Dreaming Blurbs (Rev.) (Rev. Again) (Rev Again)

I woke up this morning with one of those She/He blurbs in my brain. I have no idea, it’s not dreamwork, the last thing I did before I fell asleep was work a crossword. What was interesting about it, as I fought my way awake (very slow waker-upper here), was how it pointed out the weaknesses in the story. It’s not a good blurb, but evidently the Girls weren’t interested in good blurb, they were shrieking at me to fix my protagonist.

Here’s the bad blurb:

She’s a detective of indeterminate origin.
He’s the Devil’s apprentice.
Her partner is a trigger-happy cop
His nemesis is an Evil Henchman.

The Devil in Nita Dodd

They’re gonna save the world if they don’t kill each other first.

Again, terrible blurb, but hugely helpful in pinpointing the basic problems of the dynamic of the story.

1. Nita’s only interesting because of her ancestors.
That is, Nick and Max have interesting, active jobs and Button is pro-active with a gun. But the way Nita is described is just Geneology.com stuff.

2. There’s no tension in Nita’s relationships.
Nick and Max are opposite sides in Hell, so there’s tension there. Nita and Button are just partners, no tension or real relationship there. The women are both cops, the men are both (technically) infernal, so there’s implied tension between female and male, except that Button’s the onlyl one with agency in the blurb, Nita just exists as an end product, so she’s a blank again.

3. They’re not gonna save the world.
That part just sounds snappy. They’re not even going to save the island. Just defeat some awful people and change the island. Hmmm. “Change” sounds good. But not the world. We’re not global here. Maybe something more along the lines of “fight the good fight”? No.

It’s 7:30 AM and this is in my head. Rats. Back to work.

So I looked at this from the point of view of goals:

Nick wants to close the gate and find his agents.
Button wants to further her career.
Max wants to protect his boss and not die.
Nita . . .

Nita wants to solve Joey’s murder. Why does that seem so . . . wimpy? Because it’s so cliche? Because it’s too close to vengeance which is a godawful motivator? Argh. IT’S TOO EARLY TO THINK.

Must cogitate.

So after some still half-asleep cogitation, I have realized that I have ONCE AGAIN given my heroine a negative goal. That “wants to solve Joey’s murder” was just papering over the underlying goal which is:

To deny the existence of the supernatural.

I know this because the turning point at the end of the act is not when she solves Joey’s murder or gets a big clue that moves her forward, it’s when she accepts that the supernatural is real.


I mean, every damn time.

Okay, so regrouping. A lot of this is because I’m still fuzzy about what the antagonist is doing; not why the antagonist is doing it, but exactly what the plan is.

And after I said this weekend that the goal is absolutely not to save the island, I think it’s to save the island, politically. This sucker is turning into me venting about what’s happening to my country, which is not good because I don’t do political screeds. Rats. And apologies to whomever I disagreed with about the whole island thing: you were right.

Argh. Must have breakfast. Protein is good for the brain.

Okay, still haven’t had breakfast, but answering Jane, I got this stream of consciousness:

I think she wants to keep the island safe because it’s her home; it’s the whole hero’s journey thing except she’s not leaving the island so it’s more of a discovery plot (well, detective) than a road trip. Her family is really woven into the history of the island, too, so there’s that. Tradition, roots, belonging, the whole thing, plus she really loves the place itself. One of the things I loved about having nine acres in Ohio was that I could leave eight acres completely alone for wildlife to own. I loved the idea of protecting that land. I can see Nita just wanting to protect the land and the people she’s grown up with, the traditions, even the amusement park. I think as an adult, Nita would have an excellent grasp of the symbiotic nature of the place being an island, the amusement park being the main form of income, and the isolation in the winter giving the community its core identity. I think she’s like the cycle of the seasons, the privacy of the winter and then the big party in the summer. I think she’d like knowing so much of the people, saying hi to them on the street, knowing how the island worked.

I think part of the problem of America in general is that we’re so damn big that we don’t have a national identity, aside from the stuff that Trump is dismantling. But in smaller groups, in small towns for example, we are fiercely connected by an identity, a common understanding of who we are. It’s what gives us a sense of belonging. It’s why I left my small town at seventeen; I did not belong there. But Nita belongs to the island and beyond that, in her mind, the island belongs to her. She’s there to protect it.

So I think the big picture of protecting the island would be the lens through which she’d view everything else. That is, she’d be upset by Joey’s death, but the thing that would chill her is that it’s another piece of evidence that the island is in trouble. Another portent, so I have to set up that there have been previous portents. Blood on the sun, a lion whelping in the streets . . . . And now Joey’s execution is another sign that’s something really wrong with her island.

