Monday, December 3, 2012
The Sunset Witness is the fourth book I have written since that day in June 2010 when I dared myself to write something or give up on my dream of being a published author. The first three books were written about Jayme Baker Riggs and Sheriff R. Bates Riggs, told in the present tense with an omniscient narrator, and set in Montana. These characters were a surprise to me, and I liked them well enough to continue writing about them. However, I knew there was a different type of story I still needed to write.
The Sunset Witness is told in the past tense and set in Oregon. It begins with a Memo that is the Report of Final Investigation into the disappearance of Rachel Douglas. Detective Josie Gannon is writing the memo to the Agate County D.A. She says Rachel Douglas wrote her eye witness account of events in Sunset, Oregon and mailed it to Det. Gannon as a flash drive. Rachel begins her journal with the day she saw Frank in the diner. Once Rachel ends her journal, Det. Gannon continues the memo with events that were unknown to Rachel.
I went back to college at age 54 and studied to be a paralegal. I was required to take Comp 101. I also took legal research and writing classes. They were interesting to me because I learned to write a brief, among other things. Fulfilling the requirements of a well-written brief was a challenge that gave me a lot of satisfaction. I compare it to preparing a four-layer cake from scratch instead of using a box mix. If you don’t do it just right, it falls flat. However, my Comp 101 classes where I was allowed to be creative gave me the most pleasure. An essay assignment led me to describe the man who would become a main character in The Sunset Witness.
After my Comp 101 class, I went to a local restaurant close to campus to have a late lunch. Aside from an elderly gentleman, I was the only one in the restaurant. Something about Frank caught my attention and fired my imagination. I began writing in the restaurant and polished the essay with several rewrites. That study of Frank has always been a favorite of mine. I tucked it away, and then decided to use it almost ten years later.In the Fall of 2011, we toured Washington and Oregon in our RV. We had an itinerary so we knew where we would be staying each night, but I most enjoyed exploring the places we knew nothing about until we picked up a brochure for a particular area. One of those unexpected surprises was a small beach town that instantly stimulated my imagination. I remarked that it would be a great place to hide if one was part of the witness protection program. That little town became the setting for The Sunset Witness.
When I challenged myself to write something or give up back in June 2010, I hoped to answer a nagging question: How does one write a novel? I have to say, the only answer I have is that there really is no answer to that question for me so far. Each novel has been different.
The Sunset Witness started with an idea for a character and a setting, but what led me to make Frank a protected witness was pure inspiration. The plot required some planning. However, I actually veered off my intended course here and there when I realized I could improve the story by doing so. The one common thread to all the novels I have written is that I do not outline first. I outline after I write a chapter so I know what is in each chapter. Before I begin writing I know that I will start at Point A and end at Point B. What happens in between is a mystery I haven’t solved. It seems I couldn’t have planned for the plot of The Sunset Witness to unfold as well as it did.
Writing The Sunset Witness was a lot like our trip in the RV. I started with an idea of where I was going and was willing to take an unexpected turn here and there if something else looked interesting. I didn’t see some of the places I had planned to see because I was too busy exploring places I hadn’t even thought of seeing. But whatever exploring I did each day, I always made sure it was interesting and fulfilled our plan to visit only certain areas of Washington and Oregon in depth instead of skimming the entire state.
I hope you will take a look at The Sunset Witness and let me know what you think. Thank you for reading!
What if someone left an inheritance that depended upon the recipient spending time in Montana with the decedent's friends? That was my premise before I wrote The Scrimshaw Set. I told the story of a young woman, Emma Favager, who was not allowed to see her grandmother, Frances. Then Frances dies and leaves an inheritance with the stipulation that Emma needs to spend time with her friends, Carole Wylie and Phyllis Carle. If Emma's written observations about the friends agree with Frances' opinions of them, Emma will claim her inheritance. Emma is anxious to pay down her college debt so she can pursue something other than family law. She is burned out on divorce and custody cases. Frances' old flame, Harold Lowe, is an attorney in Buffalo Jump near Great Falls. He gets to know Emma as she spends time with the residents of the fictional, small Montana town.
While I thoroughly enjoyed creating the characters and setting of the novel, I intended it to be a character study about Frances rather than a full-length novel. As such, I was satisfied that it ended when and how it should. It was not important to me whether or not Emma returned to Buffalo Jump or if she and Deputy Eric Knutsen moved beyond a casual friendship to something more serious.
The truth is I did not think The Scrimshaw Set was as good a story as The Sunset Witness, which is another short novel but more suspenseful and with dangerous characters and situations. I promoted The Sunset Witness and let readers find The Scrimshaw Set. So I was quite surprised when The Scrimshaw Set found more favor with readers. I was even more surprised when two readers begged me to do a sequel. One of them said, "Pretty Please." How could I not be moved to write a sequel? The problem was that I did not see myself getting interested in the story. If I wasn't interested in it, how could I expect readers to be interested? So, I did what all good writers do. I got interested. I sat in front of a blank screen, cursed the cursor, and started thinking. It didn't take very long before I could see the potential for a sequel to The Scrimshaw Set.
I remember feeling euphoric when I reached Chapter 5. Every day I wrote at least a chapter but only after reading those before it to get motivated. Then one day I realized I was adding chapters and moving down the road without looking back. There were times I felt uninspired, but I had a good story to tell, so all I really had to do was put one foot in front of the other. The plot seemed to unfold miraculously, like The Sunset Witness. I was excited about it. When I was too far along to turn back, I posted a thank you on Facebook for the two readers who encouraged me to write the sequel. I told them I hoped to have the novel finished by Christmas. Rather than publishing a separate book for the sequel, I will combine the first book and sequel into a new book. Doing so will make it easier for readers to refresh their memories of the original story. New readers will have both stories in one book.
Now, I'm in the editing phase. At first, I was disappointed with my writing, but I didn't know why. As I edit and remove wordiness, words I should never use, problems with tense, inferior words, and so on, I find myself getting excited again. I feel like a sculptor who has formed a rudimentary image and is chiseling it to perfection one stroke at a time. As I work on the forty-six chapters I thought I could not write, I am so grateful to those two readers who encouraged me to tell them what happened next. There were only two people who cared enough to encourage me, but writing for those two readers has been a reward in itself. Now, I know I am a writer. It's not because I was excited from day one about my idea. I'm a writer, because I can create on demand. Now, I'm hoping those two readers, and many others, will be satisfied with what I've done. Who knows? Maybe they'll encourage me to do another one.