- alimony paid or received (or not)—and associated hostility
- business use of home—and the strain it puts on family
- casualty or theft loss—and the aftermath of being a victim of crime
- child and dependent care expenses—meeting them, but also finding such services in the first place
- contributions—a willing tithe to church, or possibly being pressured to support your alma mater
- education expenses—and doubts about whether the degree is worth it
- foreign assets, expenses, taxes, and income—and what to do about off-shore accounts and tax shelters
- gambling winnings (or losses)—and whether to join Gamblers Anonymous
- gifts—and why they were given
- medical and dental expenses—and the trauma of diagnosis, surgery, recovery (or not)
- miscellaneous income and adjustments (They really expect people to report illegal income??)
- mortgage or education loan interest paid—and the continuing burden from years ago
- moving expenses—whether the move was up or down, willing or forced
- sale of home, stock, or other capital assets—and why the sale? Was the market down at the time or up?
- unemployment compensation—whether it was enough, whether it ended too soon, whether filing for it was humiliating
Or if not fun, at least rich material for writers.
My most recent blog, Embracing Death, touched on this topic tangentially, but really, given all they can do for a story, funerals need their own focus. So, how can writers use funerals?
Burial rituals reflect culture, socio-economic class, and time period—without having to specify such things in the narrative.
Within those broad parameters, many decisions need to be made. What if the relevant relatives disagree on things? Music, prayers, cost of the casket, who speaks at the service, what happens at the graveside. . . What if there is no grave? (The same could apply to memorial services.) Where will the body be buried or the ashes scattered? And so we have the possibilities of coalitions forming. Maybe these reflect already existing ties or loyalties.
What if the deceased person’s wishes to donate organs—or the whole body to a medical school—horrify the survivors? Who will have the final word? Will s/he just announce, or work for cooperation and consensus? And will that succeed?
Often a funeral will bring together people who haven’t seen and/or talked to each other in years. This makes possible happy reunions, but also the resurgence of past rivalries, jealousies, and grievances.
Heirs may start squabbling over their inheritances before the funeral even happens! And it doesn’t have to be millions at stake. In my novel Nettie’s Books (forthcoming), the hostilities erupt over quilts, stoneware pitchers, and a cake plate!
I often find the fun in funerals. My story “The Red Glove” features a drive-through funeral home in Maine. “Wanted” also features a father lying in state at Herschel Southern Drive-Thru Mortuary, resting peacefully behind plate glass.
What about you? If you’re a writer, have you looked on the light side of funerals, or do you write about their inherent tensions?
TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS
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Fantasy, on the other hand, is making it up out of whole cloth. Even so, it could draw on science for an idea. For example, another book I came across recently has such possibilities: TEMPERATURE-DEPENDENT SEX DETERMINATION IN VERTEBRATES edited by N. Valenzueta & B. Lance. It contains articles by leading scholars in the field and reveals how the sex of reptiles and many fish is determined not by the chromosomes they inherit but by the temperature at which incubation takes place. Fantasy would be a story in which human sex is determined by ambient temperature. And perhaps it can vary as the temperature varies. And so forth.
TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS
I can’t imagine a writer without some tools of the trade, even if those are only a good dictionary and a thesaurus, preferably a good manual of style as well. I share a few of my favorite resources.
There are lots of ways to get inside writers’ heads.
When my interest is piqued, of course I turn to research.
Deborah Tannen has published numerous books that might be of interest to writers.
Somewhere in my public life, I mentioned that I collect dictionaries. I have whole shelves of them, everything from slang to carnival jargon to common usage during the Civil War to books of insults and dirty words. I ordered all six volumes of the Dictionary of American Regional English—and then thanked my husband for his birthday present to me.
I was much taken with Ammon Shea’s book, Reading the OED, a memoir of the year he spent reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary.
Writers are readers, by and large, and also word collectors. We tend to fall in love with words. Some writers make a career of writing about words as well as with them.
For any experience, try to note as many of your senses as possible.
Food and drink are more than taste!
For writers, everything is material.
TAKEAWAY FOR WRITERS
The Virginia is for Mysteries: Volume II book tour is here. I’ll be speaking at events in bold.
235 East Plume Street
Norfolk, VA 23510
1 – 4 pm
March 15, 2016
2200 Parks Avenue
Virginia Beach, VA 23451
5 – 9 pm
March 19, 2016
Russell Memorial Library
2808 Taylor Road
Chesapeake, VA 23321
10 am – 4 pm
March 19, 2016
Sisters in Crime Table
Omni Hotel Atrium
212 Ridge McIntire Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
April 2, 2016
Libbie Place Shopping Center
5515 West Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23230
12:00 noon – 2 pm
April 9, 2016
1312 East Cary Street
Richmond, VA 23219
June 25, 2016
4934 High St W
Portsmouth, VA 23703
10 am – 5 pm