90 thoughts on “Dreaming Blurbs (Rev.) (Rev. Again) (Rev Again)

  1. Hmmm…………

    “Nick wants to close the gate and find his agents.” – that’s a pretty big goal, with some high stakes for other people as well as for Nick

    “Button wants to further her career.” – smaller, more personal goal
    “Max wants to protect his boss and not die.” – smaller, more personal goal

    “Nita wants to solve Joey’s murder.” – to me, that’s more on the level of the goals of Button and Max, and not of the big, hard, scary goal of Nick.

    In fact, where Button’s and Max’s goals relate directly to them (but not to anyone else to any great degree,) Nita’s goal doesn’t even seem to be very strongly related to her. Joey was a friend, but not a family member, or lover, or life-long bff.

    1. Yep.
      Really comes down to a goal problem, and that’s glaringly evident now that I look at the first act. In fact . . . negative goal.
      Going to edit the post now . . .

  2. This isn’t going to help, but is Nita’s goal to keep the island/her world stable because she knows deep down that if it starts to crack, her true identity will come out; and that’s terrifying. She’s not conscious of this, but it’s what’s running her.

    Only then, of course, she’d have a negative goal. (Perhaps this is your problem?)

  3. It is always easier to start from the negative because the world is basically working when we first meet Our Girl, just one or two small things need Fixing and then things will be just FINE thank you. That denial is what tends to propel many people (it me) into changing just one thing and then that snowballs, as it so frequently does, and we wind up with a distinctly different life than we had planned for. Bouncing Our Girl out of her rut before the beginning of the book (I don’t know how, I just sew things) means she’s scrambling before we find her and pretty much anything she does is more proactive than sitting tight and saying NO.

    1. Yes.
      I think it’s also that I tend to protect my protagonists–such nice girls–and throw rocks at everybody else.
      But yes, Joey’s death has to be the last straw, the final clue that propels Nita into action.
      Still cogitating here . . .

  4. She sounds a lot like Adam White. The only thing that really tempts him into even considering Armageddon is that he could protect Lower Tadfield and keep it the same forever.

    1. Just thinking about Adam and Armageddon, and wondering – what would happen if trying to protect the island is the most destructive thing she could do to it?

      1. Adam’s plan isn’t destructive to his home, it’s destructive to human life everywhere except his home. If Adam had kept going, his home would have protected, a small green spot in a smoking nuclear wasteland.
        So the analogy isn’t right even by extension: If warring forces are endangering and even killing people on her island, and Nita tries to stop that, she can only help; if she stands down, more people will die and the island will become a dangerous, bigoted place.

        I’m really trying hard not to make this plot an analogy for Trump’s America, but it keeps rising up like a specter in the background.

  5. I totally got “protect the island” even from the first draft. It drives every important thing she does, including protecting Button by saying Button might want to ask for a new partner – before Nita even knows or has bonded with Button…… Button showed up on Nita’s island, so she’s Nita’s responsibility until proven otherwise.

    1. I think I need to make is specific, though, rather than just a general feeling. That is, there needs to be a specific goal beyond that.
      I feel a need to protect American ideals; since Trump was elected, I now have more specific goals that before to achieve that.
      She needs a specific suspicion that Joey’s death crystalizes for her. That first scene has to be the Day (Night) That Is Different, the opening turning point that takes Nita from a stable world into an unstable one.
      I think the seeds are there, I just have to emphasize the particular.

  6. I have Pratchett’s quote on the side of my computer: One of us says, “I don’t know how to deal with this tricky bit of plot”; the other one listens and says, “The solution, Grasshopper, is in the way you state the problem.”
    I’ve had to remind myself with every book, by the second act, to go back and look at how I stated the problem initially. Always, always, I needed to be less wishy-washy with my heroine and be more specific with her problem.

  7. 1. I thought Nita was interesting cause of the whole “touch you, see murder” ability. Did that get scrapped? I liked that.

    Re: negative goals…I feel like the reason so many of your heroines have negative goals is cause they just want the normal life, thank you very much, is that so hard? Tilda would just like to paint without fear. She just wants a normal artist’s life. Agnes wants the nice house with the nice husband and the nice life. Even Daisy buys into it (“The Cinderella Deal” was my first Crusie btw and I have a total soft spot for it). Most (all?) of them just want their normal lives, and to go along as they have been, maybe with just this one or two problems being corrected. I would guess that Nita likes being a detective. She just wants to be a normal detective and take care of her island. If this whole “I see murderers” quirk would go away, and maybe always being cold, and ok, her mom could calm down, it would all be a bit better, but thinks are good as they are, so why would she want to change? And then someone is SHOT to death on an island that doesn’t allow guns and dammit, she will burn it to the ground and fix it and we will all go back to living our nice lives, OKAY?

    I think “Manhunting” is one of the few where we start with the heroine actually going after something, not reacting cause the final straw fell.

