Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

A Day Late

by Jeffrey S Savage

Well here I am a day late and a dollar short. (Where is that darn royalty check? All ten dollars of it.) The other day an author who shall not be named, (KLB) told me off-line that she secretly likes horror novels. Kerry—I mean this unnamed person—and I both agreed that scary stories are great but they've just gotten too gory for the most part these days. So Sister B’s encouragement I'm going to continue updating my odyssey of writing A Taste for Fear.

I've been sidetracked a little for the last couple of weeks and it isn't just because I've been finishing my edits on my latest Shandra novel. (Was that a good product plug, Rob?) It's just my version of writer's block. For me, writer’s block is not the inability to write. It's a lack of interest in writing a particular story. I keep finding reasons not to sit down and get back to work on it. I know I need to, but I just can't. And it always comes back to the same thing. Something is wrong with the story and mentally I don't want to write something that I know I am going to have to change.

I keep thinking about the story and rereading what I’ve written so far, until the light bulb finally comes on and I think, "Aha! That's the problem." Don't know if it works for everyone that way, but I hit this point with almost every book I write. Once I overcome the hurdle, things flow freely and the writing moves quickly.

What was my “aha” moment this time? I realized that having four protagonists is cool. You can switch from one person to the next and follow various story lines, leaving one hanging to move to another and then jumping back. But even in books with multiple protagonists, you have to have one "main" character you are rooting for. (I'm sure lots of authors have managed to get around this, but I can't.)

I examined my main characters. You've got the crusty old horror writer, but we don't meet him until later in the book and he is a very unwilling participant. So he doesn't really work. You've got the single mom. She would be a great choice because a woman in peril is great for a thriller. Everyone can get into that. But she denies her fear, and is a tough nut. Not so easy to empathize with, and not as fun as I like my "main character" to be. The kid? Not unless this is going to be a YA novel, which it is not.

Which leaves us with the high school teacher who is afraid of everything. Can he be a main character readers will empathize with? Not if he is a total weenie. But if he has a sense of humor about the whole thing, maybe. Then we have to make him both afraid and funny. A likeable person. How better to do that than to have him be from somewhere that is the antithesis of our small mountain town. New York would work. What's a New Yorker doing teaching High School in an isolated Montana town? He's working on his Doctorate—doing a dissertation focused on small isolated towns.

This also allows me to use two of my favorite thriller tools isolation and disorientation. Think Harry Potter. He's isolated because his parents are dead and his relatives hate him. He's disoriented because he gets thrown into a world he'd never known. Same thing with LOTR. Same thing with Jaws. So the guy who has to ultimately fight the creature from the woods is a guy who is terrified of the woods. Cool huh?

Okay, with that out of the way I can rock and roll. I am behind, but writing quickly. Is the end of August still viable? We'll see. (Can anyone say first of September?)

Here's my snippet. I'm introducing the main protag. I want to show his fear of the whole Montana experience while also introducing a little humor. Hopefully the reader won't write him off as a complete loser before I can show his fun side. I also want to set the location without focusing on description. In other words, use the scenery to create a mood. Does it work? You tell me.

Bill Sheehy was suffering from a severe case of sensory overload. It began on the commuter plane flying from Billings, Montana into Glacier International Airport. He’d looked up from his laptop, took a sip of orange juice that tasted like the can it was poured from, glanced casually out the window and nearly spewed juice everywhere. Below him, as far as the eye could see, was nothing but mile after endless mile of deep green pines.

Until that moment he’d pictured the Montana forests as Disney-esque creations populated by cute little talking birds and noble firs waiting to be felled by sturdy woodsmen. A bigger version of central park without the muggers. Of course he’d seen pictures of woods before—even spent a weekend hiking in the Poconos. But the unbroken expanse unrolling outside the tiny double-paned window was so . . . so all encompassing, his mind refused to accept it.

With the rest of the passengers seemingly oblivious to his growing panic, he searched futilely for something man made—a highway, a Starbucks or Blockbuster Video, even a string of power lines—some break in the vast wilderness below him. This was no fairy tale woods, it was the real thing. If Hansel and Gretel’s father abandoned his kids in a place like this, he should have been pushed into the oven right along with the child-eating witch.

