Shake it Up

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A few things. I’m not going through the hassle of converting from whatever photos is saving pictures to now or how WordPress is doing it now to jpeg anymore. That takes longer than writing a blog post. I am back to writing my novel daily and so I’m just using Pexels which comes with WordPress. I had a picture for today, too. My own, I mean. I’m so stubborn but finally I have caved into corporate blogging. It’s been twenty years and mostly the changes have been good. No more coding. I would code an image but I forgot how to do it <i/>. I could google it, but I’m trying to save time to write the book. Googling leads to trouble. Hours of it.

Yes back at the book for real. It’s been two weeks. Every morning first thing. I have a new writing partner who was having same stuck problem as me. We are in a mystery novel critique group together. She’s the reason I’m writing again and loving it again. Most of the time. I’ve never had a writing partner. It’s working for both of us. Before her, I was writing five pages a month, mostly spurred on by my group. Accountability.

Yes, the moving to Florida forever took a lot. But that’s done.

So from 1500 words a month, or 750 words in two weeks, I have progressed to 7000 words in two weeks. Maybe 14,000 by the end of the month?! After all my new writer energy burned out at about book 7 or 8, I learned this butt in the chair habit from NaNoWriMo. I learned it was possible to show up with a blank mind and build something. I built a Bat Cave 2020 today. (My book is set right before Covid). Didn’t know the spy house was coming. I knew Jane was going to visit Jesse’s house for the first time. I had no picture in my mind of what it would be like. The words and images showed up. I really like when that happens. So fun living in my head and following Jane around.

Now I’m learning the power of a partner. We do not stay in contact through the week with pep talks or anything, too busy writing. We are both determined self-starters. I keep a running tally like I used to do with NaNo. We just connect on Sunday, share what we’ve done and how we feel (we were both down and uninspired when we started this). She’s benefited as much from the partnership as I have. Writers are jealous of their writing time. They don’t want to share. But a minimal share like this (or a group!) can have maximum effect.

How did we find each other? Our group. She said “I’m struggling,” and I might have said “Me, too.” Then I got the idea to check in with each other once a week and texted her and she said she was in. I had no idea if she’d go for it. But she did. The thing is, if you want a partner, look around and then ask. If she’d said no, I would have understood. Writing is such a private thing (until you’re published and then it isn’t). Showing your word count feels like showing your bank statement. But nope, it’s motivation. And it works.

The other thing is I’m going to blogging every two weeks. One week I will post a pic of my own on twitter and write a blogette. The next week I’ll do this. For awhile. See how I like it. The older you get, the more you are willing to try things and then give them up if they don’t fit your life. Writers need to be careful what they let in. Speaking of, my dad and family are coming over today to see the house for the first time!

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.

Heard From Editor

True to her word, I heard from my editor last week after delivering my manuscript of Jane in St Pete in early January. I’ve second and third guessed myself since then, but she said it was a “treat” to read and my characters were “quirky and interesting.” She’s sending it to the senior editor with a recommendation for a contract!!!!

There will be edits but nothing big, nothing like I imagined in my head. I am so relieved and pleased. Another piece of good luck landed last week, too. My Michigan chapter of Sisters in Crime wants me to lead a workshop in June. I’ll be the opening act for our star, Jane Cleland. What an honor. And if the virus still holds us captives in our homes, we will do it online.

My editor says it will take about two weeks to hear from her boss, so in that time I’ve been reading mystery short stories and trying to glean anything I can about writing the mystery short story. I have written a few. My vague plan is to dig out “The Charming Criminal” which formed the base upon which I built my secondary characters, Barb and George.

I am not a plotter, not really. I let the story take me where it wants to go. If I’m floundering in the middle of a long work, I step back and determine what needs to happen. Jane Cleland has a very good piece of instruction about how to deliberately plot a mystery and that helped, but still, my story tends to go its own way. I hardly know what I’ve done until it’s over.

However, my favorite part of teaching has always been planning the lesson. So my plan is to take “The Charming Criminal” apart to figure out how I put it together. Because I can’t find any books on the internet about how to write a mystery short story. Although, as a start, I’m reading the best ones published last year.

(OMG Joyce Carol Oates “The Archivist” from this collection is so good. Chillingly so.)

Some writers sneer when another author says their books write themselves. One guy said to give that answer about how you write is to be disingenuous. Nope. One example is the way I ended the book. My editor really liked it. She said it wasn’t the usual pages of monologue where the murderer tells all about his crime. Well, at the time, I was just going by intuition.

I did have to rewrite that last scene from scratch a few times. I tend to know (not always, but mostly) when things in a narrative don’t work. So I just keep trying until I get something that feels right. No idea my ending was at all unusual until my editor admired it for that very reason.

There will be edits and other writerly stuff to take care of, but for now I’m bursting with pleasure on my own little cloud of happiness.

Writers Who Need Writers

Thankful this morning for Michigan Sisters in Crime critique group. We met on Saturday at noon and by the time we left my battered confidence was in much more hopeful shape. It’s no secret the WIP, started about year ago, has been giving me fits. Finally, in the company of other writers, everything bugging me about my plot resolved itself. I see the full picture now. My confidence is high.

Writers need confidence to even start a story. It’s a pretty big deal to believe you can write a novel. I don’t mean those people who say “I’d like to write a novel, I have it all in my head, it’s a great story, I just don’t have time to do it.” That’s a false confidence that every writer who is actually producing finished manuscripts sees through immediately. Because writers find the time to write. Jobs, kids, cooking, cleaning…they do all that and write, too. Because they can’t NOT write. They must write.

At first, they scribble in secret. Thrilled but worried too. Is it any good? We are too close to our own words to really know the answer. In my 20s I started sending out my poems and short stories to little magazines. There were editors who liked and published them, other who didn’t bother replying, just stuffed my stamped self-addressed envelope (this was in the 1970s, so, no internet) and sent it back. I remember dreading the mail. Or, less often, smiling wide enough to break my face.

Soon enough, I found my first critique group. They were poets. Nobody had anything much good to say about my poems, but we had fun drinking at the bar afterward. And since they didn’t ignore my work or ruthlessly rip it to shreds, I kept going back. I liked the company of other writers, other people who did the thing I did. I’ve been in many groups since then, and published a bunch of novels (and a tiny chapbook of poems).

I have a publisher now and an excellent editor. But I still need my critique groups. Yes, groups. I have three: one in Florida and two in Michigan. The newest group is great because we all write mystery. Right away, we know the basic structure. There’s a murder early in, someone tries to solve the crime, the bad guy gets caught at the end.

Michigan Sisters in Crime is the best resource I’ve found since moving from poems and stories to romance novels and women’s fiction and now finally, landing in the world of mystery writers. Not only do MI-SinC have a critique group, they continually have events geared to mystery writers. Check out the workshop “Under the Trenchcoat: A Peek Into Private Investigation” on July 27. You don’t have to be a member to attend this event. But unless you’re a member, you might not hear about it.

As for the critique group, who I thank for my remarkable breakthrough over the weekend, it’s fabulous and free to all Mi-SinC members. We meet once a month and you don’t need to attend every session. If you’re a mystery writer living in Michigan, or want to become one, consider joining MiSinC. Our free critique group takes all levels of talent, from beginner to published. You’ll feel energized and motivated, case closed!

Join A Critique Group

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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!