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What's the Motive? Karen Musser Nortman

Karen Nortman book cover

Karen Musser Nortman is a recipient of the Amazing Grace Award for Outstanding Women Over 40. She's also a fellow indieBRAG medallion winner. The latest book in her Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mystery series is really out there, as she explains for the "What's the Motive?" series.

Karen Musser Nortman:

 Any time you have amateur sleuths as the main characters in mysteries, it is necessary to create a motive for those characters to become involved in the investigation. In police procedurals or any thriller or mystery where the main character is in law enforcement, it's his or her job to solve the crime. But ever since Nancy Drew and Jane Marple, the author of 'cozy mysteries' must come up with a credible motive for the amateur sleuth to investigate. It requires enough of a suspension of disbelief for the reader to accept that the same person gets involved in murders over and over. How many people have said, "I sure wouldn't want to be Jessica Fletcher's neighbor in Cabot Cove"? So there must be a motive for, in my books, Frannie Shoemaker being a busybody.

 Last March, we took a camping trip through Texas and New Mexico. After an overnight at Ft. Stockton in west Texas, we were headed north to Roswell on our way to Santa Fe. Traffic seemed sparse until we came over one of the few hills and saw a line of cars stretching up to a police road block. As we worked our way up to the front, it became obvious that they were searching vehicles—we assumed for drugs or contraband. However, the patrolman explained two felons had escaped while being transported from Santa Fe to Los Cruces, and they suspected they were either being helped or had stowed away in a vehicle.

 What does this have to do with motivation in my books? Our camper had been locked since we left Ft. Stockton, so the patrolman said it wasn't necessary to search it. But as we continued on, I thought about the four storage compartments accessible from the outside. Sometimes we forgot to lock one of those, and two of them were large enough to hold a person. 

 A new book in the Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries began to form in my head. After all, it was a long drive. The main characters are two couples who camp together and occasionally stumble over dead bodies. I tend to have titles before I have stories, and combining of the idea of a stowaway in a camper and the UFO culture around Roswell gave me the title: The Space Invader.

 Why would my little group be hanging out around Roswell? One of the four main characters, Mickey Ferraro, is the comedian of the crew—sort of a Don Rickles type—a retired English teacher, guitarist, cook—in other words, a man of many interests. It seemed fitting that he might also be a science fiction aficionado. 

 This gives the group a reason to plan on a couple of days in the area, and when a man is found dead near the campground wearing Larry Shoemaker's rain gear, the decision to linger is taken out of their hands. So now they have real motivation to help find the escapee. Other turns in the plot make it mandatory.

 In previous books in the series, Frannie Shoemaker is motivated to help solve crimes because of accusations against one of their group, danger to their grandchildren, discovering the body or the murder weapon, or isolation from any outside help. Larry Shoemaker is a retired small town cop, so this gives him a little credibility and influence with the local authorities. But readers are not generally willing to accept straight curiosity as a valid reason for interfering in a police investigation. Coming up with a motive for Frannie's interest has become one of the most important motives that I need to settle when working on a new book.

Review The Space Invader on Amazon.

Follow Karen Musser Nortman on Facebook

Karen Nortman

Karen Musser Nortman's Frannie Shoemaker Campground Mysteries includes seven titles. She has also written two light time travel books in The Time Travel Trailer Series. Several of her books have been named IndieBRAG Medallion honorees and placed in Chanticleer writing contests. Find out more at www.karenmussernortman.com.

 


What's the Motive? Ellen King Rice

51E3-I6JIeL

Debut author Ellen King Rice explores the mysterious world of mushrooms in this "What's the Motive?" post. A former wildlife biologist, Rice discusses epigenetics and the genesis of her character Edna Morton, who one day begins to sprout feathers.

Ellen King Rice:

Proteins. That was my motive. Thank goodness for you, dear reader, I wasn’t interested in high fiber at all (your inner life of fiber is, please, Dear God, your business). For years I’ve been curious: why don’t we see people breaking out in feathers? Feathers, after all, are made of the protein keratin. We produce one type of keratin in our fingernails and hair, so why, oh why, couldn’t a ‘mature' lady break out in angelic feathers instead of coarse chin hairs?

From my years as a biologist, I knew that all life is in a state of constant experimentation. We also know that there are ancient pictographs showing people with wings. Is it possible that there have already been people with feathers? Could that be the origin of our angel stories? 

As I mulled over the idea of modern bodies changing to produce a new protein, I realized I would need a trigger for this new pathway. Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider before changing into Spiderman. What could I use? 

