Monday, March 23, 2009

Debra - Come on...cry like a baby!

Okay. I'll confess. I love those moments which have readers trying to read through tears. I love people who cry when accepting an award. That's good clean fun! I want experiences to mean something and a good honest cry just screams "meaning."

I do like a "good" cry more than the sad cry, but both are a signal we've touched the reader. The pot at the end of the rainbow for a writer is finding the scene that brings all the emotions together, the scene which can just play out before the eyes of the reader and is filled with subtext and meaning. So much meaning the reader is moved.

I remember being unable to read the end of FLOWERS FROM THE STORM by Laura Kinsale because I was so busy slinging snot and trying to see through a gallon of water in my eyes.

In an older book in the MOSSY CREEK series (Summer In Mossy Creek), I wrote what I thought was a very funny story about the Chief of Police acquiring an Australian Cattle Dog through no fault of his own. But the story snuck up on me, and funny became something more. My Police Chief, gorgeous Amos, resisted a stray dog and his horribly embarrassing antics for most of the story before giving in and accepting he wasn't alone anymore; that he had a dog now who shadowed his every step. He'd been dealing with the death of his father, the old Chief. (When you move back to town and step into the shoes of a father you don't understand and didn't respect, perspective is a cruel mistress.)

Amos had also been struggling with the fine line of jurisdiction, neglect and abuse of a young boy just outside town. As the story winds down, Amos breaks some of his own rules--calls in every favor he has--to pull the boy (not so legally) out of the bad situation by suggesting his father would do well to disappear and not claim his boy from foster care. Then on the porch of the wonderful childless couple (Amos' best friend from grade school) who have welcomed the boy with open arms on a moment's notice and no guarantee they really will get to keep him, Amos and the boy say goodnight.

Before Mac closed the door, he said, "Son, you just knock when you're ready to come in. We'll be here."

I nodded and waited for Clay to tell me whatever it was he'd been working up to all night. He kissed Dog on the head, then looked at me. "He didn't want me."

"Maybe he was just scared. He may be back."

"No." Clay's eyes were bone dry and his voice didn't so much as quiver. "I mean he didn't want me before. So I don't want him now."

I wasn't sure if I was supposed to argue or agree that it was okay to feel that way. This was Patty's job. Not mine. I didn't know what to do, especially since it was my fault his father was gone. Battle would have been proud of how I handled this one. I sure as hell nudged it the way I wanted it to play out.

"Hey," I said, "why don't we give it some time?"

He nodded, kissed Dog again and knocked on the door. Just before it opened he said, "I'll be okay."

Patty gathered him in. I don't think I've ever seen her look happier. Clay is definitely going to be one of her visionary pieces if everything works out like we've planned.

Dog followed me to the car, looking over his shoulder once or twice. As we reached the car, he balked and sat down.

Woof. [Do you need me?]

In that moment my heart sank, because I knew exactly what he meant. My dog was asking me to be a hero. "Do I need you? Like do I need you as much as a scared young boy who's just lost his father?" I took a couple of deep breaths. I sure as hell didn't want to cry on the phone to Patty. And then I dialed her number.

"Hey, I need a favor. I need you to take Dog."

"What? Why?"

"Clay needs him more than me." I cleared my throat. "Just open the door and let Clay's dog in."

She did.

I went home to my leather chair and discovered that you need a lot more than a leather chair to be happy.

You you'll understand why when my niece Shelby said she was flying in this weekend because she had to see Grandma (who you may know has had a scary didn't-think-she'd-live-or get-a-good-prognosis-surgery)... When my niece said she had to see for herself that Grandma really is getting better... Well, you'll know I couldn't resist calling my mother and saying, "You want to see Shelby cry like a baby?"

We'll be at the airport, in the terminal, with Mother standing under her own power to greet her granddaughter when she comes out of the gate area. Shelby is going to cry like a baby. This will be a moment. It's going to take a will of steel, but my mother has that. That's why she's still here. That's why she absolutely said, "Sign me up for the crybaby plan."

How about you? Do you have memorable scenes you've read, written, or


Kylie said...

First, Deb, let me say WHEW on your mom's outcome! Yay!

As for a 'good' cry, I'm not one of those people who find it cathartic to cry at a movie or over a book so when there are tears it means the author has battered down my stalwart defenses in spite of myself. And yeah, Nora does it almost every time.

My Oct. release, Terms of Surrender, was a surprisingly emotional book (for me) about a couple who had lost a child. Which still gives me a hitch in the chest. But I also know a reader who couldn't pick up the book, because she couldn't 'go' there, if you know what I mean.