      1. Too abstract, I think.
        Restoring order is concrete, but since people aren’t rioting in the streets, it comes across as abstract.

    1. The problem is that wanting to live a normal life is the stable situation.
      The story starts when stability is destroyed, when the protagonist realizes that something has just happened that changes everything, and she must go out and fight the Bad Thing That Happened.
      So if Nita is still saying, “I just want things to go back to the way they were,” she’s in pre-story mode. She’s going to keep realizing things, finding out that things are worse than she thought, but I think the beginning has to be her finding out that something is Very Wrong and she’s going to fix it. Joey’s death is wrong, but she has to know that this is the confirmation that something really bad is happening.

      Tilda set out to save her family from ruin. It wasn’t so much to keep her life stable as it was to keep the whole house of cards from falling down. It wasn’t “I want to go back to the way it was,” it was “I have to save my family.” Daisy wants a new life which is why she agrees to play along with Linc; she’s going after something new. Agnes is trying to start a new life, not protect an old one. She wants the house and her fiance and a fabulous wedding for LL’s kid, she’s fighting for her future.

      I really think it’s crucial that a protagonist have a positive goal. Why it always takes me a zillion drafts to discover I don’t have one is the mystery.

      1. I have questions that I’m asking only out of curiosity and ignorance. I’m not trying to promote any particular path.

        I thought Nita’s life had never been stable? Hasn’t she been fighting against her true nature all her life (ie denial)? If there has never been stability then isn’t a normal life accepting her true nature a true solution?

        I think I read a post from you a long time ago about negative goals but now I can’t find it. Some long discussion about goals in “Bet Me”. I wish I could find it. I’m not a writer so I’m less clear about why negative goals are so bad? Also if many of your other heroines have had negative goals, then you must be an expert at writing with negative goals? If it is your forte, so to speak, why do you fight it?

        Does Nita become less healthy if her island is less healthy? It seems like that is where you are going, although I’m not sure if it is emotional health or if it is actual physical health?

        I wondered about the “touch you, see murder” part because that ability doesn’t seem to be in the normal repertoire of demon abilities, so why does she have it? Weird mutation due to mixed background? On the other hand, I quite liked it.

        1. Simple stuff first: the murder/touch bit just showed up in discovery draft and I left it there. The other name for discovery draft is “don’t look down” draft, as in “just keep writing, you can figure out the details later.” So that’s why it’s still up in the air. Most of this book is still in discovery draft.

          A negative goal is bad because it’s your heroine saying, “No.” Instead of saying, “I want that” and going after something, she says, “I don’t want that” and tries to conserve something.

          Nita’s life has been stable. Her mother is nuts, but her father, brother, and sister all support her, she’s successful at her job, and she’s integrated into the community. The problem is that she knows there’s something wrong, both with her and with the island. And the first scene has to be the tipping point from “something seems to be going wrong” to “there’s something very wrong and it’s happening now.”

      2. Hmmmm I guess the way I was looking oking at it was that all the heroines were working at their stability. Yeah, things weren’t perfect, but they just kept chugging along. How long would Tilda have kept during murals and chipping away at the debt if Nadine hadn’t sold the Scarlet? Daisy was for sure on a sinking ship until Linc threw her a lifeline. Agnes was annoyed at her fiancé but she was still cooking, still working on her book. For all of them, Something happened that finally propelled them into action. They couldn’t keep chugging along, telling themselves everything was good enough. I guess my argument is “but if not for x, they never would have changed.” Am I being too harsh? The other option in my head is if Tilda had finished that mural, thought, “Ugh, this sucks, screw the mortgage, screw the secret,” and taken whatever steps she needed to to change her life.

        But I guess if we need the Something Bad to kick off the story, then I’m way off base in my understanding of things.

        Also, I can’t believe I’m arguing with you about this. It would drive me nuts in English when the teacher would ask what we thought the author meant, and the author was living, and I’m thinking, let’s go ask them! Or when the author has said what they meant and people argue with them. And here I am. Arguing. Gah.

        1. No, no, arguing is good. It makes me think.
          Also, I am not always right.

          I think, though, the “what if this hadn’t happened” is irrelevant in fiction as it is in life. “What if I hadn’t turned that corner?” What difference does it make, you turned the corner, and now you’re here.

          So Tilda could have decided to quit painting without Nadine selling the Scarlet, or she could have decided to keep going, and those would have been two different stories not the one I wrote. I had a creative writing professor who said, “The minute you write the first sentence, you eliminate 90% of your story options.” I’d argue by the end of the first scene, you’ve eliminated 99% of them. The choices you make (and through you, the choices your protagonist makes) are what shapes the story.

