When I’m 64

All of my adult life, I have been collecting my favorite books and authors, promising myself I’d read them all again when I retired. Some day in the distant future. When I was old.

BTW, I don’t give the word “old” a negative connotation. It’s a place the lucky ones will all arrive at one day. At 64, I have arrived. Old is a place that you can’t really pack for…how was I to know in 1975 that there would be a little electronic book called the Kindle that stole my heart and helped my eyes? I have as many books saved on the Kindle as I do on my shelves. And I won’t need a van to move my Kindle to Florida. It fits in my purse.

I’m a planner. That plans often go awry is a lesson learned. I’ve gained mental flexibility as I’ve aged. When Al retires and we begin living on a “fixed” income, I’ll slow down my book buying (something Kindle makes far too easy!) and read again all those books I’ve loved before. I’m looking forward to it, but now I wonder if the book and the time of life have more to do with reading pleasure than I’d previously considered. Soon, I’ll find out.

My ideas about what to do in retirement are not for everyone. Some other surprising things I’ve done are completely change my diet and let my hair grey naturally. The diet makes me feel so much better and coloring my hair made my scalp burn as I got older. So I adapted my way of doing things. Now after completely reloading my pantry with nuts and seeds and coconut, two or three times a week I’m batch-cooking healthy foods that contain no sugar or wheat. If you would have told me this just eight weeks ago, I would have said no way.

Now when my body yells at me, I take the approach of “well, I’ll try this new thing.” It’s working out just fine. I don’t even miss bread. Or pasta. I kind of miss pizza, but everybody has gluten-free pizza these days. I made fudge this weekend. I used Swerve instead of sugar. Swerve does not raise blood sugar like other artificial sweeteners. It was a test and for my delicate tummy, Swerve did not pass. I made peanut butter cookies with Swerve, too. Al liked both sweet treats and didn’t have any digestive issues. But he doesn’t have problems with sugar, either. Next time I’ll try brown rice syrup, which my body tolerates better.

As for the hair, it is finally growing out to a longer length. Not sure if I’ll like it this way, but it will be easy to put in a ponytail in Florida and, as I get older, I am all about easy.

Healthier

I have not had a piece of toast in six weeks. Reading a sentence like that would have made me frustrated, angry and upset before I started eliminating sugar and wheat from my diet. Again. The other times I tried similar plans, I found them too difficult and inconvenient. The food world runs on sugar and wheat. It’s convenient and yummy. I had wheat at every meal. Cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner. Now I have other things, like frittatas.

I always secretly wanted to learn to make frittata but it seemed so complicated. First, you had to have the right pan. Cast iron skillets are good. This is my 9 inch, but I also have a 12 inch for when I cook for friends. After you oil the pan (I use coconut or olive oil) just throw in chopped veggies, whatever ones are in your fridge and sauté. Then mix eggs (9 eggs for 9 inch pan, 12 for 12 inch) until almost fully blended. Add grated cheese to the eggs and then put it all in the skillet. Let cook on stovetop a minute or two and then switch to a 375 oven for 25 minutes or so. I got the nice brown around the crust by adding a little extra grated cheese around the edge. That’s it. So easy. And it reheats well.

My wheat filled food choices were not doing my health any good, but I refused to accept it until I ran out of options. Wheat was the last on a long list of things I had quit eating in order to get my body back working like it used to. I thought, okay, I’ll just try. I switched out all the flour and wheat and sugar in my pantry for healthier options. Nuts, seeds, coconut. Flours and oils made from them. It took several weeks and two cookbooks to get me where I am today: making bread without wheat or sugar so I can have some avocado toast for lunch.

What has improved? My energy and sleep. What has been eliminated? Anxiety and IBS. Also anxiety about the IBS, not getting enough sleep, not having any energy. I was also anxious about aging. I thought maybe I was just getting old and things were breaking down and that’s the way it was going to be. Not true. Everything has improved, including a weird case of excema that persisted for a year before I cut sugar and wheat.

Also I lost five pounds but that wasn’t the point. That’s what’s different this time. The other times I’d cut carbs, I was doing it to lose weight. This time I am doing it to gain health plus peace of mind. And it’s working so well I can’t imagine ever going back to eating sugar and wheat.

How to Structure a Novel

Finished the first shaggy draft of my current WIP at the end of November. Set it aside for the holidays and a sweet trip with my husband to our Florida home. I have a writing group in St. Pete, and we do weekly prompts, so I was still writing while the novel rested.

Back home in Detroit, a few months later, I read the pages I’d dashed off as 2018 concluded. They were not good. They were worse than usual. I conferred with my Michigan writing group and we brainstormed ways to improve the draft. In my writing room, I began blocking out every scene, writing a one or two sentence summary for each scene into an outline. Yes! I outline, but only after I have written the first draft.

As has been the case for awhile now, my keyboard was not cooperating, so somewhere in there I got a Mac Magic Keyboard and it’s working out just fine. This is a digression, but digressions happen all the time, taking writers out of the books they’re working on. Apple is correcting keyboard problems like mine for free right now, but I can’t let go of my machine while I’m working on this book. Thus the magic keyboard. It works just fine.

