Reading Friends’ Work

Detroit Firefighter Frank English

When you’re a writer, especially a published writer, you will be asked questions like “How do I get published?” or “Will you read my manuscript?” all the time. If you don’t know the person well, it’s best to say “no” because down the line (I’ve heard this story often, although it has never happened to me) someone may try to sue you because you stole their idea. But if you have a good friend, and you are like me, of course you’ll say yes. Well, if you’re not really busy at a crucial editing stage of your own book.

I met with my critique group on Saturday for the first time in months and joining a group is a good way to get your work read and receive feedback. This particular group are all mystery novelists, from the Michigan chapter of Sisters in Crime. We’ve been on Zoom since the start of Covid, so that means I can still get together with them to share our work even though I’m in Florida. There is a local chapter here in Florida, but you get used to your peeps. In a writing group, we all know the drill. Praise good things and point out (gently) what does not work for you. Maybe suggest changes if you have an idea of something that might work better.

I have some friends in Florida, also moved from Michigan–and since we are “couple” friends, as well as Lisa and I being close friends for 50 years!–we saw them last night for dinner and lots of talk. A year or two ago, Frank asked me to read some stories he’s written. Since he worked for the Detroit Fire Department for 35 years, and since he is a great storyteller, I said sure. I didn’t know what to expect, but I do know how to let someone down easy. Except…Frank’s book was great. His storytelling voice, the one he uses to entertain us around the dinner table, was in every word. He has a voice, essential but often elusive for a writer.

I told him it was great (he also had tons of photos). There was a natural arrangement to the book, from the first chapter when his buddy came over and said “Hey I hear they’re hiring firemen, wanna apply with me?” to the different squads he worked on through the years, and these were harrowing years when every “Devil’s Night” Detroit would burn, to his later years in upper management. Detroit no longer has a problem with Devil’s Night, in fact they call it “Angel’s Night” as citizens and officials join together to patrol the streets. Yes, Frank knows how to finish with a happy ending. Even for Detroit, which those of us who lived there know is happening, but most people from other states still think of it as “The Murder City” a play on our original name “The Motor City.”

I didn’t know if Frank would ever finish his book. He had a lot of stories to tell. I told him about Wayne State University Press, who have an interest in publishing all things Detroit. I told him his writing was smooth, tinged with humor amid the terrorizing smoke. And all told in his unique style and voice. Whew. I didn’t have to let him down easy! I was telling him the truth when I said he had a great book going and he could really write.

Fast forward to last night. Frank said, “Oh Cindy I want to show you something,” and he left the room only to re-enter with the book shown above. I started reading it again this morning. It’s a beautiful book; he found a good publisher. The photos are gorgeous. Well, not that actual fires where people die are gorgeous, but the details captured by Frank’s friend and fellow firefighter, they catch the dramatic moments so well.

Good luck to Frank as he goes into the marketing phase. And to everybody else out there, yes I am VERY busy right now finishing my second Jane in St Pete book. That’s not even a joke. Covid messed me up and then there was moving and my husband retiring and the two of sharing a tiny condo and him not golfing or going to the gym because it is too hot. My routine of years and years of being alone to write has been disrupted. So really. I need to work if I ever want to get this series rolling.

Moving On

Heading to Bainbridge Island, Seattle

We did not move to Seattle; we had a family vacation there. Right after we moved to our little winter condo in St. Pete. We filled our car (down to one car for now) with boxes, dropped them off in Florida and hopped a plane to Seattle. We hadn’t been on a plane since Covid and we had not seen our Seattle children (or grandchildren!) since before Covid. We planned the trip back in that wonderful short window when it seemed that the pandemic would soon be over. Of course we still wore masks in airport and on plane. We wore them in Seattle, except in the house. Our grandkids are not yet vaccinated, so we did it for them. We had a great time. Little Julia is just 4 years old, but not shy. She touched my fingernail and said “Pink is my favorite color.” I said “Mine, too!”

The next day, she introduced me to all her stuffed animals. Owen is in second grade now, and he loves playing video games, just like his dad did when he was 7. Mike is still working from home. Jessica is working harder than she thought she’d be at this time. Not only is Owen home, but Mike is too. We got a tour of his office and Owen learned how to operate the copy machine. One day we all tried, by howling, to get Murphy to howl. Murphy is the dog. He did not howl but looked at us like we were nuts. It was a fun relaxing vacation. And lovely to see my son, his wife and our grandkids again after such a long time. They have plans to come here to Florida this fall. I hope it works out. You just don’t know. I’ve a nagging worry about the mu variant.

Jane.2 languishes. I am ready for it to return to life. My plan is to read Jane.1 and take notes. Then read the 100+ pages of Jane.2 plus post-it notes. Then write to the finish. I would love to have a complete draft by the end of 2021. Found a desk on Wayfair, a big one, and even though this tiny condo is crammed, there’s a spot for it here. I checked and it doesn’t SEEM to come from China, as I need it ASAP. I am longing to get back to work. I have been longing to get back to Monday Blogs and yes, it seems I’ve done it! My laptop finally has WiFi and all is set for take off into this new life.

What’s a Scene Sequence?

