Christine DeSmet is the author of the Fudge Shop mystery series and the Mischief in Moonstone mystery series. You can find out more about her on her website at www.christinedesmet.com, or by clicking on the Blackbirds page here, read her last post here, and buy her books here.
The emotion of “joy” is key to the plot and three-dimensional characterization for the hitman in the new, short suspense novel, THE LEMON MAN by Keith Bruton.
We humans are more prone to experiencing “happy” or “satisfying” moments. “Joy” is much bigger than “happiness,” more mysterious and harder to come by, according to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu in The Book of Joy, written by the duo with writer Doug Abrams.
The pillars of joy are 1) an ability to reframe our situation more positively, 2) our ability to experience gratitude, and 3) our choice to be kind and generous.
Our greatest joy, according to the masters, is when we seek to do good for others. That was demonstrated recently by the outpouring for the children’s fund created by the Buffalo Bills football player who was brought back to life. People weren’t just happy; there was gratitude, kindness, and generosity—JOY.
In THE LEMON MAN’s first chapter professional hit man Patrick Callen finds himself saddled with a baby. Callen lives what he thinks is the good life—high pay, expensive condo in Dublin, does what he wants in his spare time, and even likes what he does.
Callen’s life and story involve “darkness” though; he’s all about killing. He has no time for “joy” and doesn’t seek it. (Normal enough for most suspense and thriller protagonists.) Like so many suspense novels or thrillers I’ve read, Bruton could have chosen to focus solely on the dangerous hit job as plot and let his protagonist agonize over that. While the book never mentions the word “joy,” it was clear to me the baby represented the joy missing from this man’s life.
The author doesn’t dispense with things quickly. It’s too easy to love a baby from the start. Instead, problems mount with the baby. Bruton bedevils the A (action) plot with the internal B (baby!) plot. The result of that patience is “voice” and a novel destined to be a movie and to get shared reviews like this one.
The symbol of joy (baby) creates the internal conflicts that CHALLENGE the protagonist, pointing out his FLAWS—getting older, feeling boring doing hits over and over, no steady intimate friend, no push to grow or change. Without the baby, those challenges might have been reduced to the clichéd subplot about the man not being able to keep a relationship going with a woman.
My motto for writing and coaching has always been “Write with joy and finish with finesse.” Author Bruton reminded me to look at my characters and plots in fresh ways, to use more tricks, to mine “joy.” Coincidentally, there’s a baby in my latest and forthcoming novel, HOLLY JOLLY FUDGE FOLLY!
What have you been reading lately?
What was the takeaway or learning nugget for writing or life from a recent nonfiction or fiction book you read?