Monday, October 10, 2011

Coincidence or Conflict: I had to Choose

Donnell Ann Bell is my guest today. Her debut mystery, The Past Came Hunting, has just been released in print and eBook. What a great premise!
If you’ve been writing as long as I have, chances are you’ve received your share of rejections.  There are myriad reasons a book is rejected:  Pacing’s off, too much backstory, failure to hone one’s craft, the story doesn’t resonate with the editor or agent, lack of conflict, the story feels contrived, it’s cloudy, the agent doesn’t care for her new haircut…
In my case, my book was rejected because the agent or editor couldn’t buy a coincidence.  Which for me was a little hard to accept because I’ve been the recipient of coincidence my entire life.
When I was in grade school my mother took my little sister, my friend and me to the movies.  Charlene and I coerced my mom into letting us watch the show from the balcony, and eventually Mom relented.  Excited, my schoolmate and I gathered our popcorn and soda, went up to the second floor like the big kids, and while tugging off my coat, I knocked my soda off the railing.  On the way home, my sister cried that some idiot above her had splattered her with a drink.  Oops.
In fourth grade I had my appendix removed.  A nurse entered my room and said that a boy around my age had been severely burnt in a fire and wondered if I might be willing to spend some time with him.  I agreed.  I dated that boy my sophomore year in high school.  At a dance I put my arms around him, and felt the scars through his shirt.  He explained he’d been in a fire as a boy.  When I asked how it happened, we were both amazed as we remembered our talks in the hospital.    
Last February when my husband and I went to Key West, my cousin and her significant other gave us a tour of the island.  After she took us back to our bungalow, she said, “You’re staying here?”  Worried we were staying in a disreputable place, I replied, “So far.  Why? What’s wrong?”  “Nothing,” she replied.  “It’s just that this is the same bungalow your mother stayed in with your brother when your dad shipped off to Okinawa 55 years earlier.”
My future daughter in law and I were born in the same hospital in Lubbock, Texas.  She lives in Fort Worth, I live in Colorado Springs.  An innocent conversation about where we were born confirmed we were both born at St. Mary’s Hospital.  I ask you:  What are the odds?
As you can see, I’m no stranger to coincidence, which brings me to the subject of this blog.  During my stint at the Citizen’s Academy, I asked some deputies what’s the worst thing that could happen during the course of their career?  Without hesitation, one deputy replied, if an ex-con moved next door to me. 
I’d been plotting THE PAST CAME HUNTING for some time by then, and that comment provided the ideal solution for me.  I needed a conflict for my protagonists, one an ex-con, the other a police lieutenant.  I heaped on additional conflict by adding their teenage boys to the scenario and making them inseparable.  Contrived?  Maybe.  But I think I made it work.  Further, if I would have moved Melanie down the street or into a different neighborhood, I would have lessened the conflict and it wouldn’t have been the same story.
I simply had to choose--conflict or coincidence.  For me, it made sense to pick the latter.
Now, I have a question for you.  What’s the biggest coincidence that has happened to you?  Have you put one in your stories, or do you avoid coincidence at all cost?  I’m giving away THE PAST CAME HUNTING to one commenter today on Ellis’s blog who lets me know I’m not alone or that I should have moved Melanie to say…Tahiti. ;)
Donnell Ann Bell is a two-time Golden Heart Finalist and a debut novelist for Bell Bridge Books.  To learn more about Bell Bridge Books visit http://www.bellebooks.com/ or to learn more about Donnell, check out her website at http://www.donnellannbell.com/

36 comments:

Polly said...

Great post, Donnell. Yes, I believe in coincidence. Case in point: years ago, I lived in a huge apt. complex in Atlanta. I lost a ring a woman gave me when I lived in Italy. She was a special lady, and I was heartbroken. A YEAR passed. My girlfriend's brother-in-law's son was visiting from Oklahoma. They lived in the married section; I lived in the single section. The boy found my ring. My girlfriend saw it in a drawer and asked where he got it, and he said he found it. Of course she recognized it. When she showed me the ring, I could have cried. I still have it. Still wear it. Do you think that qualifies as coincidence? I do. I'm looking forward to receiving your book. It's in transit. Much luck to you and great sales.

Donnell said...

Polly, not only do I think that's a coincidence, I think it's amazing. How great that you still wear it to this day. Let me know when you get TPCH. I hope you enjoy it! Sorry it's taking so long!

Cindy Carroll said...

Let's see. When I went to university I decided to major in economics (don't ask me why). I needed a particular math class for that major. A guy in my math class was taking it because he was in the sports medicine major and was told he needed that class. I switched to English (not needing the course anymore) and he was told a few years later he didn't need the course either. We dated for two years.

I joined a writing group a few years ago and the owner told me of a dating site I'd never heard of. I joined the site and met my current boyfriend. Shortly after that the owner of the writing group closed the group and moved to a different city.

