June 2006


Sunday, I was standing in a small hardware store about fifteen minutes from my house, looking for some plumbing supplies my husband had sent me to retrieve. It seemed simple enough until he called and added one more thing — a certain type of hose, a water supply thing for the toilet (which we were having to replace). I was standing in an aisle of about 50 billion hoses, however, all very confusing, many of them without labels as to whether or not they supplied water… (I mean, seriously, isn’t the definition of “hose” something that supplies water?) That’s when I asked him to describe it so I could narrow down the field of possibilities.

I had to make him describe it twice. I thought he was kidding. He assured me he was serious.

I still couldn’t find it.

“Ask someone there for help.”

“As soon as I see an actual human, I will.”

“And be sure to tell them the description so they give you the right one.”

“I am not telling them I need a little hose in the shape of a sperm with a long tail.”

“But that’s what it looks like.”

“I don’t care.”

Then, I found it. Shoved to the back of one little area, not labeled, but it definitely fit the description. As luck would have it, an actual human male happened along, a guy about fifty-five or so.

“Anything I can help you with?” he asked.

“Oh, no,” I said, sort of hiding the sperm hose behind my back, “I think I’ve found it, thanks.”

He looked at what I was holding and said, “Oh, these over here are better. Much less likely to leak.”

Well, if there’s anything you don’t want, it’s a leaky sperm hose, right? So I look over the new fangled version he was showing me and noticed there wasn’t a “sperm” head on it. And since I wasn’t about to explain my husband’s name for it, I pointed to the end of the hose I was holding and said, “That one doesn’t have an end like this. Apparently, that’s quite important to my husband.”

“Oh, it’s here all right,” he said, and tipped the hose so I could see inside the connector dohickey. “See? This connector seals it tight. No leaks.”

So, yay. No leaky sperm hose in my bathroom. A very good thing.

Except I get home with it and proudly show it to my husband, who says it was the wrong one. He needed the other one.

“But this one has a sperm head on it!” I said, a little too loudly as my 19-year-old son sort of seizured in the other room.

“But it doesn’t have the tail. I needed the one with the tail.”

“So the tail part was the important part?”

“Right.”

“So why didn’t you just say you needed the one with the dome top and the long tube with nothing on the end of it?”

“Where’s the fun in that?”

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Hey, go check out the Killer Year blog today for my first post for the "Class of 2007" Killer Year group. (See Killer Year link in sidebar.)  

This is effing brilliant, from an equally brilliant writer, Max.

Yesterday, my schedule opened up a bit and now I'm going to ThrillerFest next week, which is extremely cool. (Although I do agree with Elaine Viets over on The Lipstick Chronicles that it's a whole lot lopsided that all of the nominees for the first ThrillerFest award are men. Nary a woman in sight, which makes so little sense when you see some of the amazing thrillers out by women in this last year.)[UPDATE: Gayle Lynds and several ITW leaders have posted excellent explanations of what happened, and I believe they put in as many failsafes as they could to make the contest fair and balanced. Coincidences happen, and if they hadn't put in that effort, it might be construed negatively, but I think the effort they went to was pretty impressive.]

The main hotel had long ago been booked up and they were booking overflow hotels, but I thought, "If it's meant to be, there'll be an opening." I called the Biltmore Spa and asked if they'd had any cancellations and the desk clerk sort of laughed at the crazy lady on the phone. She started to say she didn't, but I asked her to please double-check and she came back fairly astonished: they'd just had a cancellation. I'm especially jazzed because I think about seven or eight of the Killer Year Class of 2007 are going to be there.

Okay, this is getting weird. I met with another actor yesterday, and it's like he walked straight out of the pages of my book. This makes four for four. Even the guy who showed up wearing a suit was wearing the exact same color / type of suit I'd described for his character… and I had not told him, nor had he had access to the material. Plus, he nailed the character perfectly.

I watched a scene of mine being shot Sunday* (over and over and over), and it was fun to see the actors feel their way through the delivery of the lines, emphasizing a different word here or there and thus creating a nuanced character. Each character had his own subtext built into the dialog, which made it easier (I think) for the actors to be spot on. (Of course, they were very good actors, which didn't hurt one bit.) One of the things which will bug me in a book is when every character sounds the same (or very similar), as if they all had the same background, upbringing, life experiences, economic situations, etc. When this happens, it's more a reflection of the author than the characters, and it's a shame, because the author is missing out on a critical tool to develop characters which stand out from the crowd. When I read a book, I should have a pretty good idea of which character is speaking based on their delivery and subtext. Maybe not 100% of the time, but generally, this should be the goal.

Now, I come from the screenwriting world, and a script is primarily dialog, with enough action lines (basic connective tissue) to hold the story together. More often than not, the story relies heavily on the dialog and how the actors or director (or all) interpret the dialog, and since it's doing the heavy lifting, it's got to do more than just inform. There needs to be subtext built in (what is this character not saying? What do they really want? Attitude? Hidden agenda? etc.) and nuanced delivery and word choices (indicative of the character's upbringing, culture, education, status regarding money or society or with their peers, etc.)

Let's look at this memorable exchange from Aaron Sorkin's A FEW GOOD MEN (Jessep=Jack Nicholson's Colonel and Kaffee=Tom Cruise's lawyer):

                                  JESSEP
                      You want answers?

                                  KAFFEE
                      I think I'm entitled to them.

                                  JESSEP
                      You want answers?!

                                  KAFFEE
                      I want the truth.

                                  JESSEP
                      You can't handle the truth!

              And nobody moves.

                                  JESSEP
                               (continuing)
                      Son, we live in a world that has walls.
                      And those walls have to be guarded by men
                      with guns.  Who's gonna do it? You?  You,
                      Lt.  Weinberg?  I have a greater
                      responsibility than you can possibly
                      fathom.  You weep for Santiago and you
                      curse the marines.  You have that luxury.
                      You have the luxury of not knowing what I
                      know: That Santiago's death, while tragic,
                      probably saved lives.  And my existence,
                      while grotesque and incomprehensible to
                      you, saves lives.

 

 





There's a lot of subtext going on in that rant of Jessep's and you know a great deal about the kind of man he is. Nowhere does Sorkin explain that Jessep has made it up high enough on the ladder that he thinks he's God, untouchable, and right, no matter how much he dips into a gray area. He feels justified in making whatever choices he wants to make, in running things the way he wants to run them, and that arrogance expands to include lying in court under oath… and then that arrogance even extends to telling off the gnat of an idealistic attorney just to "win" — even when he's inciminating himself because he does not believe he can be judged, here.

Now, Sorkin is the master of great dialog, giving each character his or her unique inflection, delivery, outlook on life, etc. That's one of the greatest tools to make a character stand out. I hope I've done that with the current book, and it's the goal to continuously improve.

What are some of your favorite movie lines?

*(I can't tell you what it was for, yet. That will come later, but it's for a small idea I had. Apologies.)

Hey, go over and see the grand opening of our brand-spanking new blog — Killer Year. We are the Class of 2007 of crime/thriller/mystery writers, and with the enthusiasm and talent in this group, I think it really is going to be a Killer Year. We'll be blogging on all sorts of topics, so come on over and bookmark us!

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