If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book next year, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com

Our April author interviews: Perennial author Susan Wittig Albert--4/5, Sasscer Hill, horse racing insider--4/12, English historical, cozy author, TE Kinsey--4/19, Debut author, Susan Bickford--4/26.

Saturday Guest Bloggers in April: Heather Baker Weidner (4/1), Christina Hoag (4/8), Susan Boles (4/29). WWK Saturday bloggers write on 4/15--Margaret S. Hamilton and on 4/22--Kait Carson.

Julie Tollefson won the Mystery Writers of America Midwest Chapter's Holton Award for best unpublished manuscript (member category) for her work in progress, In The Shadows. Big news for a new year. Congratulations, Julie.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Warren Bull's new Lincoln mystery, Abraham Lincoln In Court & Campaign has been released. Look for the Kindle version on February 3.

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published.

Margaret S. Hamilton's short story, "Once a Kappa" was published as a finalist in the Southern Writer's Magazine annual short story contest issue. Mysterical-E published her "Double Crust Corpse" in the Fall 2016 issue. "Baby Killer" will appear in the 2017 solar eclipse anthology Day of the Dark to be published this summer prior to the eclipse in August.

Linda Rodriquez has two pending book publications. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel will be released by Scapegoat Press on November 29th. Every Family Doubt, the fourth Skeet Bannion mystery, is scheduled for release on June, 13, 2017. Look for E. B. Davis's interview with Linda here in June!

Cross Genre Publications anthology, Hidden Youth, will contain Warren Bull's "The Girl, The Devil, and The Coal Mine." The anthology will be released in late November 2016. The We've Been Trumped anthology released by Dark House Press on September 28th contains Warren Bull's "The Wall" short story and KM Rockwood's "A Phone Call to the White House." KM writes under the name Pat Anne Sirs for this volume.

James M. Jackson's 4th book in the Seamus McCree series, Doubtful Relations, is now available. His novella "Low Tide at Tybee" appears February 7 as part of Lowcountry Crimes: Four Novellas, which is available for order.

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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Surprises

Let’s look at how the election night “surprise” can relate to our reading experiences when something happens that doesn’t meet our expectations.

So, we’re reading this great little political thriller, and on election night the author presents a startling turn of events. Our reaction can end up anywhere on a spectrum from telling the closest wall that, “I knew that was going to happen,” to throwing the book (Kindle, Nook) against that very same wall (and probably wishing it were the author, not the book, that was being so punished.)

And then comes another surprise, not everyone reading the same book has the same reaction. What could cause such widely differing reactions from the same startling turn of events?

For me as a reader, the two most important aspects are (1) whether in retrospect I could have anticipated the event turn was possible, and (2) my unique biases. For most of us, our biases weigh much more heavily in the equation than do logic and anticipation. With a sufficiently large bias, we can ignore logic, history, rational expectations—pretty much everything—to justify our preconceived expectations. To maintain our equilibrium, we will ignore or significantly discount any information that contradicts our position.

I know this is true for me, and I am steeped in mathematics and understand syllogistic logic. Surprising? It shouldn’t. I’m human. None of us is Star Trek’s Spock.

Where would we start our novel of the 2016 presidential race? How about a prologue where the Clintons pop into Trump’s wedding (the most recent one in 2005)? Toss in a bit of foreshadowing, and you’ve set up the reader for the presidential race.


Now, as the story unfolds, I want authors to play fair with readers. If they withhold information solely to create their surprise, it doesn’t work for me. Nope, we need to lay it right out there, although we might do it using smoke and mirrors or at a minimum a bit of camouflage.

Just so you know, I’m upset, but not surprised, with the results of the 2016 election. Nate Silver of fivethirtyeight.com had the odds of Clinton winning at roughly two-to-one. That meant that one out of every three Wednesdays I would wake up to President-elect Trump. And, I did. Yes, it was against the odds, but it wasn’t a surprise. Since most people don’t really understand odds, an author can provide them en passant, and only fully explain their ramifications after the fact. So, let’s make sure our protagonist—Joe Schmo, we’ll call him—has the information and takes a 70 percent probability as close to a guarantee.

