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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

This "Pantser" Describes How His Works of Fiction Had Their Beginnings, Mostly Odd

Through Savvy Author I learned the term pantser -- writers who don't plan or outline. That's me. I write by the seat of my pants. I want to make an aesthetic argument for that method, but not in a debate mode. If outlining and planning works for you, then I'm not trying to woo you to the rowdy, messy pantser crowd.

My goal in writing is to use words to create reality. I believe this is writing that does not describe reality, but creates it. I believe that words are like notes of music and when you get the right ones in the right order you create a kind of music that will resonate as a reality in the mind of the reader. I used to get offended when a reader asked if what I had written was true or really happened, as if I had no imagination. Now I take it as a compliment. The words have created a reality for the reader and he or she doesn't realize how creative is the writing.

Outlining and planning for me leads to descriptive writing, not creative writing.

I did develop my fiction voice while working for at a newspaper as reporter, editor and column writer. The column writing was especially helpful. That voice, I suppose, has a strong sense of objective reporting about it.

I also feel that knowing the end of a story for the writer destroys a feeling of discovery. And that feeling of discovery is essential in creative writing.

But how does this pantser get started? Usually, I get the idea of a scene or a character or hear a bit of dialogue and then begin to create the character and surroundings and learn what they are saying and what they are thinking.

One of my watering hole friends worked as a contract small-package deliveryman and one day he came in the bar telling how he had just finished delivering the head of a dog to the university for rabies testing. That image stayed with me for a long time before this opening scene for SPILL, a political comedy,  presented itself:

Fred Underwood was driving his 15-year-old, once-white, now rust-speckled Nissan pickup six miles over the speed limit on his way to deliver the head of a dog to the state’s vet school for rabies testing when several things happened to him.

It probably takes we pantsers a longer time to write our works. I'd been thinking about Fred Underwood for years, but when I finally knew enough about him to set him on his journey it then took me only three months to complete the work. Most of my novels and novellas have taken me years, sometimes decades, to conclude. They live in me and in my subconscious and dreams until given life through the written word.

When I was in grade school in Wichita, KS, a thunderstorm brought down the huge limb of a oak tree in the alley on our block and I turned it into a kind of a fort. In my twenties I started what would be the literary novella One More Victim.

The most important summer of my life began with a house-shaking thunder-boomer that woke me up on a Thursday night in 1958 near the end of my fifth-grade school year.

About the time I started that story I was standing at the back door of the house where we lived in Hutchinson, KS when I worked at the paper there. It was February, and I saw crows in the yard pecking into our black plastic garbage sacks to find things to eat. It started a poem in my head. It wasn't until my fifties that I found the last stanza of that poem and thus the conclusion of the three-part One More Victim.

I don't know if young writers today have the patience to wait thirty years to complete a work. But I do know how extraordinarily fulfilling it is to do so. The greatest reward for me is not sales, but readers for whom my prose resonates.

I'm all over the genre board. Maybe that's because as a pantser I delve into all areas of my psyche. What has been called a dangerous suspense/thriller and brilliantly disturbing by my publisher at Curiosity Quills, Blow Up the Roses scared the crap out of me.

We were living in Olathe, KS at that time. I was managing editor of the paper. I had that fantasy that most husbands get, I imagine, from time to time. What if instead of driving to work, I just got on the interstate and kept going.

Here is the original beginning:

When Michael Keene reached the interstate, a few blocks from his home, he turned left instead of right and headed south, steering his nifty little gray Honda Civic against the direction a group of geese were flying overhead. Thinking he might hear the honkers, he opened the window of the car, but they were too high, or maybe the wind carried their calls away from his ear. Or maybe they just were traveling silently, as was he.

Later, on that chilly morning in April, when Mrs. Keene received the call from the office asking if her husband was ill, she first thought of an accident, then car trouble, then foul play, then desertion. She should have thought first of desertion because when Mr. Keene didn't show up the next day or the one after that, the police investigator put on a smile deep with practiced kindness as she mentioned the possibility that Mr. Keene had been kidnapped and said, "Ma'am, I'm sorry, I've seen this before. Were you having any marital problems?"

So I knew that Betty Keene's husband abandoned her, but I didn't know why. We lived on a cul d'sac. I began to populate Mrs. Keene's cul d'sac with her neighbors. A horrible murder had happened in Olathe and I knew that occur on Mrs. Keene's cul d'sac. I created Mr. Califano, single and retired, who had a recurring and baffling nightmare: He was in the middle of a rose garden that was blowing up around him. I didn't know why. And I knew Mr. Brown on the other side of Mrs. Keene's was doing horrible things in his basement. I didn't know what. In fact, when I learned just how horrible, I almost stopped writing the book. But characters have a way of demanding they live their lives. So I let Mrs. Keene, Mr. Califano, Mr. Brown, and several other cul d'sac neighbors with their own demons, live out their lives.