          The reason the Something Bad kicks off the story is the same principle as Tolstoy’s “Start on the day that is different.” The story starts when the conflict starts, when the battle begins, because a story is a war. Lots of writers start earlier because they have to, they have to write to the place where the story begins, and then they have to cut the first three chapters in the rewrite because nothing happens that’s important TO THE WAR. Aristotle said that the beginning is the place in the story before which nothing important has happened, and the ending is the point in the story after which nothing important happens. I like the idea that the beginning is where the protagonist finds out she’s in an unstable world and the ending is where she’s returned her world to stability, albeit a different stability. They’re all the same idea: Start where the story starts and end where the story ends. And the story starts when Something Important Happens that Makes the Day Different and Ends Stability as the Protagonist Knows It. (Tolstoy and Aristotle and I, we’re tight.)

          1. Heh, yes, you’re right. It WOULD be a different story.

            I have also now forgotten why I’m arguing this, as I spent the whole drive home thinking about refining my argument (which was “proximate cause,” cause lawyer). Oh, right, negative goals, and are they so bad, really? I love your books (shocker), and unless I’m missing something here, I feel a lot of the girls start out with negative goals, though obviously that changes (the Point of No Return, as I think you’ve explained it). And that’s not so bad, cause they’re still great books! To help sharpen everything in my head, I tried to think of stories where they don’t have negative goals, and the first thing I came up with was Zootopia–Judy Hopps wanted to be a cop, and she went out and did it. As she’s the first, it’s obviously going to be interesting, so there’s our story. Tilda was going along, minding her business, trying really hard to maintain her peace of mind, and then the Scarletts got loose and she had to go save everyone (which she was kind of doing anyway, the intensity just increased). So, what does Nita’s goal BECOME?

          2. I don’t think the goals change. Tilda wanted to save her family. Judy wants to be a good cop even though she’s a bunny. They want those things through to the end
            What changes is the context. That is, Tilda realizes that there’s a lot more going on–not just a crazy woman who bought a painting but Clea and Mason and Gwen’s past and Davy–so the steps she has to take to achieve her goal become more and more complex. Judy wants to serve and protect but then she meets the fox and stumbles into a huge conspiracy and nothing is as simple as she thought it’d be. The idea is that context changes, the conflict escalates, but the basic goal stays the same.

            So Nita wants to protect her island. She knows something’s going on and when Joey is murdered, she goes out to solve that crime, uncover whatever is behind it which she knows is big. Then she finds out the supernatural is real and is part of the reason that Joey died. Then she finds out . . . At the end she’s fighting three different factions who are at cross-purposes in achieving their goals, and she has to put them all down to get the island back to a new equilibrium. Same goal, though.

    2. Oh, and the “touch you, see murder” hasn’t been scrapped yet, but it’s heading that way. It used to do something in the story but now it’s a vestigial tail, I think.

        1. Yeah, I was thinking about that, too.
          At this point, I’m just gonna keep on discovering and hope that the reason for that turns up.

    3. I always like in Welcome to Temptation that Sophie and Phinn are both working hard to protect what is, and both come to the realisation that it isn’t worth protecting – I love Phinn’s lines about how Sophie burned his life down, but it was just clearing the dead brush (I’m paraphrasing, obviously).

  8. Why do you always do this?

    I’mma be that person who answers a rhetorical. You do it because it is part of your patterns of functioning. Your frame of reference is made up of experiences that showed up as negative goals.

    Many of us do this. The positive goal isn’t “go to college to study to find gainful work” rather “go to college so I can leave my horrible town.”

    (((Hug))) for anyone this resonates with. It means we avoid and deny, rather than face and acknowledge.

      1. I know. That should have come with a trigger warning.
        WE LOVE YOU, SURE THING. Thanks for sending me back to therapy.

        1. Gwarsh, you guyssss!

          I love being loved by y’all.

          And that perturbation is why I offered hugs upfront.

          As for therapy, therapist pushed and I avoided. Haven’t been back. Need to go back. In the meantime. I’m doing philosophy class to help me. Currently reading a book by Swami Rama about Himalayan Masters to gain some insight.

    1. Fight or flight. I’m a flighter, pretty much. I want to be a fighter. Thanks, Sure Thing.

  9. “So if Nita is still saying, “I just want things to go back to the way they were,” she’s in pre-story mode. She’s going to keep realizing things, finding out that things are worse than she thought, but I think the beginning has to be her finding out that something is Very Wrong and she’s going to fix it. ”

    When I read that I thought that maybe Nita has to realize she’s the ONLY one who can save the island. That she can’t just accept the status quo. She’s got to step up and possibly use her heritage to ‘rule.’ Just a thought.

