Thursday, August 9, 2012

Things a writer learns at a hog farm

It is surprising how very little I know.  With every page written in my current manuscript, more research is necessary.  And it is a contemporary romance, so what is there not to know?  I mean, really, I didn’t get to be my age--with a daughter--without learning the mechanics of romance, right?  But every moment of one’s life is not necessarily involved with romance, in real life or within a novel.  It is those pesky little interludes of non-romance that are forcing me to research.  Now that I’ve learned about the “I’m a writer…” opening line, I’m getting better at snagging the little details I may, or may not, include in the book. 

Harley SuperLow Sportster
For instance, I walked into the local Harley Davidson store recently and cornered a salesman. “I’m a writer,” I said, and paused to let the enormity of those three stunning words sink into the consciousness of the salesman, whom I’ll call Chris, “and my character is 71 years old, rich, and he wants a Harley Davidson.  So, think of me as being that man.  I want to buy a Harley.  What will be your response?”

Chris, a young man in his thirties, with short brown hair and no noticeable tattoos, hesitated a moment before jumping into the land of “what if.”  “Do you have a motorcycle endorsement?”


“Do you ride motorcycles?”


“Then I suggest you take this motorcycle safety class.” He pointed to an advertisement on the counter for SW Motorcycle Safety.  “Once you pass that, you don’t have to take the driver’s test for the endorsement.  You just hand your ‘pass’ slip from the class over to the DMV.”

I folded my arms across my chest.  “I don’t want to do that.  I just want to buy the motorcycle.”

Chris lowered his voice, and cocked an eyebrow.  “How do you plan to get it home?  Did you have someone here to drive it?”

I jutted my chin.  “I can’t ride it home?”

He ignored the question.  “Would you like me to put it in my trailer and drive it to your house?”

I smiled.  “Yes, that would be very nice.  Thank you.”  I walked over to a row of smaller machines.  “Which one of these would you recommend, and money is no object.”

Now both eyebrows shot up.  “Money is no object?” he asked.

I narrowed my eyes.  “It is fiction.”

“Oh, that’s right.  Okay, well, how tall are you?”

“Does it matter?”  I figured if I could touch the ground while astride the bike, everything would be gravy.

“Yes.  You have to reach the pegs for your feet.”

“Oh,” I said.  I ran my gaze up and down the salesman.  “How tall are you?”

He shot me a grin.  “I’m 5’11” but I’d tell you six feet.”

I nodded.  I’d shave off twenty-five pounds if asked my weight if I were female, but right now I was a male.  “Yeah, okay, I’m six feet.  Really.”

“Okay, then.”  He patted the handle bar of one of the motorcycles.  “This one here…”  He squinted at me.  “Are you planning to ride this on the road, or off-road?”

How would I know what the character in my book planned?  I hadn’t written it yet.  But not wanting to limit the potential, I hauled in a breath and gave the salesman a smirk.  “Maybe I’ll want to do both.”

“Then get a Kawasaki.”

My mouth dropped open.  “I want a Harley,” I demanded.

“You don’t know how to ride, you don’t want to take the safety course, and you might ride off-road.  You need to get an entry level Kawasaki, or some small bike, about 250cc, and ride it for six months.  If you still want a Harley after that, come back.

I couldn’t believe how rude he was being to my character.  How would my character handle this?  “But I want a Harley, and I want it now, and I’ll pay cash.”

He placed his hands on his hips.  “Look, you lay a Kawasaki down and you can pick it up and keep going.  You lay one of these bikes down and it’ll be fifteen hundred to three thousand bucks to repair it.  These are not dirt bikes.  They are Harleys,” he said, as if this explained everything.  He pointed to a shiny chromed plate on the side.  “This right here is going to cost bucks if you lay it down.”

I thought about telling him I had the money to repair it, but then I realized it wasn’t about the money.  It was about the horror of someone being callus enough to allow a Hog to get injured.  “Look,” my character stood his ground, “I want to get a bike today.  I’ll worry about driving it later.  What one are you going to sell me?”

He sighed, and scrutinized me.  “Are you pretty buff?”

Dear Lord.  “Um…no.”  I could feel the heat wash over my face.  “I’m seventy-one, and have spent my life running a very large company.”

He snorted.  “Fine.  I’d recommend this little bike here.  It is about 500 pounds.  Probably be okay for you.”  He pointed to a Sportster. 
Harley Road King

A huge man, whose sleeveless t-shirt exposed multiple tattoos down both arms, shook his head and sent his long hair flying.  “Center of gravity is too high on that bike.  You want the Road King.”

Chris showed me the Road King, but it was 800 pounds and my character worried he might not be able to pick it up if he put it down.  I pointed to the sportster.  “Okay, I’ll take it.  What about helmets and jackets and stuff.”

He led me over to some helmets and expounded upon all the safety features.  I decided on a full, wrap-around helmet.  After all, my character is obnoxious, but not stupid.  Then he lead me over to the women’s’ jackets.  He pulled out a pink leather one.  “Now, this jacket is cute, but it shouldn’t be worn for riding.  There is no protection.”  He pulled out another jacket with some colorful leather trim.  “This one is still cute, but has protection--”

“Why are you showing me women’s jackets?”

He laughed.  “Oh yeah.  Forgot.”  We strolled over to the men’s section and I picked out a top-of-the-line jacket before he turned to the boots section.  “If you do end up going to the safety class, which I really recommend, then you can’t wear shoes like this.” He held up his foot sporting a gray running shoe.  “You have to have a boot that covers at least the ankle.”

“Hmmm, I don’t know.  I don’t want those big ones that go to the knee.  I wear expensive Italian leather loafers.”

“Follow me.  I’ll show you what I wear.”  I had to jog to keep up with his "six foot" frame as we rushed through the store, and down a hall past an “Employees only” sign.  He unlocked a door and we stepped inside an office.  He showed me his gear, all very nice, but my character wasn’t really interested in boots with a metal strip on the side for scraping on the pavement when leaning into a curve.  My character didn’t think he’d be going that fast.

Chris also showed me a few antique Harleys in the back of the store.  In all, I was there over an hour.  How much of the info he gave me will end up in my book?  I don’t know.  Maybe only a line or two, but at least I know something about the subject now.  They say you should write what you know, after all.

Editors note:  Melanie Sherman would like to thank Chris for his time and patience.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Willamette Writers Conference and being crafty

One on One Screenplay Consultations at Willamette Writers Conference
It is the Willamette Writers Conference again.  After spending the morning volunteering in the film agents consultation area, I was ready to attend some classes in the afternoon.  I chose a class taught by Lois Leveen called "Crafting Compelling Opening Lines."

She made us write an opening line for a book which included a nurse, and a homeless man in a hospital setting.  The opening line I came up with was so lame I wouldn't even want to read it to my critique group.

The scraggly man lurched into the scrub room, blood gushing from his arm, and grabbed the nurse's shoulder.

Lois then went on to give us several examples of opening lines from popular books and we dissected them to discover what made them good.  She said an opening line should contain some or all of the following:

  1. Sense of character
  2. Establishes relationships
  3. Sense of place
  4. Adventure
  5. Place
  6. Time/retrospection
  7. What has already happened
  8. What is about to occur

At the end of the class she had us write our opening line again.  Mine still doesn't accomplish all of the above, but I think it is a little stronger than the first example.

 A bloody hand, filthy fingers splayed, reached from the darkness of the empty ward and swiped the nurse's shoulder.

Lois Leveen

Please feel free to write your own opening line dealing with a homeless man, and nurse in a hospital setting in the comments section.

Lois Leveen is the author a Portland based author of The Secrets of Mary Bowser