January 2008

Getting Cozy with Karen.
                          January Musings

I have to admit, when I found my annual jury summons in the mailbox in November [a slight exaggeration since I've only received three in the past four years] I was less than thrilled. Anyone who's received one of these missives is certain it rates right up there with 1) an IRS warning an auditor will knock on our door in the morning, or 2) a rejection letter that not only states, "No way are we printing this story!" but "What were you thinking submitting this rot to R.U. Nuts Publishing?!"

I don't think it's that most of us object to the principle of serving our justice system. It's just that we must put our jobs on hold, our children in daycare, give up writing time, etc. And, for what? So we can lose an entire day waiting to be sent toddling home without anyone utilizing our valuable time, let alone appreciating our efforts?

I won't bore you with my view of a legal process that eliminates jurors because they have definite opinions about right and wrong. What I do want to discuss is what I learned on this particular jury day that will have a lingering effect on my approach to writing.

Yes, I had to rearrange my life so I could traipse to the justice center at 7:15 a.m. And it's a given, after sitting around all morning, I was sent toddling home. But the day was not the total waste of time I expected.

Those of us who write tend to be people watchers, and I'm no different. Throw us into a room full of people and we're soon looking for personality types, quirks, and fun stuff to make our characters more interesting. But I'd forgotten, until I sat in the assembly room jammed with 200 plus jurors waiting for our names to be called, exactly how long it had been since I'd descended from my ivory tower [okay, climbed out of my writing cave {g}] to get a fresh perspective on people.

Working at home, it's easy to sit back and let the world pass by. Let enough time pass and it's bound to affect our perceptions eventually. Once I settled myself into the notion I had a captive audience of character studies I relaxed and noted a number of character traits I can't wait to incorporate into my writing.

The problem with people watching, though, is that we don't usually get more than bits and pieces skimmed off the surface of our observations. We might not make the connections that draw this group of people together in this place at this time. That wasn't my experience this time.

About thirty-five of us made it upstairs to our courtroom. I was mentally calculating how I'd rearrange my next few days if picked as a juror, when the judge walked into the room. The fact the judge left his chambers to talk to us, instead of the court clerk who'd been corralling us all morning, woke me up a bit. By the expression on his face and the steam pouring out of his ears [hey, I know what I saw! {g}] I knew the judge was furious with someone. Thankfully, it wasn't us. He smiled and started with, "I've got good news and bad news. The bad news is there will be no trial today. The good news is you can all go Christmas shopping instead."

He could have left it at that, but he didn't. Because we did rearrange our lives to accommodate the system and he appreciated that fact, he thought we were entitled to an explanation of why he was forced minutes earlier to delay the trial two days. One thing I don't think many know, including me, is that the judge meets with both attorneys the day before a trial to confirm everyone is ready. At least, it's the case in my county. Since this was a Monday, the judge and both attorneys for this kidnapping trial-yeah, my ears perked up at the first inkling we weren't talking about a simple drug possession charge-had met the previous Friday. Everyone indicated they were ready.

But evidently that morning, the defense team double-checked the evidence only to find a CD that hadn't been entered into evidence and they knew nothing about. The long and short of this story is the judge, angry as he was at the series of events, couldn't allow the trial to proceed without giving both parties time to examine the new evidence [the victim's deposition].

Walking out of the courtroom with everyone's individual thanks to the judge ringing in my ears, it hit me how much my feelings [the other jurors, too, from comments in the elevator] had changed since we'd emptied our pockets for security at the front door hours earlier. I know I was reminded that jury duty encompasses a lot more than my loss of writing time.

In addition to my long overdue character studies, I learned more about how the legal system works. I also gained an appreciation for how much the clerks and judges dislike the necessity of taking our time so they can simply do their jobs, as well as what it means to the individuals on both sides of the bench if care isn't taken to ensure a fair trial. In short, I gained a fresh perspective on the impact of the entire process on a variety of individuals.

I know we all strive to delve deep enough into our individual characters so we can form a "real" person on the pages of our novel. But, this experience has reminded me that we also need to be careful to address how one character's development affects the development of other characters as well as the situation. I like to believe I do this subconsciously, but I also see where I might improve my characterization if I turn it into a more conscious effort on my part.

I'm certain I'll groan the next time I receive my jury summons-hey, I didn't say I liked giving up my day, despite my new understanding-but I know I'll go into the next experience with a different frame of mind.

Just in case you're wondering what I did with my afternoon off.even though I desperately needed to, I didn't go Christmas shopping. Nope! This writer went home and revised a scene that definitely benefited from a day of jury duty.


What else is happening in my writing world?

As of January 1, 2008, my "business" life got a lot busier. I'm the new president of Colorado Romance Writers and taking on all of the duties that entails. The final deadline of CRW's Award of Excellence Contest for published writers is January 11th so, as an AOE coordinator, I'm busily checking in entries and making up judging panels. By mid-month that duty will ease back until preliminary judging is completed.

I decided to conduct The "W" Plot.or The Other White Meat for Plotters workshop on my own from January 7th - February 1st. I scheduled the class to accommodate the few people who couldn't wait until April for my next class, so this class promises to be more intimate with only a few students. If you know of anyone who might like to join us, please feel free to steer them to my website NEWS page.

I'm still working on a new workshop about developing characters, peeling off the beginning of my plotting workshop so I can focus attention on helping students identify character goals that lie at the heart of our stories. I'll let you know when I get this workshop finalized.

I entered a partial of KILLING SECRETS in the Great Expectations Contest romantic suspense category. Wish me luck!

As always, if you'd like to comment on this newsletter or anything else, please feel free to sign into my guest book at the bottom of this HOME page. Looking forward to hearing from you! If you have your own listing on MySpace, I'd love to be friends. You can find me at http://www.myspace.com/authorkarendocter.

See you in February if you'd like to Get Cozy with Karen again. In the meantime, feel free to check out the rest of my website at your leisure.

I wish you a new year overflowing with creativity and confidence. I wish each of you the realization of your dreams, whatever they may be, and a terrific writing year in 2008. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!



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