Back in 2014 I took the summer off.
I was a middle school Language Arts teacher and was really struggling. Classroom discipline’s that b-word. I had also been coaching high school swimming. I was in a master’s program. I was preaching part time. It was too much.
So I stepped down from my position at the church. I quit the master’s program with six units left (statistics and some final project, ugh). Tendered my resignation to our school’s AD. And focused on my sixth grade lesson plans for the coming year.
It was ultimately all for naught. I quit teaching the following spring. Given the state of government schools today, it was a wise decision.
At any rate, the summer before my final school year, I had time to write. And so I completed my first short novel: Ma Tutt’s Donut Hut. (Available on Amazon.)
Here’s how it came about.
|Image by Kevin Sanderson from Pixabay. Used by permission.|
It sounds simple, and it is. Practically all traditional stories reveal within the first chapter (or even within the first 500 words) some tension that needs resolution by the main character. An idea, then, is not a full blown plot and it’s not how everything comes together in the end. An idea is simply “what happens next” once you have the character in a setting with a problem.
One of the writing assignments for this workshop was to just look around at the ordinary places and things in your life and connect them into a 500 word opening scene. We had a few other ingredients to include, but basically this forms the beginning idea for a story.
So I took my notebook, headed for the local Krispy Kreme for a little sugar-induced inspiration, and as I was eating my doughnut, I looked around and thought why not? It’s a setting. A donut shop.
Now for the character. Behind the counter, there was a retirement age woman, and I wondered if she wanted to be working there or had to work for income. She hadn’t been all that friendly and there was no real pep in her step, so I was guessing the latter.
Well, that led to the problem. She hated her job. The character (a 65 year old woman) in a setting (a greasy donut factory) with a problem (having to work during what should be her retirement).
Now according to Kate Wilhelm (or so I learned via Dean Smith), if you want to develop that story, you might consider dismissing the first two iterations on that idea and go with the third. Meaning, avoid the obvious and predictable.
What is an obvious resolution to this opening scenario. Is she the “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore” type of person? Then for me, the obvious resolution is that she blows the place up! (Heh, it’s an idea. Maybe not a good one, but it was the first one to pop in my head.)
Dismiss iteration number one. Usually not very original (but it was kinda exciting, I thought!). The second scenario you think of might be a little better, but it’s also probably a little too predictable.
Wow. How did I come up with all of that? Who knows. But voila, Ma Tutt’s Donut Hut was born. As a new-ish writer, I wasn’t sure this was the best idea I could have come up with, but I liked it so I ran with it. I wrote a short story of about 10,000 words that formed the basis for the rest of the book.
Then in 2014, when I had that summer off, I added three other interconnected short stories of about the same length and completed a short novel featuring Dolores ‘Ma’ Tutt and her sort of magical cat, Mack. It turned out to be a very strange kind of curious cozy mystery.
Definitely a niche genre, but one I enjoyed reading. My literary inspiration is Lilian Jackson Braun’s “The Cat Who…” novels which feature Koko, a very intuitive Siamese cat who helps former newspaper reporter, James Qwilleran, solve mysteries up in Pickax, a fictional small town located in Moose County "400 miles north of everywhere."
Well, I’ve finally returned to Sugar Pine Station and am going to write Book 2 in this series, Ma Tutt’s Secret Spice. Each day I’ll log my word count and provide progress updates as to how the story is developing and what else I’m doing as I start out my semi-retirement career as full-time professional writer.
Thanks for tagging along!
By the way, at my Patreon Page, I'm posting weekly chapters of my current WIP, which happens to be Ma Tutt’s Secret Spice. By subscribing, you can read the novel as it unfolds before it hits the virtual bookstores. (Plus, a lot more!) When it's completed, you'll get the finished e-book, fully edited, etc. Check out the benefits of becoming a patron by clicking here.
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Hey, I'm Lyndon Perry, a speculative fiction writer living in Puerto Rico. I'm a former pastor and current husband, father, coffee drinker, and cat-wrangler. You can find me almost anywhere online, so check out my various Linktree Locations and say hello!