Posted On September 29, 2011 by Print This Post

Point of View: Channeling Elvis with Peggy Webb

Elvis, Hound Dogs and Point of View? Stay tuned authors – you’ll want to read this unique take on POV! Don’t forget to check for Peggy Webb’s giveaways too!

One of the most important decisions a writer makes is whose point of view best tells the story. Do you stick with only one point of view and let the major character tell the story? That worked for me in the women’s fiction novel, Driving Me Crazy (Harlequin NEXT, 2006). Because Maggie was central in every scene and she had the most to gain or lose, I let her tell the entire story. I chose to use first person, present tense because I like the sense of immediacy that brings to a story. Third person, past tense would also have worked with only one narrator, but the reader would not have experienced the feeling of being in the moment with Maggie.

In some of my early romance novels (Taming Maggie, 1985) I used only one point of view because that’s much easier for a beginning writer. Using multiple points of view, as I did in my later books, requires the skill to make clear transitions so the reader is never confused about which character is telling the story. Using multiple points of view also requires discipline. There is the temptation to let every character have a point of view, even the mailman! It’s important to use multiple points of view judiciously, selecting only the characters that are central to the story.

When I made the transition from women’s fiction to mystery (Elvis and the Dearly Departed, 2008), I also moved from character-driven to plot-driven stories. Using only one point of view can work with mysteries, but it creates a dilemma for the writer to find ways for the major character to discover the body, all the red herrings, and the leads on all the suspects.

Secondary characters can, of course, tell the major character about the deceased and throw suspicion on the suspects, but telling instead of showing drains the story of color and excitement. Using multiple narrators for mysteries allows more flexibility in writing the story. Sometimes it’s not logical for the major character to be on the scene. In that case, her sidekick, who also has a point of view, can be there.

When I first created the Southern Cousins Mysteries, I discovered the perfect sidekick for the major character, Callie Valentine Jones. I wish I could take credit for the discovery, but that has to go to my faithful chocolate Lab, Jefferson. Until his death two years ago, his favorite place to be was under my desk while I wrote. Since I live in the hometown of the world’s most iconic entertainer, I had decided to make Elvis a ghost in the series. Suddenly my Lab stood up and did his little “Shake, Rattle and Roll” dance which meant, take me outside now before I pee on your shoes.

Oh, my goodness! Elvis was a dog! Still I had no idea he’d have his own point of view in the series.

Late that night I awakened hearing his voice. “Nobody asks my opinion around here, but if they did I’d tell them basset hounds are the most brilliant dogs on earth.” Knowing I was onto something good, I hurried into my office to take dictation.

The next morning, faced with those late-night scribbles on the back of a file folder, I was also faced with a problem. The scribbles were in first person, present tense – in the point of view of a dog! Surely, the dog who thought he was the reincarnated King of Rock ‘n’ Roll couldn’t narrate the entire story. What to do?

Instead of worrying, I started writing to see what would happen next. “Elvis just peed on my shoes.” Lo and behold, I was in the first person, present tense point of view of Callie, Elvis’ human mom. I loved the idea that Callie, who owned a little beauty shop in downtown Mooreville, MS, population 650, and also did the hair and make up for the dearly departed over at her Uncle Charlie’s funeral home in nearby Tupelo, could be in a position to hear all the local gossip and goings on. But it wouldn’t be easy to transition from two first person points of view, one of them Elvis, the sleuthing basset.

Instead of writing transitions, I decided to tag the dog’s point of view. Those late-night scribbles became Elvis Opinion #1 on the Valentine Family, Zen Buddhism and Leftover T-Bone Steak. Callie’s point of view then became Chapter One: Love, Vodka and Red Pasties. For the four books in this series, I have continued to tag the dog’s point of view as Elvis Opinion #…and to give Callie’s point of view a chapter and a title.

The great thing about having a dog as one of the narrators is that he is not constrained in any way and can be wherever I need him in order to convey information to the reader. Elvis is, in a sense, an omniscient narrator. As a bonus, he’s quirky and funny and a great vehicle for humor. Since I cut my teeth on humor, I absolutely love writing lines such as “Give me a good Cuban cigar and a splash of Bourbon in my dog chow and even I could write a book.”

I love channeling a dog! I hope you’ll follow Elvis and the Valentine gang on their next adventure in the latest Southern Cousins Mystery, Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble (September 27, 2011).

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Giveaways: Three lucky winners will receive signed paperback copies of Elvis and the Memphis Mambo Murders, the third book in Peggy Webb’s Southern Cousins Mystery Series.

Join us tomorrow for author Jo Robertson as she talks to us about her favorite famous couples.

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Bio: Peggy Webb has penned 70 books in the genres of mystery, romance and women’s fiction. In 2008 Peggy brought Elvis back to life as a sassy sleuthing basset hound who thinks he’s the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. A former adjunct instructor of writing at Mississippi State University, Peggy frequently tops the bestseller lists and has won numerous awards, including the prestigious Romantic Times Pioneer Award for forging the way for the sub-genre of romantic comedy. In 2011 she took the pen name Anna Michaels for a literary fiction debut Pat Conroy calls “astonishing.” Publishers Weekly and RT love her fourth Southern Cousins Mystery, Elvis and the Tropical Double Trouble (Sept. 27, 2011). Follow her on Facebook and Twitter, and visit her at www.peggywebb.com and www.annamichaels.net.

