Posted on March 21, 2015
Writing your first novel is like committing your first murder. You’re tentative. You hesitate. Your weak stabs don’t penetrate. You fumble, drop the thought, run away screaming. You peek around the door jamb to see if the body is still there where you left it, not breathing, or worse, moaning, “Come back, come back; finish the job.”
But if you’re really intent on doing this thing, you learn to make the cuts deeper, to twist the rope harder, to hang on longer until it’s done.
When the madness passes, you step back from the body and survey the scene. Did you really do that? Can you clean up that mess? Maybe you should just bury it, you think.
It’s possible that there are millions of first novels buried out there somewhere in writers’ closets, bottom drawers, chests in the attic, moldering away. Sometimes they come back, zombie novels stalking the earth twenty years later, after the writer is dead or famous. They have a whiff of moldering peat moss about them.
I tore apart my first novel, which took ten years to write. A small part of it was saved in a short story, probably the heart of it, the only part that mattered, still beating, waiting for a transplant in every reader who opens herself to it. My second novel, now in its third revision, might survive the knife. My third, FOLLY, is under someone else’s knife, an editor. I’m holding my breath, hoping she won’t kill it.
Each new character who shows up in a story presents herself in a certain way, almost like an actor making her first entrance on the stage. She might sweep her long, blonde hair off her shoulder, or give me a glare, or stand with her hand on her hip waiting for me to say the first word. Or she could flounce into the middle of the page and declare her ownership of the entire story. I always have the feeling she’s been looking for me and is a little impatient with how long it’s taken me to find her.
Our introduction is a kind of dance, perhaps with veils. She makes herself known to me in little gestures. She might lick her lips before she speaks; she might be one of those women who’s always putting her fingers in her mouth, a trait I find a little appalling, particularly if she works in the food industry.
It’s likely that I’ve seen this woman before, or pieces of her. She’s probably been lurking around the edges of my imagination for a while waiting for her cue. It’s sometimes strange to live with so many people in your mind, but you get used to it. After a while, you like it. I’m constantly collecting people’s traits and quirks, the way some people collect shells and rocks. Only I don’t run out of shelf space to store them.
I am currently editing a new Sam Lagarde mystery. Several women characters in the novel seem very familiar and some I’ve never met before. Perhaps each character has its genesis in my own psyche but very soon they are doing and saying things I would never do, off on their own, having a great time creating havoc. They get to do things I would never do. Or would I? Pushed to the very edge of sanity, would I kill to survive? The women characters in my novel discover whether they will or not.
Sometimes, what doesn’t wind up in a story tells you as much about a character as what does. When I was finding Beverly Wilson, murder victim Ben Cromwell’s grandmother, I wrote a longish section that described some of her motivation for moving to Falling Waters, WV. The section didn’t make it into the novel, mostly because it wasn’t necessary. But just to give you a taste of what Beverly is like, and why Detective Sam Lagarde might have fallen in love with her, here’s her back story.
Planting and weeding in the small garden behind her townhouse was the closest thing she could find to being with her husband Tom on their property in Burkitsville. Known only in the wider world because of the Blair Witch movie, Burkitsville’s quaint 18th century obscurity had been their haven for decades. Tom farmed and she was a farmer’s wife. She had loved that life, everything about it. She loved being a wife and friend to a tinkerer, someone who would wake up at 5 a.m. with a solution to a problem in his head, throw on his clothes and head out to his workshop to put pieces of metal or wood or leather together in a way that would make a broken thing work, whether it was a broken tractor motor, a disintegrating lock on the gate, or the furnace pilot light. She loved the freedom of having hundreds of acres of her own land to roam. She loved the freedom her husband gave her to do whatever she wanted inside their house. She gave him similar freedom to do whatever he wanted with crops, livestock, and crazy schemes to teach city people about farming. She loved the cooking and cleaning and gardening. She loved bringing up her children in that home, even though she could see that by the time they were fifteen both her son and daughter were itching to be somewhere else, anywhere else. Her son was off in the wider world now, roaming around Europe, South America, and Asia with a backpack and a sturdy companion Beverly found herself liking more every time she spent time with him. Her son was not going to tie himself to property, at least not now, maybe not ever.
He once said to her, “Mom, you and Dad never had a vacation. You could never leave the farm. Some cow was always in labor or Dad was negotiating for another few hundred acres. Didn’t you feel trapped?”
Answering him, she realized that she had never felt trapped. Being with Tom on the farm was the life she craved. It was everything to her. Her husband’s long, agonizing sickness and death took that life away from her. She could not work the farm alone and she didn’t want to bring in some stranger as a partner. It was best to sell it all and move on. Now she could have all the vacations she wanted, except that she didn’t want to go anywhere. Maybe someday she would. Her son was always bringing her books and pamphlets about the amazing sights in other countries. She could not see herself going alone. To whom would she turn to share her joy in watching the light change in the late afternoons over the Mediterranean Sea, as her son had described to her?
For more Beverly, you’ll have to read the book when it comes out.
Good girls, it is commonly believed, are obsessed with bad boys. Usually, they get burned. Rarely do they get revenge…
Ben Cromwell—handsome, sexy and ruthless—keeps a stable of women; picks them up the way someone picks up a ripe peach, consumes it in a few bites and throws away the pit. This time, he chose the wrong peaches.
When Detective Sam Lagarde of the West Virginia State Police is called to the scene of a homicide in Charles Town, he instantly surmises the force he is facing is far beyond what he’s dealt with before. A head in a dumpster and a pinky finger with an emerald and diamond ring attached are all he has to go by.
Doggedly following lead after lead, Lagarde stumbles upon five women who all have one thing in common…
Folly, a Sam Lagarde mystery/thriller set in Charles Town, West Virginia, is Ginny Fite’s first novel. She has two other manuscripts ready for acquisition and is currently writing another Sam Lagarde mystery.
My husband used to say to me, “Honey, you’ve got quite an imagination.” It was a deflection. If I imagined something happened, it couldn’t possibly be true.
What I’ve discovered by writing fiction is that nothing I can imagine isn’t true. Truth, as the saying goes, is stranger than fiction. No matter how far-fetched a plot contrivance seems, no matter how evil the character who seems to be seeping out of the keys on my computer, no matter how beautiful the sunset I have tried to paint into words on a page, somewhere it has happened; it is real.
After I started writing about Ben Cromwell, the murder victim in Folly, I came across a photograph of a man in the news whose beautiful face and cold eyes stared back at me across the ether. He radiated heat and danger. He was a real man in a state far from the setting of my psychological thriller and he treated women exactly the way Cromwell does in the novel. In real life, that man may, or may not, get his comeuppance. In my novel, he does.
And that is the glorious difference between fiction and reality. In fiction sometimes I have the upper hand.