About Me

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May - 2016: Upcoming, I'll be participating in Desert Sleuth's Donald Maass Workshop. I'm afraid it sold out months ago, but if you have questions, contact me.

Apr - 2016: A 2nd Kami Short will release in the Malice Domestic anthology in Bethesda MD. I'll also be moderating a panel with authors Karen Pullen, Sue Cox, and Gretchen Archer. Don't miss the fun! I'll have special edition signed copies of the 1st Kami Short from the SinC - Desert Sleuth anthology to hand out for free.

Apr - 2016: An adult short story, Big Horn Mountain Carnivores, was selected as the adult category winner in the Tempe Community Writing Contest loosely associated with Arizona State University! The e- & print release where I read a portion of the story was the greatest fun. Thank you everyone who came by! Free download here (scroll to bottom): 

Aug - 2015: Politics of Chaos was released at an event attended by the awesome NYTimes best-selling author Sara Paretsky! Also, a flash fiction entitled, "Lightning" was 3rd runner up in the national 2015 Writers Police Academy's contest.

July - 2015: NYC FBI headquarters. Many thrilling authors were there, the presentations were fantastic, and the experience was a solid 15 on a 10 point scale. Thank you to the International Thriller Writers for inviting me. Thank you to the men and women of the FBI.

MAY - 2015: The Poisoned Pen submitted Chaos Theory for the 2015 Edgar's young adult novel award. Please note that submission is NOT a nomination. Still, it is an exciting development.

MAR - 2015:Tucson Festival of Books booksigning! Great time by all.

FEB - 2015: CHAOS THEORY, released by The Poisoned Pencil, an imprint of The Poisoned Pen Press - one of the nation's largest publishers of hard-back mysteries.

MAR - 2013: Meg was honored to receive a year long mentorship from author Jan Blazanin through the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators - Iowa. Ms. Blazanin praised Meg's multiple characters' distinct and age appropriate voices.

Her writing blog is located at megevonne.blogspot.com contains reviews and writing craft tools.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Seeking Depth, not Length

Dream piece

"Where is my classroom?" I ask.
He points down the hall. "Outside there's a little girl with a gun."

Of course your mind reads/hears this:

He points down the hall. "Outside there's a little girl...

           [obligatory comedy three beat Ba-Dump-Ba]

                                                                               ...with a gun.

Seeking the incongruity, puzzling out the pieces, taking a fine needle and teasing apart the whole to find the smallest parts, and giving the experience time to ferment--often writing and critical reading is like that.

Ten years ago, I began my serious writing education. It began with a safe internet anonymous experience with mediabistro.com. It evolved to a daring face-to-face summer weekend class at University of Iowa with Bret Anthony Johnston. (The second T that belongs in the first name is inserted into his last.) During the normal year, he teaches creative writing at Harvard. His Corpus Christi: Short Stories had been received with glowing reviews and awards. His second was a writing exploration entitled, Naming the World.

In prep for the class, he asked for a writing sample--Yeah, right. No way. I'd written my entire life and nobody but NOBODY was allowed to read my stuff [shit*]. Yet, there came a point where I knew that to improve my craft I needed to get out there. It was a huge step. Terrified I went; I added to my writer's tool box; and I learned how to proceed to make my stuff [shit] better.

Bret returns this summer ten years later. I'm taking his class again. If he asks, I may share my work [shit]. Maybe...

I digress. I'm writing about his recently released and long anticipated novel, Remember Me Like This. For starters, I was shocked. It was being sold as a psychological thriller--Yeah, right Amazon. Doesn't matter. I digress. It's about a family's story that begins where the stories usually end. It's about the tattered broken family (mother, father, younger brother, victim) when the young boy taken four years earlier by a pedophile is returned home. He's only been a few miles away--too often this is the case in real life.

In Bret Anthony Johnston's (remove T from first name and insert in last) Remember Me Like This is a storytelling triumph of an ultimate master finding the depths of character and plot. Reading his book is akin to taking an expensive tiny Swiss mechanical (forget the new stuff) watch. You pry off the back to see the working parts inside. The steam-punk gears and springs take your breath away. Yet, the masterpiece is working, barely. Something is wrong.

