Sunday, October 25, 2009

Writing Process (Part 3) -- Communing With Carrots

It was during a family reunion at a cabin in Oregon--I was stuck on the plot for Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy and it was driving me crazy. It was like the pig incident, but this one involved a carrot. Now, let me state right off that the carrot was innocent of any wrongdoing--it was, in fact, all my fault. I'd let it pop into the story for sentimental reasons. You see, my older brother (Mark) had a dog (Bear)who was a fan of carrots, so when I gave the priest (Fr. Mayhew) in Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy a dog (Gregory), that dog soon adopted a lot Bear's personality traits. For you writers, it falls under the write-what-you-know umbrella. Bear really was part of the family. He was my brother's constant companion. From the day Mark brought him home inside the folds of his motorcycle jacket, to the day they died together in a car accident, those two were best of friends. So yeah. Sentiment played a big part in my giving Gregory Bear's carrot-chomping habit, and as I neared the end of the book, sentiment was what made me battle the glaring need to remove it. I mean, this carrot-chomping business was in every scene that Gregory appeared. The carrot was slimy and slobbery and Gregory was constantly nudging his little carrot-gnawing nose into Sammy's leg, trying to get her to quit sleuthing and start throwing (because Gregory likes to play fetch with his gnawed-down, slobbered-on carrot). It had become like the proverbial gun. Conventional writing wisdom: If you introduce a gun in your story, you must fire it before the end of the story. Otherwise why have a gun? I mean, guns are not toys. You don't play with them. And in writing, if you bring it out, you've got to shoot it. Anyway, the carrot had become like a gun. I'd mentioned it over and over and over, but why? I knew I had no compelling reason, and it had gone way beyond giving Gregory a personality trait. Sentiment did not justify my having made such a big deal out of a stupid carrot. The carrot had to either lead up to something or I needed to get rid of it. But, see, I was attached to the carrot on several levels and I didn't want to tone it down. It reminded me of Bear. And my brother. I wanted it to stay. Now, maybe I was feeling so attached to the carrot because realizing the carrot had to either be a plot device or be gone occurred in the midst of a family reunion. My husband and our kids, my siblings, their spouses, their kids and our mother were all under one roof in a cabin in Oregon. I missed my brother Mark. I missed his carrot-chomping dog. So I redoubled my efforts to find a reason for Gregory to hold onto his carrot habit. I thought and thought and thought and drove my husband nuts discussing the potential uses of carrots in my story. I spent four solid days thinking about carrots. And then, finally, I decided I should hold one. It was sheer desperation. I thought that maybe hanging out with a carrot would help me. Maybe the veggie would find a way to talk to me. And the funny thing is, it did. Now, maybe you don't know of any carrot-chomping dogs. Maybe you've never tossed a slobbery orange root just because a perky-eared canine gave you his best puppy-dog look. But if you ever have you know that a carrot that's been mauled all day by a dog is (besides being utterly gross) at dog-breath temperature. It's warm. The instant I retrieved a carrot from our Oregon cabin's icebox, I had my clue. It was (of course) cold. And with that clue came the plot device and the purpose for the Gregory's carrot-chomping habit. I was overjoyed. The carrot stayed! It seems obvious now, but at the time I'd been looking for ways to use the carrot. Ways to have it be a tool for Sammy. And all the thinking in the world wouldn't yield a solution. It was actually holding the carrot that did it. So the moral of the story is, you can't always move forward with just your imagination. It helps to feel the earth, climb the tree, absorb the sounds and smells and temperatures of your story. In other words, commune with carrots. Whatever your carrots may be.


JensRad said...

Hi Mrs. Parsons! (Sorry, I've probably said this before, but you'll always be Mrs. Parsons to me) I've spent free moments over the last few weeks reading your blog from the beginning, and I love it! Long story short, I'm taking a vacation the week of Thanksgiving, and the blog has inspired me to look into getting a library card again. I got one nine years ago when I first moved here, checked out War & Peace (my delusional 20 year old self thought maybe I'd actually read it), then promptly couldn't find the branch again and never returned it. Back then the $50 replacement fee may as well have been 50 million, and I've always envisioned my photo posted behind the check out desks at libraries all over town, the way they post pictures of people who bounce checks at grocery stores on TV. I'm such a delinquent. Of all the things I had to get used to living in San Diego vs Santa Maria, more than one freeway and more than one library were biggies. But now, faced with an entire week all to myself, a big part of the plan is to check out as many of your books as I can get my hands on, and bring them with me on my trek up the coast! This time, I PROMISE I'll return them, probably even on time.

neonina05 said...

Aw! Gregory was one of my favorites! I really hope you bring Father Mayhew and Gregory back into the story. And the nuns in the Soup Kitchen, because they were funny too.

Also, just to let you know, you're Random House website still says that Sammy Keyes and the Cold Hard Cash "will be coming out in December". So, I don't know if it's your job to update that page or if that's the publishers job, but when I visit it, I always get anxious because it hasn't been updated!!

I'm SOOO happy that Sammy Keyes 13 is coming out soon! The two things that I'm most anxious to happen is Sammy's father to come up and for Casey and Sammy to just get together already, or at least KISS! *eye roll* BTW - Your character Casey has totally captured the heart of everyone on They call most of their stories "cammy" stories (Like Brangelina? lol)

Jinnyd said...

Very true! You can't exactly describe the dark side of the moon if you've never seen it before, right?

Also--I've always wanted to know how a person can actually escape from the luggage hold of a Greyhound bus. How did Holly do it? Thanks! (glad to hear that Sammy's okay!)

Wendelin Van Draanen said...

Jen--I loved your comment. Your entries always make me laugh. You have a real writing talent. Funny about War & Peace. Also funny that you didn't know that you can check it out of one library and return it to another in the same "system". Ah, the guilt of it will haunt you forever!!

Mz. Jazzy--I will get on my publisher--that is, indeed, old news! Thank you for checking in. And I promise you won't be disappointed by "Cammy"'s role in the book I'm working on now. Sizzlin'!

And Jinnyd--There is an escape lever, believe it or not!I was more worried about carbon monoxide poisoning...(especially when I found out that they don't transport animals).

Thanks for your comments everyone! I hope you like the new entry.