Friday, October 20, 2006

Part 3 -- On Finding the "Hook"

Art forgery, bounty hunters, the FBI weapons room…all in a day’s work

Every new author faces the challenge of finding a “hook” for a novel or series that will make it stand out from the crowd. For us, this was easy. Our protagonist, Annie Kincaid, is based on Julie’s professional life running a mural and faux finishing business in the San Francisco Bay Area (though as Julie often insists, the autobiography ends there – we do not have an unrepentant art forger for a grandfather!) Furthermore, the world of art forgery and theft is full of stories much stranger than fiction. The ideas for Annie’s most outrageous adventures are often “ripped from the headlines.” Finally, Julie’s clientele, a quirky bunch, own some of the finest homes in the Bay Area, which gives her access to the rarified, fascinating world of moneyed San Franciscans.

Carolyn had always encouraged Julie to write down some of the funny stories that arose from her work. One day Julie actually called Carolyn’s bluff by writing the first chapter of a book, featuring a faux finisher named Annie Kincaid. Intrigued, Carolyn sat down and tore it apart, creating a more interesting, vivid story. A novel-writing team was born.

That original chapter was later thrown out in its entirety as we learned to write fiction, a difficult and sometimes painful process. Both of us had penned scholarly works—Carolyn wrote a book on women in New England and Julie authored numerous articles in anthropology and social welfare. But we had a lot to learn; academic writing is an entirely different animal than commercial fiction. The hardest skill for us to learn was how to “show, not tell” the story so that it grabs the reader’s attention from the start and promises a great ride for the next three hundred pages or more. We dissected our favorite books, chapter by chapter, line by line. We researched. We went to writers’ conferences.

Now that we’ve finished our third novel in the series, Brush with Death, (July, 2007), fiction writing has become almost second nature. Still, one complication we never anticipated was that the characters take on a life of their own. It sounds like a bunch of hooey—how can the author of a novel not know what her characters will do? But it’s true! Annie Kincaid is very independent, and no matter how much we try to bend her to our will Annie makes her up her own mind, as when she found herself attracted to her landlord, Frank DeBenton, who wasn’t supposed to be a romantic interest at all! Now she’s stuck in a love triangle, and we have no idea how it will turn out. Still, we’re confident Annie will let us know as soon as she makes up her mind. (We love to hear readers’ thoughts on this, by the way—please feel free to weigh in at!)

Being published authors allows us remarkable latitude, a perk we hadn’t anticipated. We’ve spoken with FBI agents, interviewed experts on art and criminal enterprise, and spent a memorable evening drinking with a real-life bounty hunter who told us hilarious stories he swore were true. We also get to ask weird and creepy questions about how to kill people – mystery writers get an odd reputation amongst law enforcement personnel!

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