You begin by inspecting it. You lift it. You turn it. You angle it. You peer into the visible parts and gasp. All that in that tiny little watch. Someone invented that. Someone designed that. Someone made that. Bret's fictional family is like that. It looks intact; they crank out the time, but beneath the visible gears and springs, it's not right. The mother is an emotional wreck aiding a dolphin at a sanctuary. The father is having an affair. The younger son buries himself in his brother's passion--skateboarding and lives under overwhelming guilt for no reason. Then the older brother is found and returned to them in what appears to be fairly normal condition. The pedophile is arrested. Happy ending--Yeah, right. The pedophile is released because his mother is dying of cancer and returns to the same small community. ***SPOILER ALERT*** The pedophile is killed. In fact, Bret overshadows the entire work with an opening future scene of a washed up body and then returns to the earlier story. (See Bret, I did learn something about plot structure.)

In the work, Bret finds depth in each character's heart line, walking with pain hand and hand with each as s/he finds her/his way to some form of normalcy. He guides the reader to surgically remove the complicated master timepiece parts to reveal the gears beneath the gears to inspect what can not be seen. He invites the reader to inspect how they interlock and click to make a family. You find not one dysfunction but many. Most of the book you worry who the sea bloated body is. ***SPOILER ALERT*** Then he ultimately leaves you with the mystery of who killed the pedophile? (And, if you can believe it, it doesn't matter.) As a reader, you can't find all the answers on first read--or I couldn't. Instead, they creep into my consciousness at night.

For me, they came in:

"Where is my classroom?" I ask.

He points down the hall. "Outside there's a little girl...

              [obligatory comedy three beat of Ba-Dump-Ba]

                                                                                ...with a gun.

Where is the incongruity? Why is there a little girl outside the classroom? Why does she have a gun? (Gun in Act I, you'd better use it by Act III worries.) Why is it reported as if it were an every day event? It's my mind that added the Ba-Dump-Ba.

Back to the fine timepiece that now is in pieces on the work table under the fluorescent light. Where is the incongruity? It's been dangling there for a few days now and I'm still puzzling it out, tearing it apart with surgical care. To find my answers, I seek the incongruous.

What did Bret offer us to learn from this novel? Why the dolphin inclusion? Because it allowed the story of how a dolphin community will save a young or ill member but lifting them to the surface to breathe--sometimes for days. It takes the community working together. To survive others step forward. For me, this is the heart of Bret's tale. The father is buoyed by an affair; once he is healing the affair falls away. She always knew he would leave, but she was there lifting him in his misery. To the mother, the dolphin center in a larger city where she volunteers under anonymity offers her safe respite and the small community where she lives accepts her out of sanity moments when she breaks down in public. To the younger brother skateboarding and a new girlfriend offer him solace.

The victim who was terrified of snakes returns to his family with one he's befriended. Incongruity. He is identified by a woman who sold him mice to feed his snake. At a crucial returning to some sense of normality transition point for the victim, the snake is shedding her skin and is blind and vulnerable, ready to strike back.

Seek the incongruity within the intricate clockworks and attempt to put it back together again. In writing, you don't need to show them all, but know they are working properly out of sight. But remember the saying, "First rule of tinkering--save all the parts." Bret saves ALL the parts and leaves them carefully in place.

Still remaining on my worktable and not yet inserted? The dog. What's under that house? I'm eerily worried that I'm not going to like the answer to that. It will remain a mystery, maybe because I'm not ready to insert it because of the consequences. A book after all is now mine to do with what I want. Bret's job is done.

On the other hand, I read and dissect to learn. That dream with the little girl with the gun? Incongruity. Turns out my victim in book two is more than a victim in my story. If I hadn't pulled out the visible gears for those beneath? I wouldn't have known that.

Seek depth not length.

*This language is Chuck Wendig's fault.

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