Keri Ford said...

That's great that your mother is doing so well that she feels up to a visit to the airport.

I have a heroine that's a real hardass. She's was pretty T'd off at another character and wanted some excercise to release that tension. She's working along and everything in her past just rushes her. Next thing I know, she just topples down a big 'ol emotion hill and keeps on a rolling. Took me totally by surprise. It's the first scene I wrote that I knew in my gut was a great scene.

Michele Hauf said...

I cry at freakin' everything. Books, commercials, even the movie previews. I love when that happens! Except I don't like to break down into the ugly cry in a movie theater so I usually hold the tears till I get to the car.

I love it when a story makes me cry, or laugh outloud. It is rare, but what a treat.

And okay, there's been a few times I've been writing a scene, and tears will roll down my eyes. I did say I was a freak. But I figure if the scene touches me that much, I hope it touches others as well.

Anonymous said...

So glad your mom is doing better. No matter how old we get, they are still our moms.

I've got a story that involves a surgeon and a child that she loses on the OR table. Everyone who's read it said they cried. It was supposed to be an emotional scene, so I guess it worked.

I wanted to cry just from the scene you posted!

Anonymous said...

I sold my first "salable" book several years after I wrote it. During the publication process, I had to reread it to see exactly how things happened.
At the end of the book, the teacher who "kidnapped" a little girl to keep her out of the hands of a child molester, is called in front of the school board.
What brought my tears was the support and friendship shown by the people she didn't even realize were friends.
Gotta love a real friend.

Playground Monitor said...

dabs eyes with a tissue

I'm right there with Cyndi on your excerpt. I also noticed how many times you used "was" and decided to ignore the blog post I read last night about getting rid of all instances of the verb to be. Sometimes it simply cannot be replaced without sounding stilted.

Back on task here... Yay for your mom! I'm so glad she's doing better.

At our fall retreat last year, we had a plotting party and for the first time I jumped in with my book. I gave a brief overview and told about the epilogue. One of my chaptermates who is normally quite stoic was sniffling. So I figure I'd nailed it.

I remember sniffling through Linda Howard's CRY NO MORE. Ironic, huh?


Debra Dixon said...


Whew is right! She gave us a good scare.

Nora does you in? LOL! She's a pro at battering down defenses.

If you get a chance to swing back by the blog today, I'd be interested if polished the scenes of TERMS OF SURRENDER which made you emotional or if you left them raw for fear of removing some of the magic.

Debra Dixon said...

Keri-- Exactly! The emotion will sneak up on you as you write. You might know everything you're going to put a character through and have a very clear understanding of the emotional arc, but then when you write the scene and whoosh!

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- You can wait until the car to cry? My tear ducts are very impressed and want to talk to your tear ducts. 'Cause if I'm gonna cry, it'll be right there.

I remember crying through some scenes as they were written, but I agree that if I know what's going to happen and it still hits me as I write it...the scene is probably going to work for the reader too!

Helen Brenna said...

Oh, hell, I cry all the time.

Deb, glad to hear your mom's okay!

Debra Dixon said...

Cyndi- Ah...the time-honored guilt and pain of losing a child who trusts you to care for them. I buy right into that scenario. Guilt is universal.

If people read it and worked! No worries there!

In general I find that writers who work too hard for "drama" in the emotional scenes miss the mark and wander into melodrama territory. But it sounds like you did good!

Michele Hauf said...

Well, Deb, I wait for the ugly cry in the car. I sniffle in the theater, then when secure in my car, I let it all out. Unless the hubby is with me, then I have to suck it back until I get home.

Debra Dixon said...

Susan-- Yep. Yep. Unexpected support really gets me too. That realization that "I am not alone" is lovely.

When I see "shining" human beings who rise to the occasion, I love it. It usually gives me a lump in the throat.

PJ said...

I'm so glad your mom is doing better. I'm sitting here wiping away the tears after reading your blog and envisioning Shelby's arrival so I guess it's pretty obvious that I'm a certified, card-carrying crybaby. :)

My late husband's daughter and grandson lived on the west coast and we lived on the east so we had only seen our grandson once as his 2nd birthday approached. As a gift to hubby (his birthday was the following month) I arranged for daughter and grandson to fly out for a visit but told hubby we were going to the airport to pick up a friend and co-worker who was coming into town for business meetings. (She usually stayed with us when she came to town.) We were in the waiting area when passengers started to come off the plane. All of a sudden a pint-sized towhead wearing a shirt that said, "Happy Birthday Grandpa" burst through the crowd and threw himself into hubby's arms as he shouted, "Hi Grandpa! I'm your birthday present!" The other passengers applauded (apparently grandson had spent the 5 hour flight roaming the aisle and telling everyone on board that he was his grandpa's present) and my 6'2", macho, ex-military husband burst into tears. Yeah, not many dry eyes in that crowd. That was 23 years ago and I still tear up when I remember. :)

Debra Dixon said...

