Fiction Reflects Reality

Sometimes a scene writes itself. The characters start talking and I just record what they say and do. I know it’s just my subconscious speaking, but I also know the scene I wrote last week is a direct reflection of kids I knew and conversations I overheard when I was a volunteer at the Night Ministry’s Open Door shelter in Chicago.

Hopefully they come across as real to you, too. Click on the quote below to read the whole scene and then let me know if you could see these minor characters as clearly I could while writing about them.

“What’s your name?” The girl asked when Lily sat. “I’m Sugar and this here little ragamuffin—” She teased the little boy at her side by tickling his ribs until he pushed her away, giggling. “This is Ty-baby. My little Tyrone. It’s his birthday tomorrow. He be two years old soon, won’t you Ty Ty? Huh?”

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The Muse Returns

Maybe only writers will truly understand this, but I desperately wish someone would invent a method of recording thoughts and dream.

I suppose most dreams would probably seem nonsensical if made into a viewable movie, but I have had some really cool dreams that, while unbelievable, I’ve wished I could hold on to or revisit.

Then today, while swimming, scenes from Cry Baby Cry started flipping through my head almost immediately while doing laps. Not only did I have a break through on a chapter I’ve been struggling with for weeks, but kept  another pivotal scene, several minor character sketches, a Facebook post, and a blog entry blossomed into being during the forty minutes I swam back and forth.

I kept repeating them in my mind over and over, fearful I’d completely forget them by the time I finished, dried off, dressed, and drove back home to my computer. I think I have captured most of them. There’s this blog post, for one thing, and I finished my chapter and started the next one. Click the quote below to read an excerpt of my brain flood and let me know if it was worth rememebring.

It wasn’t a romantic embrace, although she’d imagined that happening quite a few times in the darkness of her lonely room at night. It was an “I’ve got you” hug, a “don’t worry about a thing” that was comforting and warm and believable. She never wanted him to let go.

Plot Knots

At just over 25,000 words, Cry Baby Cry has reached the one-third point. In other words, the end of Act One. To jump start Act Two I need to knot the embroidery threads I’ve been laying in so that I can start to unravel the individual strands of clues I’ve planted so far.

The knot that I think I need to use is the scene I wrote earlier of Jo meeting Lily’s father. Originally, I thought this scene would not happen until much later in the book, but now I realize making Lou Beckett suspicious that Jo’s visit might be connected to his missing daughter can be the complication needed to rachet up the suspense. Just when Jo thinks she has finally found a safe place for Lily, she messes it up without realizing it.

Here’s a quote from Lily’s father below. You can click on it to read the whole scene again if you haven’t already.

“Martin gives a rousing sermon anytime, but you should hear him when he’s under a tent. Just like Jesus himself must have sounded from the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, certainly. You must come and see for yourself. Have you accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”

Birthing the Next Synopsis

Coming up with a catchy summary to describe a book is always tricky. How do you hook a potential reader without giving away the surprises you have in store for them? I’m hoping you can help me decide between the two options below as the description for Cry Baby Cry. Which one do you think works best?

OPTION 1

Lily May Beckett tried to be a good girl and change her ways. But when the path to forgiveness leads to hell on earth, sin feels like the only option.

How far will a father go to save his daughter? How far will reporter Jo Sullivan have to go to save that daughter from her father? Haunted by the memory of her failure to rescue a murdered girl, Jo once again finds herself racing to find the answers before it’s too late.

OPTION 2

Disagreeing with someone’s gender identity is never an excuse for abuse, but what’s a father to do when determined to save his daughter? Lily tried to be a good girl and change her ways, but when the path to forgiveness leads to hell on earth, sin feels like the only option.

Haunted by the memory of her failure to rescue a murdered girl, Jo Sullivan risks her life to save Lily from her father and reveals a reality only a twisted mind could believe was part of God’s plan for humankind.

As always, you can read pieces from the new book posted on Birthing the Next Book.

Generating Suspense

CryBaby-KDPSometimes I get worried I’m rushing through the plot lines too quickly and sometimes I worry that I’m not moving the story along quickly enough. For a first draft, however, I try not to get bogged down with pacing. I try to think, now that this character knows that, what would she logically do next? Then I start writing.

Last week, the chapters I finished seemed to do more character building than actual suspense plotting, although hopefully the tension of their personal stories will keep the pages turning.

First I tried to imagine what Lily was going through all alone with her unwanted baby.

“Shh, Rosie, shh.” She crawled over to the baby box and patted the writhing, wailing human inside. “Quiet, please. Quiet.”

Next, I visited Avril in her apartment and found she was dreaming, which gives some insight, I hope, into the decisions she’s made in her life.