    1. I think (still in discovery on the last three acts) that it’s going to come down to Nita and her team–Nick, Button, and Max–to solve it because they’re the people with the knowledge, the power, and the willingness to break the rules. They have no intention of ruling anything; they just need to fix what they uncover in the course of the story, which is bad enough to put Nick and Max on the same team (let alone Max and Button who have their own issues). At the end, the island is safe again, and all four of them are in new stable places because they fought the good fight, but the island is changed, for the better.

  10. I love your cogitations. So Nita is FOR keeping the island the way it’s always been. That’s her job.
    Some of us will fight to the death to keep our perceived worlds intact. The last thing we want is some new damn information.

    1. I think that’s too reductive. If there were plans for a new hospital on the island, Nita would be all for it. If there were plans to make the island a sanctuary city, Nita would approve. It’s the particular kind of changes that forces are working for on the island that she’s against, especially since there are several factions, and most of the island is caught in the crossfire. I think rather than “keeping the island the way it’s always been,” Nita wants to keep the island stable so the people there are safe, and that often involves change or at least evolution.

  11. Sorry, I haven’t been playing along. I also didn’t read any of the posts prior to this. Consider this a throw at the wall drive by comment. I hope somethings prompts you to find the path you’re looking for.

    Jenny, Did you feel that Buffy had a positive goal beyond having a normal teenage life at the beginning of the season before she discovered what was going on and accepted her hero’s journey?

    If Nita needs an opening positive goal then wouldn’t she need 2 goals? One at the start of the story which is in a sense a false goal because it’s abandoned once she understands the stakes. And an eventual second one which serves to resolve the plot.

    Other ideas: What if the genders were reversed? Nita wants to close the gates and find her agents. Then what would Nick’s initial goal be? (throwing this out because sometimes gender really does get in the way)

    Or is this a case where you don’t really want to show Nita’s call to arms? Rather you just want to throw her into the deep end and let the reader catch up. In which case, her positive goal is the goal which resolves the plot even if the reader isn’t in the know at the beginning.

    I hope something here is helpful even if it’s to throw these right into the bin. Sometimes knowing what’s already in file 13 makes it easier to see what’s left.

    Cheers and good luck! I know you’ll figure it out and this will be a wonderful story.

    1. You know, I don’t think you can swap genders. I think the genders really do approach things differently (gross generalization) because we’re socialized differently.

      You have to look at Buffy in terms of episodes and seasons. The first season was Buffy accepting the Call. So her goal is not so much to refuse the Call to be the Slayer as it is to have a normal life; her mother states that as a goal in their first scenes. What’s often overlooked is that she succeeds within the bounds of her calling. One of the first things Spike says about her is something like, “A slayer with friends. That’s new.” She gets her Scooby Gang, she gets Giles as a mentor, she runs for homecoming queen, she gets that umbrella when she graduates, she achieves her goal. She’s the first slayer with a normal(ish) life. So I don’t think that “normal life” goal is a pre-goal or a goal that changes. She holds onto that all the way through to the last season. I think she integrates it into her calling. Which I also think is brilliant.

      I think Nita’s Call is Joey’s death. She’s been suspecting that something hinky is going down and Joey’s death is the last straw. I think.

      Also welcome to Argh and the chaos that is me writing a book and everybody here being patient and supportive while I freak out.

  12. It’s Nita’s birthday and she just wants to survive her family dinner, but instead she gets a trigger happy new partner, an unsolved murder her ex has written off and an eye witness who believes he’s the Devil.

  13. I think that Nita having a negative goal is basically just an editor’s issue. And what I see is you editing your book way before you’ve discovered everything you want to (or might want to) discover about your world and your protagonists.

    My big question with Nita is — what the hell is she a cop for? Why did she go into the police in the first place? I used to work with cops, and I never met one who didn’t have some way they were working at dividing the world into the Good Guys and the Bad Guys. This wasn’t necessarily all that conscious, but you could get the picture pretty quickly after getting to know them a little. Some of them were formerly practicing Catholics. Some were working out their own inner bad guy problems (“all I really want to do is exceed the speed limits with my siren going and then menace people — is that so wrong?”) and others were just one step across a semi-visible line from social workers, hoping to reform the bastards. A lot of them were just working on Daddy problems — Dad was a cop, or a drill sergeant, or a military guy or whatever.

    I never met even one person in a police occupation who was motivated to “protect her community.” I mean, that was the job and all, but every cop I ever knew quickly translated that into the trope about the Good Guys and the Bad Guys.

    So does any of this even remotely fit Nita? Not that I can see, and that’s what is baffling me — not the negative goal thing. And when it comes down to that, was Joey a Good Guy or was he a Bad Guy? That’s one of the other things I’d like to know.

    Two cents without a ticket or an excuse, but I’m enjoying reading the back and forth.


