What You Can’t Tell By Looking

I’ve been thinking about criminals, lately.

The very first rule I ever learned… way back in AP psychology (That’s high school. Sixteen or seventeen years old, but I was the only minor in the class.) Was that you can’t tell by looking at someone, or even by talking to them what they did. The entire class (minus me, of course, because I was still a minor) went on a field trip to the local “correctional facility.” And while they were there, they met a volunteer inmate who gave them the standard what prison life is like, and stay-in-school lecture.

When they got back, the most memorable part of the classroom discussion centered around one question:

What do you think he did?

And most of the speculation centered around white-collar crimes. Bad checks. Insurance fraud. Maybe a few minor drug offenses.

Nope. The correct answer was multiple counts of 1st degree aggravated murder.

You know… the stuff you hear about in horror movies.

And nobody even suggested violence.

And that’s where my thoughts turn toward people who are just suspected of crimes, and the miracle of due process.

Yup. To my mind, it is a miracle that we’ve ever gotten past I don’t like you, therefore you must’a raped my daughter.

Because if you can’t tell what someone did do by talking to them, you sure as heck can’t tell what they didn’t do.

Index Cards and Coffee Might Save My Life

The wind is blowing in hard and cold, and you can hear it creeping around between the houses. This is the week it’s finally supposed to get really, truly, properly cold. I’m not that much of a winter person, and even less so, when it’s cold and cloudy.

I worked my way through a bunch of index cards representing the tail end of my novel.

They’re mostly chronological, which is always a plus, and they get from point A to point B.

The biggest hurdle is going to be completely ignoring the now random versions of what I’ve already written, and writing to match what needs to be there.

No, really.

I enjoy the thing where the scene is recognizably something… but has the wrong characters in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I have the wrong person being beaten up. The wrong funeral. The wrong entity moving from point A to point B. (And that’s no small feat, since the thing that should be moving is a temple, and the thing that should not be moving is a human being. I can’t tell you how long that took me to figure out.

Oh, yes. And I am no longer certain that the things my main characters tell each other are… uhm… strictly speaking… true.

Giveaways and Readers

I’m sick as a dog right now, and took the day off work. I’m having trouble with the seemingly simple task of walking and not vomiting at the same time. Since both of those things are highly valued in the workplace, I’m recuperating at home.

If I don’t eat, drink, or move… Well, don’t tell. I think there are those who would equate moving my thumbs to type with being hale and hearty.

So, I’m thinking about book giveaways and whether they work and how they work.

The changes in Goodreads’ pricing for giveaways, and the subsequent weeping and gnashing of teeth might have something to do with that.

I’ve won a few giveaways in my time, and I find myself thinking about the authors who I wound up reading steadily as a result. There aren’t that many. And that makes me wonder if I’m looking at the wrong end of the strategy.

I’m wondering if the target for that kind of marketing is the guy who didn’t win, but who still feels an attachment to the book as a result of his narrow miss. The building of lists and followings, and the individual response of one entrant who happens to win is immaterial. 

And of course, I’m curious if that changes the strategy.

So, who’s found a new favorite author through a giveaway? And if you have given away books, how would you do it differently the next time?

Summing Up November

Looking back on the fine month of November, I’m not all that crazy about my progress. Part of that is that I decided I should stop and write another novel–NaNoWriMo, you know–and part of it is that there were a lot of rewrites I needed to get done, and some of them re things I have no idea how to do. Part of it is also procrastination, of course.

I’m also a little overwhelmed at the sheer amount of handwritten work I need to type up. I definitely let that snowball on me. (And as a result, I’m going to have to take a day or two to type up the work in question.) This is going to have to be a part of my daily routine, now. Get up, type things into the computer, and then work on the next day’s quota. I do not like typing.

So, I’m revising a scene–it’s one of those right general content, wrong characters, wrong setting, wrong tone scenes. And I honestly don’t know what else is wrong with it. Part of it is that I want to put a romantic scene there. I want something nice and comforting and… nice. And not an argument over a funeral ritual that has become a stereotype for one of my cultures.

Of course, if I actually put a romantic scene there, it may ruin the ending, and descend into erotica.

I’m not having a lot of luck catching the right tone.

And if I could think of anything else that would work there, I would probably do that.

