Doing it Different

Al just got back from a long weekend of golf up north, a yearly trip he takes with some of his friends. I used to dread these weekends, because Al worked so much and didn’t often take a whole weekend off. I worry about him like a Mother Hen when he’s gone. This year was different, because he’s retired. He’s here every day. I can spare him the odd weekend with the guys. I still miss him, but this past weekend in particular, I was about to burst with wanting to do nothing but write.

I’m one of those writers who likes absolute silence when I’m working. It’s always been that way. It might be the only thing that has not changed in my writing life. I’ve written a dozen books, ten of them novels, and the process changes every single time. It annoys me when what used to work, doesn’t. But only slightly. I’ve read enough interviews with writers to know that every book is different, and every book feels like an impossible thing at the beginning.

Which is where I am with the second book in my Jane series. I had 25 pages and I wanted more. Maybe 25 more. I’ve done it before, 12 pages (or more) in a day. Well, this weekend I may have gotten two or three new pages, but they were not pages that advanced the plot much. I added several lines and one important clue. But before that, I had to figure out where I was at.

Organizing myself took all day Saturday. There are a few things on my writing stove. I was cooking with all burners Saturday. I had another note from my editor about galleys for Jane in St. Pete. That was easy enough, just check off the task bar in my TWRP cubby. Then there was the free short story. It is something I have wanted to do for awhile and I finally got it up on the landing page. I want to change the end…just a little bit…but I decided not to do that.

Then I had to sort out what my critique group has seen and what I needed to send. We’ve had a month off, so it’s been awhile. None of that was “real” writing, but it took time. I had to clear the decks before I could move forward.

One organizing tool I use each time early in a draft is to write down a short reminder of every scene and the page numbers. You wouldn’t think it would take an entire day to do that. But then I got the really good idea that didn’t add up to a lot of words but will be very useful. I find if I just go into the story, sometimes gems appear.

So I felt lucky with that gem. With Saturday’s writing done, I was happy but tired. I treated myself to a subscription to BritBox. McDonald and Dodds! Set in Bath! I had a Traverse City Cherry Bourbon while I watched and relaxed, knowing my work was ready to dive straight into the next day.

Sunday morning I woke up determined to advance the plot. The good, useful idea from Saturday did advance the plot, or rather it added complexity. Of course I was greedy for more. As is my habit, I read through the pages I thought so perfect the day before. I was going to send them to my critique group and I didn’t want anyone pointing out editing or spelling mistakes. I like a meatier opinion.

With that in mind I worked and worked on the pages I’d already done. I added a few more lines here and there. Switched up new, better words. One problem I always hear about from my group is that I don’t describe enough. I tend to gloss over description and even character in favor of plot. Gotta keep it ticking. This time I did add some character description and a few other logistics, but no new scene. And it was already getting dark out plus I was tired and hungry.

So much for my weekend of progress. It was certainly a weekend of writing (and BritBox) but not a whole lot of progress. That’s okay. I remember Louise Erdrich saying that she goes over and over every page until it is as good as she can make it. Then she goes to the next page. I’ve never done that. Until now. And it wasn’t a choice. I felt compelled.

Looking back, I think it was a good thing. Less revising down the road. Maybe. Who knows? This is a new road. And I’m excited about both the turn the story and my technique have taken. One thing I have learned about writing mysteries is that you really can’t be a pantser (as I have been all my writing life). You need to plan. Not everything, but some things.

Rejected

Photo by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

I read the new book written by Melania Trump’s former best friend this weekend. I have not read any of the books about DT; a new one seems to come out every week. I read enough of his tweets and listen to him speak and have got the measure of the man. He’s thin-skinned and can be quite cruel. He knows no boundaries and nothing about his job.

But Melania…she’s mysterious. And those cheekbones! You can look at her forever. Unless you are her former best friend. I decided to read it after seeing the author on Rachel Maddow’s show Friday. She was really upset and flustered, crying and so on and I couldn’t make out exactly why she was behaving that way on a book tour. So out of curiosity, I bought the book and read it.

Was a definite slog through the first half to three-quarters. This friend was in charge of the inaugural ball right down to pulling a top designer for Melania’s dress and then she stayed on to help Melania transition. She decorated the offices in the East Wing, wrote Melania’s speeches, and all this without pay. At first she had a title and a paycheck, but the West Wing left her department so little money, she gave her paycheck to another person she brought on to help with Melania’s “Be Best” initiative.