In her dreams, Avril was kneeling in front of Lily again, hands held out to catch the baby sliding out of the girl. “Push,” she told Lily and suddenly there it was, slipping into Avril’s waiting fingers like a pit from a cherry.

Chris and Franco

Since the new novel is circling back to the first book in the series, Painted Black, I decided it made sense to bring Chris back in the new novel in a cameo role. Chris was the street kid that Jo was trying to help in that novel. I posted an old scene from Painted Black on the Birthing blog if you’d like to find out more about him.

The Chris on the screen struck Jo as slightly uncertain, but covering it with bravado. The bitterness hadn’t yet seeped into his tone.

In Cry Baby Cry, Jo is going to have to deal with guilt about not saving Chris’s friend in time, but will also confront herself and her own shortcomings. Not everyone is going to like her as much as I do, and she needs to deal with that.

I also had Jo meet Franco last week. Franco is Lily’s gay “boyfriend” who is trying to protect her from life on the streets, but may actually be putting her in harm’s way despite himself. Like Chris, Franco has a good heart, even if he is misguided, and he has fully surrendered to a willingness to do anything he can to survive on the streets. If Jo had known him earlier, maybe she could have saved him from it, like she did Chris.

Looking nervously in her rearview window, Jo pulled over to the curb where a slim youth in low-hanging jeans and a muscle t-shirt was leaning against a light pole. As the car stopped, he loped up to them. When Avril rolled down the window, he leaned down to look into the car, saw Avril, and froze.

 

Inching Along is Still Progress, Right?

I’ve been moving along pretty good since setting my goals for Cry Baby Cry a week ago.  It’s now over 15,000 words, which means about 3000 words in a week. Not race car winning speeds, but doable.

I also posted two excerpts on my Birthing blog, one showing Avril confronting another trans woman…

Lonny had transitioned late in life and all the hormones and surgical procedures in the world couldn’t disguise her masculine beginnings.

And one showing how Jo’s experiences in the first novel, Painted Black, are coming back to haunt her as she tries to find Zara.

She had learned of Lexie Green’s fate almost a year before, and the nightmares had, thank God, tapered off since then. Avril’s reappearance in her life, however, seemed to have revived those memories with a vengeance.

 

Setting Goals

I have over 13,000 words drafted in the new novel, which I have decided for certain will be titled Cry Baby Cry.  One thing I like about using Scrivener to write is that I can set a target goal of how many words I want a book to be and when I want to have the first draft done, and it will keep track of how many words I need to write each day to reach that goal.

I’ve told it I want at least 70,000 words, that I want to complete by Dec.1 and that I will be writing on Wed, Thurs, and Fri. (I also work on other days sometimes, or maybe skip one of my writing days, but it is entirely reasonable that I will be able to write at least three days a week.)

Based on that info, Scrivener tells me I need to write 1321 words a day, three days a week. It revises that number based on each day’s word count, and restarts the daily word count at midnight every night.

As of this week I finished the first draft of five chapters, and have 1500 words completed of Chapter 6. Excerpts of my progress last week can be read HERE. As always, I welcome any feedback on what I’m posting.

What’s in a Name?

I picked Katja as the name of Avril’s missing friend because I thought it was unique enough that it would make Avril suspect Lily knows her when she names the baby Katja. But when naming characters, it’s important not to have two names too similar or readers might easily get confused as to who is who.

Jo’s friend Keisha also has a unique name and while maybe both names are unique enough that it won’t be confusing, I see no reason to risk it. Therefore Katja is now Zara, specifically Zara Rose.

“Zara? Zara Rose? I haven’t seen her for months. I thought you two were friends. Why come here looking for her?”

The name works on another level, too, since Zara is transgender and would have chosen her new name, one that she identifies with due to the Algerian heritage in her grandparents’ cultural background.

What do you think of the new name? And don’t forget to check out the latest excerpts posted in my Birthing the Next Street Story blog.

Characters Do Tell Their Own Story

The beginning to Chapter 4 came to me while swimming laps at the YMCA. I had to keep going over and over the scenario in my head while I finished my 40 minutes, dried off, and dressed, so while I was sitting waiting for my Mom to get done with her exercises, I starting drafting it using my phone so I wouldn’t forget.

When I started putting it all into Scrivener back home, it really kept flowing, but I was very surprised to hear Jack reprimand Jo the way he did. I hadn’t counted on that, but it fit well into a sub-theme I want to work on. That led to this bit that I’ve posted on the Birthing blog. I don’t yet know where this will go, probably about mid-way through the book, but I thought I’d share it here to see what you think. Click the quote below to read the whole excerpt.

