Watchman Disappointment–by Michael Hope

Hello Reading Friend,
Today on my blog, guest writer Michael Hope has created a great commentary; not just about the new book by Harper Lee, but one on the state of traditional publishing as well.  It is a MUST READ for anyone in the industry, and interesting for readers who have put their trust in publishing houses to produce the best of American literature for years.  Mike is a lawyer and aspiring novelist from Littleton, Colorado, and a member of Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers.

Brainstorming Day & Contest

Have you ever heard the expression, “wherever God closes a door He opens a window?”  How ’bout the stories and references to the flexibility of the willow tree?  Point here is, that I’m taking a break from the website work I’ve been doing for the past week, and moving in another direction–back to my roots in writing.

Here is a fun exercise:

Go through your old photographs and find one, or part of one, that has nothing familiar to you.  Use it as a jump off point for a story.

I like taking snapshots. I say “snapshots” because I’m not in any way a photographer. Mostly I use my camera (yes, the real, old-fashioned, I-only-take-pictures, device I hang around my neck) to snap places and people I find interesting.  Shh! Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t even ask permission for such a daring adventure.

Picture of a House In Littleton

What around you inspires a story?

A summer or two ago, I wandered the streets of Littleton in search of places I might use for sketches as part of my watercolor painting hobby.  I found this interesting looking house.  This morning, I’m using it for a short inspiration.  Perhaps you want to play with me?  You can use my photo. Go ahead. It’s fun.

Just in case your server doesn’t translate this photo well (it looked so much better in my iPhoto file!), this is a small green house whose back door looks over an empty lot. A weathered fence separates the viewer from the house and lot and there are wire frames mid-ground for what I think may have been canvas slung chairs at one time.

Okay.  That was just the facts.  Now, let’s play with story.  Who lives in that house?  Why are we interested in them? What’s about to happen that will grab people’s interest?

What if . . .

  • Someone in the house saw you taking this picture?
  • You heard an explosive sound coming from that direction?
  • A little boy wandered out into the vacant lot…with a heavy load in a black bag… and started digging as if he intended to bury that loaded bag?
  • A young woman in the vacant lot started picking up and pitching pebbles at the windows?

Now It’s Your Turn

Take the questions and one of the what-if scenarios from above to write a story, no more than 100 words. Did I tell you Pike’s Peak is sponsoring a flash fiction contest?  Go for it! You can do this.

I’m going to piggy back on Pike’s Peak, but focus on the “flash” part of the fiction.  Write a  100-word story (yes, I’ll use WordPress to check out the word count) based on the photo above.  Be the first to send it to me and I’ll do two things with it:

  1. I will publish it on my blog — hey, you could be discovered as the next O. Henry.
  2. I will send you an ARC (advanced reader copy) of “Sliced Vegetarian.”

Just write and submit using my contact page.  My mailbox keeps track of when something is sent to me.  If you are the first person to submit that 100-word thriller (or romance, mystery, fantasy or whatever your heart desires) I’ll be popping a copy in the mail to you.  This is my way of saying “thanks” to everyone who’s been following this blog for so long.

Other chances to win an ARC . . .

I’m working with someone who knows how to work in Goodreads, so I believe there will be a chance to win a copy of Sliced Veggie there within the next few months.  I also hope to figure out ways to get copies to loyal friends in my late spring newsletter (sometime in April, May, or June).  If you’d like to have a chance at that, or are interested in being on my mailing list, please let me know.

Meanwhile, although temperatures in Littleton remain chilly, the sun has come out again for a few days, and all is well.  Wishing you all a happy week ahead.

Does This Make a Good Speaking Topic?

Even though the annual Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers’ Conference is still several months away, many writers in the group are preparing and proposing speaking topics.  I’ve often tried to propose a topic that would work well and be accepted by the conference board.  The reward is a free conference attendance, and, to me, that is a lot of savings on a terrific event.  Unfortunately, none of my topics have, as of yet, been accepted.

This year, one of the proposals I’ll submit will be with a well-established writing colleague, Robin D. Owens.  Have you read her paranormal romance books?  Lots of good reading there.

Anyway, both Robin and I are interested in secondary characters that happen to be animals.  She focuses a lot on cats, and you know my heart has gone to the dogs.  We’re thinking of doing a presentation on animals and other non-humans as secondary characters.  I’d really appreciate your thoughts on this subject.  Here are some of my challenges, as I think through the proposal:

EVERYONE HAS A PET–HOW CAN I PROJECT SPECIAL EXPERTISE?

Dog with reindeer antlers

Okay. Couldn’t resist. This is Trigger. What’s his story?

Much more than half our population has a pet of some sort.  According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, our country has over 43 million households with dogs and 36 million homes with cats.  That’s a lot of anecdotal expertise out there.  How can two writers bring something new to the conversation?

I have had three large dogs in my adult life.  With each dog, I believe I’ve added skills and interest.  But then, so have many who will be in my audience.  My knee-jerk reaction to this thought is that I could put together interesting statistics, but I’m not sure how those stats would help people write better about animals as secondary characters.  Perhaps, I can re-read my books on “Why does the dog do that?”

WHAT MAKES A NON-HUMAN CHARACTER DIFFERENT FROM A HUMAN ONE?

Close up of cat face

Nalla on mouse alert.

As pet owners, we all engage with personification of our pets, at least to some extent.  How can a writer step so completely outside the human experience to write about a world from a dog or cat’s perspective?  And is this necessary?  With human side-kicks, we only need to sketch a few impressions and our readers (being human themselves) fill in the gaps.

Or perhaps I’m making too much of our differences?  Perhaps the animal psyche is similar to the human psyche and all we need to do is remind readers of Rex’s furry legs, or habit of chewing old shoes and we’ll be okay.

I WANT NON-HUMAN CHARACTERS TO GET THE RESPECT THEY DESERVE

One thing that bugs me, is the now cliché use of an inexperienced dog walker facing that dreaded poo-pick up for the first time.  This potty joke is a cheap laugh at best, and is growing more boring all the time.

How can I put animals in a story in a perspective that’s appropriate, yet still give them the distinction of a personality all their own?

IS THIS AN IMPORTANT TOPIC?

Colorado Wolves at Western Welcome Week

Spooky (front), Rocky and Yukon with owner Cody on Main Street, Littleton. Wolves at Western Welcome Week, Littleton, CO

Above everything else, a speaking topic needs to be relevant to the audience.  Do you think writers would be interested in listening about and discussing “non-humans as secondary characters” in writing a book?  Need we, as authors, even need be concerned about stereotyping pets and other animals?  Or should we use the stereotypes that already exist (German shepherds are brave, loyal and bright–cats are aloof–fish are boring) and solidify the beliefs that the majority of our readers hold dear?

If you have any thoughts on this topic, I’d appreciate hearing from you.  Hoping you have a bright and perhaps a little furry, scale-riddled or feathered day.