A Mysterious Character

For years, more people than I can count, people close to us, friends and family, have told me my husband Al is a workaholic. That’s how they view him, but I never thought they were right. I didn’t reply to these remarks, maybe a short laugh or a shrug, but I never wanted to argue the point. I was certain I knew my husband better than anyone, and we were just fine, thanks.

In my current novel, Jane is a recent widow who is not mourning her loss. She’s not evil. She didn’t kill him. She just hadn’t loved him in a long time. Jane is one of those wives who stay “for the children.” I’ve always been curious about those women. How could they do it? I know I couldn’t.

What kind of marriage did they have? I thought I’d sorted these smallish pieces of character very early on. I knew everything about the dead husband that Jane knew. He was still one part mystery, even dead. In fact, his death meant she’d never know one crucial thing about him. And not knowing that affected everything about her behavior.

The NEVER KNOWING part really bothered me. I had to give her some justification for staying with this man who suddenly without explanation, cut off all marital relations when they were still quite a young couple. This behavior is not unheard of, but just uncommon enough, I thought, to be fresh.

Then I read Three Women by Lisa Taddeo and one of the women has just such a husband. He claims he doesn’t need or even much like sex. Three Women is reportage; it’s non-fiction. It’s also very, very good. I wasn’t going to lift that reason, which still makes me ask the question WHY anyway. Why doesn’t he like sex? Why does he refuse to kiss his wife? How can this marriage be saved?

You’ll have to read Lisa Taddeo for those answers because I am not going to use that reason. Still, I really wanted to do a version of “they stayed together for the children” because I am interested in people who are able to do that. I sure couldn’t. Curiosity about people who are unlike me fuels my fiction. I want to know what drives them, so I write to learn answers.

The problem I came up against quite quickly after discarding the Taddeo solution is Jane needing a new reason not to mourn. I thought a few minutes until the idea of a workaholic husband presented itself. I didn’t know much about workaholics except they worked all the time. I took a day for research yesterday and after ten pages of juicy notes, I knew everything there is to know about workaholics. I also knew that my dear Al is one of them.

The facts don’t lie. If it was just one Wikipedia article, or one of the “Top Workaholic Traits” I might have kept that open secret from myself a little longer. As it is, I have accepted that yes, I’m married to a workaholic. But he’s not the shade of workaholic I’m writing about. I found a treasure trove of disturbing workaholic behavior that will make Jane a merry widow, but my own worker bee is happily alive and wearying of his frantic pace. He’s ready to get out of the rat race and we have a date set in the very near future for unlocking those golden handcuffs.

Pitch Wars!

“Nobody wants to read women over thirty.” So Becky Masterman learned when she sent her first Brigid Quinn novel out to agents. That changed a few years later, at least for Masterman. She’s now published four Brigid Quinn crime novels, and I am hooked. Also, Masterman inspired me to try to write my own older character.

My current publisher has never said no to any of the six books I’ve published with them. I’m not sure how they will like Jane’s age (55). I would sure like to read more smart and strong older female characters like Brigid. I can’t find any. I wrote Jane as much for myself as I did for anyone. Since I’m almost finished with her story, I’ve decided on a pain-free way to show the manuscript to agents and editors.

Pitch Wars is new to me. Another member of Michigan Sisters in Crime sent out a call for someone to partner up with for this competition and I responded. It’s been a long time since I wrote a book proposal, which is what you do for Pitch Wars. I want to know, for better or worse, what the reaction will be to my older heroine. Is there still resistance to older female characters?

If so, I don’t get it. Baby boomer’s average age is 57. Many boomers are retired. More time for reading. We already know women out-read men by a wide margin. So the target audience for older female characters with grit and grace seems to be ready and waiting. I know I am. If you have any favorite older female characters (I already know about Miss Marple :)) please let me know in the comments.

Am I just quirky and out there? Or are other baby boomer readers also longing for main characters closer to their own age?

I’ll let you know what I hear about my older heroine from the publishing sector after Pitch Wars ends in late September. I’m interested in what they have to say about Jane. Interested and a little nervous.

Family Time

I am eating M&Ms smushed into a blob of peanut butter. This is my lunch. For anyone following my Quit Sugar mission, this is not part of the plan. But there are absolutely times when you have to drop the plan and pay attention to more basic needs, like chocolate. I have M&Ms in my house because I hosted a family barbecue on Sunday. My three grandkids were there! Hence, leftover M&Ms.

In the midst of celebration and connection, we had some tragic news about someone we all love. As much as I dislike teasers of this sort, I’m trying to protect the privacy of those involved. I’ll just say, we were thrilled to be together and crushed by this nightmare news. We kept it from the little ones, of course.

Still, people must be fed. Coffee must be perked. Wine glasses filled. I loved this weekend with my kids and grandkids and parents and my brother Bill. I’m trying to accommodate the more painful parts of events mixed in with the overflowing joy.

I don’t mean to trivialize tragedy by suggesting sweet treats help. They don’t. So I’m going to leave the leftover pie and ice cream alone and try to cope with this clash of opposites in more productive ways. For me, that means writing. No matter what the hard thing is, writing will ease the ache, at least for me.

Practical Plotting

Writing pal Bob is working on a new idea for a book, the first novel he’s written in awhile. Bob has published a bunch of funny and clever mysteries, but, as most writers find, every new book is another challenge. First you need an idea. Then you need to convince yourself it’s not boring. Bob sent a three or four sentence elevator pitch about the book in his head. It was not boring.

Bob moved on with a synopsis draft. Here he writes out exactly what the book will be about and who his characters will be and how the plot will turn. He has the story worked out in his head! Yes, Bob is a plotter. I find plotters fascinating. But this time, Bob has a problem.

“I’m writing a much longer summary than usual,” he said. I don’t see this as a bad thing, but being the helpful writing friend, I offered to send him a version of Jane Cleland’s Road Map, which I wrote more about here. I say “a version of” because after I diagramed the road map, and tried filling it in, I customized it to fit onto a notebook page. Here I’m simplifying it down to two lines of writer’s code.

Inciting Incident-SP1-SP2-SP1-Turning Point-SP2-SP1-Turning Point-SP2-Turning Point-All Plots Resolved

Inciting Incident: Where does the problem start? The point at which the story and character are headed into a mystery and there is no turning back. Start there.

SP stands for subplot. I like two. Introduce the first one about 30 pages in for a 300 page novel. (I write short novels). Another thing about subplots…if you don’t have, let’s say, a romance subplot, but an agent or your editor wants one, just write a love story for your character. Then you can piece it up and place it in 3 or 4 slots in the book. You can do both your subplots this way.

Turning Points need to escalate the drama, turn the heat higher. Lots of people call these Plot Twists. I think of them as going deeper into the mystery. There’s new information that changes everything the main character thinks they knew.

When the story hits the highest possible point of tension, the subplots braid together with the main plot. Each illuminates the other and all need to fit into the final resolution. I like to use one of the subplots to put a “sting in the tail” ~ just one final twist the reader never saw coming but also makes absolute sense.

Speaking of sense, I hope this made some. Questions or observations?

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.