I’m sure nobody would be too surprised if my characters were all crushed to death in a mid-summer avalanche. Right?

I’m ready to be done with the revision.

An Internet Education

It is Thursday, the sun is in the air–real warmth, this time, not just a lot of light–and my Amazon recommendations are currently listing a wide variety of fire arms accessories. That’s my own fault. I had to go click on a link to find out what a brass catcher was, and now I know, and I’m also about to find out what a military crimp remover is. I’m pretty sure it’s what Marines use to de-crimp their hair back into regulation rectitude following a naughty weekend in Dubai.

I could be wrong.

The thing about the internet is that there’s information everywhere.

Those weird questions you really can’t just annoy a stranger with? A fraction of a second away with your favorite search engine, and from there, you’re onto the endless Columbo-style daisy chain of just one more question.

You know you’re onto something good, if Google comes up with no relevant results, or if a hotline of any type materializes before your eyes. And I’m more or less addicted to the “People who viewed this also viewed…” feature on Amazon.

For instance… the fact that people who viewed the uterus cookie cutter I’m looking at (don’t ask) also viewed Colosseum shaped salt and pepper shakers is a really weird juxtaposition. Back in the day… which was not so very long ago… people in my neck of the woods had to send all the way to Denver to get their uterus shaped candies and cookies. And yes, I know that for a fact. Now, you can order your sugary uteri from the comfort of your own Lazy Boy.

The information’s all just there for the taking.

I’m sure there are practical applications, of course. How do you make your book show up with the most popular uteri, for instance. Or just exactly what kind of people are reading my book? Can I use that to advertise to them, later on?

The advertising thing comes up as sort of a tangent from elsewhere on the internet, of course.

What kind of people do I want to advertise my book to?

Weirdly enough, I’m pretty sure the answer is not “People who buy books” any more than the answer is people with a pulse. But it might be people who buy their kids telescopes, or people who build model rockets.

Fifteen Minutes to Get Out Of Dodge

Somewhere near me, they’re draining a lake, looking for a woman who went missing about a week before Thanksgiving. The local news–via Twitter–is giving us a blow-by-blow description of the search. It seems they’ve just pulled out work lights, so the news-reader du jour suggests they plan on working late tonight. This particular disappearance–for whatever reasons–is catching a lot of attention.

And there’s something about anything the media touches that seems to turn into a three-ring circus.

They did do a lovely job of saying “pond” or “body of water” instead of “sewage lagoon,” though.

And if it weren’t unseemly, you’d swear you were betting on a dog fight. I mean… all the news readers have to know this is (potentially) a huge step up from their last major stories (which involve people accidentally shooting themselves, and Petsmart donating stuffed animals to an area children’s hospital.)

There’s not a whole lot that happens around here.

The investigation might be a whole lot better off without television. Without the internet. Without the rampant competition to get the scoop (which, if the stars align, may not exist in the first place.) Without the pressure to catch someone… anyone.

And honestly… If a psychopath dropped a body in a lake, the last thing anybody should be doing is telling him exactly where and when the police are doing. (The cop just pulled on his hip-waders.  He’s given the cadaver dog a Snausage. Fifteen minutes to get out of Dodge.)

So, what about you? Do you think news coverage helps or hurts an investigation? And if you were a reporter, just how far would you go to get the scoop?

(Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to add three sex scenes and a chainsaw murder to my novel. Good for the ole career, you know.)

Reverse Dumpster Diving

You know those big name authors? The ones who have to cross cut shred everything because the people who go through their garbage would post spoilers in the internet, if they didn’t?

Well, I’m not one of them.

In fact, my well-meaning critics dropped off an extra bag of garbage this morning.

Bag of garbage

The actual garbage in question.

It appears they don’t think I’m throwing enough away.

The Cyber Monday Blues

One of the troublesome things about the great retail holidays that always gets to me is the certainty that–somewhere out there–is the perfect deal on the perfect thing that will lift my spirits and make my life better. Somewhere there’s the perfect deal on an ice fishing drill. (I could take up ice. Fishing seems a bit out of my league.) Or a kayak. Or… stemless wine glasses? Something.

The truth is, I need nothing. There are a few books that have been on my TBR list forever, and I might pick those up. And I really do need a new pair of shoes. Uhm, well, you know… in the sense that I have feet.

