(Note: I’ll be teaching a workshop, Mystery 101, on Saturday, April 6th at the Curtis Library in Brunswick. More information: firstname.lastname@example.org)
Kate Flora here. Seems like I’ve been posting a lot lately about the writer’s process–how we see the world, and how we use what we see in the work we do. It’s so much on my mind that I’m thinking about pitching a class to Grub Street for the summer term: Seeing like a Writer.
It’s the business of seeing, and thinking, like a write that inspires today’s post. This week, I am ending a vacation in Florida. The weather has been unusually cold, but there is no snow, and it has been lovely for taking beach walks, bike riding, and sitting at the kitchen table, writing. With the new Joe Burgess book due in May, I’ve been sprinting toward the end, and right now, that end is just beyond my fingertips. Just beyond the grasp of my imagination. Just beyond my control.
As a writer, I always find endings hard. I tend to rush them. Make them too short. Not complete all the
details of the story that need to be tied up. For some reason, this book, And Grant You Peace, is especially hard. Maybe it’s because my plan was to write a quartet, four books spanning four seasons, and this is the last book. We all get terribly attached to series characters. I don’t know what it could be like to simply let Joe and Terry and Stan fade out of my life. I feel like they’ve become friends. That’s a big obstacle to finishing the book. It may be that I’ll have to go on, using the “other seasons,” like mud season, harvest season, tourist season, etc.
It also gets increasingly hard to imagine season out of season. I’ve turned to my “Facebook friends” for their thoughts and words about April, the melting snow and the greening up of the world, as I try to remember, for Joe Burgess, what the air smells like and the night sounds like. I find myself looking up words for green. For spring.
But, as I also often remarked here, staying attuned to the world around me helps me to remember what’s important in writing. What readers need to see, and hear, and feel, and how their expectations, and the conventions of the genre, play into the shape of a story. So, as I struggle with whether the shape of my story is the right one, and whether there’s the right balance between character and action, and whether there are enough surprises and twists and shifts, and I’ve got their timing right, I was given this event, two nights ago, while walking on the beach.
There was a family group, a few sitting in chairs and a few standing around. Small children running.
Adults chatting. Two boys, one perhaps twelve, the other fourteen or fifteen, fishing. Then the older boy got a bite and began to reel in his fish. It was a long process. Vigorous tugs to bring the fish closer, and then quickly reeling in some slack. Another tug. Another reeling in. It went on so long we though about walking on, figuring he’d just hooked a big clump of seaweed. But he was working so hard, and our curiosity was piqued, so we lingered. Tug. Reel. Tug. Reel. We scanned the water, looking for the flash for a fighting fish or the sight of a fin. Tug. Reel. Tug. Reel. Someone, probably his mother, was filming it all on her phone. The younger boy capered into the waves, looking for the fish.
Then, there was a flash of fin. A very ominous flash of fin. Another. A struggle. And suddenly the boy tugged it out of the surf and up onto the beach. Not just the very large fish that the boy had first caught, but a 5 foot shark that had latched onto his fish and gotten hooked, too.
A reminder that the story is about the persistence of the my characters and the often slow or frustrating struggle to reel in the killer. And that life, like fishing, can deliver some serious surprises.