That was the fourth person in two days to accuse her of being a heartless bitch. What the hell did they want from her?

Avril’s Chapter is Done

I didn’t get as much writing done last week as the week before, but I did finally finish chapter three, told through Avril’s voice.Over 2000 words, in fact, I’m probably going to have to pare it down.

For months before I started plotting, I was researching the subject of LGBTQ, particularly how it affects kids living on the streets. But most of what I’d found was about gay, lesbian, or transgender and when I tried applying any of this to Avril, I wasn’t satisfied, as I’ve written about before.

Thankfully I found a blog by someone who, like Avril, also doesn’t want to completely transition to female and it has been helpful, I think. Here’s a small bit of the chapter. This feels more authentic than my first post, don’t you think? I hope so.

Who is Avril?

This fourth Street Stories novel is a risk. They say write what you know. I know nothing about what it is like to be LGBTQ, but I do know that up to 40% of homeless youth are living on the streets because of their gender preference. Because they have been thrown out and sometimes abused by those who should take care of them. In addition, homeless LGBTQ persons are at greater risk on the streets from a society that rejects them. If you don’t believe me, read what the National Coalition for the Homeless has to say on the subject.

So it is important for me to convey that reality in this next book. To do that, I need feedback from those who know more about the issues than I do. I humbly hope to receive honest feedback as I struggle to make Avril a very real and believable character. Will you help me? I am going to post links to two different scenes where Avril is present, but seen through the eyes of others.

We first meet Avril briefly at the end of Chapter 1, from Lily’s point of view, but we don’t really get much there except that she is a man dressed as a woman. Lily is too distracted by labor pains to pay much attention. I hint that Lily is afraid of Avril for some reason we don’t know. Yet she is still willing to ask her for help. Click the quote below to read the partial chapter.

Avril wouldn’t want to help her if she knew. Would hate her. But to save her baby, Lily would have to pretend. To lie. She was good at that, wasn’t she?

It isn’t until Chapter two, told from Jo Sullivan’s point of view, that we spend enough time with Avril to get a fuller picture. Jo feels awkward around Avril, as many people would, so that comes through, but is Avril’s dialogue coming across as real despite Jo’s discomfort? Click the quote below to read the whole chapter, then let me know what you think.

When Jo first met a street artist nicknamed CRY, the brutal murder of a friend and his fear of being forced to turn tricks to survive on the streets had made the boy somewhat homophobic and yet it had been this Avril who he’d gone to when looking for a missing girl and it was Avril who he’d continued to correspond with by letter after he got into Job Corps.

Already a Stumbling Block

The first week of writing started off pretty well.  On Wednesday, I spent my time writing some of Lily’s backstory.  Lily is the young woman living on the streets that my main character is trying to help. The trouble she’s in has a long and complicated history that I have already plotted out, but I wanted to write a few of the background pivot points in her voice so that I am fully in her head when I start writing the present story-line.  I’m feeling pretty confident that I understand where she’s coming from.

If you want to keep tabs on what Lily is doing, you can follow my posts about her on my new blog “Birthing the Next Book.”

Thursday I started writing the first scenes from Jo Sullivan’s point of view. After writing about her for three books now I feel I know her personality, so I was able to start right in on the story. She’s not entirely the same woman she was in the first three books, however, since any good continuing character should always grow as the books progress, and in the most recent book, Box of Rain, she had kind of a breakthrough regarding her contentious relationship with her mother so I want to make sure that comes across in the writing this time.

On the new blog, I posted part of a scene where Jo meets Lily’s father for the first time if you want to take a look.

The stumbling block arrived on Friday when I tried to write scenes told in the voice of my third point of view character, Avril. Avril is an existing character, first introduced briefly in Painted Black as the transvestite that Chris goes to when he’s first looking for Lexie. She doesn’t appear in the next two books, but I wanted to show that she is a more important character than those two pages warranted. The fact that Chris, who often spouted homophobic BS, went to Avril for help was intended to convey that his anti-gay rhetoric was mostly for show, and I’m not really sure that came across the way I wanted it to.

The problem is that I don’t know any transgender people personally, and the research I’ve found has only confused me more. Is Avril truly transgender, someone who has always felt like a girl and is working the streets in order to earn money for gender reassignment surgery?  Or is she a transvestite as I first imagined her in the first book, someone who enjoys dressing as a woman and acting like a woman, but has no desire to permanently change her sex? Regardless of which she is, I want to be able to portray her over the top personality without turning her into a caricature.