Other than that, if I get sucked in, I’ll probably spend more money on the kind of things that are excellent bargains you had no idea you needed until you saw them. Zucchini shoe-stringer? Well, ordinarily, no… but it is seventy-five percent off.

I’m not shopping for shoes today. I will take a quick glance at my various wish lists and see if anything I actually want is on sale. My guess would be no, but you know. Might as well. Carefully. And without letting myself get tricked into thinking everybody else is doing it.

I did actually go walk around a real life, physical mall for a while. (The Black-Friday crowds have now died down.) Shrug.

The sad truth is that the things that make me happy–in a more enduring kind of way–actually turn out to be hard work on a project I love, exercise, and eating my vegetables. I am such a grown-up!

Unpopular Opinion Coming Through

Over my lunch hour, today, I got caught at the chatty table. I’m not exactly sure how that happened. Poetic justice, really. I sat down at the empty table, and wouldn’t you know it? Ten minutes later, it was the social event of the season. Women talking about their sons and grandsons, and the wonderful world of high-school wrestling. I know next to nothing about wrestling, and I have no sons or grandsons, so you can imagine my role in the conversation. Mostly smiling and nodding, while I wonder if it’s okay to get out my earphones, yet.

So, the coach has announced that he will be very carefully monitoring the boys’ weights to be sure that no one is doing unhealthy things to get the weight class of their choice.

Yup. It was a conversation about eating disorders, but no one actually said “eating disorder.” Not even the woman who was describing her kid, who was compulsively chewing gum in order to soak up moisture from his body. (I’m not sure I totally got the process, but that’s the theory.)

You have to imagine a weird mix of pride and concern. Here and there, a mother setting her foot down, that her son is NOT going to endanger his future health so he can wrestle for a couple of years. Less clear about how, exactly, she intends to stop it.

Damn it, no! You cannot have a puppy eating disorder.

It’s weird how deep and dark and deadly serious high school sports are. And if you think they’re just a game… well, you’re either an optimist or completely out of touch.

The first time I remember anyone talking about this was several years after my older cousin stopped (football, wrestling, etc.) He’d played in high school. And college. And for what it’s worth, I thought he was pretty good. (what I could see from over the edge of my book, anyway.) I thought of him as athletic. Fit. Healthy.

And then, all of a sudden, people were talking about how much better he looked, now that he wasn’t trying to maintain his weight class… How much weight he’d lost. And they were right, of course. I’d just never thought of him as anything other than a “big” guy.  I was surprised by the comment, and more surprised to realize… well, wow… sports probably weren’t all that good for him.

Kids push themselves hard. Not just boys.

And they don’t always have a clear idea of whether they have an actual chance of being a pro football player or a prima ballerina.

The cost-benefit assessment is more an adult’s job.

The idea of a coach lecturing an entire team on “eat right or else?” I hope he was talking to one specific kid, but I don’t believe it. And honestly, I think a more recreational approach to high school sports might be wise.

Stepping Back, Big Picture…

One of the things I do a lot of while I’m revising is comparing timelines. Right now, it’s my MCs’ timelines vs my villain’s timeline. They have to match up, so I don’t have to work in a time machine to make everybody meet up in the thrilling conclusion.

Now, let’s be honest. More often than not, I wind up looking at timelines when I have no idea what’s supposed to come next, or what I’m supposed to be writing at any given moment. I really should probably do it before I wind up getting lost.

So, you remember Cornell notes from back in 7th grade, right? Those really annoying, and frequently required things where you fold the paper in half and write the question on one side and the answer on the other? Yup. Finally figured out a use for those. You fold the paper in half. And then, you put the antagonist on one side and the protagonist on the other side. And the only question is: What’s the other guy doing?

The answer, of course, is… Blowing up a planet. And thinking of becoming a comic book character. In sentence fragments. Just to see your seventh grade English teacher cry.

So, that’s what I did, this afternoon. Aside from the day job. And the exercise.

And somewhere along the line, something clicked, and the timelines started to fall into place.

I’m going to wind up rewriting another scene.

But I know what that scene should look like.

There’s enough time for MC the first and MC the second to get to know each other.

And the villain’s timeline collides with their timeline nearly at the right place.