My revision is all over the place. I like to start revising at the beginning, because I’m linear that way. But once a month I had to go to the middle to grab a chapter for my critique group. Naturally I had to revise the hell out of that before I’d show it to them or they’d shred me like paper. And now I’ve got another group, and have to go back to the first chapter for them. Revision three of the first chapter. Revision zero for the second half of the book. That’s where I’m at.

So, yes, my revision is all over the place. I don’t do well with chaos for long. I like to bring it to order, sharpish. So when a writing friend told me about Jane Cleland’s Suspense, Structure and Plot the word structure made my hopes soar. When I found “Jane’s Plotting Road Map” on page 38 I knew I was on my way to getting this book into shape. The one page diagram about how to structure plot will save me so many steps.

I particularly like how Jane lays out the plot and subplots and gives you an approximate page number of where they should show up for maximum readability. It’s kind of like when I used to write romances and knew the consummation scene needed to be around page 100. First I needed to figure out my subplots. That was easy. I’d already written them. They’d been scattershot through the book with no regard to pacing or maximizing impact.

This isn’t the first time a book or a blog about plotting and structure has come to my rescue. I’ve used many through the years, but Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schmidt served me well through several revisions. “Writing/Romance” Jennifer Crusie’s blog, written in 2015-2016, reads like a short course in writing and structuring a novel. She also answers writing questions on her Argh Ink blog on Mondays.

Just reading Jenny helps with the panic. And the truly Magic keyboard came to my rescue. And Jane’s road map. I was beginning to despair (because I’m a drama queen deep inside) but I just might finish this book by my December deadline after all.

Writing Description

The murder victim in my current WIP is an artist. And his art leads to the capture of his killer. So, art is key. My longtime critique group (not my new mystery group, or my Florida group) had a difficult time with a critical passage of mine last time we met. They couldn’t understand what I was describing, which was a simple thing, like a badly painted still life. This is not what I described but for example it could have been a blue bowl on a yellow table holding red apples. Maybe a slice of sunlight beamed across the table. The object was that simple. And it was an important clue. I was quite frustrated. The most straightforward words about an uncomplicated object and the way I described it seemed obscure to them.

They must have quizzed me for fifteen minutes on that paragraph. It was distressing to me that they could not picture what I had described. Reading this, you may form the idea, and you would be correct, that it still bothers me. What was so unclear to them about my straightforward and simple description? I had no idea how else to describe it. And I thought I’d done a good job. I still think that.

My best friend is a painter. In fact, several of my friends are painters. One of them bought me a watercolor set for my birthday. I’ve always wanted to try watercolors, but I’m a writer. I paint pictures with words. Or I try to. Somehow, with my recent work, I’d not been able to convey through words a picture so clear in my mind. It bothered me for weeks. It still bothers me.

A new idea began to take shape about a week ago. Not about the paragraph that stymied my writing group. I’m leaving that alone for now. But slowly my mind has turned to the other descriptions of art in the book. I describe this artist’s work several times. I wanted to open those watercolors and paint the life’s work of my doomed artist. For my book, for my own reference. Maybe it would help to put everything I see in my mind’s eye down onto paper. The watercolors were just sitting there. So was the art paper.

After a few crucial tips from my artist friend, I began by sketching and then watercoloring. The hours flew by. Nobody will ever see this watercolor. Nobody will have to try to understand it. Nobody will have any opinion on it. It need not be critiqued. It is just for me.

So, did I solve my description problem? Maybe not. But I feel better just for having, for once, taken what is in my head and put it to paper without words. It is exactly as I imagined it.

Join A Critique Group

Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Calling all Michigan Mystery Writers! Michigan Sisters in Crime has started a new critique group. It’s for mystery writers, and you need to be a member to participate. We meet once a month for two hours at a restaurant in Troy close to I-75. There were four of us at the first meeting. We came from Ann Arbor, Lake Orion, Clarkston and Washington Twp. It was a great success.

Critique groups are great motivators. I’m on fire to write the best pages of my life for this group. Any member of Michigan Sisters in Crime is welcome to attend. You don’t have to be there for every meeting. Summer is busy time. Still, if you’re writing a mystery novel, even a short story, even if it’s your first one, the critique group is a free perk of membership.

The critique group was just one of the many ideas for our chapter cooked up by Super President and founder, Jan Rydzon. I used to teach creative writing, so I offered to help Jan with this group. My role will be to lead the newer writers or writers who are new to crime writing. We’ll talk about craft as well as critiquing pages. If there are enough newbies, we’ll form our own group so everyone gets a turn to share their work.

I am a member of the group too. I brought my first page in for critique just like everyone else. If I can pull it off, the feedback I received will take my opening from not terrible to great. I find first pages the most difficult. All that info to convey about the character plus hook the reader and set up the mystery in about 250 words. Not easy. But a critique group can help you find that extra bit of special to take your writing to the next level.

Contact me at cindy@cynthiaharrison.com if you are interested. Title your subject line MiSinC Critique Group. You want to write or make your writing better? Join us in July. If you’re not a member, it’s easy to join. We are open to all, not just women. Men too. We call them “Misters” 🙂 Not just experienced writers. Even if you have not yet written a word, you can join the chapter and the critique group. Just go to our website for details.

Until then, happy writing!