RIP Bosco

I finally found time to write my scene today…it’s been growing in my mind and I’ve been scribbling notes, but the move has really interrupted normal time here. I’d say it was fine, but I miss my words and my blogging friends, so really, it’s not exactly fine. But eventually it will be. I had to plan this morning’s writing sprint around so many other moving type things, but mostly packing. We still didn’t get our A/C fixed (next week!) so I need to consider the weather. Lucky for me, it’s been more like fall than summer. But we are due for another meltingly hot week coming later. I’m 66, I can’t pack and sweat at the same time.

Ironic I know. We are moving to Florida in August and I’m complaining about Michigan heat. Al and I have talked about if this is some kind of sign. But we do have a little home in Florida, so it’s somewhere to go, even if we decide not to stay there. I think we’ll stay. That’s the plan. Our way of working is to have a plan but be flexible. So while our little condo is in St. Pete, our stuff (for me, books; for Al, tools, for both of us, a few pieces of treasured furniture) is mostly in storage here in Michigan. Because the little St Pete condo has all we need, but not all we want. We will be looking for a new place once we get down there…well, maybe we’ll take a long road trip first, from Florida to Seattle. I have not seen my grandkids in almost two years!

Next weekend, we are going to see Ben, who lives with his parents and dog Sunny in northern Michigan, right at the tip of the lower peninsula. It’s about four and a half hours from here, so we see Ben more than our Seattle grandchildren. We are planning to see them all every summer once we relocate to our new (yet to be found) perfect home. Next weekend, we will miss Bosco, who was my first granddog and came before any grandchildren or other granddogs, passed on to dog heaven a few days ago. I’m glad Ben has Sunny. This is a first dog death in the family. It’s hard. Dogs are so loyal and cuddly. We will miss you, Bosco.

I really did mean this post to be about scene sequences, but you see how life is happening at warp speed just now. At first, I had the idea for a scene: Jane spying on four guys playing poker. One of them, she is sure, is the murderer. But then I thought, oh I need to set that scene up a couple different ways first. Sort of lay the foundation. Build the tension slow. Which is why I have three scenes, not one. And they are called a “scene sequence” because they all relate to Jane trying to catch a killer. The first thing I had to do was watch a YouTube video on poker as I knew nothing about it. Then, long overdue, I had to research Florida shrubbery. And after about five hours, I had my new scenes.

I read them over. They’re rough. They need work. But that’s what revision is for.

Canva Update

I like this but I wish I could delete the punctuation. I did it for an Insta post and I’m still unsure about sizing. Like can I just make it fit Twitter, too? And Facebook? Pinterest? I’m sure the tools are there, just not of my ability to use them. This is not an intuitive process for me, I’m not patient enough to work through small details. Except on my books, and even there, I have an editor. Thus, creating images takes a lot of time, but I think in the end it will be worth it.

In other news I am also am working on a sell sheet, now that my publisher has distribution through Lightening Source. The PR person helps as much as my editor. She has given me a template on what to include and Canva should be helpful for that, too. Distribution is a huge thing. Before it was all e-sales or hand sell print books. Now I can send a book to the local St. Pete bookstores and hope they order some!

Connecting During Covid

I thought I would be so much further along on my Covid marketing plan. But then I got sick. Not sure yet if I had the actual Covid or just a potent blend of sinus, cold, and flu. Getting blood test tomorrow. Getting results who knows when??? Still, even sick for a few weeks, I did manage to make this little promo image on Canva, and Linda, who you met last week when we swapped blogs, has promised to show me how to do more. Like a story.

Also I did my Facebook Author Chat. I was so happy my voice wasn’t nasal and I did not cough! It was fun and easy but not so fun or easy to upload the video to my site. I checked the link at the start of this paragraph and it will take you to the chat. (Maybe only if you are on Facebook?) I watched it after we stopped talking and noted that I did not mention my new book one time. Not once! I didn’t show the book cover or even mention the title. It was just talking with other writers. Pure fun, which is the best sort of promotion.

In case I have not said it enough due to Covid or whatever I had (my husband gave it to me, whatever it was) the title of my new book is Jane in St Pete. That link will take you to Amazon to buy the book, but you can also buy it on Nook and iPhone. I bought my first Kindle book (by Karen McQuestion) on my husband’s iPhone in 2007 because I didn’t have a Kindle or an iPhone and I was excited about this new KDP program Karen was talking about.

I kind of knew that promotion for this book at this time would not be a whirlwind of success. Besides getting sick and writing the next book in the Jane series, I am also taking care of doctor appointments that had to be postponed when I got sick. Doctors do not want you in their office if you even suspect you have Covid.

What happened after that was I had to wait a few additional weeks for another appointment. It’s an important appointment, additional tests necessary because the first test had a bit of a shadow. I knew I’d be worried (worried is my middle name) the whole time I was in Florida this winter if I waited for Spring to take that test. I’m sure it will turn out to be nothing. Anyway.

We were supposed to leave for Florida December 2. Yes, in two days, now postponed two weeks. My biggest book promotion was going to be in Florida, in St. Pete, where the book is set. That may not happen now. The venue where I was to have a book signing is closed. Due to Covid. I’m glad I gave myself a talking to before the book came out. It’s okay if this is not the book launch of my dreams, despite what my horoscope may have predicted.

There will be other books and other signings and probably even other video chats. Which I really wanted to embed right here. Maybe next time.