Thursday, July 31, 2008

Point of View

Right up front, the reader sees that the book is written in the first person. The opening sentence says, "Later, the homeless kid Ben told us how Ian Kearney fell from the Kearney Music School's Balcony." At the end of the first chapter, Will explains what he knew at the time. This is 1st person. I like 1st person because it puts you right in the mind of the main character. But it's a bit confining, for reasons explained below, so I add the retrospective part which helps me to break out of the confinement.

Laurel Yourke defiines point of view as: "The perspective (1st, 2nd, 3rd) used to convey the events of the plot." see Take Your Characters to Dinner. Lanham, NY: University Press of America, 2000, p. 201.

Initially, I wrote the whole thing in 3rd person [i.e., "He saw the truck rolling down the hill.]. This allows you to be in an out of the main character's mind, but it put the reader farther from the action. I changed it to 1st person [i.e., "I saw the truck rolling down the hill."]. Every event is filtered through the main character's eyes and the reader can't learn anything that the main character doesn't know. Some writers get around this by using a variety of points of view. This can be really cool, but the writer has to be skillful to pull it off and can easily mess up. I added the retrospective part by putting the action in the past. That way you can still get into Will's mind, but you can also learn things he didn't know at the time, but he found out later. He can say, "At the time,..., but I learned later that." I think it can be really cool. But changing point of view in midstream is a daunting task because the writer has to rethink everything.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Fenton being over-interested in the investigation

P. 42 shows Fenton sticking his nose into Henry's investigations. It's known that perpetrators of crime often stay very close to police investigations and if somebody seems over-interested in the progress of an investigation it's a good bet that they had something to do with it. Of course, they could just be nosy. After all, Fenton has a personal and professional stake in the outcome because he's president of the school. So, which is it? Read on. But something like this early in the story can build interest which strengthen's the book's narrative drive.

If this strikes a chord, post a comment.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

What 10 years has brought

On p. 40, Henry checks his watch to tell what time it is. I use my cell phone, and can't tell what time it is when I'm on it. This reminds me that Henry was never a hi-tech guy anyway, but in 1996 I would probably have checked my watch too, because I didn't get a cell phone until after 911 in 2001. It also reminds me how much flexibility the new technology gives us in working with our characters. And if you want your characters to do something they can't do now, just put the action slightly in the future and society will probably catch up with them. I mean when everything was hard-wired, you had to find a phone before you could call anyone. And with no webcams, you couldn't see anything except what's around you. It must be hard to write science fiction these days.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

The byzantine structure of the Kearney School

The story hinges on the structure of the school. There are lots of passageways leading to a lot of different places. It's possible two people can get from one place to another without seeing each other. This again is what struck me about the Curtis Institute when Orlando gave me a tour. I decided to exploit this in constructing the Kearney mystery. This feeling that there is much more going on than meets the eye can really help us in fiction writing. If we lay it all out there for the reader, where's the fun on imagining the story?

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Afternoon Tea at the Kearney School

P. 40, Henry describes how at 4:00 the school used to put out sandwiches and have tea in the common room. The faculty and trustees used to gather and talk about personal and professional issues. A composer might talk about his work. Students might perform something they need feedback with. Or there might just be common jocularity. Mary Curis Bok, the head of the Curtis Institute, used to do the same thing, Landy told me while I was researching this book. Maybe they got the idea from Kearney. It must have been a nice tradition.

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Character questionnaires

Have each character fill out a questionnaire. Laurel Yourke says take them to dinner. It's the same thing.

The Kearney Mystery was written before I became aware of the need for character questionnaires. Now I use them all the time. The Kearney characters kind of evolved based on characters I knew from both fiction and real life. Henry Harrier is a composite of George Smiley from LeCarre, Sherlock Holmes from Conan Doyle, and Orlando Cole from real life. Incidently, the latter, at age 99 and about to have birthday #100 (pfew), is very much still with us. My wife and I have dinner with him about twice a week. When I had a question about how Henry would act, I just thought how these friends of mine would react.Now, before I start a new novel, I have a questionnaire I fill out on each about their demographic characteristics, preferences, and behavior patterns. It's about 10 printed pages. This helps me put into writing what I'm thinking and helps me avoid errors by saying on p. 10 a character drives a red Toyota, then on page 225, which might have been written 6 months later, a blue Mustang. Also, seeing it in writing helps iron out any inconsistencies in your own thinking. For example you might say that your character's favorite food is pizza, but when you answer the uestion, "What does your character hate the most?" saying, "going out for pizza," you might want to resolve that. Maybe the character likes pizza but doesn't like to eat in restaurants. So he refuses an invitation to go out for pizza with friends and is in his kitchen making his favorite eat-at-home pizza when a car crashes through the wall and puts him in the hospital. Other things happen to him in the hospital that wouldn't have happened had he gone out. So you can start out the novel saying, "This all happened before Richard, having just refused his best friend's invitation to go to Pine Pizza, was standing over the counter rolling pizza dough." Oh, and it helps in your questionnaire to have questions about what your character is like or not like. In forming Henry, I though of the bird, the harrier. A harrier is a kind of raptor, like a hawk or falcon, who lives by hunting rodents and small field animals. I've watched a Northern Harrier hunting. They hunt in pairs. They hovr above the field, then drop straight down and grab their prey. Does that help with character development? I would say so.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Narrative Drive

