One Question in The Beginning

English: Herman Melville in 1860.
English: Herman Melville in 1860. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The number one question the writer of fiction asks when beginning a new work is “What if?” It’s a good question. But what about the other questions your English teacher taught you? What about Who? When? Where? Why?

Of course those questions are the nexus to the main question asked when beginning a work of fiction, but I think asking “What if?” is the beginning. For example: What if the captain of a ship decided that the cause of all his troubles lay in one single fish (albeit a mammal in this case.) I think that was what Herman Melville must have wondered as he began Moby Dick. The who came next, “Call me Ismael”, the where was a given, the why is what the novel explores, but the when isn’t important. Why? Because the book addresses the universality of the human condition and the when becomes “now, any time, whenever”.

Another example: What if the writer asked what if there was woman who wasn’t too happy in her marriage to a missionary and they had several children and were roughing it in Africa when a civil war broke out? That might be how the author of Poisonwood Bible began or it might be the same question I would have if I were going to write about my grandparents who were missionaries in Africa.

Every person has a novel inside. Because every person has asked at one time or another the What if question about something. Just the other day I was reading a local story about the man executed for burning his children to death in a house fire. The investigation into that incident was revisited after the execution and is presently ongoing with his guilt called into question instead of his innocence. Not just his guilt but everything else about the fire is being re-investigated. My thought was “What if he was innocent? What if he confessed to protect someone else? What if the fire wasn’t even arson?” There’s a non-fiction novel in those questions.

Whenever I confess to someone that I’m a writer, I often get this response. “I have a great idea for a novel. When can we get together? You can write it for me.” I somehow get out of this by saying that I’ve got too many ideas for my own novels to get them all written in a lifetime. But,” I add, “I do know a ghostwriter who would love to write your novel. That’s how she makes a good living.” I don’t use those words but in a kinder, gentler way the meaning is there. Interest is lost and the subject is changed.

We begin at the beginning with the initial important question when writing fiction but I end this with the caveat that there are so many elements to writing nothing can be boiled down to this or that one thing.

Serial Peeping

English: A view of the break-action of a typic...
English: A view of the break-action of a typical double-barrelled shotgun, with the action open and the extractor visible. The opening lever and the safety catch can also be clearly seen. Photo taken by Commander Zulu, April 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While reading “The Anatomy of Motive” by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker I can’t help but wonder what ever happened to the “peeping tom” from my old neighborhood.

Back in the seventies, I lived in a one-bedroom duplex with three other girls on the East End. I am modest to a fault but in those days probably more so because I remember getting dressed in the bathroom. So I don’t believe I was ever a victim in this story. The duplex was tight living quarters for four girls. I slept on a mattress in the living room. The kitchen had a stove and a refrigerator. The stove had two burners that worked. I remember making my specialty – bean stew – in a crock-pot. The only reason I remember the incident of the bean soup is because we all got sick from it. Sorry, Roomies.

Late one night, one of my roommates slunk into the living room and turned off the light. “Becky,” she whispered. “I just saw a shadow on the curtain.” The other roommates were out and the two of us were alone. I glanced out the curtains and didn’t see anything. She was clutching her throat, a gesture I’d seen her do before when she was truly frightened.

I tried to reassure her. “It’s just someone trying to scare us.”

“No, I’ve seen the shadow before. But this time, I could see more. Someone was watching me undress.”

When the other roommates returned we discussed all of our options. In the seventies in Houston, calling the police would have resulted first, in the policeman calling us “little ladies” in as condescending a manner as possible, and secondly, our never actually seeing a result, a report, a follow-up, nothing. Instead, we called three guy friends who lived a street over, told them there was a “peeping tom”.

They hatched a plan that involved sitting in the bushes outside our window with a flashlight and a double-barreled shotgun.

The next evening the four of us girls couldn’t decide if we wanted to put extra curtains up or dress with the lights off when suddenly, there was a shout, and a KA-BOOM!

Outside, one of our guy friends was sitting on the stoop, with his head in his hands. He told us what had happened. The three of them were in the bushes well hidden in shadow when they saw a fourth guy stealthily slip up to the window and stretch to look. Our guy friend pointed the flashlight at the stranger’s head. The peeper turned. The guy holding the gun yelled, and apparently was so startled he pulled the trigger. Luckily, the shotgun was pointed at the sky.

The peeper took off down the street in the dark, the rest of our “watchers” after him. The shooter, our friend told us, was startled because the peeper was someone we all knew, from church.

The end of the incident went like this. They guys caught the peeper when he tripped on some railroad tracks. They took him to the elders of the church who told him if he ever peeped again they would have to ask him to leave the church, and it would be their civic duty to report him to the police.

The peeper moved away. That might be an unsatisfactory end of the story, but it wasn’t the end. The end being far more unsatisfactory.

A few years later. Still the Seventies. Same neighborhood. I was living in a little bungalow next door to another friend. Her’s was a large house converted into four apartments. She lived in the downstairs left corner apartment.  The peeper, for that is how I thought of him, lived above her. One evening while relaxed in her tub, she was staring at the ceiling and saw a board slide across what she had thought was an old hole. She quickly dressed and called the police.