Add our hero’s set of biases to that misconception. Perhaps he grew up learning to respect strong women. Perhaps he believed strongly in the societal benefits of working together rather than that every person had to fend for himself. The more such a person held disparate views from Trump, the more such a person would decide other reasonable people would not vote for Trump. Such a bias was shared by most Democratic or liberal-leaning voters.

Consider a scene where two guys are discussing Trump’s “locker room talk” regarding women. One is appalled; the other thinks guys will be guys and it’s meaningless. One is convinced the polls are correct that Trump will lose great swaths of support because of his crude language and objectifying women—it’s just further proof of how unfit the guy is. The other says it’s nothing; sure, it was a mistake, but it’ll blow over once the biased media moves on to something else.

Overhearing that conversation might sow a tiny seed of doubt in our Joseph Schmo, but bias may prevent this from happening. The same liberal bias shades other facts, for example what might happen in Wisconsin. Liberal perspective is that Wisconsin’s a true-blue state; hasn’t voted Republican since forever (actually 1984, so not quite forever—but still, seven elections).

That Wisconsin went to Trump had been presaged both by Scott Walker’s elections as the governor of the state in 2010 and 2014 and that the state’s voters elected Republican majorities in both legislative houses. Joe, with his liberal bias ignores those unsightly facts, clinging to the oft-told belief that the Upper Midwest is Clinton’s impregnable wall. Joe is blindsided when the state goes from firewall for Clinton to chain around her neck, dragging her to defeat.

Our savvy novelist has planted all these clues to the eventual outcome, but as we follow Joe’s life, we might buy into his worldview regarding the election—or we can pay attention to the clues when they arise and pat ourselves on the back for seeing the turn of events before it appeared. Different readers, different reactions.


Read any good books lately?

8 comments:

Grace Topping said...

If a writer were to put all the events in this election into a book and tried to get it published, the writer would be told that it's too unbelievable and critics would pan it. Truth is truly stranger than fiction. And in this election, even stranger.

Kait said...

Holding fast to my edict to not comment on this election. So, without electoral context, you're quite right, that's how the books are written, or should be! A little hint here, a nudge there, any coincidences have to be a part of the plot and plan.

Well done Jim.

Warren Bull said...

I agree with Grace. An editor would say the plot lacks credibility. Just because it happened does not mean it is believable.

Margaret Turkevich said...

I enjoy reading political thrillers, but I don't enjoy living them.

I loved Bruce deSilva's latest, The Dread Line, with its tangled plot lines, including the NFL draft. The MC has both an extra-large sized mutt and a Bernese Mountain dog "with paws the size of oven mitts."

KM Rockwood said...

Ah, a restating of the old paradigm principle! If it doesn't fit in our world view, our brain rejects it and acts like it doesn't exist.

Reality does have to be realistic. Our writing does.

It calls to mind the old Cosa Nostra dictum: One is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.

Jim Jackson said...

Margaret -- I'll need to check out The Dread Line. Thanks for the recommendation.

Gloria Alden said...

I agree with Grace and Warren. I don't care for political thrillers, not do I enjoy living them. But then I guss there's a bit of Pollyanna in me where I want everything to end happily ever after.

Nupur Tustin said...

Yes, in a book you definitely have to prepare the reader for the surprise, so the turn of events is subliminally expected even before it happens. When you don't, there's a sense of being cheated, the same kind of feeling that must have accompanied deus ex machina resolutions to plays and operas of old.

Life, it's true, is often pretty weird. I get the feeling from watching true crime, though, that the cops usually have a pretty good idea of who it could be even before they've amassed the evidence that proves them right. And even when they get it wrong, there's almost always a trail of clues leading in another direction that got completely ignored in the rush to arrest and convict. So, crime-solving, at least, is like a novel.