    1. I think the Good Guy/Bad Guy thing is a logical outcome of being faced everyday by Bad Guys. Obviously, law enforcement in this country has some serious problems, but there are a lot of good cops out there who have to look at whoever called them in and decide “Good Guy or Bad Guy” just to keep themselves alive. I have a friend who’s an ER nurse, and she says the stuff they see in the ER just fries your soul, so you develop coping techniques and thick skins because you can’t do the job without them.

      I think Nita became a cop because she didn’t want to go into the family business–funeral home–and she didn’t feel comfortable enough to go off the island to start a career, and because she knew so much about the island and the people, and because she really was good at sensing guilt. I think she sort of fell into it; she tells Button that she’s not really interested in being a cop but she likes being a detective, solving problems, protecting people. And frankly, if she’s going to stay on the island, there aren’t that many career opportunities. She’d be terrible at running her own business or politics, she has no tact and no warmth. Same problem with teaching. But she’s good at being a cop. I think it makes sense.

      As for the negative goal, I’ve learned through very hard experience that a negative goal will stop a story in its tracks until I solve it. It’s not editing, the protagonist is the soul of the book. If she’s sitting in one place refusing to move, so is the book.

  14. I love seeing your thought process evolve on this. I am stumbling along in your wake with a WIP that finally–FINALLY–has h/h with positive goals (!!!) and a conflict lock and everything. Now I think I’m off to see if a he/she blurb will get me unstuck from my current swamp.

    Anyway, as always: thank you for this illuminating blog. 🙂

  15. The defending home thing really resonates with me. Most of us would fight like hell to keep home safe, whatever it is we consider that to be. (Our property, our town, our pets, friends, values, country, whatever.) I think you’re onto something there.

    Goddess knows, defending my home is a big thing with me right now, and I am fighting like hell.

  16. A friend just posted a link to this essay on the writing process by George Saunders: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/mar/04/what-writers-really-do-when-they-write?CMP=share_btn_fb

    Quote from the article: We buy into some version of the intentional fallacy: the notion that art is about having a clear-cut intention and then confidently executing the same.

    And another one Saunders quotes from Albert Einstein: “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.”

    Anyway, it made me think of you. (And me. And pretty much every writer I know.)

    1. I love this:
      “No worthy problem is ever solved in the plane of its original conception.”

      I think we have to buy into the fallacy that reality makes sense because I think that’s why we write stories. We get home from a hard, chaotic day, and somebody says, “How was your day?” and we describe it, and it’s still hard but it’s no longer chaotic because we naturally organize it into a story. Reality is chaos; fiction makes sense of an imaginary slice of it.

      1. Lisa Cron (Wired for Story and Story Genius) says we use story to prepare ourselves to handle future events, but I think you’re right–we also use it to make sense of past ones.

        BTW–had my surgery today, Lymph nodes were clear, so I just have to get through next week’s action-packed (twice a day) radiation therapy and this blip will be in the rearview mirror.

        1. Congratulations! I always think this news should be accompanied by the tinkle of bells like in the movie It’s A Wonderful Life.

  17. Nita just wants to keep her little world safe but all yells about to break loose and the devils in the details. ?

  18. Warning–wall o’ text

    I don’t know how many Dune fans there are around here, but there’s a line, “I’ll miss the sea, but a person needs some new experiences. They jar something deep inside allowing us to grow. Without change something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken.”

    The whole thing with Nita is she has been sitting in the middle of a pile of puzzle pieces for years, but she just saw the pile not the pieces. Once she recognizes that they’re connected she cannot UNsee it, and once she sees that they are part of a bigger threat she can’t ignore it. The crisis is there whether she takes part or not, of course, but Nita is actor not audience. She prefers at least the illusion of control that action gives. Kind of like the bumper sticker that says don’t complain if you didn’t vote.

    Your characters work because they illustrate this almost universal state for humans. We go through life embracing inertia, enjoying the status quo because even if it isn’t what we want, it usually feels better than facing the unknown. Then, the world–or at least our part in it–gets turned upside down and what we have always known no longer works because we are in a place we’ve never imagined. We have a choice: adapt to the challenge or become its next victim, and your heroines always choose to adapt. That choosing leads to your positive goal. Call it agency or whatever, it acknowledges that sometimes a simple choice to do something awakens that sleeper and writes the first sentence of the rest of our story. What was it Gandalf said? It’s dangerous business going out your door? Your heroines throw that door open with a sigh and a “Screw this waiting around for someone else to fix things. I’ll save myself, thank you.”

