Further Reflections on the Mirror Moment

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

I enjoy getting emails and tweets from writers regarding the “mirror moment,” which is the subject of my book, Write Your Novel From the Middle. Recently I received two that I thought would make good fodder for a post (we at TKZ are always looking for good fodder).

The first email was a great question from someone who asked about the mirror moment in a long series. She used Sue Grafton’s alphabet series as an example. Should each book have a mirror moment? How can a series character go through so many changes?

I wrote back reminding her that there are two kinds of mirror moments. The first kind is about identity. It asks questions like, “Who am I? Why am I this way? What must I become?” It’s Rick in Casablanca.

The second kind is about death. It is the realization, “I’m probably going to die. The opposition is too great. How can I possibly survive?” That’s Dr. Richard Kimble in The Fugitive.

So I suggested that in any Kinsey Millhone mystery (and in mystery series in general), there could always be a realization in the middle that this case, this puzzle, this villain is the most perplexing or dangerous of their career. It looks like they could “die” (professionally) this time.

But that is not to say the character in any given book in a series cannot have a personal crisis of identity, too. Exhibit A would be the Harry Bosch books by Michael Connelly.

C is for confession: I have not read all of the alphabet books by Sue Grafton. I think I may have stopped around F. But the question intrigued me, so I went to the library and picked one of the later books at random—Q is For Quarry. I sat down and, as is my practice when mirror hunting, turned to the physical center of the book and just started looking around. Was there anything relating to identity? Or anything indicating this was the biggest challenge of her career?

Lo and behold, I found that it was about identity. Kinsey, who lost both her parents in a car accident when she was very young, has had a hole in her identity ever since. In this scene from the middle of the book, she is looking at a photograph of her mother. You don’t even have to know the details of the plot to know that this is the language of an identity-type of mirror moment:

I placed the frame on my desk, sitting back in my swivel chair with my feet propped up. Several things occurred to me that I hadn’t thought of before. I was now twice my mother’s age the day the photograph was taken. Within four months of that date, my parents would be married, and by the time she was my age, she’d have a daughter three years old. By then my parents would have had only another two years to live. It occurred to me that if my mother had survived, she’d be seventy. I tried to imagine what it would be like to have a mother in my life—the phone calls, the visits and shopping trips, holiday rituals so alien to me. I’d been resistant to the Kinseys, feeling not only adamant but hostile to the idea of continued contact. Now I wondered why the offer of simple comfort felt like such a threat. Wasn’t it possible that I could establish a connection with my mother through her two surviving sisters? Surely, Maura and Susanna shared many of her traits—gestures and phrases, values and attitudes ingrained in them since birth. While my mother was gone, couldn’t I experience some small fragment of her love through my cousins and aunts? It didn’t seem too much to ask, although I still wasn’t clear what price I might be expected to pay.

I locked the office early, leaving the photo of my mother in the center of my desk. Driving home, I couldn’t resist touching on the issue, much in the same way the tongue seeks the socket from which a tooth has just been pulled. The compulsion resulted in the same shudder-producing blend of satisfaction and repugnance.

Thus, any book in a long-running series can include subplot elements that relate to the hero’s identity and transformation.

Shortly after this I got an email from my friend, writer Rich Bullock. He told me he’d been watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and in the chapter titled “The Mirror Cave” Rey is being tempted by the dark side (what a shock) and challenged by Kylo Ren on her true identity. Rich told me it was smack dab in the middle.

So I checked out the DVD from the library, chucked in the player, and went to the scene. Rey has fallen into this mirror cave, and is hoping it will give her a clue about who she truly is. Kylo Ren is somewhere else, but able to communicate with her:

KYLO REN: Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.

REY: No! No!

REY (VOICE OVER): I should have felt trapped or panicked. But I didn’t. This didn’t go on forever, I knew it was leading somewhere. And that, at the end, it would show me what I came to see.

REY: Let me see them. My parents … please.

She touches the mirror. Two shadowy figures approach from the other side of the glass. But when the frost clears, Rey is looking at … herself!

I took a look at the DVD timeline:

Hmm, we’re 1:16 into a 2:32 movie. I’m no math whiz, but I believe you can’t get any more middle than that!

The mirror moment works every time.

(For more on this, see my post “Revisiting the Mirror Moment”.)

That’s it for today, kids. I’m on the road most of the day, but will try to check in later. Talk amongst yourselves, esp. those of you writing series characters. How do you handle any inner transformation?