One day I was making my tortuously slow ambulation out to the mailbox when I saw a flush of mushrooms peeking out from the undergrowth. Hmm. Could mushrooms trigger anything in a person? I went inside, mulling this idea. A few minutes of Internet searching and . . .  Holy Mother of God! Fungi are everywhere! (There are molds in the shower with you when you are naked and alone. Very creepy.) Not only are there millions of species of molds, yeasts, and mushrooms lurking everywhere, but some of the species absolutely have the ability to unspool dormant portions of human DNA. I had my trigger. 

I began writing The EvoAngel in 2011. It was a stop-and-go process because a very new science was unfolding daily in the news: epigenetics. All DNA for all species has the ability to respond to environmental changes--and the really gobsmacking amazing thing? Once a DNA section is activated or stored, that change can be passed down to subsequent generations. I was writing a gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest as a fun thing to do. The more I learned about epigenetics, the more I realized how important it is for everyone to understand this new science. 

Ever beat yourself up? Ever struggled to lose weight, be happy, quit drinking soda pop, or be less anxious? There can be a genetic aspect of each of these struggles--and, even more powerful to know, is that the responsible genetic switches can be jiggled from “on” to “off.” This is huge for mankind. It means that many things that have been regarded as “moral failings” are, instead, part of our cell structure. Furthermore, we don’t have to surrender to the situation. We can take charge and change--and we can do so in ways that will make our descendants healthier and stronger. 

Alas, some of the science is more than a little tedious (Go ahead. Try murmuring “DNA methylation at the Cytosine juncture” into the ears of your beloved and see if you garner anything more than snores.) If I was going to keep readers interest on the science of feathers, mushrooms and epigenetics I clearly needed...lots of sex. Oh, dear. Could I really manage that? Hmm. Villains could help. So might a large adorable dog. 

Buoyed by the reality that barnacles really do have an inflatable penis that is fifty times longer than the average barnacle body, I did my best to add in enough sex, villainy and puppy charm to keep the pages turning.

The end result is a story about an elderly mushroom hunter, Edna Morton, who has sprouted a feather. A trip to the local health clinic exposes her to an ambitious and aggressive physician who wants to take control of Edna and research this new biological oddity. The EvoAngel is a good gallop through the woods of the Pacific Northwest. It is part adventure, part science class, and totally fungi-friendly. My motive is to change the way you see your body and your world while making you laugh, gasp, and blink. All these things go well with a glass of wine and a slice of cheese, so prepare yourself and let’s begin...

Review The EvoAngel on Amazon.

Follow Ellen King Rice on Facebook.

Ellen King Rice photo

Ellen King Rice is a former wildlife biologist whose fieldwork was ended by a back injury. She has reinvented herself as a writer, artist, and chocolate tester. Besides Amazon, her book can be found in Olympia-area retailers Orca Books, Island Market, and Bay Mercantile. She hosts Mushroom Tuesdays on Facebook. See www.ellenkingrice.com for more.

 


What's the Motive? Chris Patchell

IntheDark

For this installment of "What's the Motive?" suspense author Chris Patchell argues that motivation isn't enough when it comes to developing a sympathetic but compelling character. She's developed a formula to illustrate her writing approach.

Chris Patchell:

People are fascinating puzzles to solve. Why do people do the things they do? What motivates them? A dash of this, and you have a local hero. A dash of that, and you have a serial killer. The darker side of human nature has always sparked my curiosity, and maybe that’s why I write suspense.

Understanding a person’s motivations is a huge part of figuring out who they are. Having spent the majority of my professional life managing teams, I was always amazed to find that some of my top performers were driven by fear—the fear of rejection, the fear of failure. Fear can be a healthy motivator—it can compel us to be more prepared and work harder toward our goals, but fear can also inhibit or prevent us from getting what we want in life.

As an author, I’ve never liked my heroes bright and shiny, so in my latest suspense novel, In the Dark, I created an unlikely hero in Marissa Rooney. A single mother of two teenage girls with three failed marriages behind her, Marissa has a checkered past filled with menial jobs that allowed her just enough money to scrape by. When her daughter goes missing, Marissa’s motivation is clear. As parents, we’re instinctively hard-wired to want to protect our kids.

In crafting Marissa, though, I dug deeper into her character to expose not just her motivations, but her past experiences, her fears, and how they factored into her behavior. Motivation on its own is not enough. Two people may want the same thing, but they may go about getting it in very different ways. Let’s say two people want a new car. It’s expensive, and neither of these folks have the money. One person works hard and saves enough for a down payment while another person steals the car. Why?

Motivation + Experiences = Expected Behavior

Past experiences are the secret sauce in defining behavior. Some people have been taught that through hard work they can achieve their goals. Some people are taught to find short cuts. Others quit because their past failures have taught them that they can’t win. Some people don’t try at all.

As many of us do, Marissa equates the events of her life with who she is. Her past failures have instilled her with a whole host of fears. She’s afraid that she’s not good enough, smart enough, that all of her relationships are doomed. But most of all, she’s afraid that she will lose the only two good things she has in her life. Her daughters.

