My journey with Peri and her friends

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Posts Tagged ‘scwc’


Posted by Gayle on November 13, 2008

I thought I knew Benny Needles when I plugged him into my story. He began in 2006, at the Southern California Writer’s Conference in Palm Springs. I wrote a 250-word story on the topic “Ice”. Here’s the entry:

He was the kind of man who made you want to disinfect your eyeballs when you looked at him.

“You the private dick?” His voice oozed from the doorway.

“Private investigator,” I corrected him.

The stranger slunk into my office and poured himself into a chair. Pale and thin, his wispy blond hair lay pasted against his head, making his ice-blue eyes look large and reptilian. Taking a picture out of his pocket, he threw it across my desk.

“I lost something. I need you to find it.”

I studied the picture. “It’s an ice cube tray.”

“Not just any ice cube tray,” he told me. “It’s the ice cube tray used for Dean Martin’s drinks on Ocean’s Eleven.”

I stared at him, clearly unimpressed.

“It’s signed by Dino! I paid $1500 for it on Ebay!”

“Okay, okay,” I said. “I get $100 a day, plus expenses.”

“Anything. Just find it for me.”

Taking out my notebook, I got to work. “Where did you see it last?

“In my freezer,” he said. “It’s still there somewhere, but I can’t see it for all of the ice.”

I sighed. Opening the bottom drawer, I pulled out my travel-sized hair dryer. “Give me your address,” I told him.

What the hell, I figured. It’s a paycheck.

That’s where Benny started. When I outlined my book, he was going to be that slimy little man with no redemptive qualities that Peri helps despite her better judgment. Although I wasn’t 100% certain, I was even looking at making him an amoral murderer. And then a funny thing happened.

Benny took human form. Once he started interacting with the police, his insecurities came out. His purchase of a Dean Martin ice cube tray became an obsession with Dean Martin. Peri isn’t a woman who would help out a sleazebag just for money, so I made his mother one of her first housecleaning clients. In the end, Benny wasn’t slimy at all, he was just OCD, and a social arthritic.

Of course, this meant going back to the beginning of the novel and softening Peri’s responses to his attempts at mixing in with society. And I cleaned him up a little, physically.

As for the name, I chose Benny after my uncle, who was kind of the black sheep of my dad’s family. Needles came from Needles, California – I was having one of those parallel trains of thought, remembering my grandmother’s discussion of Needles while I was thinking about character names. Mike Sirota told me I had to change it because it sounded too cartoonish. If more people had told me that, I might have, but I hardly ever do what one person says… unless it’s my hubby.

After my experience with my very first (really bad) novel, I knew that characters can be willful brats, so Benny’s conversion from slimy to misunderstood, while inconvenient, was easier for me to deal with. Now everyone loves Benny, even if I still find him a little creepy.


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Intuitive structure (slapping my own forehead)

Posted by Gayle on September 29, 2008

I just returned from a weekend at the Southern California Writer’s Conference, a group I highly recommend if you are a serious writer ( One of my favorite workshop leaders this year was Trai Cartwright, whose energy made her classes absolutely joyful.

When I first walked into “Intuitive Structure:Exploiting What You Know” I had absolutely no clue what I was going to learn about. I went because it was an intriguing title. What I got was a lesson on how important it is to have underpinnings to your tale that go beyond the basic plot outline. A good story must obey the rules of its genre, a world that provides conflict for the main character, and a main character with a fatal flaw. And, perhaps most of all, a story needs a theme. It can’t just be a “dime store western” – it has to be a classic struggle between good and evil, set in the western genre.

I confess, at the end of the workshop, I wanted to call Karen Syed and yell, “Wait! My novel’s not ready yet! I don’t have a theme! What’s my character’s fatal flaw? How is she in conflict with her world? It’s Placentia, for Pete’s sake!”

Fortunately, I’m no dummy. After I thought about it, I had the answers all the time, I just didn’t know it. It was intuitive.

Peri’s fatal flaw is that she is both nosy and impatient. She should wait for Skip to come and help her. She should call someone instead of walking through Benny’s dark yard alone. She should stay in the background, under the radar, instead of poking around, asking questions. These traits will always get her into hot water.

The world of Placentia, California, doesn’t seem like much of a conflict in Peri’s life. But if I open that world up beyond the physical and look at Peri’s life, I see, in the story, where everyone’s fine with her being a private eye until she is endangered. And being endangered is the catalyst for Peri to decide that she really wants to be a private eye. There’s my conflict.

But what’s the theme? I thought I had written a breezy little murder mystery, kind of a ‘cozy’ in terms of the level of violence and gore. But when I looked at how I told it, Peri’s unrelenting curiousity transcends her desire for justice, for fairness, for truth. The thing that makes her tick follows my own heart: life is a riddle to be solved.

I am reminded of something I heard Willard Scott say one morning, “When you’re green, you’re growing, and when you think you’re ripe, you’re rotten.”

This is why Peri will continue to solve cases and I will continue to write stories about her – because we both want to keep growing. Even when we’re both brittle and old.

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Writing the book

Posted by Gayle on July 10, 2008

Once I had the 5 W’s, I could just write the book, right? Wrong.
First, I was in the middle of finishing my second edit of my first book. Oh, yes, I had written a book previously. It’s a well-written piece of complete drivel, in which I made every mistake imagineable while remaining grammatically correct, and even sometimes lyrically brilliant. I plan to use it for parts – someday.
By August, I had freed myself from the 1st novel and could start on Freezer Burn, whose working title was “Hands of Time.” I changed the name as soon as it dawned on me that “Hands of Time” sounded like a soap opera.
The first thing I had to do was figure out how my trusty heroine would find the clues to lead her to the solution. Being uber-organized, I put together an MSExcel file laying out the plot, listing problems I needed to address, things I needed to learn about, and defining characters. After all that, I started to write.
I went to the Southern California Writer’s Conference in LA-Irvine in September, with 45 pages of a mystery.

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How did she do it? (Part 1)

Posted by Gayle on July 7, 2008

So, a lot of people have asked how I came up with the storyline in my novel. Basically, it came from two sources: 1) the Southern California Writers Conference, and 2) my warped sense of humor.
I went to my first SCWC in 2006, in Palm Springs, armed with a handful of my humor essays, a kind-of-short story and an open, if clueless, mind. The conference had a topic contest: 250 words, any genre. The topic? Ice.
When I first heard it, I thought, “How stupid.” But an idea began to percolate. By Sunday morning, I had written 250 words on the hotel stationary and submitted it. And guess what? I won. The entry is here:
It’s a “noir” kind of piece, with a humorous angle. At the same time, I began to joke about a new detective for the Baby Boomer generation – Peri Menopause, Private Eye. She was a gal who’d solve every crime by crying, eating chocolate and bitch-slapping everyone until someone confessed.
Shortly after the conference, I married the topic contest entry and Peri, and envisioned Peri finding more than an ice cube tray in the freezer…
How about a severed hand?
Naw, not compelling enough.
How about a severed hand wearing a big, expensive ring?
Viola! A story begins to take shape! Now all I had to do was figure out who the hand and the ring belonged to and how they got in the freezer.

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