Thursday, November 5, 2009

BLOOD LAW cover is here!

Behold! The long awaited BLOOD LAW cover has arrived!


Point. Plot. Conspiracy. She shoots. She scores!

So...still wondering what the point was to my previous post?

Thought you might be since you're still hanging around.

My previous post, other than showing my wonderful ineptitude in navigating downtown Mobile, Alabama, was to illustrate the wrong turns, U-turns, and chaos associated with plotting novel.

When I first began writing, I didn't give much consideration to the central plot beyond "Event A leads to Event B leads to Event C leads to end." The first novel I ever completed -- which is securely locked away and will never see the light of day -- taught me a lot. The plot was straight with no real twists or turns but I learned a great deal about character development, setting, world building, and pacing. Unfortunately, the plot itself sucked major rotten eggs.

There is a long standing argument in publishing of whether books should be plot or character driven. I'm a bit odd in that I believe a truly great book should be both. It's like driving a car. A driver (the character) guides the car (the plot) along the highway (the unfolding story). The car does not guide itself. (And don't give me the argument that some cars in the future or on other hard sci-fi worlds do. Those are still piloted by a computerized navigation system that is capable of making decisions regarding alternate routes...or even better, going completely bonkers and crashing the car.) In order for the car (plot) to arrive at its destination (story's end), the driver (character) must guide it there. However, without the car (plot), the driver (character) can't reach his/her destination (story's end). That's not entirely true since the driver (character) can make a choice to either stay with the vehicle, thus potentially ending the story, or continue on foot, thus continuing the story and therefore, the plot.

Which brings us to a new fork in this road... Did the car crash because of a random computer glitch or was it sabotaged? Either choice can make for interesting plot developments. Does the driver stay with the vehicle or continue on foot? If s/he stays with the vehicle, does s/he call for help or does someone come along and find them? If s/he continues on foot, what potential dangers do they face? Are they hit by a drunk driver? Picked up by a good Samaritan? Reach their destination unharmed? These are the twists and turns along the road that make the journey interesting. For example...

Penelope leaves her home in Golden, Colorado earlier than normal because today is her boss's birthday. She drives through her neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours and reaches Interstate 70. She then heads east into the Denver metro area and arrives an hour early at her receptionist job at a downtown law firm in order to prepare for the boss's surprise party.

Boring. Let's try adding a few twists and turns...

Penelope leaves her home in Golden, Colorado earlier than normal because today is her boss's birthday. She spills coffee on her blouse as she drives through her neighborhood in the pre-dawn hours. Pissed off that she ruined her favorite blouse she reaches Interstate 70 and heads east into the Denver metro area. Traffic ahead has come to a complete standstill. She waits forty-five minutes and finally traffic begins to move forward. By now she's drank all her coffee and is even more pissed off. Another driver in a bright yellow Hummer cuts her off as she's exiting the interstate to enter downtown. Cursing wildly, she swerves around the Hummer and passes it. The Hummer shoots past her on the right side. Penelope floors it and over takes the Hummer. The other driver speeds up. Both drivers fail to see a red light and rocket into an intersection, into the path of oncoming traffic. The Hummer makes it through but Penelope's car is struck by garbage truck. Penelope is shaken up but suffers only minor injuries. She calls her boss, a partner in a high-profile law firm, and asks if he would mind picking her up at the emergency room since she has no family in the area. He agrees and when she is wheeled out of the ER to his car, she discovers he drives a bright yellow Hummer.

Now, having established this chain of events, the story can continue in any number of directions. Is her boss responsible for her accident? If so, was it an accident or intentional? If not, was it someone trying to frame her boss? Why would someone want to set him up? Will Penelope and her boss work together to solve the mystery or will they become legal adversaries? Was the driver of the garbage truck a hapless victim or part of a larger conspiracy?

My point here is this: A story is just a story but characters turn that story into an adventure. However, that adventure would never take place without those characters. Different characters create different adventures. I can say Penelope drove to work and pulled off a surprise birthday party for her boss in the same way that I got lost in downtown Mobile. However, if I say Penelope drove to work and found herself at the center of a plot to assassinate her boss, then suddenly the story has become larger -- it's become an adventure. The same can be said for my previous post. I could've easily said, "Hey, I got lost in downtown last week." But, I chose to recount my actions, the actions of others, and give details of what happened. My story became an adventure.

That is the plot and point of any novel -- to have an adventure. So, go forth and adventure, my minions.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

She went thatta way! No! That way! The other that way!

