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.

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.

Research Rewards

This is one of the books I’m using to research my second book in the “Jane in St Pete” series. When I decided on an amateur sleuth series, I made Jane a retired art lecturer because I thought the research would be fun. And it is. I’ve read three books about Frida. A biography, then a book of her portraits, and finally this one, her diary. The diary plays a key role in the mystery.

But my interest in Frida Kahlo goes beyond researching my novel. I’m a devoted fan of her work and admire most everything about her short, painful life. There’s a painting, watercolor with colored pencils, from the diary that shows Frida consumed by fire in the midst of greenery. The title, Te Vas? No. Alas Rotes, translates to “Are you going? No. Broken Wings.” The diary Frida kept in the last ten years of her life, when for medical reasons she was mostly confined to her home near Mexico City, is a made thing. There are drawings, paintings, and poems along with some actual diary entries.

I’ve just ordered a few more research books, not on Frida, because in the Jane in St Pete novels, I don’t want to overwhelm readers with art. As with all research in fiction, you don’t want to do an info dump. This can be tricky, as I always find one more thing I want to say about Frida. A light touch works better for the reader and the book.

Galley Proofed

All was quiet. Al had gone golfing. I’d turned off my phone. And I read my book one more time. In galley, which is the final form before publishing. There are line numbers on every page as well as page numbers. This is the last chance to change or fix any errors. There was one thing my editor found (a song lyric) I needed to eliminate. I know my publisher does not run down copyright holders to ask if they can reprint a song lyric. But I seem to sneak a lyric or two into every single book.

Then there was the weird thing where a sentence starting with a number must be spelled out. Jane lives in unit 202 and sometimes I did the shorthand, and started a sentence with a number. Last edit, editor told me that rule and I said, okay well just spell it out then. But when I got the galley, it looked funny, so I changed the first word to Unit, which editor said was an option, so I could have the number not spelled out because “Two oh four” seemed ugly on the page. Especially phonetically spelling “oh” instead of zero.

So I changed those.

Then I spied a space between a quote mark and the word. Bored yet? It’s like that. With galleys I do not go in and revise unless I absolutely have to. I’ve been through three rounds of edits, all the major plot problems have been ironed out and the minor ones too. I still want to change a few things, but I don’t because that’s not what galley proofing is about. An author will always want to change things, but if a book is going to be published in a timely manner, it’s done when the galleys are proofed.

So, it’s done. Now I need to wait for what the publishers do next. Editor said “copy edit” and I am not sure why that is different than the other edits except maybe because it’s a galley? But whatever it is, I don’t have to do it. My job is done. For now. Still don’t have a pub date…but it won’t be too much longer. Meanwhile I can work on book two called (for now) Death on the Bayou. I looked and there are no other books with that title.

And then under the title, on the inside front matter, it will say “A Jane in St Pete Mystery” and maybe under that Book 2. I did see “A Jane in St Pete Mystery” Book 1 on the galley proofs. Should have taken a picture!