Marilyn-- LOL! It wasn't a big crying scene (g) but I thought it was fun to plop into the blog today to illustrate that I like those moments that catch us by surprise and ask more of us.

And I had to go reread the scene for "was." Whew. I'm okay with my "was quotient." (g) "To be" is a lovely verb and gets a bad rap because not every use is passive and not every passive use is bad. It all depends on the POV, the character, the story, the scene, the action.

But having said that, this was out of my computer and not out of the edited book. (g)

Debra Dixon said...

Oh, yeah. I forgot that Brenna cries when you say, "Hi!"

Debra Dixon said...

Michele-- LOL! How considerate of you not to subject the hubby to the ugly cry. ::snort:: That's funny.

Debra Dixon said...

PJ-- Brilliant! Fabulous! I love stories like that. It could only have been better if I'd been there to see the big lug have his cry! Love it.

Kylie said...

Hmmm-I don't know how much polishing I do, LOL! I'm usually a one time through writer than edit out repetitions or word choices before sending it in.

There was another scene in the book (like I said, unusual for me!) where the heroine is restraining her crack whore of a mother from using drugs again. They've been estranged for years and the emotion of that scene sort of grabs me by the throat each time.

I guess that's how I write emotion--a more grab you by the jugular type that dab an eye sort.

Playground Monitor said...

"To be" is a lovely verb and gets a bad rap because not every use is passive and not every passive use is bad. It all depends on the POV, the character, the story, the scene, the action.

May I quote you on that? ::grin:: I wrote an article last year called "Passive Voice for Dummies." It was in response to seeing every instance of the verb "to be" circled and marked passive when most times it's not.

And Kylie, I like "grab you by the jugular" moments too. I'm such a soft touch. I cry at Hallmark commercials.

Verification word = nawfing, as in "Whatcha doin'?" "Nawfing. Got somethin' in mind?"

Debra Dixon said...

Kyle-- Suck-in-your-breath emotion is very cool too. The best writers, the ones I love, engage me. Make me suck my breath in. Make me cry. Make me laugh.

There is no "try" in those special books. The authors do what they set out to do and that's involve the reader with characters will never forget because we've been on a real (not fake) emotional journey.

Debra Dixon said...

Marilyn-- Certainly, you can quote me. And if you don't mind, I'd love to send your article to our newsletter editor for possible inclusion in a future newsletter. We have a lot of newbies in our chapter and I think an article on passive voice would be great.

But I'm not the editor, so that's why I say "possible" inclusion. She may have a full year already. Not likely, but she might!

debra dixon AT aol DOT com

Kathleen Eagle said...

Deb, I can't think of any other scenes but yours right now. And I'm a big crybaby.

Debra Dixon said...

Kathy-- Cool! My scenes have taken over your memory? I'll take that as a compliment because I'm really good at taking stray comments and turning them into statements about me! (g)

But I know what you mean, when I've "just" finished reading something that's the scene in my mind for a while.

Re: Crybaby
Yep. You and Brenna are some of the more obvious softies I know. Deb Smith is a HUGE animal softie. It just breaks her heart for bad things to happen.

Betina Krahn said...

I used to cry at the drop of a hat. Don't seem to do it as much these days. . . except in church. The music gets to me big time. And those pictures of abused or abandoned animals on TV. Arghhhh!
I have to leave the room.

Little kids do it to me, too. And men who are struggling with their emotions, trying not to cry. . . like your guy, Deb. Oh, man. . . I wanted to hug him.

Debra Dixon said...

Betina-- Music can move you to tears? Do you write with music playing?

I can't watch anything where people or animals get hurt. I have to close my eyes.

Michele Hauf said...

Music, ohmygosh. Has anyone every listened to the Irish tune, The Parting Glass? That songs gets me every time. Tears like crazy.

Debra Dixon said...

The Parting Glass? No, I haven't heard that one. I'll have to head over to iTunes.

Kathleen Eagle said...

Okay, I'm all teary now over a new read. Baby sister posted on my Barbie blog. She came way late to the party, but her comment is a big moment for me.

Debra Dixon said...

Aw...Kathleen. now I have to go look!