As a pantser I've written in all points of view. As a pantser, too, I don't have to experiment with which POV to use. It just comes naturally.

Blow Up the Roses is in third person. It means the reader knows what each character is thinking and experiencing while the characters themselves only know what the other characters reveal to them through action and dialogue. This places the reader in a kind of Godlike position. But, of course, you can't give the reader complete knowledge about each character. Sometimes the reader needs to learn along with the character. If you've outlined and planned each character, then you know all about them instead of creating as they live in the novel. Again, you are describing them, not creating them. And as the characters are created the pantser way, the plot and story should be revealed to you and the reader, not decided ahead of time by you.

The voice for this book is more distant than in my other fiction. I think I wanted to keep it, and what was going on in it, at arm's length. I think that's why I also used the honorifics of Mr. and Mrs. so much. I needed some distance from the awful things that were coming out of my own mind.

People ask about research and resources used to write a novel. I think we pantsers draw upon what is around us and interests us.

The language of flowers plays an important role in Blow Up the Roses. One of the oldest books in my family library was "Language of Flowers," published in 1885. You probably know that a red rose stands for love. But did you know that a morning glory stood for affection. People would give each other bouquets and those groupings of flowers and plants contained messages. You had to identify the plant to decode the message. Mr. Califano grows roses and teaches Mrs. Keene about the language of flowers. That understanding plays a critical role at the book's climax.

The tag line for the novel is "The language of flowers can be terribly blunt."

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Off Topic Post, Forgive Me, About My Son: Koji Attwood: Wonderful Pianist and Person

The most famous Attwood in my family is my son, Koji. He is an extraordinary pianist (and also a good person). He was accepted into Curtis when he was 16 (Daddy brag here: acceptance rate at Harvard is 6 percent; acceptance rate at Curtis is 3.5 percent). I remember hugging a street sign post outside the Curtis building near Rittenhouse Square in Philly while he was auditioning. He is a remarkable artist and also student of the piano art and repertoire. His PhD is from Juilliard. He often plays little-known composers worthy of hearing, many of them Russian. He transcribes pieces for piano from guitar and quartets and symphony scores. He was Baryshnikov's accompanist for that great dancer's solo tour. He played the Chopin Concerto for two seasons in a performance at the American Ballet Theatre.  Here is the YouTube url for many of his performances in noted halls and just fooling around. His stuff has been viewed more than 250,000 times. You can find him on Facebook and see even more. I remember when he was 8 years old that he got up at 5 a.m. to practice and I shortly after him to work on "The 41st Sermon." It was a productive time for both of us. And, of late, he's become a hell of a chef.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Sharing Recent Great Reviews on Three Works

Nothing is more rewarding (well, higher sales volumes are nice, too) than getting a great review. And let me stress the reviews I am sharing are from people I don't know. I didn't pay for them. I didn't trade review for a review. This is honest stuff.

The most effective marketing tool in this whole epublishing business is word of mouth. My hope is that readers who like my work will tell other readers.

Let's get to the tape and start with SPILL , which is, well, woefully under-downloaded. It shouldn't be. It's a very funny read. These two readers thought so.

From Terry Needham:

SPILL. . . is much like a game of POOL, you rack the balls carefully, line up the cue ball carefully, them smack those balls by ramming the pool cue with furious intent— into the racked triangle of pool balls—to slam at least one ball into a pocket, any pocket . . . so you can continue shooting! Alas, the balls ricochet off each other, the cushions, and the result is always a series of unintended consequences, revealing that POOL, as in life, and this hilarious book—SPILL  . . is “racked” (pun intended) with unpredictable consequences.

The down and out protagonist imagines a clever fantasy wherein he enters a hopeless political primary to just shake things up a bit . . . setting in motion a series of unintended, but intriguing, enlightening, and revealing consequences . . . in a very humorous context, out of which “spills” an amazing array of characters (yes, pun intended again . . . sorry!). These colorful and genuine characters, as in the first break of those “racked” pool balls, begin crashing about the story—each pursuing their own intentions, while generating a wickedly funny and revealing series of unintended outcomes. This delicious story unfolds at a steady pace and the unpredictable characters are so real, as are their crazy intentions which yield amazing, yet, rarely intended outcomes—that it keeps the reader fully engaged while flipping those pages.

This great book would make a wonderful movie! I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun reading a book, or found myself longing for a second serving . . . sequel . . . if you please, Mr. Attwood?


