of The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Stories, I settled on The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes.

I owe this homage to a memory of Spike Lee titling his movies ‘joints’ rather than ‘movies,’ ever since I saw Lee’s joint Do the Right Thing. The opening credits got a laugh just by announcing ‘A Spike Lee Joint.’ Entertainment first! Plus you can get high off a Spike Lee film.

Henceforth, my ‘stories’ for my Trio 1 will be known as ‘crimes,’ hence the title The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes. Fraud is the focus of “The Man in Gray Tie,” consent in “(He) Said, (She) Said,” and plagiarism in “The Last Page of Friendship.”

Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

Introducing “The Man in the Gray Tie” (Trio 1, Story 1)

Have You Ever Gambled and Won Something You Couldn’t Afford?The idea for “The Man in the Gray Tie” (the title story for The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes) was a memory of visiting the English countryside. There was a small auction house in North Yorkshire that captured my imagination, nestled away under some trees and quite posh-looking. I didn’t go inside, but the memory lingered….

It was the combination of this setting and reading Roald Dahl’s short stories that inspired me, in particular Dahl’s “Parson’s Pleasure” (starring the unforgettable Mr. Boggis). In that story, a man tours the English countryside ripping people off–mostly taking their antique furniture. I created a similar character in Dr. Sidney Holton, someone who is not motivated by money, but rather the thrill of duping other people. His victim in this case is the affluent auction house, whoever owns it.

What would happen, Dr Holton wonders, if he bids up the prices at the auction house…for his satisfaction. Well, what happens is not what he expects. This time, in taking his wife’s beloved dog into the auction, his plan backfires. Since the animal’s is his wife’s pride and joy (more than he is), he has something to lose more than his integrity, yet somehow more to gain than embarrassment…

Check out this first story at “The Man in the Gray Tie.”

Introducing…The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes (Trio 1)

gavel

Hi, I am currently working on some new stories. The first three will be released as a mini-collection (Trio 1) and called The Man in the Gray Tie and Other Crimes. So far I’ve written six of the stories (Trios 1 and 2) and about to embark on the seventh. Over the next few weeks I’ll be blogging about the experience of writing these stories, and the inspiration behind them.

Basically, it’s time to give a little behind-the-scenes on the experience. Along the way there are lots of U-turns, hurdles to overcome, dead ends, and so on. But there are also some sweet, funny moments associated with writing (you wouldn’t think it, I know), its pitfalls, and how the most unexpected things can find their way into stories, and improve them.

The first story I wrote for the collection is the title story, “The Man in the Gray Tie.” Hopefully I won’t change the title of this story, but it’s entirely possible. I am already considering a polka dot tie, since the gray tie is perhaps too reminiscent of the lead character of E. L. James’s Fifty Shades of Grey (2011). Given the main character is my story keeps all his clothes on, that should be where the confusion ends. 🙂

Hope to see you here!