With September melting into October normality is returning. To my life, that is, not to the world. That train, in the immortal words of Jason Stackhouse, has sailed.
Traditions, I believe, exist to keep us connected with our genetic background but also to keep us comfortable. Seasonal sniffles is one such tradition and it did a lot for my perceived return to normality this week, which Growing Up C. spent at home. Ever since she joined the education system, she’s gone through at least a couple of colds every autumn. It’s been an education in immune system maturation to watch the number of these colds decline with time.
This time, she had it good and long — an additional lesson in immune system health and how it is affected by spending a long time without regular contact with other pathogen spreaders. Luckily, we’ve developed a standard procedure, courtesy of her pediatrician, and the situation was quickly put under control. What remained was for me to worry How This Will Affect School Performance.
Here’s a parenting joke: when C. was a baby I was adamant I will not care about grades and stuff like that. What I had missed when making that pledge was that things change and force you to care about grades. In this case, our decision to move means a change of school and good schools like good grades hence my newfound source of worry.
I addressed it by making the kid do homework and before you gasp with horror, she just had a stuffy nose and the related cough, okay? It’s not like she was bed-ridden. Anyway, we utilised all the textbooks she had on her and she may well be a lesson ahead of the class when she returns next week. But that’s not the point.
The point is that a certain amount of undesirable activity every day teaches self-discipline. It’s been proven empirically and now it gets proven again. As for why self-discipline is a good thing that’s an easy one: it makes life easier if you can organise yourself. Basically, the seasonal snot this year turned into a teachable moment and we did the best we could with it. End of the profound part.
I’ve never been very good at spotting patterns in anything. Most of my life, I’ve been too busy devouring information to stop and analyse it. This has changed over the past few years thanks to my job and now I can discuss patterns in energy policy and idiocy for hours. Miraculously, it has now also happened in my writing.
I’m as familiar with basic plot patterns as the next voracious reader but this familiarity has for most of my life been passive. I didn’t think pattern detection affected me as a writer because of this familiarity — when you know something well because you’ve seen it thousands of times, it’s not too hard to recreate it. It’s the small things I wasn’t consciously aware of before but now I am.
I had an epiphany this morning around 6:30 am. As I lay snugly in bed because it’s Sunday and I could lay snugly in bed, I thought about the next chapter of my work in progress — I wondered idly what the main character was up to and what new problems the new day would bring her. Suddenly, the ending of the book flashed me its whole body, complete with the whys and the seeds of the next book in the series.
While I lay there processing the epiphany my brain decided to hop on the crime sub-plot to inform me that I could never have a plausible crime solution unless I left clues. It makes perfect sense, right? It’s the first thing crime writers probably learn: leave some clues. But I’m not a crime writer, or rather, I wasn’t. Crime has kept imposing on my work repeatedly and it has weakened my defences.
So I needed clues. By some spectacular coincidence, Brain was unusually cooperative today and immediate had a suggestion: lemon-orange Olips the killer sucks on regularly after he’s quit smoking and then folds the wrappers meticulously. Do I need to add that the main character will find a meticulously folded Olips wrapper near a crime scene? Yes, I got the idea from Dexter, whose showrunners probably got it from another series or a book because the story is always the same but the way we tell it differs.
While we’re on the subject of books, I won’t hesitate to share another review of The Dreamer:
When a book somehow makes you sympathize with its villain’s cause (or some aspects of said cause), you know that its author is up to something quite remarkable.
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Dreams are a peculiar phenomenon. They often bring to the surface wishes and desires that many would much prefer keeping folded in the darkest nooks of their mind because they are too bold or too twisted.
And yet, every once in a while we have a dream that we wish could become reality.
Not Thomas. He is terrified of the possibility of having a dream come true. Because his dreams do come true and they unleash havoc on the lives of unsuspecting loved ones, friends, and complete strangers. Thomas is his generation’s dreamer – that one person who carries the gift, or curse, of being able to alter reality and even create new worlds with his dreams. This unwanted power drags him into all sorts of trouble and danger, but also leads to an encounter that will make his life even more chaotic and a little bit better.
The Dreamer is another brilliant adventure by Irina Slav where supernatural forces collide, each striving to impose its order. This is a novel about good and evil and most importantly about what’s in between. It sweeps the reader up and down a roller coaster of frenzied action and into a flood of emotions to make the reading experience incredibly enjoyable.
And back to book-peddling corner, here are some links:
For a thriller wrapped in a dream made of smoke, death and destruction, with a filling of tragedy and atonement sprinkled with drama and served with a side of a relatable villain, press The Dreamer.
For random scary stories, here’s a complete list of my published shorter fiction.