I’d wondered about “Be Best” and sure enough author/friend tried to get Melania to use “the” but no, Melania doesn’t let anyone to tell her what to do, so Be Best stands. Up to this point that’s about all I know about Melania except she likes emojis and is a devoted mom. I almost stopped reading several times as all the minutia of the inaugural and assistant to First Lady duties didn’t interest me.

I’ll be honest. I was looking for dirt on Melania. I just can’t dislike her despite that gold digger title she’s been tagged with. It’s extremely difficult to support yourself as a woman alone unless you’ve had a whole lot of support (like a stable home and an excellent college) from your family. Even beautiful women without a man will not be safe. Along the way, most single women will experience some form of workplace harassment. Just because they’re single. So to me Melania was only doing what women have done though the ages. She paired up with a strong man who could protect her.

It shouldn’t be this way but it is. So I had never disliked Melania because she married DT. She’s so private, though. Ask any writer. They want to know more. What makes Melania tick? According to her former best friend, Melania is a taker, not a giver. She gave plenty of examples but I was not convinced. It seemed to me this author has a grudge against the dysfunctional administration, and rightly so, as they tried to pin the massive inaugural budget on her. But she didn’t know where the money went. She was paid close to half a million, but they were saying she took many more millions.

Her gripe seems to be Melania didn’t stand up for her. The court cases are still pending so it’s all a bit murky. I came away from the book knowing Melania a little bit more, but through the eyes of a friend who felt betrayed. So you have to take that for what it is. The book humanized Melania. Showed what a good friend she could be, and showed that she had a mind of her own and didn’t really care what people thought of her. Which is good because so many people (including Ivanka) seem to hate her.

I wrote a short version of parts of this when I rated the book on Amazon (gave it 4 stars). I sometimes do review books on Amazon. I’ve never had a review turned down but this one got the thumbs down almost immediately. Yes, Amazon rejected my review! Even though I was a “verified purchaser.” I’m not upset. This kind of rejection, I can handle. I still can’t figure out, however, how you can write an objective book about politics without mentioning your own politics.

What’s Your Lane?

Choices: I’ve made many of them. I have a problem staying in my own lane, which, when I think about it, doesn’t really seem like a problem. It seems interesting and fun and adventurous. Or as adventurous as you can be when sitting in a chair typing in a room all day.

Looking on my book page, I see the variety of genres and forms of writing I’ve tried through the years. And I don’t even have my poetry chapbook or my dozen or so literary short stories on there! I never published those early stories, except a few in magazines, and the poems were privately printed.

Early on, I decided I was not a literary writer, at least not in the way publishers define literature. Maybe (I thought) I could write women’s fiction (in my mind, so much women’s fiction IS literary) or romance or mystery or fantasy. I ended up writing in all the genres where women writers are most likely to be offered publishing contracts.

I tried on each genre like shoes, and (briefly) loved them all. This is a lot like my love life before Al. I can’t count how many times I’ve been in love. Or on a diet. Or changed jobs. Or the color of my hair. It’s just life, or at least my life, anyway.

Still, somehow, with each new book, I’m always hoping I’ve finally found my sweet spot. A place to rest and get to know the view. Mostly the new genre-love turns out to be the good place for now, for however long it holds my fickle interest. Luckily I have settled down to one lasting human love, because the other way was too much drama, which I save now for my characters. Let them go through all that. I’m done, got my one and only.

I see this flirting with different genres, falling in and out of love with “the one” in a read-through of the free short story (now on my website forever) “The Charming Criminal.” Sometimes I try very hard to hit a specific target, like I did with Lily White in Detroit. I really wanted to write a psychological thriller. What I wrote was a crime novel. That’s fine; I’m still proud I was able to finish it and my dad liked it. But the violence of it, while true to Lily’s story, was the end.

I made what for me was the good choice. I don’t write to torture myself. I write for satisfaction, and I really didn’t want to go down Procedural Road anymore. I wanted to get cozy. And yet when I read through my story, the end didn’t feel like The End. It feels like What Happens Next? So I kept my criminal and FBI agent going into a new book and now into my second series. Along the way, I dodged about a million FBI bullets.

