Sunday, March 22, 2009

No Neighborhood for Old Women

Yes, that's the title of my work-in-progress, in which a serial killer is stalking old women in an inner city "transitional" neighborhood. Its a cozy, so it's not gruesome like a lot of serial killer fiction, and, yes, the title is a clear play on Cormac McCarthy's most recent, award-winning novel--but it fits the story. I'm excited about this story, more so by the day, so I decided to ask my blog readers for their opinion on the opening. Would you buy it or not? (Be honest!)
Of course, I couldn't figure out how to cut and paste--I know there's a way--so here goes a labor of love: retryping the first page:

Florence Dodson was murdered the same night that Claire Guthrie shot her husband. For me, the story began with Claire, and I put Mrs. Dodson on the back burner in my mind. That turned out to be a mistake--sort of.
I answered the doorbell about 8:30 that July night only to find Claire standing there, holding a gun. Luckily, she didn't have it pointed at me. No, Claire held the gun limply at her side. I really only saw it because the light from our front porch glinted off it.
"Claire?" My voice was tentative.
She didn't answer, didn't move. She seemed almost in a trance.
"Claire?" I repeated.
She stared at me, and yet I felt invisible. "I just shot Jim," she said.
"Shot him? "Is he dead" For a moment I was paralyzed. I knew I should do something, anything, but what, call 911? Rush to Jim's aide? The irreverent thought flitted through my mind that nobody deserved shooting more than Jim Guthrie, to whom I'd taken an instant dislike on our first meeting. I'm sure it was mutual.
"Claire?" I spoke sharply. "Answer me! Does he need help?" Please, God, let her have shot him in the foot or something!
She just stared at me. Finally, slowly, she said, "No. Someone told me I should shoot his sorry ass. And that's what I did. I shot him in the butt."

Let me know what you think. Meantime I've been thinking about the different ways writers approach mystery. On my opening page you can see the two major threads of the novel--an old woman dies, and a woman shoots her husband. There's more of course--Kelly's growing involvement with Mike Shandy, her mom's move to Texas from Illinois, the ongoing antics of her daughters--but there you have the basics.
In the opening of the Mary Higgins Clark novel I'm reading even in the first chapters, the action jumps from scene to unrelated scene, some of them less than a page long. It's like holding a fistful of threads in your hand and wondering how they'll come together. Yet you know Clark will tie them all together. I wonder how she works--does she plot it all out beforehand? It seems to me she'd have to, just to be sure those threads would come together.
I recently had an inquiry from an author who said he preferred to do his own cover art (a big no-no for our production manager) but he knew that comparing his work to professional artists was like telling a chef he worked at McDonald's. I feel the same way in triplicate about even mentioning my writing in the same breath as Clark's, but I could never start out with that many threads, because as I write I have only the vaguest outline of how things are going to happen. After my recent lunch with mentor Fred and a long talk about the possibilities of this novel, I suddenly figured out how some of the pieces are going to fall into place. Still haven't got the big, climactic ending in my mind--and almost 3/4 way through the manuscript. But I sure am having fun.
Still doing chores today--three loads of laundry, watering plants, a yoga workout, company tonight for a simple supper. I don't have time for work some days!

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