Black Thursday: The Day Thanksgiving Disappeared

Thanksgiving didn’t disappear suddenly; it suffered the torture of a thousand cuts, the old Chinese water torture, that destroyed the holiday hour by hour until nothing was left. That’s not to say that Thanksgiving ever was like Norman Rockwell pictured it, certainly not where I grew up. I remember the smell of turkey cooking mixed with the sounds and sights of two NFL football games (Detroit in the morning and Dallas in the afternoon) and usually the Texas/Texas A@M battle very early on the west coast. I wasn’t even a fan of those two schools, but it was a football game.

I suppose that any child of a Detroit Lion player probably never saw his father at Thanksgiving. That was probably the first step towards the ultimate elimination of Thanksgiving. I talked with a cashier at my local market and found that Thanksgiving meant little to her  because she’s scheduled to work all day. Well, I thought, at least she can enjoy the holiday once she goes home.

WalMart as well as Best Buy and a host of other companies have decided that Black Friday sales should start on Thursday. They’ll give families a couple of hours to eat dinner before their doors open for sales so good that they’re mouth watering. Of course, if you want the limited items on sale, you have to line up during Thanksgiving afternoon and probably pack a turkey sandwich.

We still celebrate Thanksgiving in our family, but it’s like pointing to my bookcase full of real books and not digital copies. I know that there are probably a colony of book bugs eating away at the books until there’s very little left. Similarly, Thanksgiving will probably be just a distant memory when Black Thursday morphs into Black Wednesday AND Thursday and Friday; let’s plan on having a black Thanksgiving in the future.

When One Novel is Not Enough

It’s funny how you fall in love with certain characters and hate to see a book end. Then, you find that the character will reappear in a new novel, and you can’t wait to run out and buy it. It’s very popular now, especially for self-published novelists, to write a series of books and publish them simultaneously. One reason is that they can offer a book free to lure readers into wanting to read more about certain characters.

It’s a tricky business. Writers have to write self-contained novels. Nobody wants to read a book that doesn’t have a satisfactory ending. Conversely, no one wants to read a book that starts with the assumption that everyone has read the previous book so that the author doesn’t bother to fill in details or chronology.

I was thinking about this topic recently because I read another of Faye Kellerman’s Peter and Rina Lazarus mysteries. What struck me is that if characters are interesting and they are developed with care, readers really enjoy the sense of familiarity that comes from knowing someone well. It’s almost like greeting an old friend you haven’t seen for a while.

Pen-L Press will publish Silent Partner sometime in 2014. The novel contains two characters that have some depth. I’ve already written about half of the sequel. So, I’ve been grappling with the issue of how much retelling to do in the sequel. No reader wants a writer to stop a story to say something like, “John went through a series of adventures earlier. First this happened and then that happened….”

Of course screenwriters handle this situation sometimes with flashbacks, but that technique can be overused in a novel to the point that readers don’t exactly know where in time they are at any given moment in the book.

Another interesting issue of sequels or even series is that there are a few authors such as Kellerman and Michael Connelly who age their characters in real time. In the case of Connelly’s Harry Bosch, the detective has aged over more than twenty years until he’s facing mandatory retirement in a couple of years.

Of course I might say “from my lips to God’s ears” when it comes to aging Josh and Frankie in sequels to Silent Partner. If there’s reader enough interest for me to write enough follow-up books to age them over ten years or so, I’d be thrilled.