Thursday, January 14, 2010

Guest Blogger - Maddy Hunter

I love calm. It's my default setting.

I'm the person who makes molehills out of mountains, who plucks the fly from the ointment, who hammers the lid back onto the can of worms.

I'm a born problem solver. While some people fret over solutions to everyday problems, I have a penchant for providing solutions to problems that haven't arisen yet.

The first decade of the twenty-first century was the least calm decade of my life. While I was meeting deadlines for my Passport to Peril series, I was also accompanying a precious family member through weeks of radiation and months of chemotherapy. Add to that a raft of emegency room visits in the wee hours of the morning, endless CT scans, the inability to control intolerable pain, long hospital stays, and the extraneous pancreatitis attack and gallbladder surgery, and I had a recipe for enough mayhem to last me for the rest of my life.

Mayhem in real life is exhausting.

On the other hand, mayhem in fiction is exhilarating. There's nothing I enjoy more than piling on the agony and seeing how my characters will react. Chaos and mayhem supply the fuel that advance my storylines. And there's plenty of chaos to go around when you're writing about a dozen senior citizens who have strong opinions and hearing problems.

How do I creat chaos in my series? I've discovered the easiest way to do this is by gathering at least six or seven of my Iowans in the same place and presenting them with a simple question or problem. In ALPINE FOR YOU, the question that prompted one of my favorite scenes of mayhem was posed by Windsor City's local pharmacist: "Is that supposed to be a cow?" the woman asks Emily, referring to the cartoonish caricature on Emily's watch face. The resulting conversation is complete verbal chaos, but it allows the characters to "strut their stuff" in more depth. It's also a humorous diversion that demonstrates what happens when "people raised on iowa grain farms decide to talk animal husbandry." I actually had this conversation years ago with an agricultural engineer. It was so convoluted, I knew I had to use it in a book someday!

The majority of the mayhem in my books starts out with verbal exchanges and misunderstandings, which pretty much tells you that my characters lead with their tongues. In G'DAY TO DIE, chaos ensues on Kangaroo Island when Emily asks the group, "How many of you have ordered food already?" The characters' ability to turn such an uncomplicated question into sheer mayhem both amazes and delights me. Each member of the tour group has become so real to me that I can't tell them what to say. They tell *me* what to say. I guess it's a little like channeling. I have no idea how it happens, but it's ever so helpful that it does. When I throw them all together, I know something is going to happen, because they're like a big extended family with all the good and bad dynamics ready to explode. And they do it so consistently. So I'm always arriving at a new place in the story, which slowly allows me to *build* my novels. The outcome, information, or new dynamic from one scene propels me into the next. This is fuel use at its best!

In NORWAY TO HIDE, chaos erupts in the group's Lapland hotel when resident bellyacher Bernice asks of a police officer, "Further questioning? Why are you picking on us?" In HULA DONE IT, the catalyst is more comment than question as someone yells near Kaui's Secret Falls, "It's Bigfoot!" And in TOP O' THE MOURNIN' and PASTA IMPERFECT, I introduce Emily's transgender ex-husband, Jack/Jackie, who creates mayhem every time he/she opens her mouth. As much as i despise chaos in my own life, I seem unable to write a novel without including tons of it!

Simon and Schuster cancelled my series after NORWAY TO HIDE, but as I write this, there's a very real possibility that another publisher might pick it up, so Emily, Nana, and the rest of the Iowa gang may be packing their bags and traveling the globe once more, spreading mayhem wherever they go. And better yet, the precious member of my family is in remission, so I've hit the reset button on my life, and, for the moment, all once again is calm.


Review: Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers and Felonies by Donna Andrews and Shari Randall

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