Saturday, November 13, 2010


When you write reality-based fiction, you walk more than one tightrope. One of the things always in the back of my mind as I work on my WIP is the idea of perception of reality. I base my story in reality, and adjust it for fiction. Thing is, everybody has their own perception of reality. Some readers are bound to see my adjusting for fiction as error. It’s easy to think you have a full understanding of some part of society or life. That’s how clich├ęs and stereotypes are perpetuated. People hear about them and start to assume that’s how things really are.

Gangs are easy to make assumptions about. There are certain things, as I understand it, that a lot of gangbangers do and say. But it’s also true that news stories about them don’t generally talk about what really goes on their heads. Some of them do regret the violence.

My story is still at an early stage, of course. I’m going to revamp the early chapters to increase tension and draw readers in. But I have to think about how I do it. Once this thing gets published, how many readers might just think “That’s not how it really is. How can I believe the rest of the story if this part is wrong?”

I read something about writing that I stupidly cannot find who wrote it or where. It said something like, reality-based fiction is supposed to represent reality, not be reality. When you think about it, that makes perfect sense. You can’t drop reality wholesale into written fiction and expect it to be clear. There’s too many differences and limitations in written fiction for that to work. Anyway, who wants to read something they could get from a newspaper or online or from friends?

Reality-based fiction gives readers familiar things to hold on to and feel comfortable with. Then when it presents the fiction part, readers ought to be ready to believe it, if it’s done well. They’ll start to think, “Oh I can totally see that really happening” or maybe “That could only happen in fiction. But it’s great to speculate about it.”

What I’m trying to accomplish is shining a light on some things a lot of people prefer not to think about, but should, wrapped in an interesting tale. There’s enough fact--and human nature--in it for readers to recognize the issues I talk about.

It’s a privilege to be part of a group of people who have long been not just the keepers of collective memory, but a group that urges us to look hard at how we live: the storytellers. Those of you who are also storytellers, smile. Not everybody can do this. We need to do it as well as we can.

Monday, November 8, 2010


Shout out to Melisa!  Thanks for joining me on this odd but always interesting journey that is writing. :D

Thursday, November 4, 2010

spare scene

So I wrote this little scene but I don't think it'll wind up in the manuscript, because it doesn't advance the plot.  Worse, it repeats a point I've already made, but it seemed to make sense for the characters to talk about it.  It's long for a blog post, but I like the scene, so I'm using it here.

It takes place in the band's house.  Timo {short for Timoteo} was one of Neal's kids, all of whom were murdered by his former gang.  The throne is the padded seat drummers use.
All that drum and cymbal noise! Who could be banging around on Sandy’s kit? --or was it his own kit? Neal strode to the music room but stopped in the doorway. Sandy sat behind his kit, next to Allison on another throne, wavy blonde hair just touching her shoulders. He talked about musical scales as he clicked the hi-hats.

She’d been running around with her brother earlier. Now she wore the biggest smile Neal had ever seen on a kid. Holding a pair of sticks that were too big for her hands, she kept reaching for one of the cymbals. Sandy put a hand on her arm and kept talking. She glanced at him, then reached for a cymbal.

Leave it to Sandy to get all practical with a kid who just wanted to have fun.

Neal went a few steps closer. “Let the kid smash away. Don’t hold back another potential drummer.”

Her brown eyes widened at him then she leaned toward Sandy. Damn, was she afraid?

“Allison,” Sandy said, “have you said hi to Neal?”

She clutched the sticks in one hand and grabbed his shirt with the other, then leaned her face into him.

Sandy looked up at Neal. “She’s like this with everybody new. Once she warms up to you, though, she’s like Velcro.”

Timo used to be like that . . . he’d be, what, three or four now? Would have been, anyway. Neal pushed his hands into his pockets.

Allison peered at him though she still clung to Sandy. “Hi. I’m eight. And a half.”

“Wow. I’m almost twenty. What do you think of that?”

“Oh, that’s nothing. Uncle Sandy is thirty!”

Sandy glanced at the ceiling.

Neal laughed. “Yeah, he’s got me beat. Do you know how to play drums?”

She smiled and sat up. “Uncle’s going to teach me. He said he’d teach me when I turned eight, but I’m almost nine now.”

“Hey,” he said to Sandy, “never break a promise to a kid. Especially one you’re related to--her parents know where you live. Where’s your nephew? I expected him to be the one wanting to play.”

“He’s bonding with Brian over baseball. I guess Allison’s been talking about this a lot, but something always got in the way.”

“Well that’s a pretty shi -- flimsy excuse. If you don’t turn her into a drummer, she might latch onto keyboards, and how would that look?”

Sandy grinned. “Yeah, well, you’ve got a point.” He looked at Neal for a few seconds, then stood. “Hey, I’ve got to do something, why don’t you sit with her for a bit?”

“Me? Why? No no, she’s your niece.” Neal backed toward the door.

Allison frowned at them. “Somebody has to teach me.”

“Go on.” Sandy tossed his sticks at Neal and turned to Allison. “Hon, Neal will show you a little. I won’t be gone long.” He dashed out.

She settled herself on the throne, erased the frown, and pointed to the hi-hats. “How do those work? I couldn’t see what Uncle did to move them.”

Fixating on cymbals already; yeah, she was Sandy’s relative. Neal rubbed the back of his neck. He hadn’t even spent that much time with his own kids, how was he supposed to know what to do? He shuffled over and eased onto the other throne. “Well, there’s a pedal here, and you press it to move the cymbals.”

He demonstrated. Her eyes lit up. “Ooo! I want to do that.”

Neal let her take his seat. She clicked away then started tapping on them with the sticks.

After a couple of minutes, she didn’t show any sign of quitting. Maybe you had to be eight to get that big a kick out of just hi-hats. Or maybe being related to Sandy was enough. “Okay, you got the hang of that. Did you know that drummers move their arms and legs separately from each other?”

She beamed a smile at him. “Yeah, I watched Uncle before, and some of his friends. It looks hard.”

“It can be, when you first try it. But there’s a secret that helps. Sandy must be waiting for the right time to tell you.”  She probably hadn’t seen a metronome.

Her eyes grew round. “What secret?”

“Oh, if Sandy didn’t tell you, I don’t think I should.” He sat and tapped on a floor tom gently.

She reached toward him and touched his necklace. “Pretty. Why do you wear that?”

Ah, shit. Tell the truth or take the easy way out? He put the sticks down. “It reminds me of my daughter. She’s not around anymore and sometimes I miss her. Don’t ask where she went. I won’t see her anymore, is the important part.” That was mostly true. It reminded him of all his kids, really.

Allison studied the little letter on its chain as if thinking hard about what he’d said. “I can’t tell what it is. How does it remind you of her?”

“It’s a letter I, the same letter her name started with. Isabel. But I called her Chabela most of the time.” He slipped it under his shirt. “That’s enough about that, all right?”

“I’m sorry it makes you sad.” Her face was so open and honest. Did she get that from Sandy too, or were little kids like that anyway? Probably most kids were sincere before the world fucked them up.

“Well, never mind. If you really want to learn drumming, you should ask Sandy to get you your own kit. Then you could practice anytime at home.”

Her eyes got huge again. “Ooo! But Mommy and Daddy might not like that. They say drums are loud. But I like loud.”

“I do too. That’s kind of the point of drums. I bet if you asked, they’d agree to let you have a kit.”

She scooted her throne over until it bumped up against his. She shouldered closer and grinned at him.

Damn, I think I just reached the Velcro stage.