Showing posts with label E.J. Pugh. Show all posts
Showing posts with label E.J. Pugh. Show all posts

29 August 2016

HELP! (I'm told it's called crowd-sourcing)

by Susan Rogers Cooper

I'm knee-deep in the newest E.J. Pugh novel. Unfortunately, I should be at least hip deep, if not tickling-my-tummy deep. Why is it that, now that I'm retired from everything but writing (outside jobs, motherhood and wifedom) that it's taking longer and longer to write a book? Well, there's always the “hey, I'm retired, I can do it tomorrow” syndrome, wherein tomorrow keeps getting further and further away. And there's also the “I don't have to write X number of pages today. I can catch up tomorrow.” See above about tomorrow. And this summer it's been “the grand kids are coming by in four hours. I really need to rest up” excuse. But with E.J., I'm getting there. Slowly, but I'll make it. I always – okay, usually – do. But then there's the big problem, the one where I'm going to need some help. I'm told this is call crowd sourcing.

I DON'T HAVE A TITLE.

If I give you a quick synopsis with pertinent points can you make a suggestion? Here's the deal. It's taking place on the University of Texas campus. E.J.'s twenty-year-old son finds his obnoxious, much-despised (by everyone) roommate dead in the room – stabbed to death while Graham (E.J.'s son) slept. Guess who becomes the chief suspect? We have other wanna-be suspects, too, of course. The roommate's less than loving mother; his ex-girlfriend who keyed his car twice and sent him Ex-Lax brownies; his BFF whom he belittled in front of the friend's parents; and the roommate's student adviser whose wife the roommate came on to rather aggressively at a party.

Are ideas flooding in? I usually don't have trouble with titles, but this one is giving me a run for my money. Do I want to name it something to do with UT? Campus life? Or just murder in general?

I DON'T KNOW!

As incentive for your cooperation the winner (or the one person who actually gives me a title, any title) gets a copy of the book when it comes out. I'm thrilled, are you? Is my sarcasm showing?

A woman in my apartment complex was recently told by another woman that I had thirty-some-odd (some very odd) books published. The woman looked at me and said, “Then why are you living here?”

Yes, it was a very rude question, but I only laughed it off. I didn't explain that there are only four people who actually become millionaires writing books, and only eight who actually make a livable wage doing it. I didn't explain the “claw” theory – the one that writing success is based on the machine you see in restaurant lobbies full of stuffed animals and you have to get that big old claw to grab on to the one you want – or any one for that matter – and it never does. Success is that claw, and somebody gets pulled up every million or so tries.

So the rest of us just keep writing. Why? Well, I don't know about you, but I do it because if I didn't there would be something very big missing in my life. I once said that if I didn't do this for a living, I'd probably write really great grocery lists. Well, I don't want to write really great grocery lists. I want to write stories. I want to make people ask questions, get anxious, and, sometimes, laugh their butts off. But still and all, I need a title.

Any title will do. Really.

15 August 2016

Origins of a Character

by Susan Rogers Cooper

Way back in the olden days when I came up with the character of Milt Kovak, then deputy sheriff of Prophesy County, Oklahoma, I imbued him with the best features of every man in my life: husband, father, brothers, and even a little bit of my father-in-law. And, yes, there was some of me in there, too. They say we all have a feminine side and a masculine side. My masculine side went wholeheartedly into Milt.

Later came E.J. Pugh and her family, which were basically loosely patterned after my own nuclear family of husband, daughter and myself. So much so that, in the first book, when my husband read it, he asked (he said commanded, I said begged) me to let E.J.'s husband Willis save her at least once, instead of E.J. saving him four times. I reluctantly agreed.

My short-lived Kimmey Kruse series came from watching too much Comedy Central on cable, and the fact that a good friend of mine had moved to California and become a stand-up comic. Kimmey wasn't really based on her, but rather inspired. And, of course, my friend gave me all sorts of inside scoop on the biz.

But have you ever just met someone you'd love to turn into a character? Well, I met that someone last week. I'd known her since I was nineteen years old – we won't say how long ago that was – but only as my best friend's cousin. That older cousin who told her what to do and when to do it and took all the fun away from what we'd been about to get into. We'll call my best friend Kathy, mainly because that's her name. Her cousin, we'll call her Jon, again because that was her name, I'd only known as that mean one who was always making Kathy sad, mad, and very occasionally glad.

Then last week I drove to Houston for Jon's funeral. She'd been fighting cancer valiantly for the last two and a half years, but lost that battle last week. Theirs is a big family and well represented, as was every place Jon had ever worked in a long and varied career of helping people – mostly kids and the elderly.

And then something wonderful happened. Jon's granddaughter, now the mother of two small children, took the podium and began to speak. Her sister came up with her and held her hand as she gave the eulogy. She talked about how many things her grandmother had taught her, how her grandmother and stood by her in thick and thin, and then she asked for a show of hands of the people in the room that Jon had pissed off on a regular basis. Almost every hand was raised. Then she asked for a show of hands of those people who loved her anyway. Again, almost every hand was raised. And I began to discover, listening to her granddaughter and later hearing her friends and other family members speak, that this was a woman who did not suffer fools gladly. She said what she thought and to hell with those who didn't want to hear it. She fought unconditionally for those she loved and those who had no one else to fight for them. And it occurred to me, sitting in that over-crowded chapel, that I could only hope to have a quarter of the amount of people at my funeral, hoping that a lot of daughter's friends would show up. But Kathy and I agreed, on the drive back to her house, that we'd come to each other's funeral. It might be hard to achieve this goal, but we're going to try.

Since then I've been thinking about Jon and the kind of person she was and what a profoundly challenging and awe-inspiring character she would make – if, God willing, I have the talent to do her justice. She laughed loud, fought hard, and loved unconditionally. It's going to be a privilege to attempt to do her justice.