    Oh, btw, if you haven’t read The Paper Bag Princess (children’s book) you should. She could’ve been a Crusie heroine. I wanted to be her when my kids were little, and I am certain Nita will be a supernatural, black-wearing bag lady when you’re done with her, too. 🙂

    1. Yes to all of this.
      I think there’s something basic in humans that we resist change to cling to stability, but once that stability is broken, we really only have two choices: head in the sand (negative goal) or go out and kick ass (positive goal). And the positive goal is really the only sane choice for a story.
      I remember reading something about teaching that said every interpersonal interaction you have, positive or negative, is stressful (which is why teachers are so crazy because they have a million a day), and I think that factors in, too. As your Gandolf quote says, just walking out the front door is stressful and dangerous but also exciting and new, even if you’re just going to the grocery. Inside is safety, outside is the unknown; you need both. If you lose one, you have to go to the other to achieve a new stability/safety; there’s no going back to the one that’s been destroyed.

      1. In biology class I was taught that every stimulus, technically speaking, is pain. Growing pains, labor pains–they’re all things that yield positives. There’s the tarot card the Ace of Swords–strength through adversity, new beginnings sprouting from contention. We can’t evolve without it–physically, socially, mentally, or spiritually. And you’re right… it’s the only sane choice for a story. No stress=no change=no conflict=no story. Math anyone can do. 🙂

      2. I’m in the middle of a book about living in Denmark. The author reports that due to the social support system in place, the Danes feel confident leaving jobs that they are not enjoying, and looking for new ones. That they are much less apt to cling to a job or other situation for stability, because they have a social support system that will keep them stable. It’s fascinating to read about. They have a word that means something like “happiness in my work”, and the author contrasts that with the Japanese word meaning “death from overwork.”

  19. I already love this story, not sure why you don’t. Maybe I can convince you to if I ramble on and on.

    Ordinary world: Nita responds to a murder. But this isn’t any ordinary murder, something supernatural appears to be afoot. One impossibly handsome witness/suspect claims to be the devil, and although he’s been shot multiple times, he’s “alive”. What a great hook.

    Nita’s goal going forward: Prove that the supernatural doesn’t exist so she can arrest the human culprit, thereby protecting her community (vs. saving the world, one homicidal maniac at a time). First turning point: Because of x, y, z, Nita is now convinced that supernatural forces ARE to blame. This is where her mission changes and the plot launches. In order to rid the island of these supernatural forces, she’s going to have to team up with the Devil. Catch 22. Goodbye Ordinary World.

    How is that not a classic first arc?

    Random thoughts: Nita doesn’t want to simply solve Joey’s murder, she wants to take a nut off the streets, keep her island home and her people safe. Positive goal.

    I’m all for protecting the homeland politically in real life, but in your novel, I hope you make it personal. The theme will shine brighter with personal examples of suffering under powerful, misanthropic tyrants. You had me at Trump.

  20. I have to go back and study all the comments because I always learn so much from them, but I had this thought as I was reading the post and the ETAs, and it was from “Silence of the Lambs.” Where Lecter asks Clarice, “what does he do, this man you seek.” And she says “he kills women.” And he says “no, that is incidental.” What he does is, he covets.

    And how that related to what I was getting from Jenny’s ruminations was, what does Nita do? She works as a cop, she protects the island, but what are those things incidental to.

    Anyway, that was my thought so now I’m gonna go educate myself.

    1. Okay post-comments I see a trend. Explicated by Jenny’s note that Nita doesn’t feel strongly about being a cop but loves being a detective because she’s good at it. So what Nita *does* is fix things. Not necessarily in the “put things back the way they were” sense but more “make things work again.”

      Nick’s is a fixer, so is Nita. Her positive goal arises after she realizes what the problem truly is (’cause she can’t fix it until she knows).

      1. That’s in there, in one of the scenes with Button, I think the one in the car as they leave the bar.

  21. “Nita wants to solve Joey’s murder.”

    Would it make a difference if Nita’s tie to Joey is more personal? If he means something specific to her emotionally/personally? Like the guy that made her want to be a cop, or somebody who helped her somehow along the way so she takes his murder more personally? Or (and I may have forgotten bits along the way through all the revisions) if Joey has, at some point, hinted at knowing something, having info about something wrong on the island and even approached it with her since she’s someone he could trust, but gave her a “I can’t talk about it yet, no proof, but I might need you” type of way that ties into her knowing something on the island is wrong, so that when he’s dead there’s more oomph to her portion of it? Would establishing some kind of emotional *thing* between them matter or is that still too wussishy?

    1. It’s more back story, and it moves Joey to the center of the narrative. It’s already pretty crowded there.

    1. Love it. This is genius. Might as well be “And then the action began.”
      Another way to talk about beginnings is what August Wilson said: Start after everything but the action is over.

      I don’t know how I missed this, I read that site every day.

    2. Love this! Especially as commenters applied it to Winnie the Pooh, and to Genesis:

      “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.

      And then the murders began.”

        1. “Once upon a time, Minerva Dobbs thought as she stood in the middle of a loud yuppie bar, the world was full of good men.

