Fiction Archeology 2: Plot and Subplot in You Again

You Again Collage 1

One of the problems of digging up an old, stalled book is that you’ve eliminated so many of your options already. You Again is a murder mystery/romance; the mystery/father hunt/ghost story is the main plot and the romance is the first subplot. The second subplot is Scylla vs her love interest, the secondary romance. But there’s also the third subplot, the plot that Rose is hatching, the bed-and-breakfast plot, which is why she’s lured everybody to the house. Continue reading

Fiction Archeology 1: Character in You Again

So, You Again. I either resurrect this sucker this time or it’s going to be the first book I’ve ever given up on.

For the past several days, I’ve pulled every file, every document, every jpg I’ve ever had on this book since 2004 (yes, that would be ten years since I started it) and waded through the files. So far, 687 of the files were so corrupted I could open them. Another 236 were duplicates or fragments I skimmed and knew I wouldn’t use. And then there were the 314 jpgs that just didn’t work any longer. Yes, I trashed 1237 docs and jogs. There’s still plenty left to read through before another cull: I kept eighty-nine outline and note docs and 143 jpgs, and probably half of those will go before I’ve got this book focused. And that’s all before I start on the actual scene files: Continue reading

Self-Absorbed Musings About My Writing; Feel Free To Skip

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing for the past twenty plus years (I started in 1991). I’ve been thinking about it a lot more since I started teaching the publishing class at McDaniel three weeks ago (there’s the blind leading the blind). One of the things I forced my hapless students to do was examine what they wanted from a writing career and beyond that, lurking in the subtext, why they wrote. It’s a big question for me because I was not born to write novels. I think I was born to sit on a bed with one or more rescued dachshunds and read novels; at least that’s what comes naturally to me. And yet there are these stories in my head. The problem is, I’m having a helluva time writing them. Continue reading

Zoe’s Back and Toni’s a Goddess

Four months ago, one of Lani’s cats disappeared. Zoe had always been independent, taking her time about coming home, but when she’d been gone a week and we knew there was a coyote in the woods, we mourned her loss. A good cat, but not faster than a coyote. Tonight, Lani e-mailed me and said, “Zoe’s back!” No idea where she’s been or why she stayed away so long, but she was starving and it’s getting colder, so maybe she decided putting up with four dogs and another cat was worth food and warmth. Big sighs all around and a thank you to the god of cats. Continue reading

You Again Again, Part 3: The Scathingly Brilliant Idea

Note: I didn’t put the SBI in here because it would be a spoiler. I can put it in another post that says SPOILER DON’T READ THIS at the top, but you’ll all read it anyway. Which is fine as long as you don’t yell at me later.

I always liked You Again. I didn’t like most of what I had written, but I loved the book. The heroine kicked butt, her best friend was a lot of fun to write, the musician was cranky with snark, the godmother had flair, the annoying family (the Awful Inglethorpes) churned the waters, the setting was based on a Clue board, and the hero was a Good Guy, if a little bland. There was Stuff. But it wasn’t enough, you can’t write a book with just Stuff, even if it’s really good Stuff, you have to have Juice. There was no Juice. All the elements were there, but the story wouldn’t go. So I went back to it again and again, trying to find the Juice. Nada.

Ten years later, while I’m trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my career, my life, my body, my mind, I become fascinated by two child characters. One is Delphie from Wild Ride who is still in utero in that book but who has fabulous potential: her mother is descended from two human whack jobs plus the fallen Etruscan goddess of the underworld (now a demon) and the Etruscan Devil, and her father was a mechanic possessed by the fallen Etruscan god of happiness (now a demon). Plus she’s growing up in a haunted amusement park with a mother who’s now a seer and a godmother who’s a sorceress–little dragons everywhere–and a stepfather who’s a completely normal expert on demons and their care and feeding. This kid I want to watch grow up. Maybe in a series of short stories. I don’t know, I’m cogitating.