Donnell said...

It's either a small world or a coincidence Cindy. Thanks for stopping by. So do you put coincidences in your story or avoid them at all costs :)

Cindy Carroll said...

I try not to put them in my stories but sometimes they just work.

Ellis Vidler said...

Coincidence is part of life, in my opinion. You've had a lot of them. I think it's okay to open or set up a story with it, but using it to solve the crime or problem is cheating. That part should be done by the ingenuity and effort of the main character or characters.
I love the premise of your story, Donnell, and can't wait to read it.

E. B. Davis said...

I read your entire book and never thought once of coincidence--until reading this post. Maybe when you come from a smaller town coincidence happens more frequently to those in larger cities--the propability doesn't change--but the probable outcomes decreases. Didn't seem improbable or too coincidental to me at all. Strange coincidences happen all the time, and to think you were rejected by something one reader didn't even notice. Great post, Donnell!

Ellis Vidler said...

In case I wasn't clear, I meant Donnell had a lot of coincidences in her life. I haven't had a chance to read her book yet. But soon!

Donnell said...

E.B., Amazing you didn't notice LOL. I fretted enormously over that set up. But the more I wrote, it, too, seemed irrelevant. It was fiction and instrumental to the story.


Ellis, I have one more important coincidence that happened at RWA National, but I'll share that later in the day. Late for a morning meeting ;) Be back soon. Thanks for hosting me on your lovely blog!

Annemarie Nikolaus said...

Perhaps it would be necessary to define, what coincidence means in a plot? Imho it's not the same as in life. - In a story, following good old Aristoteles, coincidence means something is happening to move the story forward without a given reason. A witness killed by coincidence, that is a lazy author's idea.

Tina LaVon said...

I don't believe in coincdences. Things are meant to be or we attract them.But in stories we do need to make sur they aren't looking contrived and I am sure you did a great job

Susan M. Boyer said...

Donnell, I think life is full of coincidence. I can't think of specific examples just now--I'm behind on my morning coffee intake. But I know I've experienced many. Great blog! Congratulations on the first of many wonderful novels!

Norma Huss said...

I can't think of any coincidences in my life, but then, it wouldn't occur to me that and ex-con moving next door to a policeman was a coincidence - so maybe I have such events in my life - just unrecognized!

Okay, I do have a coincidence - just remembered. My grandmother was born on September 5, my mother was born on October 5, and I was born on November 5. I kept looking for a December 5 baby myself, but out of 5 kids, none were born in December. One daughter married a man who was born on December 5, but they are now divorced.

Your mystery sounds great to me, coincidence or not!

Donnell said...

Thanks everyone for your reassurance to my coincidence. Annemarie, interesting observation.



Ah, Tina, Yes, I like your take on the coincidence in my story. I like to think it was the universe meting justice ;) showing Lt. Joe Crandall that Melanie wasn't all bad. Thanks for commenting

Donnell said...

Susan: First I want you to have your coffee, and your book should be there, I hope today. I've been doing a ton of blogs and Susan's been an amazing friend and cheerleader. She also won TPCH. So I'm going to let her reserve judgment on the coincidence and she can tell me later :) Thanks for being here!

Donnell said...

Ah thanks, Norma. If I was a mystical kind of gal, I'd be looking to see what fives mean in your life

I just have to share another HUGE coincidence, that I forgot about. Kind of sad and ironic. My dad past away on the exact same day his dad did. Now is that a coincidence or what?

Norma, if you get a chance to read The Past Came Hunting, I hope you enjoy it. Thanks for stopping by!

Peg Brantley said...

I read a book ages ago that put forth the idea there is no such thing as coincidence, at least in the way we interpret the word: "without apparent causal connection". That in fact there is causal connection on a much higher plane than we recognize easily.

I'm trying to remember the name of that book (so far without success), but I do know our lives are a lot more interesting because "whatever it is" exists.

Thanks, Donnell and Ellis.

Donnell said...

Peg, how cool that you commented and now I know what you look like! Yes, I agree with the philosophy that everything happens for a reason. After I became invested in The Past Came Hunting, it just seemed so natural. Thanks for stopping by today!

Mary Marvella said...

Donnell, I believe things that might seem like coincidences might happen because the fates want them to happen. Two folks are led to the same place at the same time, not just by authors who need for them to be there.

Theresa said...

Wonderful blog, Donnell! I can't think of any coincidences in my life off the top of my head, but I know several husbands who married wives born on their birthdays. To me that's a crazy coincidence that they even met each other, yet loved each other!
In my experience real life is FAR stranger than anything I could make up.
But I know the frustration of the publishing world and coincidences. Your's worked for me! Great story. PLUS, the reader knows the coincidence up front and if it's a problem for her . . . don't read your book!