To be interested in a book, the story has to have narrative drive. Like a sound building, the structure of the novel has to be unshakeable. The subtext has to be there, the characters have to be there, and every sentence has to drive the reader forward. When a friend had read an early version of this story, I asked her why she finished it. "To find out what happened," was her response. When a story's pages go by and you don't notice it, it has narrative drive. Chris Orcutt describes it this way:

Over the past year, I've become obsessed with the writers of paperback noir/crime/sleaze novels from the late 40s through the 60s. Having now read at least 100 of them (no small feat, considering how difficult they are to find), I can say with authority that these guys knew better than any other authors of their time (and today, for the most part) how to hook the reader and keep him hooked.And yes, the covers were eye-catching, but as titillating as they were, they weren't enough to keep men reading if the story sucked.(
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Thursday, July 24, 2008

To Kill a Mockingbird--a perfect book

There are some books that seem so good you would never change a single word (as opposed to a double word). To me, To Kill a Mockingbird is such a book. i thought of this as I was putting up my facebook profile and it asked for my favorite books. From the first to the last, perfection. I wish Harper Lee would write more. As far as I can tell, she's lived on in obscurity not writing anything else. I wonder if she feels like nothing else she could write would ever equal it. I understand it took Arthur Miller 20 years to get over Death of a Salesman. I and other writers should have that problem.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Startling the Reader

Laurel Yourke, in Take Your Characters to Dinner, says this: "Readers enjoy a new idea, a new slant. Transform the ordinary into the new. A character learning that opposites never attract can surprise readers. Lectures about judging books by their covers no longer can." (Lathan, MD: University Press of America, 2000), p. 9.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Ben, the homeless kid

Ben, the homeless kid, is for me an extreme example of what can happen when Draconian teaching methods are used on a fragile ego. Young artists are all different and the pedigogical method that will produce a genius in one case can shatter a life in another. Maybe it's that the shattered life would have shattered anyway and the strong ego will survive whatever. But those in the middle have too be handled carefully. A mismatch between teacher methods and student can be devastating on the student. Anyway, Henry seems to connect with Ben in a way no one else did. I think it's because Henry recognized and respected genius in artists.

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Monday, July 21, 2008

Keeping secrets

Writers are keeper of secrets. We all know things about others. Sometimes we have been entrusted with them. Sometimes we found them out unbeknownst to others. In our fiction, we have to make sure that if there are secrets, they are kept. We can always use other things like them in our fiction if we want, but we have to make sure no one learns the actual secrets.

What do you think? I'd like to know. Post a comment.

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Sunday, July 20, 2008

Henry Harrier and Will's Hat

In the book, Will wears a hat. On p. 36, Henry chastizes Will for wearing a hat. Actually in the early days of our relationship, my father-in-law chastized me for wearing a hat. That's where this particular bit of dialog comes from. Actually, my father-in-law does wear a hat occasionally, but outside. It shows you how, as Steven King said in an interview I saw once, "Everything goes in."

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Saturday, July 19, 2008

Story telling and Experience

Laurel Yourke, in Take Your Characters to Dinner (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 2000) says this about story telling and participation:

Yet even in our information-oriented age, readers turn to fiction more for characterization than information. For centuries, people have cherished fiction for its storytelling capacity. The elements of story--characters and their fate--often include fact and impart theme. But facts and themes remain secondary. Fiction dervies its potential force from readers' vicarious participation in experience. Otherwise, why not read nonfiction? (p. 7)
This is the age such that people want experience. Whether in entrepreneurship, videogaming, real estate, whatever. They're looking for experiences. This is where fiction dovetails nicely with reality.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Will's business trip

Will's experiences, pp 3-4, are a reflection of my own career as a market research consultant. I was forever travelling to some foreign city and plopping down for a day or so in hopes of selling something or doing a presentation or working with a client on one thing or another. Will just has an ulterior motive, whereas I never did. That's what makes us different.

