Breaking News: Doward Wilson is the winner of Marla Cooper’s mystery! Doward, please message or email your snail mail address to edithmaxwellauthor at gmail dot com. Congratulations.
By Sherry and Barb Goffman who can’t keep up with what the heck the weather is up to in Northern Virginia!
Dynamic Duos are a part of fiction, not only in literary works but behind the scenes in the actual writing process. Today Barb Goffman and I are going to talk about the writing part of dynamic duos, and tomorrow on SleuthSayers we’re going to talk about some of our favorite fictional duos.
Sherry: The third book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mysteries, All Murders Final!, comes out on April 26th, and frankly folks, without Barb’s editorial eye, this book would have been a mess. Here are a few of the comments she wrote on the manuscript.
1. I’ve finished reading your manuscript for All Murders Final and I can say you have definitely created another great story. I love it! (Whew, this is a good way to start out because I was afraid Barb was going to tell me to dump it and start over!)
2. You need some physical action here.
3. You have several references that I think are too old, too far in the past for Sarah. If she is 39, then she was born in 1976. Her impressionable teen years would have been roughly 1989 to 1995. I have some suggestion for references that would be more appropriate for her age. (Barb went on to give specific references.)
4. We need more reaction. What’s she concluding about all this?
I appreciate that Barb always work in some positive comments along with the critical ones. And the consultation has gone both ways. We’ve brained stormed stories you’ve written, Barb. How does this help your process?
Barb: Sometimes I’ll have a story idea, but I’ll see a problem in the plot that I can’t figure out how to fix. Getting an outside perspective is wonderful at those times. I might be so focused on the path I had in mind for the story that I can’t see the small change that could lead me down another path, one without the problem, and then take me to the end I had in mind. A writing detour, so to speak. This is one of the reasons it’s beneficial to have people to help with the writing process, be they members of a critique group or just a good friend whose judgment you trust, like with the two of us.
I think you went through a similar experience while writing All Murders Final. Can you share?
Sherry: I’ve had a lot of trouble with the very end of All Murders Final, and we talked about it probably ad nauseam. I wrote and re-wrote it a number of times. At the time I wrote it I didn’t know if Kensington was going to extend my contract or not. So I had to come up with an ending that was satisfying if it was the last in the series but I also had to leave a door open in case it wasn’t. (I’m so happy it’s not—I’m now under contract to write books four and five in the series.) And as you well know, I’ve been questioning the ending for book four, A Good Day to Buy. We’ve done a lot of talking about it too! A Lot!
Dynamic Duos are great in real life, but they also exist in fiction. I’ve read a lot of your stories but not all of them. Do you use sidekicks? And if so why?
Barb: In my unpublished novel, Call Girl, my main character, Caren, has a best friend, Elaine, who essentially is her sidekick. Elaine serves as a sounding board and they get into shenanigans together. (Yes, Sherry, eventually the novel will be ready to go and I’ll send it out into the world, looking for a publisher. But not today. Ahh, this is another good use of a sidekick in real life; they nag you to work on your outstanding projects.)
Turning to my short stories, I haven’t used sidekicks a lot. Sidekicks often serve as a sounding board for characters—allowing a sleuth to think through problems. My characters often commit crime, so they don’t want to share their thoughts with anyone.
That said, I do have two stories with sidekicks. In “The Contest,” reporter Susan is competing to get the one full-time job opening at the newspaper where she’s interning this summer. The decision of who’ll be hired is based on which intern helps increase circulation the most. Susan’s roommate, Amanda, comes up with lots of interesting ideas to help her win, including knocking over a convenience store—as she points out, crime sells newspapers. In this case, Amanda wasn’t just a sounding board, but she provided humor to the story.
My second story with a sidekick is a bit unusual. My main character is Job (yes, the Job, from the Bible), and his sidekick is … God. Yes, God, who sends Job back to earth to investigate a murder. God already knows who did it, but he wants Job to find the murderer and help him/her admit the crime and repent. And because God likes making Job suffer, Job isn’t told in advance who the murderer is. Throughout the story, Job realizes that God is having fun with him, and Job sends several sarcastic thoughts back God’s way. So while there’s not a lot of back and forth between the characters via dialogue as you’d have with
a typical sidekick, Job talks to God in his mind throughout the story, allowing for humor. It may sound odd, but it works. In fact, the story won the 2013 Macavity Award for best short story of the year.
Both “The Contest” and “The Lord is my Shamus” can be found in my short-story collection, Don’t Get Mad, Get Even. But enough about me. Sherry, in your books, Sarah has two friends who serve as her partner but they both play very different roles. Can you talk a little about Stella and Carol?
Sherry: The Lord is my Shamus is one of my favorite short stories! I can’t believe you brought up Call Girl because I haven’t nagged you about it in a couple of weeks. I’m putting it back on my to-do list. As for Stella and Carol — let’s talk about them tomorrow.
Readers: Do you have someone who is your go to person when you need help? Is it different people for different things?