The other kid has had a tragic early childhood, losing her mother at birth, her father at six, and her aunt at eight, all while living with her older brother in a haunted house (the aunt sticks around after death) being taken care of by harridan of a housekeeper and two ancient murderous spirits. That’s Alice. But when Alice is eight, her soon-to-be stepmother arrives on the scene and kicks supernatural ass and takes the little girl and her brother back to normality or as close to normality as this kid is ever going to get. This, I figure, is actually not very normal; Andie and North can make Alice secure and safe, but they can’t get rid of the ghosts who seek her out with their last wishes. So I tried a short story with Alice in elementary school (“Spooky Alice”), and I started a novella with Alice in junior high (“Ghost of Chance”), all because I wanted to spend more time with Alice.

What does this have to do with You Again? Well, all of this is swimming around in the back of my brain along with Claire and Rosie and Liz and Vince and Zo and Ecks and Petulia and Wyland and Gleep and Owl (turns out if you don’t write for three years, the ideas build up) and there tends to be some leakage between stories. Which is how I ended up wondering what would happen if Alice showed up at Rosemore.

Maybe This Time was a house book in the sense that the setting determined the boundaries: Alice couldn’t leave the house because the ghosts would kill if she left. Getting Alice out of the house was Andie’s biggest goal because it meant saving Alice. You Again is a house book in the same sense: the house isn’t the goal, but getting everybody out of the house before they’re all dead becomes the hero’s goal (subplot). Then in the adult Alice book I’ve been thinking about for three years (Haunting Alice and its companion book Stealing Nadine), Alice goes back to Archer House as an adult to a final confrontation with her now entirely batshit Aunt May. So I had Alice at eight (Maybe This Time), Alice at nine (“Spooky Alice”), Alice at fifteen (“Ghost of a Chance”) and Alice at thirty (Haunting Alice). There was a big leap in there, so while I was idly thinking of where Alice would be between fifteen and thirty, and thinking in terms of “Alice” and “trapped in big houses,” I remembered You Again, which had been intended to be my homage to Agatha Christie. What if there were three Alice Big House books? She’d only be the protagonist in the first one and the last one, but in between eight and thirty, maybe she could show up as a major supporting character, a teenager, wise beyond her years, stuck in a big house in southern Ohio again.

Of course, that meant there would be ghosts in You Again, which would mean that those two damn huge back story house parties could become part of the now because the people who had been killed at each of them could still be roaming the house. And my practical, just-the-facts driven heroine would be confronted with the antithesis of her world view. And her dreamy, life-is-a-movie-and-I’m-the-star best friend would think she’d lost her mind and have to change to take care of her. And the hero who’s the practical sort–he’s a lawyer–would have to accept that she can see ghosts.

Except why would Zelda start seeing ghosts?

Which is when the Scathingly Brilliant Idea occurred. I’d put it here, but it would be a spoiler and I’m not sure how we all feel about spoilers here. But trust me, it is SCATHINGLY brilliant. Even now, three months after I first had this SBI, I am stunned by its simplicity and its beauty. Sometimes I just get it right.

So then all I had to do was get Alice there, and part of the plot is that Rose is trying to get everybody to help her turn Rosemore into a B&B and then run it for her (she’s broke, but working herself would be tacky) and that her marketing strategy is that Rosemore is haunted, so she invited a medium to the Christmas party as entertainment, and since the medium is in her seventies, she brings her assistant (that would Isolde bringing Alice) and then there’s a snowstorm and they’re all snowed in . . .

See? Juice. All you need is a Scathingly Brilliant Idea and you’ve got juice. I think. I still have to sort out the plot, but I’m thinking that with three deaths, one at each turning point, and a big fight-to-the-death-in-a-raging-Ohio-River at the end, I may have a book here. Maybe. Probably. Kind of.

Back to work.

You Again Again, Part 2: What the Hell Is This Book About?

I have such a mass of stuff from trying to write You Again that going through it is going to be a nightmare. That means I need a touchstone, something that I can hold up beside each piece I find to see if it fits the concept of the book I’m writing now. Which means I need a concept. After which, I design the touchstone, which in this case is revamping my old collage. And after that, I go through a ten-year backlog of notes, pictures, drafts, outlines, e-mails from beta-readers, hoping that some of it strikes a chord and can be used again. Thank god it’s the Mercury retrograde; this stuff is perfect for that astrological clusterfuck. Continue reading