It is through Avril’s eyes that I want to emphasize the change in Jo’s thinking since her latest conversations with her mother. Avril is good at putting on a front from years of transforming from Bobby Boyle into Avril McCartney. So she finds it easy to see past others’ masks, yet at the same time she cynically suspects everyone is hiding behind one. As her opinion of Jo changes throughout the book, I’m hoping the reader will see the same thing.

Until I resolve my questions about who Avril really is, I’ve decided to move forward with the book concentrating on Jo and Lily for now. Seeing Avril through their eyes may help me resolve my own confusion. Even though I don’t feel I’ve quite got the voice down yet, I posted a short scene about some of Avril’s opinion of Jo in the new blog.

I intend to keep posting excerpts or other meaderings about the book on Birthing the Next Book, so if you want to keep up with what I’m doing without waiting for my weekly updates here, head over to www.thenextstreetstory.wordpress.com and subscribe to receive regular email updates.

 

Book Four Begins

This is it. Finally. I have reduced my hours working at the library to only five a week, on Tuesdays. On Wednesday, I begin devoting the bulk of my focus to the fourth Street Stories Suspense novel.

I’m not sure of the title yet. I am playing with two of them: Cry Baby Cry, and When I Die. The first seems to go with the plot which involves a young girl giving birth in the first chapter. The second, though, has lyrics that fit the story better than the other. Perhaps I’ll do a survey here later to help me choose. Click the titles above and see what you think.

I’ve already done most of the preliminary work, research and some plotting. I even wrote a few scenes. Now I need to immerse myself in the world I’m creating, get to know the characters and their motivations on a personal level, and get their story all out on paper (figuratively speaking since I write on my computer).

I’ll touch base here on Mondays to let you know how I’m doing.  I look to you to hold me accountable to make progress week after week. Let’s do this!

Street Stories Walk the Streets

These are just done with a photo app, but wouldn’t these look great if they were for real?

Gearing Up for Book 4

If all goes well, I plan to have a new Street Stories novel finished this year.  My focus will be to highlight awareness of the number of homeless youth who are members of the LGBTQ community.  It is estimated that about 40% of homeless youth are on the streets because of their sexual orientation.

Here’s one of the sources I found while researching the specifics:

Free Book – No Fooling!

Check it out on Amazon

To celebrate the release of the second edition of Painted Black, I’ve decided to offer the Kindle version for FREE this weekend only, April 1-3.

PBnewcover

Listen to Debra Borys on In Print Radio

I did this interview last year, when I attended the In Print Author Fair, but In Print Radio lost their venue before it could be aired. Well, they now have a new radio station, WBOM, and have been putting up past interviews. Today they’ve posted an excerpt of me reading from Box of Rain. The interview will stream Monday at 7:00 am and repeats Sunday at 7:00 am.

https://googledrive.com/host/0B-9VCULARK8aUi0tX05pUUN0b3M/DebBorys-BoxOfRainExcerpt.mp3

In Print Writers

51eeikq7zkl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Debra Borys, author of the Street Stories series of suspense novels, reads an except from Box of Rain for In Print Radio. In Print Radio “shorts” play following the main interview.

In Print Radio is on WBOM, a streaming radio station based out of the Mendelssohn Performing Arts Center in Rockford. The show airs Monday at 7:00 am and repeats Sunday at 7:00 am.

Tune in live at wbom.playtheradio.com.

Download Podcast

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Split Personality: The Author

3inOne

Bad guys must make quite an impression on me, because Through the Dark, my remembered version of Eyes at the Window, painted the villain in pretty much the same colors as the original manuscript. The names changed. He was Mathias Payne in the beginning, and that name will be resurrected as I polish off the third version of this old idea. But to my ear, that name has a similar ring to the one I made up from memory: Harlan Hunter.

Both men liked to preach about the evil of guns, since that was, and is, a pivotal plot point. The only real difference is that thirty years ago I was at least partially a believer that armed citizens was a good thing, while now I am mainly a believer that upholding the rights of gun ownership has gotten way out of control. I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but I need to try to find a way to reflect that difference in the latest version of my story. Here’s what I’ve done in the past.

ORIGINAL
Her uncle paused when he caught sight of her .45 automatic on the mantle. “Where did you get that gun?”

“I bought it.”

“Now, Sarah, you know I don’t like firearms. They’re dangerous.”

“I’m ready to go,” she said to distract him.

Sarah’s hope that her uncle would forget his lecture on guns was disappointed. Once in the car, we went on at length about the evils of all firearms. In self defense, Sarah reverted to an old habit. She appeared to listen intently but was actually light years away.

“The way the crime rate is rising, something positive as to be done. The jerks in office now, some of them, anyway, beat around the bush with petty bills that will do absolutely no good at all.”
She blanked out his words, staring out at the roadside daydreaming.