Pepper Phillips said...

I already have your book so don't put me in the drawing.

Coincidence...we live in a small town in Louisiana, a Vietnam buddy of my hubby's moved to Montana. Next door lived the sister of my son's secretary, so when the buddy mentioned he had a friend in Louisiana, she knew exactly who it was.

My aunt worked in an assisted living facility in Washington State, family was visiting a resident and she overheard our town's name. She went over and asked if they knew us, and sure enough, he was our family doctor.

LOL

Donnell said...

Mary, I love this. What a coincidence :) Thank you.


Theresa, I totally agree. The stuff that happens in real life is something a writer may just be rejected for because it's just unbelievable :) I wrote a blog about that one. You can't make this stuff up ;) Thanks!


Pepper, thanks so much! Yay, I hope you enjoy The Past Came Hunting, and you totally get the coincidence angle. It happens more often than you think. Beth Groundwater told me during one of her European travels, she ran into someone from Colorado Springs. Put that in a story where two people from the same city meet in Europe and fall in love, and eyebrows will raise! Thanks for stopping by!

VR Barkowski said...

I hadn't seen my my college roommate in more than 30 years. During a football game, she heard my small California hometown mentioned on TV and on a whim looked me up on Facebook. Not only did she find me, but she was astounded to learn that I, too, lived in the Atlanta area - we're both from California. That was coincidence enough, but once we started chatting, we discovered we live only a few blocks from each other in the same tiny Atlanta suburb. What are the chances?

IMO, the coincidence in The Past Came Hunting is totally plausible. And you know how I am, Donnell, if I'd thought otherwise, I'd have said something. :)

Barbara White Daille said...

Donnell - you've had a lot of great coincidences in your life!

I agree with Ellis about not using coincidence to resolve a story problem.

And like Polly, my biggest coincidence story involves a ring--my husband's wedding ring. He lost it one day, no idea where, naturally, and though we searched the house, we knew it was gone for good.

Flash forward a year or more, and we had decided to give up and buy him a new ring once we came home from our vacation.

We were staying at a friend's house. The morning we were leaving to go home, my husband called me back into the guest bedroom--and there on the bed was his ring.

It had fallen out of the fanny pack that *we used on a regular basis*!

Seems it had worked itself up into a crevice where the bag narrowed near the strap and just stayed there for all those months.

Barbara

Ellis Vidler said...

I don't know if it was coincidence, fate, or mule train, but your book came today. :-) I can't wait to read it.

Donnell said...

Viva, wow, that's a huge coincidence, and I love that you've reconnected with your college roommate -- what were the odds. And, thank you for restoring my faith that my coincidence is plausible. I know you would have let me know, and I have so much respect for you, I would have listened! Thanks for sharing and stopping by!

Donnell said...

Barbara, another great story. That belongs in a Harlequin American, don't you think? Thanks so much for sharing that story. I lost the diamond out of my first wedding ring and never found it. Maybe I should look in a fanny back. Thanks for being here today!

Donnell said...

Wooohooo, Ellis, it's here, it's here! Definitely the mule train! Thank you so much for having me as your guest today.

Readers, I just have to say, I refer to Ellis's blog often. Her knowledge of grammar is incredible. And if you ask her here, she'll share it. I know, I've done so.

Thank you and good night!

Barbara White Daille said...

Donnell - so sorry to hear about the diamond from your ring! You must have been devastated.

(That reminds me of a "diamond" story of my own. But mine had a happy ending.)

And yes, I do plan to use my ring story somewhere, some time. Nothing's ever wasted on a writer. ;)

Barbara

Barbara White Daille said...

Ooh! Thanks for telling us about Ellis's expertise. (Ellis, watch out! LOL) Some of those grammar rules keep escaping me.

Barbara

Bren Fousek Bowman said...

Great post! Can't wait to read this book.

Donnell said...

Thank you, Bren! Thanks for commenting!

Ellis Vidler said...

I read the first two chapters last night and I'm hooked! Can't wait to get back to it tonight!

Warren Bull said...

I met my wife on what we now call, "a bind date vacation." She, my sister and a third friend worked together. When two of them left to work elsewhere they decided to get together at a place in Maine. My sister invited me to tag along even though I had not met either of her co-workers before. I liked her friend, Judy who was funny, considerate and a good sport. We did not expect anything to come of it since I lived in CA and she lived in MO but we kept in touch, love fell on us and we eventually got married

Donnell said...

Cool story, Warren! I love those kinds of stories and coincidences!

Ellis! I'm so pleased! Yikes, this is exciting, scary for me.

Thank you for having me on your wonderful blog! I'll contact you so we can choose a winner!

Ellis Vidler said...

Donnell, thanks for coming! I'm enjoying all the comments and coincidences. I'm also enjoying your book--it's terrific!