The police came but told her that they couldn’t do anything because the “peeper” wouldn’t answer his door. She would have to come downtown to fill out an incidence report. She did. They told her that because he hadn’t touched her, they couldn’t do anything.

A few weeks later, the girl in the apartment across the hall from the peeper, was brushing her hair and saw a movement behind her in the mirror and turns. The peeper had scaled a pole and was looking in her window.

Police said they couldn’t do anything.

The peeper moved away. All the secret passageways he had created in his old apartment included not only the crawl space between floors but holes in walls and floors of the attic.

We thought that was the end. That wasn’t the end.

Fast forward to the Eighties. I was attending a different church and was having a church spaghetti dinner at my apartment on the other side of town. It was Houston,  a big town. Guess who shows up? I told the peeper if I ever caught a hint of a breath of his presence in or around that church or anyone in that church I would reveal all.

So while reading “The Anatomy of Motive” where the writer talks about the “peeping tom” being one of the early steps of a downward progression into serial rape, I wonder about the peeper I knew. Where is he now?

And while I haven’t seen anything of him in these past twenty years I wonder, has he seen me?

Button

So, you know now who to call if YOU loose a bu...
So, you know now who to call if YOU loose a button 😉 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

It’s hard to stop and post something but I’m committed to writing something new every day. It isn’t hard to write something new, it’s hard to stop and sit down. My life is complicated. I don’t know anyone whose life is not complicated.

 

Having a place to park and post is fascinating, though. Throughout my day I’m tempted to jot notes about what I’m going to post, but I don’t because I think it would sound self-conscious, self-absorbed. My blog is about the writing life, not me, so I don’t think I’ll walk around making a note every time I have a sudden “light-bulb” moment. I’m certain everyone has those moments, and am equally certain mine aren’t so brilliant as all that.

 

I think it is important though to encourage other writers to “park it” and write. I’ve heard some conference speakers use the button analogy. They hold up a large button and say, “this is what I have at my computer. I means butt on chair.” Cute. But go for it, anyway. Just ten words a day amounts to a lot after a while. It doesn’t matter what words. Any words. Stupid words, ridiculous words. Who’s looking? After some time you could go back and look over your “words” and maybe combine, delete, refine. Pretty soon you’d have a nice bit of writing under your “belt”.  You could even write a book.

 

Button.

 

About Writing

English: Stephen King's House in Bangor, Maine
English: Stephen King’s House in Bangor, Maine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Actually, I should post something about what my blog is all about.

I write. Today my blog is about success with writing. Did I say success? What exactly is that? What success have I had? I’ve had a short story published. I’ve had poetry published. I’ve had newsletter articles, a small story published in a children’s magazine, my artwork published in small and large-scale venues.

However, I measure my success with whether or not my novels have been published or not and they have not been. So I do not consider myself a true success. And even if I have one published, will I be a success if the others are not? Every day I fight the voices real and imagined that harp at me. Why don’t you give up? Don’t worry about it, just stop writing. Give up. Give up. Give up.

No, it isn’t for me to give up. True writers must never give up. Look to those who have gone before, the success stories of writers. Were they successful when trying to publish their manuscripts at first? No. Sometimes it took many years and reams of rejections.

Jack London’s first story was rejected over 500 times.

Stephen King’s novel, Carrie, was rejected 30 times, so he threw it in the trash.

27 publishers turned down Dr. Seuss’s first book.

Charles Schultz was turned down for a job by Walt Disney. Schultz later created Peanuts which is still syndicated and in most major newspapers in the USA are using repeats. Because he doesn’t draw them anymore. He’s dead.

So this I say to you who write. True writers must repeat daily that it isn’t the most talented of writers who have novels published. It is the most persistent.

Miners Freed to face New Torture

Wonderful news that all the miners trapped so far below ground have been freed. Now for the feeding frenzy of news-mongers. I can’t help but feel sorry for them. These were once men who were important to their families alone. Now they will be exposed to the world in ways that at first may feel wonderful. Fame and fortune await them. But the downside is that they will be also exposed to those interested in taking their what they can, using them. It has already been revealed that long-lost relatives have shown up to claim donated items. It isn’t a new phenomenon, certainly. Look at Haiti. How many billions have been sent there, to what result? Look at the monies stolen in Iraq. People are out for themselves. After spending over sixty days locked in the earth’s vault, these freed men must face new trials they never could have foreseen. Sadly, a new kind of torture.

having an opinion about anything

Isn’t it ironic that in this day when it isn’t PC to “judge” others or to have an opinion that differs from the way the “majority” of folks out there think, that blogging is so popular. Blogging is all about opinion, a straight up “I believe in what I’m typing”. I read blogs. Not a lot, I don’t have the time. It is odd. That’s all I’m writing tonight.

"Have something to say and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret of style." (Matthew Arnold)

Melissa Algood- Author/ Poet

Don't make me mad, or I'll kill you...in a story.

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