“That’s what I’m basing my platform on this election. There are plenty of people who agree with my point of view. Once I win, even though this is only a small office, I’ll be on my way. I have connections, you know, and that’s all it takes these days. Connections and people who think the same way you do.”

Sarah imagined coming across a handsome hitchhiker along the road, convincing her uncle to stop to give the man a ride.

“Yes, soon there will be enough politicians like myself in office to get things done the way they should be done. It’s just a matter of time before all guns are banned. Imagine it, can you? No guns. What better way to insure peace? The whole country settled down to domestic bliss with no fear.”

REMEMBERED
Patty cut a piece of pork chop and ate it, speaking around the food. “I saw you on your soap box there, Harlan. What is it this time?”“The usual,” Sissy answered. “Politics. Gun control again. Harlan is trying to make pacifists out of all these NRA members sitting around the table here.”

The mayor and three of the men laughed, but one woman said “He’s right, though. Just last month a six-year-old over in Riverside accidentally shot his little sister playing cowboys with a loaded revolver. His daddy had a whole room full of rifles and hand guns. What’s a man
need with so many guns? Poor baby could have been killed.”

“Now, now,” the mayor said, wiping his mouth and then laying his napkin neatly across his knee again. “Guns don’t kill people—”

“Yes, yes,” Harlan interrupted. “We know. People kill people. But guns make it a lot easier to kill people and you can’t deny that.” He leaned forward again, jabbing his finger to make his point. “You can’t tell me there’s any good reason a man needs an assault rifle as his personal weapon, for Pete’s sake. If I had my way, all guns would be illegal, but at least—”

The debate they’d interrupted took off again full throttle. Someone argued that any move to ban the personal acquisition of assault weapons was just the first step toward banning all weapons.

“That tired old argument?” Harlan countered. “That’s like saying establishing a police force in town means we’re going to live in a police state. Ridiculous. Did banning public smoking lead to arresting everyone who buys cigarettes?”

“Not yet,” someone said to a spattering of laughter.

“You talk like guns are some kind of pathogen,” one white-haired man said. Miranda tried to remember his name. Doctor somebody. “As if getting rid of guns would eliminate violence like penicillin cures syphilis. Violence is the disease if you ask me. Until we find a cure for that, let me keep my aught-five.”

“Statistics show the crime rates go down when households are allowed to own guns for self-protection,” someone else argued.

“And I can show you data that the number of accidental deaths goes up in those same neighborhoods.” Harlan pointed a barbecue-sauced finger around the table at his listeners. “500,000 guns are stolen each year in the U.S. Who do you think they get stolen from? Law abiding citizens too stupid to be allowed access let alone ownership of a dangerous weapon.

“Take this little girl here.” Harlan jabbed his finger toward Miranda who flushed in anger at being called little girl. “Know what she had on her the other day? A handgun. That’s right. She came to greet Sissy and me at the door with a gun in her hand. What kind of training do you think she had, city bred girl that she is? What if she’d accidentally discharged that weapon? Or mistook us for trespassers?”

REVISED
I haven’t yet written the scene in this final version that shows Sarah’s uncle as an advocate for gun control. I suspect it will include a lot of the same arguments I wrote for the remembered version. How the theme is handled now needs to rely on more than just what the villain of the story has to say about it. He’s an unlikeable character, so naturally the reader is going to be inclined to think I’m saying his opinion is the wrong one. In fact, that was my original intent, when I leaned toward painting advocates for gun control as zealots with untrustworthy ideas.

Any message this version will contain about gun control will need to be written into the fabric of the story itself, into the mindset and growth of all the main characters and how the whole gun-specific plot is resolved. For that to happen properly, I’m going to have to draw some lines in my own mind about my thoughts on the subject so that I can be true to my own vision. I write stories not only to entertain, but to communicate. Whether people will agree with me or not, I write to extend my understanding of the way things are, and the way I feel they ought to be.

Watch for 2nd Edition Coming Soon | Painted Black

I will be upgrading the cover on Painted Black soon.
Watch back here for more news.

cover final-245px335pI just wanted to tell everyone that I will be releasing Painted Black, edition 2, sometime in early March. The content will be the same, so don’t feel you have to run out to buy a new copy to compare text, but it will have a new cover, thanks to the artistic talents of the amazing Annie Walls, who did the cover for Box of Rain There may be a short transitional period during which neither version will be available as Amazon and other sites remove the old and replace it with the new, but check back here and I’ll be sure to let you know when version 2 is available. Cover sneak peak available soon!

Source: Watch for 2nd Edition Coming Soon | Painted Black