These fears drive Marissa throughout the story and cause her to make some interesting, and in some cases, awful choices. But the need to find her daughter is so powerful, it imbues her with an iron-clad will and the ability to withstand an enormous amount of pain in overcoming hellish obstacles to get what she wants.

In the end, Marissa finds what many of us find in our own lives when we face difficult, sometimes crippling circumstances: that she is stronger than she ever believed. 

If motivation is the engine that drives your characters through the heart of your story, crafting a set of powerful formative experiences is the chassis that sets the reader up for a deliciously bumpy ride.

Review In the Dark on Amazon.

Follow Chris Patchell on Twitter and Facebook.

AdobeBio 
Chris Patchell is the bestselling author of In the Dark and the Indie Reader Discovery Award-winning novel Deadly Lies. A tech worker by day and a writer by night, she pens gritty suspense novels set in the Pacific Northwest.


What's the Motive? Nancy Slavin

Moorings

Today fiction author and poet Nancy Slavin talks about how she finds motive in words themselves, both their beauty and their pain. "The first step towards violence," she says, "often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts."

Just a quick warning: In order to illustrate this, she uses a few examples of hurtful words below.

Nancy Slavin:

The subject of today’s post is about motive--what motivates this individual writer to write a certain book. I feel the need to state and expound on the obvious: words motivate me. Sound, rhymes, sentences, metaphors, stories; all the magic that can ensue just because of twenty-six English letters. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a linguist. I’d learn more letters and languages. My favorite part of motherhood was when my child was learning to speak; my second favorite has been watching her learn to read. I’m still amazed that little dark marks on a white page can communicate whole ideas, conjure galaxies, and create the possibility of freedom and justice. 

My original writing training is in poetry; the fine tuning of words and sounds is deep in my heart. I happen to come from a family of mostly artists--a mother who paints, a photographer sister, and a father who is a graphic designer and a potter. I have a brother, too. He flies planes. For me, the artistic medium is words. So that’s the first motive, and I hope, if you’re a writer, that’s your first motive, too. Otherwise, perhaps, consider another medium, like paints or planes.

Because I love words, I am also fascinated by how poorly they get used and how often, especially in relationships (and really, all human interaction is in relationship, hello “friends” on Facebook). Poorly-used words was too often the experience in my childhood, as it is for lots of kids. The long-term witnessing of belittling, mean words, name-calling, and the silent treatment (the tense, tense absence of words), motivated me to work in the field of domestic and sexual violence. 

In my work for more than twenty years, I was a violence-prevention educator--I taught other people, mostly youth, but many adults too, how to use words to communicate feelings and needs in healthy rather than hurtful ways, words that created connection rather than division and wreckage. In my trainings, I facilitated a lot of exercises that asked people to consider their words--words that were cruel but often minimized as no big deal, and/or words that categorized another person into an “other” based on their gender, race, religion, class, sexual identification or orientation. I said some dreaded words out loud and wrote them on boards, and I discussed their origins: words like bitch, fag, nigger, and redneck. I did this work so students could learn the histories and weight of words they might casually say or hear or write on the back of a desk. Depending on if they were on the receiving or giving end, they might respond to those words with an upped ante of violence, towards another, or inwards at themselves. The first step towards violence often is words that make people, well, less than people: into objects, or animals, or body parts.

As a domestic violence worker, I heard all kinds of stories about abuse that left literal scars on people. But I tell you, many, many people also disclosed quite often how the words hurt the most--the words of being told they were no good, not worthy, deserved the abuse, that the abuse was their fault, and many versions on that theme. The words, they told me, were the hardest to shake. They kept hearing those words in their head, reverberating.

All of the above lays the foundation for the main question I explore in my creative work: how do we heal from violence? How do we stop hurtful words from reverberating in our minds? Ultimately, that question led me to create a character in my first novel, Moorings. She was a woman who’d escaped terrible domestic violence, but she’d become mean herself, even in safety. I was curious what continued healing might look like for her. And I also explore the question in my second novel, which is based on and written for many of the youth with whom I worked, who’d been told twelve ways to Sunday they were unlovable and unloved. How does a person stop hearing those words and start believing a new story about who he or she is? 

There are many novels that have explored domestic violence and the rewriting of your own story, or writing your way into a new one. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, Black and Blue by Anna Quindlan, and for youth dealing with family violence, Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison and The Prince of Tides by Pat Conroy all come to mind. Although it's poetry, Maya Angelou’s book Shaker, Why Don’t You Sing, and the poem “Caged Bird” that appears in that collection and stems from her important memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, was a formative poem for me. I’m also a fan of the play Trifles, by Susan Glaspell. And since I’m working on my YA novel, my next book up to read is Speak, by contemporary author, Laurie Halse Anderson, which confronts the reality of sexual assault. 

