Wednesday, January 23, 2008

MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon

Dana Fredsti (pictured here with her best friend and partner in crime, Maureen Anderson) is the author of MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon. Dana shares with us some insights into using your real life in one of your books.

Dana says, "Write about what you know. It’s almost a cliché when it comes to writing advice. Don’t try to write about running off to join the circus if the closest you’ve ever been to one is seeing Cirque de Soleil on Pay-Per-View. It’s good, sound advice unless you’re one of those writers who does enough hard research and has the talent to realistically recreate all the necessary details of a place/time/situation he/she has never experienced. Or if you’re writing fantasy and have the imagination to create an entire world out of whole cloth. Barbara Hambly comes to mind as an example of a writer who can do both as demonstrated by her Benjamin January mysteries set in 1800’s New Orleans and seven equally engaging fantasy series, not to mention a slew of stand-alone novels.

You’ll also hear truth is stranger than fiction. You know, the type of stuff that shows up in News of the Weird or the Darwin Awards. Or things that piss a person off, like, “Woman is awarded great flipping wodges of cash for spilling hot coffee on herself while driving.” Incidents that really happen, but if you try putting them in a screenplay or novel, the inevitable reaction is, “Well, that would never happen!”

If you’ve read my bio either on my website or at Elysabeth’s Emerald City you’ll know the inspiration for MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon (henceforth referred to as MFH) was my experiences as co-writer/director/producer and actor in an actual theater group called, coincidentally, Murder for Hire, founded by myself and my best friend Maureen Anderson. Maureen was also my co-author on the first draft of MFH. We used our actors and clients as templates for the bulk of the other characters, creating a couple from scratch to fill in the gaps where needed. We wrote that draft in about a month, alternating chapters and POVs between “Connie” and “Daphne,” thinly disguised versions of the two of us.

It’s easy to write quickly when a: you pull incidents out of real life and b: you’re at the age and mentality where you believe everything that comes out of your pen (did I mention the first draft was written long-hand?) is pure gold. It’s not, however, necessarily conducive to a realistic story when the authors are so enamored with using quirks, incidents and you-had-to-be-there moments they won’t consider changing them or taking them out if they don’t serve the plotline and characters. Some of them DID work, mind you. Those that did made it into the 2nd through 6th and final draft. Those that didn’t (a reference to donuts making Daphne’s butt ache, for instance) were excised for the good of the book and of humanity. It only took five years or so for me to acquire the necessary objectivity to do so.

Another issue when writing the first draft was our inability to separate ourselves from the lead characters. I WAS Connie and Maureen WAS Daphne. When I say “thinly disguised” versions of ourselves, I’m talking rice paper thin. Rice paper that’s been gone over with a steamroller a few times. No separation of church and state here, folks! I have vivid memories of writing sessions where the conversation went much like this:

Me: “Dude, Connie would never say that. And she wouldn’t wear pink.”

Maureen: “Well, dude, Daphne would never wear jeans. I’m sorry. She just wouldn’t. And I don’t mean, Daphne doesn’t use margarine!”

Me: “Well, CONNIE wouldn’t let some actor get away with…”

And many more variations on those themes.

In our desire to use every actor we’d ever worked with on every show, the first draft had way too many characters. The reader would need a flow chart to keep track of them so in subsequent rewrites I took out some and combined others. Grant, originally Daphne’s boyfriend, now became Connie’s to add more tension and to clear the field for other things I wanted to add. Based on feedback from encouraging rejection letters I added red herrings and more active sleuthing. The percentage of fiction slowly overtook that of fact.

But the hardest thing I encountered when I went solo on MFH and rewrote the whole thing from my, I mean, CONNIE’S point of view, was taking a huge step back from all the characters based on real people (especially Connie) and figuring out what real life quirks worked for each one and discarding those that didn’t. Once I’d gotten the point where I could say Connie is a character. Connie is loosely based on me. She can do and say stupid things and I won’t feel bad the next day. Bad things can happen to her and it’s not me and really MEAN it, I was able to write a much more effective and (so I’ve been told) scary and disturbing climax. Although some of it still makes my mom cringe.

Bottom line, if you’re writing a book and want to base characters on people in your life (ESPECIALLY yourself), unless you’re writing an autobiography, get over yourself and get on with the story!"

* * * * * * * * * *
I hope you all enjoyed the glimpse Dana has given us into the life of a book. When you read MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon, Dana's comments will have even more meaning (and will make you laugh even more.)

Buy MURDER FOR HIRE: The Peruvian Pigeon

Here is Dana’s WEBSITE.

Go to each of the tour stops and leave a comment within three days of Dana’s posts and increase your chances at winning a free copy of Murder for Hire. Dana is giving away three copies of her book to people who comment. The winners are randomly chosen from all of the people who leave comments.

