Sunday, January 17, 2010

How The Man-Eating Tapeworm Killed My Plot by Sandra Ruttan

Award-winning author Sandra Ruttan had her first newspaper column at the age of 13. In her past lives she’s worked in customer service, as a baker’s assistant, in shipping and receiving in a hardware store, as a hotel front desk clerk, ice cream scooper, school photographer and receptionist. For the past eleven years her focus has been on education. She’s worked for early intervention programs, implementing speech therapy, physical therapy and occupational therapy exercises with students, as a kindergarten assistant, and as an aide in an ED program.

When she’s not busy writing she has her hands full with her partner, two step children, as editor-in-chief of Spinetingler Magazine, and reviewing for several print and online magazines.

The third book in her Nolan, Hart and Tain thriller series, LULLABY FOR
THE NAMELESS, hit store shelves in December and has been called “a vivid noir portrait.” Her website is

Mo shares Sandra's Office and helps plot the next thriller

How The Man-Eating Tapeworm Killed My Plot
by Sandra Ruttan

“There it is! Schoom schoom schoom.”

I’m not sure what surprised me most; that the play guns sounded so weird through the floor boards or that the kids were playing X-Files.

Yes, X-Files.

Did you have the same experience I did as a child, discovering the wonder of losing yourself in the pages of a book, being so completely immersed in that world that you didn’t want to leave it? For me, it was Narnia and The Great Brain, countless books about horses that somehow saved children’s lives, and The Call of the Wild. The neighbor’s granddaughter and I spent summers mushing through the woods behind my house, traveling across the Yukon in our fantasies.

And my kids are downstairs, playing X-Files.

On the surface, that might seem sad. My play was inspired by books, and theirs stems from a TV show that many might not even think they’re old enough to watch, but there’s a reason we started letting them watch selective episodes.

It all started when Brian and I took the kids to a, ahem used book sale. Patrick stumbled across a book he wanted. Now, Patrick hasn’t been the easiest reader. Oh, he can read fine, but he wasn’t in to it the same way his sister was. It was always easier to find something she liked. Patrick’s always been fussier.

But for 50 cents, it wasn’t much of a risk. The book of scary stories came home, and instead of having a partner who had his nose in a book at the dinner table, I started having kids who were more focused on reading than eating. Predictably, the book caused fights, and we had to track down more.

Then, Brian and I stumbled across a garage sale. A tower of used Goosebumps books, 60 in all, for less than a dollar a piece. Sold.

The kids now have a bookshelf six shelves high, filled with their horror collection.

After watching a few of the Goosebumps shows on DVD, we realized they weren’t bothered by the scary stuff. We picked one of the monster X-Files episodes – the one about Big Blue, the prehistoric lake monster – and let them watch it. That episode led to The Ghosts That Stole Christmas, the one about the haunted house. And from there it’s been monsters and aliens steadily ever since.

Despite all that, I have to say I was a bit surprised when I sat working on a manuscript and could hear the kids playing X-Files beneath me. Our girly-girl to the extreme, who lives in shades of pink and has her Barbies set up on a fashion runway, designs clothes and sings Taylor Swift songs in the shower is running around the house with a gun in her hand, chasing a man-eating tapeworm.

As I’ve watched her interest in the show grow, I’ve actually found myself wondering if our little fashionista might end up pursuing a career in law enforcement one day. Six months ago I would have thought anyone who suggested it was crazy. Now… I realize it may just be a little blip on the radar, but she’s more interested than I expected.

The funny thing is, when they started blazing through the Goosebumps books, I was happy they’d found something they liked so much, but just a wee bit disappointed that it was horror. Weren’t the kids going to grow up to share the love of crime fiction Brian and I both have? Now, I’ve got kids playing X-Files and Bry squealed with glee when she found Nancy Drew books under the Christmas tree.

As I’m working on a manuscript that I’d actually tried to partially pre-plot, it’s taken my kids to remind me of why it is I never could write character bios before I started a project. Nobody starts off fully formed. In the same way that we have to spend time with someone to really get to know them, I find I have to spend some time with my characters in the story to see them clearly. Others can get to know them before they type the first words. For me… it’s just never worked that way.

Sometimes, I’m jealous of the people who can pre-plot, who can see the end from the beginning when they start writing their stories. Me? I guess have to endure the roller-coaster ride, the uncertainty and the surprise all the way through the story with my characters. It took a TV show that’s inspired the kids’ play to remind me why.

But, like my own games as a youth, this is a journey that, for them, started with books.


Vicki Lane said...

A fun post -- we all need to be able to sink into that kid world where we let our minds run wild and free, Now, 'tend like I'm the wicked stepmother and you . . .'

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ha! I try telling the kids I'm the wicked stepmother, or, like in Coraline, the 'other mother' and they just laugh at me. Have they ever got my number!

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Sandra - Thanks, cutie for stopping by!

Keep in touch - I love hearing your "mommy" stories.


Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks for having me Kaye!