10+

Getting Your Rocket Fizz Going

rocket fizz

Photo (c) Columbusunderground.com

There is a nationwide chain of stores named “Rocket Fizz.” We have had one in the Columbus area for a little over a year. It’s not on the Weight Watchers approved list, for sure, which means that it is a fun place.  I have watched people walking by the place who seem to hit an invisible shield when they see the front window, which promises a party inside. They come in, too. The store layout gives you an excellent idea of what Rocket Fizz is all about from that first glimpse inside. The front has candy that I haven’t seen in a half-century or so, items like Bonomo’s Turkish Taffy, Sugar Babies, Teaberry Gum, and Bit O’ Honey. The periphery displays all freaking sorts of bottled soda (Judge Wapner has his own root beer. Who knew?),  taffy (about fifty or so different flavors), posters, tintypes, toys (I almost — almost — laid down thirty bucks for a set of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles beanie babies), and novelty pranks that will remind you of what you do in your office when no one is around (you’ll know it when you see it).  There are tables piled with merchandise but none higher than five feet or so, the result being that even someone of my very normal height can see the entire expanse of the establishment from the front door. The back of the store displays all sorts of imported items like Japanese Oreos (those folks know how to do Oreos) and English toffees and chocolates of all types and configurations.Wonders beckon.

I take my granddaughter, the eight-year old antichrist, to Rocket Fizz on occasion. While she is respectfully prowling the place, looking for new opportunities for me to spoil her, I like to stand in the corner of the store furthest from the entrance and watch people as they come in. The face of each and every person lights up as they break the plain of the front door. This is true even of grumpy old me, and it’s true every time I visit there.  It’s pure entertainment. A youngster sees unfamiliar types of candy that looks like fun; those of us whose boots first hit the ground in the middle of the last century remember going to the drugstore and paying a quarter for a box of Fizzies (yes, they have those too, and no, they aren’t a quarter anymore). You hear lots of “Oh wow!’s and oohing and ahhing from people of all ages as they walk through. I have never seen anyone step inside of Rocket Fizz and turn around and walk out. No. They walk in, going deeper and deeper. They spend time and yes, they spend money.

Someone did a lot of work figuring out what would work for Rocket Fizz, and it shows. There are fifty odd Rocket Fizz stores scattered across the country and that number will double in a year or so.. I don’t know if the people who came up with the concept of Rocket Fizz sample their own wares or not, but they want their customers to be happy and have fun and hopefully spend money. And we, as authors, can learn from that. I sometimes forget who I am writing for and have to remind myself that if I am writing for me then a diary would serve the same purpose. If I am writing for someone else — or a whole bunch of someone else’s, hopefully — I need to make my book attractive to my audience, not just to me. “I couldn’t get him to stop screaming” is a stack of twelve ounce cans of cola by the front door; “He kept screaming. He didn’t stop, even when I caved his head in” is a twelve ounce glass bottle of Mighty Mouse Blue Cream Soda, made with real cane sugar. It attracts attention, and makes the reader wonder who, why, and next. As far as that next thing goes…you don’t want displays of generic animal crackers. You want gold foil chocolate coins or candy flavored cigarettes (OH, THE HUMANITY!) or Star Wars JellyBellys. This is where you start introducing characters, which you can base upon everyone from the uncle no one ever wanted to sit by to the really, really strange woman who works in the produce department of your local supermarket who won’t meet your eye and just points to what you want. As for your ending…you want exotic. Endings are dessert, at the back of the store. A creme sandwich cookie is okay, but what does a small box of double-fudge covered Oreos with Asian lettering all over it say to you? It says that it’s something familiar, but different. It’s at the back of the store, and is more interesting than anything that came before it. That’s what you want to shoot for. Even if, like me, you miss more often than not. You can’t hit something if you don’t fire.

Have you read anything recently that puts you in the mind of Rocket Fizz, as described? I have a couple of examples, one being THE HOT COUNTRIES by Timothy Hallinan, the latest and best in his Bangkok-based Poke Rafferty series. The other is THE GOLEM OF PARIS by Jonathan Kellerman and Jesse Kellerman, the genre-bending sequel to last year’s THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD. It has it all, from exotic locales to explosions, romance, history and religion. And if you haven’t read anything recently that fits the bill…do you have a Rocket Fizz in your city? Have you been there? What did you buy?

 

 

3+