Tuesday, September 12, 2017

A Holiday Tale: Whose Story Will It Be?

As we have done in the past, some of us here at Writers Who Kill will be posting stories over the holidays as “gifts” for our readers.

Several authors, who are far more organized than I am, already have their stories written and ready to go. That, unfortunately, doesn’t include me.

I love short stories. I love to read them, and I love to write them. I am just beginning to mull over
My story Making Tracks
is included in
Bouchercon Anthology 2017
the decisions I will have to make before I write this story.

Since most of my work tends to be character driven, as opposed to plot driven, the first thing I need to decide is, whose story this will be.

I feel like I’ve sent out a casting call for a play. My established characters are clamoring for attention, and a few as-yet-to-be developed ones are crawling out of the woodwork.

Shorty the delinquent elf reminds me that his very existence is the essence of Christmas-ness. I tell him that he appeared not that long ago in a story on this very site. He argues that he has moved back to the North Pole, things are not always as cheerful as they seem in Santa’s village, and time is ripe for a new story.

Crystal, the drug-addicted mother who lives with her biker boyfriend Jocko, points out that, despite her personal problems, she has always wanted what is best for her two young children. Think of the poignancy of a semi-sweet holiday story centered on her and the kids. I remind her that, given her situation, this is not likely to end in a happy-ever-after. I like my Christmas stories to be happy-ever-after, or at least have some hope. I can’t see hers as being anything but discouraging.

Right now, I’m working on a Miss Grayling story, and she advocates for another one while she is still so active in my mind. She did appear in a previous holiday story for Writers Who Kill, but it was told from the point of view of her gay nephew Jeremy’s significant other. She feels she should have a turn to present a story from her own point of view. Miss Grayling is a force to be reckoned with, since she quite effectively eliminates those who stand in her way. A Christmas story would be no exception.

The protagonist of my series of crime novels, Jesse Damon, floated the possibility of starring in a
Jesse, the protagonist from
my crime novel series,
would like to appear in short stories
short story. Due to his lengthy stay in prison, starting when he was a teenager, he tends to be very passive, and is surprised when he has an impact on anything, including his own life. He was delighted that his suggestion was considered, and not particularly offended when I rejected it. Steeled for Murder (Wildside Press), the first book in the series, took place around Christmas time. I am now working on another book, Earthly Treasures, that is set in the late summer, and Jesse is content to stay there.

Jerry is a homeless veteran with a demon dog, Lucy, for a companion. Perhaps unfortunately, Lucy is quite good at that old water-into-wine miracle, which means Jerry has unlimited access to alcohol. A variation of Jerry—perhaps a cousin—did appear in one Christmas story. When I said it too soon for another holiday story, he shrugged, filled his empty bottle from a mud puddle, and went looking for Lucy to perform her miracle yet again.

Several non-human characters have volunteered. Misty the cat is appearing soon in Turkey Underfoot, a story in The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos (Untreed Reads), an anthology of Thanksgiving stories. She feels a Christmas centered around cats would be an excellent idea. Of course, she feels anything centered around cats would be an excellent idea. If absolutely necessary, there could be people in it, too, but not that pesky Uncle George, who was dispatched in the last story.

Rasputin the dog wandered in to the discussion. He asked if Christmas wasn’t the time when sometimes Larry brought a tree inside, only to be upset when he lifted his leg and used it for its intended purpose. Why else would anyone bring a tree inside? If so, he’s not interested.

The nineteenth century iron furnace workers who are in Making Tracks, a story that will appear in Passport to Murder, the 2017 Boucheron anthology (Down & Out Books) think that a story about their Christmas would be appropriate. After all the time I spent at historic sites and old newspaper archive for the story, I have a new appreciation for those who write historic fiction. I have no desire to spend the time and effort to research how, and if, the workers at an iron furnace might celebrate. Since an iron furnace can’t be shut down for a day, at least some of them would have to be working. I remember the Christmas I spent a shift at a glass factory tending a fore hearth as one of my more depressing holidays.

Other characters are vying for a chance to present their situations. Amanda Corey, a widow who
Jerry and Crystal,
who appear in separate stories
in this collection,
are clamoring for
a role in a holiday story
manages an old apartment building in Chicago, and would like her daughter Bethany to come back from the Cayman Islands for the holidays. Given all the destruction from hurricanes this year, that might be a good idea. And the teenage boy in foster care who is trying desperately to find his younger half-sister’s father in the hopes that she will be spared the indignity he knows too well of being shuffled from one foster home to another. Then there’s the scared but brave country girl who headed for Baltimore with her baby and a suitcase, well aware that they would always be an object of pity in the tight-knit community in which she was raised.

There’s always the possibility that an entirely new character could show up and demand that his/her story be told.

I have a lot more thinking to do before I’m ready to get started on the story, and I’m sure this entire process will spawn more situations than I already have swirling around in my head. It’ll be interesting to see what we all come up with.

Do your characters ever clamor for attention? And do they try to dictate your stories?


  1. Yep, since I am a pantser, I never know exactly how things will turn out, and often characters have ideas of their own. I don't write very many short stories, but at least compared to novels, when I have to go back to start there are fewer wasted words!

    ~ Jim

  2. I'm a pantser and while I was writing my eclipse story, I discovered that a new character and her sidekick had taken over the entire show, and are already asking for a repeat performance.

    Looking forward to your Christmas story.

  3. Jim, I know exactly what you mean. The first time I tried to write a mystery novel, I reached the last chapter and realized I'd been wrong about who the killer was.

    Margaret, time to make room for a new adventure for these characters!

  4. I think the only reason my characters talk to me is that they cannot type.

  5. Good luck, Kathleen. But you sound like you have a terrific cast of characters to draw on. Don't you find that they are like real people to you?

    When I started my mystery, I was taking an online class on how to write a mystery. Part of the assignments was to complete an outline based on the nine checkpoints of a mystery novel (e.g., the ah ha moment). As a result, I finished the class with a pretty thorough outline of my mystery. When I wrote it, I discovered that I had told my story with only 45,000 words, far short for a mystery. So then I had to get creative. All kinds of characters and situations popped into my mind, leaving me thinking, "Where did that come from!" The chore was interweaving the new with the old and make it blend. So, I am part plotter and part pantzer. Surprisingly, my most interesting characters came out of the pantzer portion of the story.

  6. Can't wait to see which of your characters convinces you to give them a story. I am pulling for Jesse.

  7. That's a point, Warren. If they could type, I have a feeling I'd have pages and pages to read every morning.

    Yes, Grace, my characters are very real to me. I bet your novel has some very interesting characters and situations.

    I haven't decided yet, Shari. Jesse is pleasantly surprised that your vote goes to him.