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Thursday, July 17, 2008

Change in demographics of classical musicians

P.33, Will discusses a memo with Henry. It reflects a reality in the classical music world. When Henry started out, back in the 1920s, the majority of students at Kearney was young jewish men. Now the majority of students is made up of young Asian women, particularly from China, Taiwan, and South Korea. This mirrors a trend in the real world. In 2008, if you go to a concert at the Curtis Institute, the majority, maybe all, of the performers will be Asian girls.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Credibility in fiction

Credibility is everything. You often hear in writer's groups, "But it actually happened." That's not an allowable defense. It has to be plausible to the reader. As Laurel Yourke, quoting Paul Horgan, says:

One must always keep in mind how 'if this, then that' must happen. Every detail must mean more than itself. The smallest error in plausability threatens the credibility of the whole.
This quote is taken from Laurel's book, Take Your Characters to Dinner (Lantham, Maryland: University Press of America, Inc., 2000) p. xvi. The Horgan quote is from his book, Approaches to Writing (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1968), p. 42.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Henry's relationship with Ian Kearney

P. 30, Will and Henry are going through Ian Keaney's studio and we're seeing the relationship between the two men earlier in Henry's career. I think that if Henry hadn't been such a world figure, Ian would have gotten rid of him a long time ago. Given Henry's status in the music world, he couldn't. Actually, since I've seen my father in law close-up for 4 years, I would have built up this reputation more by including some scenes where Henry is sucked up to. But, I wrote what I wrote, and it's pretty good the way it is. So there!

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Monday, July 14, 2008

Vital Characters in Fiction

Laurel Yourke writes: "The source of a believable fictional world is vital characters. Those characters help readers infer any truths that fiction possesses...Fiction offers a better-crafted, more credible, faster moving version of reality." (Laurel Yourke, Take Your Characters to Dinner, p. viii) One of the agents I sent this manuscript to didn't belive that Henry, at 89, could have so much energy. I guess that agent won't be buying it.

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Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ian Kearney and pedagogy

On page 28 we see Ian Kearney's studio and listen to a little of his ideas on teaching, as filtered through Henry's mind. Ian thought that making it harder for students to produce sound would give then an edge on the concert state. Maybe so, I never heard that anywhere, but Ian believed it. And practiced it.

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Saturday, July 12, 2008

Laurel Yourke's higher truths of fiction

Laurel Yourke, who taught me as much as anyone about writing, gives this checklist in her book, Take Your Characters to Dinner (New York: University Press of America, Inc., 2000): credibility, probability, order, morality, beauty, and intrigue. (p. ix.)

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Friday, July 11, 2008

Building character by what he leaves behind

On p. 28-9 we see our first glimpse of Ian Kearney, to my mind, a truly despicable character. He's described as Will goes into his studio. I was first impressed by this method when I read The Death of a Nobody. The name of the author escapes me, except that he was French. The main character dies before the story begins. It's all about group consciousness.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Why do we do things we know may destory us?

In the vicinity of p.24, Will agonizes over his agreeing to go on with helping Henry solve the murder. He can't not do it. The fear of rejection is too strong, and the urge to learn about classical music is too powerful in him. He knows he's in a box, and he's struggling to get to a place where he won't be shocked. Don't we all do things that we know may kill us? We know it, and we do it anyway.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Will's double life and learned helplessness

On p. 23, Will describes how he feels trapped in his life. He, however, has not fallen into what is called learned helplessness. That comes from the old dog-in-the-box experiments where a dog is placed in a box with two compartments. Experimenters shock the dog in one of them, and the dog goes over to the other to avoid the pain. Then experimenters shock the dog in the other compartment, and he goes back to the first. If the experimenters shock the dog in both boxes, eventually the dog lies down ad stops trying to get out. The dog has gotten the message that there's no way out and becomes helpless. Will has not gotten to this point, and will work not to get there.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Kearney mystery and point of view.

As writers know, point of view is key. It determines how the story gets told and what can get in and is kept out. I originally wrote this in 3rd person. However, I rewrote it in 1st person retrospective because it seemed to make the story more engaging and it allowed me to get in more insight that Will would have had a the time. The problem with straight first-person is that you can only tell what the character actually knows and the writer tends to overtell.

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Monday, July 7, 2008

Exposition or dialogue?

The writer always has to decide whether to move things along using dialogue or exposition. Pages 22-24 has a lot of exposition. Generally the decision comes down to whether to dribble down the court or make on long pass. I generally only use dialogue when I want to (1) build character, (2) add intensity to a scene. If there's information to impart, better use exposition. But I try to be careful how I work it in. Also, I try to keep dialogue short, no more than 3 lines.