I confess. I live a double life.

I have an uncanny ability to memorize the layout of a building within minutes are remember where rooms are located. I retain these "blue prints" for years it seems. I remember the layout of a childhood friend's house and I only visited her home once for a birthday party before she moved away. Stores, airports, restaurants, office buildings, hotels...I memorize it all. A useful trick at conferences.

However, there is another side of me. The side that couldn't find its way out of a paper sack in the dark with two hands, a flashlight, and a map. Don't ask me which direction is north from any given spot because I can't tell you. The same goes for the other directions. And, no, the sun's position doesn't help because unless I see it moving I can't tell west from east. I often confuse left and right turns and have to back track. It's frustrating, really.

So you're probably wondering if there's a point to all this. There is. But first, an example of my fabulous sense of direction:

Last Tuesday I left home for my weekly Citizen's Academy meeting with the Mobile Police Department. I hadn't been there in a couple of weeks because of Bouchercon and post-travel recovery time. The path to where the meetings are held is familiar so it doesn't give me trouble...with the exception that it's close to downtown and I never go downtown by myself. One way streets confuse the hell out of me so I avoid that area whenever possible.

The trouble began with I arrived for the meeting to discover no one was there. Because I had some jackass following too closely behind me I wasn't able to slow down and make a U-turn in the parking lot like I wanted. I decided I'd go to the next major street and make the block. Sounded like a good plan at the time. Heh...yeah...right....

I turned left at the next major street knowing I needed to make a left to get back to Government Street and from there back home. Unfortunately, the street I'd chosen didn't lead back to Government, at least not right away. I'm searching for Government Street and realize too late that I'd just crossed it. I'm now in the land of one way streets and have no freaking clue what street I'm on anymore. All I know is that the street lights are getting further apart and dimmer by the second. Buildings are boarded up and the general vibe of the area is not a good one.

So I find a place to make a U-turn and call Mark. Our conversation went something like this:

Me: "I'm freaking out! I'm lost in downtown!"

Mark: "Where are you now?"

Me: "How the hell should I know? I'm fucking lost!"

Mark: "What street are you on?"

Me: "I don't know."

Mark: *sigh* "Do you see any cross streets?"

Me: "They don't have signs that I see. Wait. Here's one.... *driving through intersection* Damn it! That was Government. Again!"

Mark: "Turn around and go back."

Me: "All call you back in a few. Got to making another 'youie'."

I turned around and drove back to Government. Got in the left turn lane. Light changes and I'm heading I think.

If you've ever been to downtown Mobile you will know there are a few distinguishing landmarks. One is the newly built "skyscraper" with the unfinished looking top. (I don't know that official name of the building and honestly, don't really care.) Another landmark is the Bankhead Tunnel. I'm driving along Government and wondering why the skyscraper appears to be getting closer. If I'm heading west towards home, I shouldn't even see the damn thing. Now I'm utterly confused and to add to my confusion, I drive past the Bankhead Tunnel entrance. It finally dawns on me that I'm going the wrong direction.


Government Street literally runs into Water Street and your choices are left or right. I'm on the phone with Mark and waiting to turn right onto Water Street. The conversation goes something like this:

Me: "I went the wrong way. I'm turning right on Water Street now."

Mark: "Okay, you--"

Me: *sees a sign for I-10 East to Pensacola, Florida and a looming interstate on-ramp* "Crap! This is not what I wanted!" *quick turn onto Canal Street*

Mark: "What's going on?"

Me: "I can see I-10 but I can't get to it to go west. I'm on Canal Street. I think."

Mark: "Canal isn't going to take you--"

Me: *sees a 'No Outlet' sign* "Grrr! I fucking hate downtown!"

Mark: "Park somewhere and I'll come get you."

Me: "There are no street lights here. I'm not stopping. Hell no."

Mark: "Then what do you want me to do?"

Me: *making U-turn* "I'm heading back to Government. Once I get there, I can get home. I hope."

Once I finally was heading the right direction on Government Street, getting home was a snap. However, the whole ordeal was an hour of my life I'd rather have back. It certainly didn't enhance my love of driving downtown, and I mean downtown anywhere, not just Mobile. I had similar experiences when I lived in Denver, Colorado that didn't endear downtown Denver to my heart either. Then again, I also had similar experiences in both McComb and Brookhaven, Mississippi, and I grew up visiting those towns. I think any downtown area and I are destined for a rocky relationship.

So, now you're probably really wondering where my point is in this story. It's coming. Next post... ;-)