Clutching the back of the seat in front of him he practiced controlled breathing and refused to look out the window again until the pilot announced they were getting ready to land. Once inside the airport, he’d been fine until the woman at the car rental desk casually mentioned that the basic insurance didn’t include damage caused by bears or moose. At first he thought she was making a joke at his expense—until she pointed out the check boxes, complete with pictures of antlers and claws.

What are you doing here? his mind wailed. Do you really want to live in a place where bad directions could get you turned into Purina bear chow?

But if he wanted to finish his doctoral dissertation by the end of spring, this was where he had to be. And besides he’d promised to fill in at the High School until the end of the year. So he’d followed the winding mountain road—trying not to notice the steep drop offs he passed on the way up—until he reached the town of Desolation.

Now here he was standing in the High School parking lot, staring up into a sky so startlingly blue it seemed he could throw a rock and shatter it into a million tiny shards which would fall to the earth like pieces of a broken vase.


At 8/01/2006 10:20 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

I always learn so much from your posts, Jeff. Thanks.

And I like the protagonist. I don't, however, think that choosing the youth for a predominate POV would necessarily make it a YA book. I'm sure you've read Koontz's One Door Away from Heaven. Who could stop reading after the first chapter?

Oops. I just looked it up to make sure I was right and I wasn't. Koontz starts with the detective -- much like you with your school teacher. What can I say. You're the man!

Thanks again -- for continuing this thread. I'm pulling for the end of August!

At 8/01/2006 11:54 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...

Fun to have another Koontz fan on-line, Kerry. Although, like you, I don't like all of his books. One Door Away From Heaven is very much like what I have in mind. The boy and girl both play major roles, but we also have the woman and the Detective who adults can relate to. Good book. I also like the Odd Thomas series quite a bit. I wish every book didn't have to have super intelligent dog though.

At 8/02/2006 11:06 AM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

The first Odd Thomas was Koontz at his best. The second was Koontz copping out for a quick buck. (IMHO) And, not to be contentious, but the super-intelligent dogs are a must. Those are the parts I read aloud to my pit bull. Did you notice in his last book that Koontz practically apologized for all his previous pit bull bashing? I'm almost certain it was because of the terse (yet heartfelt) letter Bandit wrote to Trixie. :-)

One last question and I promise to drop the thread -- or at least move it off the blog -- will you still blog with us when you're as famous as DK? Inquiring minds want to know. I believe in you, Jeffrey S Savage (the S stands for Scary) -- heart, mind, and reading glasses!

At 8/02/2006 11:33 AM, Anonymous Jennie said...

Thanks, Jeff. You turned on a light for me showing me why my book-in-progress was bogging down. For me it's not narrowing to a main character, but narrowing to a stronger central theme that is needed.

At 8/02/2006 12:24 PM, Blogger Jeff Savage said...


I completelya agree on the second Odd Thomas books. As far as the dogs . . . well

I'd be happy to be as famous as DK's third line editor. But either way, I'm signed for this gig at least through 2013. Sariah puts together a tough contract.


Glad it helped. Every time I feel my writing starting to drag I review what I am writing and try to see where things have gone wrong. Focus is a BIG issue for me. Maybe if I was a better outliner.

At 8/02/2006 3:27 PM, Blogger Marsha Ward said...


I found your excerpt fascinating, except that maybe all-encompassing has a hyphen in it and high school won't need capital letters unless you're saying Desolation High School. Other than that, good job, my friend.

I appreciated your telling us how you identify the problems in stalled books. I did a similar process with my WIP, and discovered that there would be multiple rather than a single viewpoint, and it would start at a different time and place than I had planned. Whew! These characters want so much!

At 8/02/2006 5:55 PM, Blogger Kerry Blair said...

Oh my gosh, Marsha. Does spelling and grammar count in blogs? I'm in trouble. I'm going to have to hire Frederick to edit for me before Friday... :-)

Glad to hear you're on a roll again, Ms. Ward. A whole lot of us have been waiting a long time for that next book. (Hint, hint)

At 8/04/2006 11:33 PM, Blogger Annette Lyon said...

Jeff, It definitely worked. You're always great with humor.

I'm shooting for October to be done with my WIP. We'll see. Good luck with this one.


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