I am motivated in my personal life to be a healthier person. I have come a long way in some areas, and, in other ways, I still have a long way to go. I use words to tell myself some fascinating stuff sometimes. But listening to the words I say out loud, and then writing the words down to revise my own story, is my path toward health and healing. See? The letters “h-e-a-l” are the first four letters of “health.” How cool is that? 

For an important talk on the power of words in relationship to violence, I recommend Jackson Katz’s TED talk on domestic violence and words and language.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Check out which communities near you have planned to raise awareness through the National Coalition to End Domestic Violence.

Review on Goodreads and Amazon.

Follow Nancy Slavin on Twitter.

  Nancy Slavin

Nancy Slavin has been a longtime English literature and writing instructor for a community college as well as a violence-prevention educator. She’s authored a collection of poems, Oregon Pacific (2015), and a novel, Moorings, (2013). More of her work can be found in Rain MagazineBarrelhousehip mama, Literary Mama, and Oregon Humanities Magazine. Her website is www.nancyslavin.com

Looking for other "What's the Motive?" articles? Here you are.

 


What's the Motive? Corrina Wycoff

Damascus House

O Street

Welcome to the inauguration of "What's the Motive?" In this regular blog series, guest authors discuss the motive behind their latest books. Maybe that’s the motive for murder in the traditional mystery sense, but writers will share some aspect of motive in their novels without spoiling the plot. For example, rather than focusing on the killer, what is the protagonist’s motive? This could also be the author’s motive for writing the book. Why this book? Why now? Contributors are free to explore “motive” in all of its connotations. 

Here Corrina Wycoff shares the motive behind all of her main characters, the "unattainable desire to outrun public failure." In this age of daily public online communications, it's one I'm sure many readers feel keenly.

Corrina Wycoff:

In 1980, at nine years old, I auditioned for Annie. I lived on the East Coast, and going to a cattle call Broadway audition was practically as common a rite of passage as a first kiss. I wasn’t a particularly good singer, but I was a creditably good mimic. My Andrea McArdle impression was decent enough to get me a lot further in the audition process than it should have, far enough that every kid in my neighborhood knew about it, far enough that when I didn’t get cast after two call-backs, my failure became an ongoing subject of playground gossip and cafeteria scorn. Years later, after personal devastations much worse than the Annie experience, I still occasionally thought about this ruined chance, about the happier roads that might have arisen from earlier roads, if only.

I’ve never written about my unsuccessful childhood stab at professional theatre, but the important part of the story can’t be found in its literal details—the suffocating crowd of young girls waiting outside the Alvin Theatre on 52nd Street, admitted inside by the dozen to stand on the black, dusty stage and to sing a few bars of “Tomorrow”; the choreography I was shown twice and then expected, to my horrified astonishment, to repeat; the polished, young performers waiting backstage with me, wearing brand new, hot pink OshKosh B’Gosh overalls and comparing their agents, their private tap dance lessons in Manhattan, and their resumes. However, those details, once fictionalized beyond recognition, have repeatedly become the scabs overlying the singular stinging wound at the psychological core of all my main characters. My characters’ primary motivation—like mine, it seems—is always the unattainable desire to outrun public failure, a hopeless quest to transfigure it into something, anything, less painful.

My first book, O Street, describes a character’s twenty-year attempt to escape the humiliating aftermath of having been, in childhood, the victim of a well-publicized sexual assault. My newly published second book, Damascus House, follows six characters, members of a fundamentalist Christian church, each trying, in different ways, to restore dignity after suffering a small, public scandal. Currently, I’m working on a third manuscript, still untitled, that revolves around a woman who, with decreasing success, tries to rationalize her failings as they become increasingly apparent to everyone who knows her. Although we live, now, in a post post-Freudian world, the idea of a surveillant superego still captivates me as a source of narrative tension, as do the (very human) methods by which characters try to avoid the judgment and contempt of that surveillant Other.

Playwright Harold Hayes explained, “The essence of drama is that man cannot walk away from the consequences of his own deeds.” I repeat this advice to my creative writing students, to remind them to establish necessary elements of character motivation, tension, and conflict in their fiction. When I’m writing, I repeat this advice to myself, too, with the caveat that people also cannot walk away from the aftermath of their own humiliations, no matter how assiduously they try.

Review Damascus House.

Review O Street.

Follow Corrina Wycoff via Amazon.

  Corrina Wycoff

Corrina Wycoff’s fiction and essays have appeared in journals, magazines, and anthologies. She is the author of two books of fiction, a linked story collection, O Street (2008, OV Books) and a recently released novel, Damascus House (Spuyten Duyvil Press). A single-mom-turned-empty-nester, she lives in Washington State, where she teaches English and Writing at Pierce College.