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Showing posts sorted by relevance for query On The Ramblas. Sort by date Show all posts

18 November 2015

Bouchercon: Vision Revision

by Robert Lopresti

First things first: in my last piece in this space I complained about something I thought Sisters In Crime did at Bouchercon.  It turns out it was actually done by SmashWords.  I don't know where I got my misinformation and I apologize to Sisters In Crime and to anyone who read my piece before I corrected it.  Now onto today's fresh blunders…

As I mentioned last month, I am pleased as punch to have a story in Murder Under The Oaks, an anthology published in October to celebrate Bouchercon, the annual mystery convention, held this year in Raleigh, North Carolina.  I am also delighted that the profits go to Wake County, NC libraries.  How can I argue with a cause like that?

This photo shows me at the end of the assembly line, eighteen or so authors signing their stories.  I'm the last guy because my story ends the book.

When I heard about the proposed anthology I went through my old files, searching for an appropriate piece.  I was happy to give a story to charity, but only one that had already been rejected by the major markets.  This doesn't mean there is anything wrong with the tale; most of my stories that have  been nominated for awards were rejected at least once along the way.

I settled on "On The Ramblas,"  which is set in Barcelona.  (Well, I don't have any set in Raleigh... yet.)  I pulled up the file for an edit and decided the plot was fine and the writing was okay, but immediately the question of theme came up.

Eileen Gunn said that "'Theme' is what the critics use to describe what you did."  Someone else said theme is what the story is about other than the plot and the characters.  I prefer the latter definition.

Usually I don't know what the theme of a story is until I am in the final edits.  That's when a sentence in the text will pop up in front of me and I'll think: Oh, THAT'S what it's about.  But in the case of "On The Ramblas" I knew early on that the theme was: What does it take to make you happy?

Happy American tourists on the Ramblas,
with animals.
My story is about two American tourists in Spain. Frank is miserable because he would rather be back home making business deals. His wife, Helen, is unhappy because Frank is making sure she is. My third character, Josep, is a Catalonian pickpocket, and he is brokenhearted because his girlfriend left him, taking his team of thieves with her. He is not only lonely (say that three times fast) but he is trying to do his job without the proper co-workers. What will happen when these freight trains of unhappiness collide on the Ramblas, Barcelona's main tourist shopping street?

So I thought I was all set in the theme department. But as soon as I sat down to revise I realized that there was a second theme, begging to come out and play.  It was right there in the first sentence:  Tourists wandered through the Ramblas like sheep, waiting to be fleeced.  I loved the animal/people metaphor.  I realized I could punch up that connection.

(A little inside baseball here: technically  my metaphor is a motif which I am using to build a theme.  I say that strictly to show off to the English majors.  Back to business.)

Of course , there is a connection  between  happiness and the people/animal thingie.  Back in Philosophy 101  my professor quoted John Stuart Mill to explain the importance of her topic: It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

There was one more thing I needed to do before sending in the story. It was recommended that the submissions include a reference to oak trees.  (Remember the title of the book?)  So I searched the web to see if there was 

The other end of the line,
with editor Art obscuring Margaret Maron.
any interesting connection between oaks and Spain.  There was!  And here's the beauty part: the connection has to do with animals. This is the sort of thing that happens when a writer is "in the zone." Things fall into place with spooky precision. It is the sort of thing that makes one invoke the muse or other magical explanations. I only wish it happened more often.

So I sent the story in, editor Art Taylor accepted it, and as a reward for his good taste and erudition he was invited to join the ranks of the SleuthSayers.

That last part is a joke: his name was brought up by someone who knew nothing about the anthology.  But I am glad to be in the book and I hope, well, that it makes you happy.