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Sunday, July 6, 2008

How Will first met Ian Kearney

Will explains on pp. 20-1 how he first met Ian Kearney, the murderee. Their paths just happened to cross for the briefest of times, but that was enough. I've come to the conclusion that as Fareed Zakaria says in The Post-American World history progresses through a comingling of coincidences. Viewed in this light, Will's meeting Ian is not hard to believe.

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Saturday, July 5, 2008

Julie Harrier, the literary agent.

On p. 18, there's a long narrative paragraph in which a lot of things happen. Julie's frustrated on her job because she gets so many loser manuscripts she has to review. She's frustrated with Will because he's staying away longer and she's lonely. And she's frustrated with her father on general principles. Could she also suspect Will is up to something and won't tell her what it is? We don't know that yet.

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Friday, July 4, 2008

Will's problem with Henry's case

Will definitely has a problem as shown by p. 15. He has to be supportive and warm to his wife, Julie, and Henry's only daughter. He can't admit to her what he's really going through, though she knows him well enough to realize something's up, though she doesn't know exactly what. Will has to lie to maintain the integrity of his conflicted situation. And as we well know from the old staying: "What a tangled web we weave..." Read on.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2008

What the Kearney Music School used to be called.

A little known fact of Kearney lore is that the Kearney Music School used to be called the Wells Music School. How it got into the hands of the Kearney family is one of those things that will never be known. How do I know what its name used to be? The earlier version of the story, that's how. Now you'll know something most readers won't.

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Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Will is roped into the deal

P. 15: Will wants to just find the key and go home. He's attracted to Henry's world, but doesn't want to stay in it. He's afraid Henry will find him out if he does. But Henry's too smart for him, and Will can't come up with a plausible reason why he can't stay to help Henry on his case. So, he says yes. Besides, otherwise we don't have a book. It would be a different book, but not as much fun to write. When I was writing this, it was all about having fun writing. In fact it still is.


Ian Kearney, the director of the Kearney Music School, an elite musical training school in Philadelphia, dies after a fall from a balcony during a recital. World-famous cellist, Henry Harrier, recently forced from the faculty, returns to investigate Ian's death when his prized former student is arrested. Henry shows through his brilliant and single-minded pursuit of the truth that, as usual, they have it all wrong. This Sherlock Holmes-type mystery leads the reader through the world of classical music and lays bare the conflicts which dominate the lives of talented adolescents when placed under the pressure of studying for a demanding, stressful, and often elusive career as a classical music performer. Henry Harrier is part John Le Carre's George Smiley, part Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes, and part Orlando Cole the beloved teacher, renowned chamber musician, and until his own retirement, the premier cellist of the Curtis Institute.

Author Profile:

Tim was born in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on January 30, 1946. In 1951 he moved with his family to Schenectady, New York, where he lived through high school. He attended Baldwin-Wallace College, Berea, Ohio, from 1964 to 1968. He graduated in 1968 with a B.A. in history and philosophy. He received his Ph. D. in history in U.S. history in 1980 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison after spending 2.5 years in the U. S. Army. Most of his army service was completed in Wuerzburg, Germany, from 1969-1971. In 1972 he returned to Madison to complete his doctoral study. His dissertation, Those Who Moved; Internal Migrants in American 1607-1840, combined the statistical analysis of genealogical and biographical data with the study of traditional literary diaries, letters, and journals.

Tim was a market and survey research consultant from 1983 to 2000 and a smoking cessation researcher from 2000 to 2003. His consulting practice focused primarily on conducting community health needs assessment. He authored hundreds of market research reports and published a number of his assessments in Community Health Needs Assessment published by McGraw Hill in 1996 and in a revised volume published in 1999. In 2000 he joined the staff of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention of the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he conducted smoking cessation research. He published several articles in peer-reviewed journals and spoke at national smoking cessation conferences.

In 2003 he moved to Philadelphia and earned his real estate license. He now practices real estate, works on publishing his novels, and studies and teaches entrepreneurship.Tim has written a dozen novel-length stories, a volume of short stories, and about a 3-foot stack of pages poetry. He is currently working on earning his 4th million in real estate sales, publishing his novels, and working on an entrepreneurish handbook as a support for his students.

Tim is a trained violist and an experienced string quartet player. He is an avid listener to classical music and regularly attends classical music concerts. He has two grown children by his first wife and a stepdaughter with his second wife. He likes to cook, read, write, entertain, develop relationships, and help other people. Formerly Tim used to travel frequently. He doesn't so much anymore. Now he regards the combination of real estate practice, writing and publishing, and the teaching and studying of entrepreneurship as enough of a trip.