Editing is done (as of last week) on Jane in St Pete. Just waiting for a release date. And messing around with getting this short story, which like my other short stories, was never meant to be published, online. If you read it and like it, maybe you’ll like Jane, too. At the very least, you’ll find closure. Until the next book.

Where Ideas Come From

“The Charming Criminal” is a short story that led to a novel that led to a series. The criminal, George, charmed me so much I had to use him in my upcoming novel, Jane in St. Pete. I insisted, despite one critique partner asking me “Why is he in this story?” and another teasing mercilessly, absolutely sure that George and Jane were going to become a couple, never mind Jane’s being almost old enough to be his mother. 

I had other plans for George. By the end of that book (due out this fall) I knew I was going to write a series and George would be a recurring character throughout the series. At the moment, I am busy writing Book 2  of the “Jane in St. Pete Mystery” series. But this short story, written a few years ago on a whim, was the beginning of it all. 

Writers, you never know when or from where inspiration will strike. I thought I was just writing a silly story during a time when all my ideas for new novels had dried up. I was just practicing until I got back to the real business of writing novels. Then George came along and made Jane in St. Pete a better story. Sometimes you have to trust your instincts despite what well-meaning critique partners might say.

If you pay attention and write faithfully, words will show you the way. I actually got the idea of George from a movie. In the film, the guy was a criminal, but he was also a good guy. I wondered if I could do that. Since my protagonists are always female, I knew he wasn’t my next main character. But I wasn’t writing, so I took it on as a lark and as a way to continue practicing my craft until a new book showed up.

A few years down the road, the result of that idea is a short story and a new series of mystery novels. One idea leads to another. Simple as that.

September is my website’s birthday. Since 2002, I’ve done something for my readers during the month of September to say thank you. This short story should be FREE on my landing page in September, if not before.

Wheel of Addiction

As a hardcore reader, I have read so many addiction memoirs. Next to fiction, memoir is my favorite genre. Doesn’t matter if the memoirist is addicted or not, but so many of them are, and these are the stories of how they got better, got the monkey off their backs. I love happy endings.

While reading this addiction memoir by Erica Barnett, I realized that more than a happy ending, I want to know the HOW of hardcore users just up and quitting. It’s fascinating to me. Barnett makes it clear that it’s not so easy, and easier to quit than to quit relapsing. She’s been in a slew of rehab facilities, and usually, the day she got out, she stopped at the liquor store on her way home.

Something clicked while I read of her relapse after relapse. That’s what happens to me with sugar. I know that if I go three days with no sugar my cravings will disappear. I also know that if I have one donut or one scoop of ice cream, or even one bite of a candy bar, my need for sugar comes roaring back with a vengeance. And it takes me a week or two of eating all the sugar I can buy before I shame myself into going through three days of constant craving to get free from sugar. Again.

My A1c continues to be in the “pre-diabetes” zone, and that’s because my body no longer tolerates wheat or dairy. So I keep my body semi-okay because wheat is nothing but sugar and, before I knew that, I had wheat with every meal. Cereal for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, pasta for dinner. It was easier for me to give these staples up because I got really sick when I ate them. I don’t get sick when I eat sugar, at least I don’t feel sick.

Inside, sugar is not doing my body any good, and I had that hamster wheel of staying clean, falling off the wagon, and going through rehab again. Just like an alcoholic, but a sugar addict. Sugar doesn’t make you slur your words, black out, ruin relationships, or leave you without a job, like alcohol does, but when I read Barnett’s story, I identified with that constant round of wanting, craving, and finally giving in.

It seems stupid, really stupid, for me to be on this wheel. I’m 65. If I don’t want to spend my old age sick and miserable, I need to take better care of myself. And I wish people wrote memoirs about their sugar addiction like they do their alcohol addiction. I already have “I Quit Sugar” but as far as I know, that’s the only book out there on beating sugar addiction.

Also, it’s much harder now with Al home. He loves sweets, but he is not even close to diabetic. He gets mad when I eat his cookies, because he can keep them in the pantry for a month and I eat them in a day or two. Same with ice cream. He likes donuts, too. I feel ashamed of myself and his attitude is not helping matters. Although…he told me to ask my doctor about seeing a dietician. Really, that’s what I should do.