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26 Responses to “Point of View: Channeling Elvis with Peggy Webb”

  1. I’m delighted to be a guest at Romance University today. After I have my morning cup of coffee, I’ll be popping back in to chat with you about writing and all things Elvis! I look forward to hearing from you.

    Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 4:49 am
  2. Hi Peggy,

    I write in first person too. I had an entire manuscript written (90,000 words) in third person. Rereading it sounded off. So I gave the heroine the story. Maybe I should give her a dog too. Great idea.

    Mary Jo

    Posted by Mary Jo Burke | September 29, 2011, 5:39 am
  3. Morning Peggy!

    I have to say I’m absolutely tickled by your books. First, I looooooove Elvis, so that was a no-brainer. Second, I love dogs and mysteries! I’ve had a blast reading your series!

    I prefer writing in first person, but aiming for category, I’ve learned to write in third. First person to me just brings a story to life in a way I struggle with in third. I’ve occasionally written a scene in first, then gone back and changed it to third, to give it the deeper POV I’m after. Hey, whatever works right? =)

    RU crew – don’t forget to comment today – Peggy’s giving away THREE SIGNED BOOKS!!

    And who wouldn’t want to talk about Elvis and POV? =)

    Thanks for posting with us today Peggy!

    =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 29, 2011, 7:05 am
    • I cut my teeth in category romance. It’s great training to write in third person. Also, category romance is the perfect venue for learning to write characters the reader can love.

      Thanks for reminding me about my giveaway! I’m excited to offer three signed books!

      Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 7:49 am
  4. Peggy – I write category so it’s in 3rd person but when work out the scene in my head it’s in first person.

    Your books sound delightful! I grew up on a farm and my mother was a huge Elvis fan. If there was a Franklin Mint plate with his face on ti, she was buying it. My fave was the Elvis in the Las Vegas white jumpsuit whiskey decanter – oh yeah.

    Thanks for being with us today!

    Robin

    Posted by Robin Covington | September 29, 2011, 7:09 am
    • Robin, did you mom have one of those velvet Elvis paintings. Way back when, you could find them at every flea market!

      The white jumpsuit is iconic. In my first Southern Cousins Mystery, Elvis made the remark, “…when I was a fat man in a white sequined jumpsuit…” Of course, my sassy dog Elvis really thinks of himself as merely portly.

      He also comments, “Give me a good Cuban cigar and a splash of bourbon in my dog chow, and even I could write a book.” A little tongue-in-cheek!

      Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 7:54 am
  5. Peggy –

    Oh, Elvis sounds like I dog I definitely need to get to know!

    Can you tell us a little about how your transitions from writing one type of book–romance/WF–to mystery and literary? What prompted those transitions and what challenges have you faced?

    Thanks so much for being at RU today!
    Kelsey

    Posted by Kelsey Browning | September 29, 2011, 8:00 am
    • Thanks for asking. The tongue in cheek answer is that I got so old I forgot what romance is so I started killing people.

      The reason I write in three genres is that I’ve always enjoyed a challenge. The transition from romance to mystery was an easy one. I was born with a funny bone, so I simply transferred my love of romantic comedies into comedic mysteries. Since romances are character driven and mysteries are plot driven, I have to spend more time in the initial stages setting up all the details needed in a cozy for an amateur sleuth to sniff out murder.

      The transition into literary fiction was not difficult to achieve, but it is not so easy to explain. I tap into a deeper creative stream when I write as Anna Michaels. Instead of breezing along with Elvis and the Valentine gang, laughing all the way, I write at a more leisurely pace. I turn loose the lyricism in my soul. I hear the music of the words and translate them to the page. Since I play piano, compose blues songs and sing in my church choir, it’s easy for me to view a completed work of literary fiction as a symphony. A word that doesn’t belong sounds like a wrong note on the piano.

      Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 10:18 am
  6. Peggy, your work is just amazing, whether romance, mystery or literary fiction. I know what a dog lover you are, I’d love to hear about your gardens around your lovely home. I have to say that after reading The Tender Mercy of Roses, I realized how much your voice reminds me of the magic and beauty of a wondrous garden.

    Posted by Debra Webb | September 29, 2011, 12:28 pm
    • Deb, you are such a sweetie! When I first moved into my little writer’s cottage in northeast Mississippi, there were a few shurbs around the house that looked like meatballs. I spent the next few years digging up ugly bushes and creating gardens all over my two and a half acre lot. Rose arbors lead into the Enchanted Garden where daffodils and azaleas pop up in the spring, gardenias in summer. The Westwind Fairy guards the gate to my Angel Garden where the Golden Rain tree puts on a spectacular show year round and the confederate jasmine climbs the brick wall to scent my entire front yard. Then there is Sugar’s garden, a quiet spot tucked under the oak trees where iris grows and stones engraved Courage mark the graves of my two wonderful, loyal chocolate Labrador Retrievers.

      Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 1:20 pm
  7. Peggy – Thanks for a very thought-provoking blog. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. All of my stories have been written from the heroine’s POV, but it suddenly hit me that a lot of my favorite stories were written from the hero’s POV. I’d like to try that one of these days. I’d also love to write a story in first person – I’d make it a mystery, since I think first person is a lot easier in that genre than romance.

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | September 29, 2011, 12:31 pm
    • Becke, thanks for commenting. Don’t be shy about using more than one POV in your writing. Just make certain to use good transitions from one POV to the other. Also, select the characters who have the most at stake to tell the story.

      In my work of literary fiction, The Tender Mercy of Roses, I used several POVs. I even used a combination of first person, present tense, and third person, past. That’s tricky, though. Don’t do it unless it works for the story.

      Great characters and a great story should always be a writer’s first concern. POV and person are secondary and should be chosen only because they are exactly right for the story.

      Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 1:27 pm
  8. I’m definitely going to read your Elvis books. They sound really fun!

    I’ve always had a soft spot for a dog’s POV, ever since I got an A+ on an English assignment back in seventh grade when I wrote it in the dog’s POV.

    Have you read Spencer Quinn’s mysteries? They are wonderful – and they’re completely in the dog’s POV. Maybe this is a new trend!

    Posted by Becke Davis (Becke Martin) | September 29, 2011, 12:36 pm
  9. Peggy, I love this. Elvis’s opinions add a whole new dimension to the books and are incredibly sharp in the way kids are–blunt and brash. I hope he’s a character for a long time to come.

    Posted by Vicki Hinze | September 29, 2011, 1:19 pm
    • Vicki, it’s always great to hear a nice compliment from a good author like you. I plan for Elvis to stick around as long as I do. I’ve already written book five in the Southern Cousins Mysteries, and am thinking about book six.

      Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 1:31 pm
  10. Hello Peggy!

    I’ve never attempted to write in first person. (bawk! bawk!)I’ve read a lot of books in 1st POV, some of which I felt were a bit tedious because the main character didn’t have the sparkle factor to sustain the story. Not sure if I’m making any sense! :)

    I love the idea of a dog (or any animal, a ferret, a rabbit…pick one!) having a POV. Your Elvis automatically made me think of the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons featuring Sherman and his dog Mr. Peabody.

    Of the three categories that you write, do you have a favorite?

    Thanks for joining us today.

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | September 29, 2011, 1:30 pm
    • Oh, Jennifer, that’s a loaded question. Though I write some romance now, most of mine are classics, written in the early part of my career. At the time, they were my only genre, and I loved spinning a good happily-ever-after story. Two of my favorites are now enjoying a run as bestselling ebooks at Kindle – Touched by Angles and A Prince for Jenny. Both books still make me cry my eyes out, which is a very good thing!

      The appeal of writing the Southern Cousins Mysteries(Kensington)is that I get to be a dog! When I slip into my dogsuit and dog voice, I’m not contrained by rules or convention or social mores. I’m not sure that I could write a mystery unless it had a huge helping of comedy in the mix.

      You asked my favorite, so here’s a true answer. I absolutely LOVED writing The Tender Mercy of Roses. I aboslutely LOVE writing The Language of Silence, which will be Anna Michaels’ second literary fiction novel from Simon & Schuster. In these books, I’ve found a way to combine romance and mystery in a unique way that is neither. I get to dig deep into my musician’s soul and produce a novel that, for me, is a symphony.

      Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 1:44 pm
  11. Hi Peggy: Sorry I missed your blogging online today. I didn’t read FB until after you had finished. Best of luck to those that were here & a special “way to go” to the winners. Let me know when you are going to be back in town. Maybe we can have lunch.
    Peggy is a terrific author, LOL at some of Elvis’ antics and I can always picture him perfectly in my mind. We had a bassett and his name was “Ole Man”. He was over 18 yrs old when he died. So I always picture our bassett as Elvis in the books. You will love her books, she sings like an angel, plays the piano & a master gardner. Wish I had half the engergy that Peggy has. Way to go girlfriend. Another great book.

    Pat

    Posted by Pat Moore | September 29, 2011, 4:44 pm
  12. Oh, Pat, you’re a dear, and you didn’t miss the chance to comment and have me respond. I’m still here, and will be for another hour or so. Thank you for your really wonderful recommendation. Take care and thanks for stopping by!

    Posted by Peggy Webb | September 29, 2011, 5:01 pm
  13. Peggy, thanks for hanging out with us today! I love the idea of having an animal as a POV character. I have a kitten in Bk 1. It would have been a blast hearing the thoughts going through his mind as he was attacking the hero’s shiny new boots. :)

    Posted by Tracey Devlyn | September 29, 2011, 5:40 pm
  14. Peggy, thanks so much for joining us today – and tell Elvis thanks too! =)

    carrie

    Posted by Carrie Spencer | September 29, 2011, 8:06 pm

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