          And then the murders began.”

  22. I’ve been thinking about islands and how, on the surface, they purport to be idyllic but to me they really are kind of anxiety-inducing places, with a finite number of spots to go. Is Nita motivated by fear, wanting to hide something, or hide from something? Might her arc have be about getting off the island and its false sense of security? Seems like a devil-may-care hero would be the perfect one to help her achieve that need, versus her desire to hide.

    1. I love islands, everything about them. It’s not about hiding for me, it’s about the idea of a manageable space, boundaries, security.
      Nita has a reason for not leaving the island, but it’s not psychological. She gets sick when she gets too far away. She thinks it’s psychological but it’s not.

  23. You know Mort. He’s normal. She mentions not wanting to go to dinner with her mother, but I don’t want to go to dinner with my mother, either, so that’s normal. Her sister gave her the baton she carries as a present, so her sister looks out for her. She loved her grandpa. I think it’s pretty much in there that her family is normal.

  24. I had a bit of a freaky coincidence yesterday, and so I totally understand the flip side of “denying the supernatural” — the positive side of that statement. But I don’t want to get into it, because while it’s very useful for everyday life, it is supremely un-useful for fantasy world-building, IMO. Everybody going into a fantasy has to accept and suspend disbelief about certain aspects of . . . well, belief itself.

    Earlier in the comments, the “story as allegory for our times” thing had me thinking of the phrase, “think globally, act locally.” We need to be aware of the greater world, and the trends that make life better for everyone eventually, but we can only be really useful and effective on our own little islands.

    At least most of us are that way. Nick is part of the elite whose actions can really change the world. My thought is that he’s used to working from the top down, and Nita is used to changing things from the bottom up. She wants to protect her island with facts and investigation and logic . . . and then she finds out that she can’t. She has to accept something previously illogical (the supernatural) in order to make her island better.

    The other thought that occurred to me is that maybe people should be rioting on the island. Poisoned doughnuts. Loved ones (I imagine old families had good people and bad people — beloved teachers as well as evil scoundrels) are dropping dead and disappearing from the island. At the very, very least, they should be nervous and unhappy. These are strange days for the islanders.

    But anyway, aspiring to protect our neighborhood and make it better is sometimes the best we can aspire to, as normal citizens. It’s not really a tiny thing, to be the dispenser of justice in order to keep the world/our island on track for betterment.

  25. Maybe a slight switch in wording is helpful – instead of Nita saving or protecting her island/people (which sounds like she’s reacting), she’s out to stop the forces that threaten her island/people. Just so happens that those forces turn out to be supernatural.

    And thank you for being open to all this group cogitation.

    1. I switched my dissertation topic to romance after I read a lot of it and realized how feminist it was. I honestly think it’s the most subversively feminist form of fiction, which is why it’s so derided.

  26. It sounds as if what Nita wants at the beginning of the story is to keep the world she knows sane, normal, and predictable. If she has to acknowledge that something supernatural is at work, if she has to rip those rose-colored glasses off, all hell will break loose both externally and internally because she’ll have to acknowledge those forces within herself she’s been denying all her life. Plus, she doesn’t have the resources herself to hold it back. She’s going to need help, and it’s going to have to come from the last person she wants to make a deal with–the devil’s fixer.

    That’s my two cents.

  27. Romance category IS feminist. It is female focused and is that in a way SO few books are.

    Protagonists are female. PoV are frequently female only. Authors are mostly female.

    Did anyone see the Loganberry Book store with the books by males spines turned in? The term “dearth” comes to mind in reference to female authors.

  28. Why shouldn’t it be about Trump? I don’t mean a roman a clef but the current administration raises lots of moral dilemmas and issues about which one can be passionate which might make for interesting back story.

    Also it sounds like you think j Nita didn’t either go to something or away from something. She didn’t know what she wanted to do so she took the obvious path or the one people wanted her to. If that’s true I can see why she has a negative goal–do my job feel competent stay out of trouble. And if that’s the case then she either needs to find a different job in the course of the book or develop a passion for this job.

    1. The problem isn’t that a negative goal isn’t realistic, it is.
      It’s that it kneecaps the protagonist in the same way that it kneecaps people in real life. “I don’t want . . .” generally makes people avoid things. “I want . . .” makes people go after them.

      Oh, and why it shouldn’t be about Trump: Because didactic fiction can be deadly, and I don’t want this to be a screed on immigration even though it’s gonna be. My liberal/progressive tendencies are usually embedded in my work, but they’re embedded, not shouting on top. There’s actually shouting about bigotry in this one. There should always be shouting about bigotry, of course–my god, did you see Steve King’s tweet about babies?–but that kind of thing tends to knock a book out of balance.


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