This is the tour schedule.

Sun, Jan 20th - Elysabeth’s Emerald City

Mon, Jan 21st - Blog Book Tours

Tue, Jan 22nd - Kat’s Random Thoughts

Wed, Jan 23rd - The Chrysalis Stage

Thu, Jan 24th - Blaize Clement

Fri, Jan 25th - Pointless Drivel

Sat, Jan 26th - Redzilla Attacks!


  1. Hi Nessa,

    This blog is always so vibrant.

    The first draft was written in longhand? THAT is a big effort.

    Keep smiling


  2. David: "Vibrant" is such a wonderful word. Thanks.

    Yes, Dana said they wrote the first draft long hand. Can you imagine? Makes me think of Jane Austin.

  3. Oh, I so want to have time to read a book...

  4. Swampy: Duct tape the pacifiers in the mouths and velcro the children to their chairs. See, simple; D

    KMF: Thanks.

  5. Nessa, first of all thank you for such a wonderful presentation of my post! And David is right - you DO have a vibrant blog!

    Longhand... Yup. I wrote my chapters while curled up on a little twin bed in a converted garage room on a yellow legal sized pad. I can't even imagine doing that these days... although I do still like to take notes longhand when I remember to carry a notebook!

    Swampy, there is iron in Nessa's advice! If you win the free copy, give it a try!

    KMF, thanks for stopping by!

  6. That was enjoyable. Always wondered about the process that produced a book and this is a glimpse.

  7. Cool. I couldn't tell you how many times I've gone swimming in the ocean and had someone knock me in the head as I came out and stick my face in the sand! Happens all the time!
    Oh, just kidding, of course.

  8. Dr. John, it's at least a glimpse into how it worked for me. Which isn't to say it's anyway near the normal process for other writers!

    TOm & Icy, who have you been pissing off? :-)

    Nessa...ahem. I want a tarot reading!

  9. Dr. John: I enjoy getting a glimpse in the life of a writer, too.

    Tom: Are you a character in a murder mystery or are you just a character? ; D

    Dana: You got it, baby.

  10. I'm sure every author has their own way of deciding how and what to write and, of course, they should do whatever for works best for them. With the internet, research is so much easier and has helped so many writers! All that matters to me is that I enjoy the book and this one sounds good!

  11. That's some great advice, Dana. Having repeatedly tried to cobble together a mystery novel of my own experiences, I can testify to the fact that it's alot harder than it looks. I must say, in MFH you pull that feat off beautifully!

  12. Great job Nessa!
    Dana - I'm still shaking my head over a long hand version of anything...that's dedication. Don't put my name in the drawing, I already have your book!

  13. Thanks for hosting this, Nessa! What a terrific idea. Dana, I love these noir-y pictures of you from Murder for Hire: the real acting troupe. Do donuts really make Daphne's butt ache? I thought it was a great line. Maybe for the next MFH book???

  14. Carol: And The Peruvian Pigeon is loads of fun. You'll enjoy it.

    Zoggirl: I agree on both counts.

    Kat: It is mind boggling.

    Kilt: Dana should find a way to use the donut line. It would make for a very funny scene.

  15. I'm glad to be part of the tour as well and Nessa, I want a tarot reading too - lol see I read instructions but looking from your post above, there are 16 comments on the Tarot Tuesday thing and so it looks like some folks didn't read the respond to Dana's info to say they want a reading - lol - oh well - just goes to show - anyway - thanks for being part of the tour as well - E :)

  16. It's helpful for a first time "novice novelist" to hear how many rewrites , for example, it can take to get an acceptable submission.
    Thanks Dana,

  17. heeee!!! I can't believe you guys want the donut line in the next book. See, WE thought it was hiLARious...but other people we told looked at us like we were nuts. Just goes to show there's an audience for anything. Even butt aching donut lines.

    I'm really glad reading about my experiences is helpful, Remiman. I really am of the 'never say die, never surrender' point of view.

    Carol, you're in the drawing several times now and Kat, I won't put your name in the drawing! And the thought writing anything longhand now is...well, past boggling.

    Kilt, try eating four donuts and see how YOUR butt feels afterwards!

    Zoggirl, thank you for your compliments!

    Elysabeth, you obviously know how to read and follow directions! :-)

  18. Elysabeth: You do follow directions. I see a Traot reading in your future.

  19. Remiman: Now we don't have to feel so forlorn.

  20. I once played host to an author on his blog tour, and I found it a really excellent experience.

    It seems this tour is proving just as successful for you too. A fascinating post.

    Good work all round! HUZZAH!

  21. Your Lordship: Thanks for taking the time out of your latest adventure to stop here. You always raise the tone of the situation.