01 August 2016

The Four Seasons

By Susan Rogers Cooper

Okay, so the title is a misnomer. Since I live in Central Texas, we only have two seasons: summer and winter. Winter is generally mid-December to mid-February. Everything else is summer. We consider our winters to be cold, which, of course, is a relative term. Sixty degrees is cool, fifty-four degrees is cold, and anything lower than that is, excuse the expression, freezing your butt off. I know, I know, those of you who live above the Mason-Dixon line are sneering as you read this. Fine. But before you become too snarky, come spend an August with me, then we'll talk.

The point of this is that this whole two-season thing can reek havoc on the creative process, especially when one is writing about something that happens in January while writing in July. It's sorta cold in January in Austin, which one can easily forget while sweating away in July. Which is why, two hundred and some odd pages into the newest E.J. Pugh mystery, I've had to remind myself that, oops, where are the jackets?

The story takes place at the University of Texas when E.J.'s son, Graham Pugh, comes back to school after the winter break. Yes, that would be January. Then he's accused of the murder of his obnoxious roommate. Just because he'd been thinking about doing it, doesn't mean he actually did it. So of course E.J. has to come to Austin to ferret out the true culprit and free her eldest child. And she should probably bring a coat. Just saying. And just because I'm writing in July when it's quiet plausible to forget about that wet stuff that falls from the sky, doesn't mean it's not available in, excuse the expression, winter. So maybe a raincoat. Okay, just an umbrella. Never rain boots. No one over the age of six does rain boots here. Maybe some ice? We had ice in 2006. It was scary. But I just had an ice storm in my last Milt Kovak book (which was more believable because he lives way up north in Oklahoma).

As I sit here writing this and staring out my window at the relentlessly perky sun, I'm reminded of something my late friend, the writer Nancy Bell, once said to me in a depressed voice: “It's another goddammed beautiful day in Austin.”

So, it's off to the writing mines for me to add the winter stuff: jackets, coats, a nice scarf, a little rain, you know, weather. We don't have weather in the summer months. Just that relentlessly perky sun. I need to go turn the air conditioning down.

07 September 2015

What Makes A Mystery?

by Susan Rogers Cooper

What makes a mystery? The three main characters help: The victim, the protagonist, and the villain.

The victim can be a nice person who didn’t deserve to get murdered, or a vicious schemer that had folks lining up to get a crack at him. What’s important from a plot standpoint is that the victim has lived their life so that they die NOW, at this particular place and time, and while in contact with a particular group of people.

The protagonist, or detective – be they a cop, private investigator, or amateur –
must have a strong interest in solving this crime. A police officer would have a strong professional interest. A PI would have both a personal and a professional interest in solving the crime – the professional because they’ve been hired; and personal because – as the story progresses – they begin to care about avenging the victim or feel a strong personal responsibility to the client. An amateur would probably always be personal – to avenge someone they cared for, or to clear their own name or the name of a loved one. If the protagonist is given a strong motivation to solve the case, this helps move the plot forward because it keeps the protagonist moving forward.

And the whole reason for the story: the murderer. There are all sorts of killers, but in fiction we writers like to stick with the tried and true: a serial killer, a murder for gain (money or love), or someone who thinks they have no other choice. This is my personal favorite and I find it most interesting. The person who commits the crime has been driven to this point by circumstances so horrendous that they thought murder was the only solution to their problem.

What would motivate a person to be murdered? Or to murder? What are the forces that drive a person? Is it money, love, security, or, most likely, a combination of them all? How would this person react if they were involved in a mystery? Would they be an active participant, in either detection or deceit, or would they attempt to extricate themselves from the situation? Is this a violet person or a passive person? What are this person’s interests and what do they tell us about the character? What is their physical appearance and what does that tell us about the character?

Agatha Christie may have thought of the peculiarities of a twisty plot, but to make it work she had to people it w/ characters that could live in that plot. Example: MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS. I’ve no doubt she thought of the clever twist as to who committed the murder before she thought of the characters on that train, but once she decided on that plot, she had to fill the Orient Express with characters who were capable of living out that plot and making it as believable as possible. Dame Agatha was a brilliant plotter, but she concentrated more on twists designed to shock a reader than she did on twists that emerged from the interactions of characters. Today’s plots are centered more on the interactions of characters rather than dependent on a cleaver means of killing a victim.

In my own books, character has a lot to do w/ the plot. Milt Kovak is a small town sheriff in Oklahoma, in a town he’s lived in all his life. He knows just about everybody in town. In most cases he knows the victim, and eventually, the murderer. The plot usually centers on the murder itself – as in a police procedural – but with lots of detours involving Milt’s many side characters – his staff at the sheriff’s department, his wife and son, his sister, and whatever else seems to be happening in Prophesy County, Oklahoma.

My E.J. Pugh series is more traditional, or cozy if you will. E.J. is an amateur sleuth whose first experience (ONE, TWO, WHAT DID DADDY DO?) is gruesomely personal. Actually, all the books have a personal interest for E.J., and many of them stem from something in my own family's life – not that we've experienced any murders, but, hey, what if?

In a traditional mystery there is usually a strong link in life between the killer and the victim. This immediately advances some of the plot: What were the circumstances that led to the killer’s decision to take a life? Was it an easy decision, a spur of the moment decision, or an idea that went terribly wrong?

In a mystery, the plot is the story. But it must ring true. Sometimes it's hard for an amateur sleuth to continually stumble over dead bodies and make that ring true, but there are other things in that story that should – the amateur's reasons for investigating, their knowledge of the victim, and their feelings about it. The truth is what matters in any story, and there should always be a nugget that our readers can take away.