And then this one from Verity Linden in the UK:

SPILL is genuinely funny. It's very easy to get lost in the political satire, to feel this is a tale for the politically aware and interested, but that's not the case. As a Brit, I am a citizen of the internet and quite generally aware, but US politics and the quirks of its system remain alien to me. Had Spill been a strict, raw autopsy of the American party system, I would have been bored pretty rapidly, due to lack of context.

This isn't the case. The characters here are rounded and complete, their motivations are very human and very relate-able. While I think you will find layers in this book others wouldn't if you're interested in US politics, Spill remains, at its core, a caper tale, a comedy of errors. I can't think of anyone I wouldn't think would enjoy it.


Crazy About You is my most popular novel. Receiving this review was particularly nice because Tania had low expectations since it is self-published.

I'm so glad this book was recommended to me. I have been reading indie books for years with so much disappointment, but this was amazing. The pace was great, the plot was awesome, and the characters were so very believable. I loved that Attwood really dug into the mind of Brad, and let me know everything he was thinking. It was everything I imagined the mind of a teenage boy to be at times, and some thoughts so profound it made me feel like he was in my head.

I love psychology, so all the references were great and spot on, yet only given enough that even the lay reader would find some good information yet not be badgered down by it.

All in all, one great suspenseful read. I would and will recommend. One I will keep on my e-reader indefinitely!

As an editor for the , it is our great pleasure to list this as a book that has survived our stringent rubric of grading. Finally, a wonderful self-published book by an author who will remain on my reading list.


And this one for a dystopia whose title describes it: Rabbletown: Life in These United Christian States of Holy America

I am from Kansas so the characters and locales were familiar and of particular interest. However, someone who hardly knows where the state is, beyond "out west," would also enjoy the biting satire and vivid depictions of what is a frightening glimpse into what might be our future, given the worst-case scenario. Even though it is a short book, the characters were extremely well-developed and the scene-setting was extraordinary. I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone who loves good books.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Blog Hop, This One for "Crazy About You"

I'm participating in another blog hop and decided the drawing would be for a physical copy of Crazy About You. To be eligible, just leave a comment with your email address. I'll do a blind drawing and email the winner to get their snail-mail address to send them the book.

Crazy fits into that rather new development of Young Adult novels, although it's not set in contemporary times. It's set in 1964 -- on the grounds of an insane asylum. My own father was a dentist at Larned (KS) State Hospital and the state provided housing on the grounds a few miles outside that small central Kansas town. Yep, I grew up on the grounds of a mental hospital. My first job was washing dishes in the cafeteria for its 1,500 patients.

I've used a lot of personal knowledge about that mental hospital to create seven days in Brad's life: a week that will grow him up faster than he ever would have wished.

Crazy has received the most reviews of any of my books and I keep hoping it might catch on fire a little more. That will take word of mouth. Hope this blog hop will help. Here are two of the latest reviews. And I stress that these reviews are from people I don't know from Adam. I haven't paid for them. I haven't traded for them. They are honest.

5.0 out of 5 stars One of the Best I've Read, December 27, 2012
By Brenda
Hard to put down and many insights I could relate to well.
I'd recommend it to others and read it again.

5.0 out of 5 stars Kept me in suspense, December 26, 2012
By Tania L. Ramos
I'm so glad this book was recommended to me. I have been reading indie books for years with so much disappointment, but this but was amazing. The pace was great, the plot was awesome, and the characters were so very believable. I loved that Atwood really dug into the mind of Brad, and let me know everything he was thinking. It was everything I imagined the mind of a teenage boy to be at times, and some thoughts so profound it made me feel like he was in my head.
I love psychology, so all the references were great and spot on, yet only given enough that even the lay reader would find some good information yet not be badgered down by it.
All in all, one great suspenseful read. I would and will recommend. One I will keep on my e-reader indefinitely! Finally, a wonderful self-published book by an author who will remain on my reading list.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Thinking of Joining a Diet Program? The Best One is the One You Can't Remember....

My New Year's resolution paid off. In a small way. Going through what I call my personal slush pile: that batch of unconnected jottings; those stories started, never ended; the novel ideas explored, but not fully, I came across a short story that really only needed final polishing: The Richard Dary Weight-Loss Institute. Published it for Kindle readers at 99 cents.  Get a load of this first review:

This book freaked me the hell out. There, I said it. I can’t tell you much about it without giving you spoilers, but the ideas that Randy expressed in this book scared the living daylights out of me. The sort of things that were done to the narrator of this story, Peggy, were inhuman. All in her attempts to fit in with modern societal standards of being thin...Anyway, read this new story by Randy Attwood and see if you don’t agree with me. It’s quite short, so it won’t take you long. I think you’ll like it.