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.

Where I'm Writing From

This is a new writing spot in the same tiny winter condo I share with my newly retired husband, Al. Well, he retired January 1, 2020. Since then, it’s been a journey. We came almost immediately south to our winter home in St. Petersburg, Florida. Since we bought this place, this is the longest Al has been here. Since we’ve been married, this is the longest time the two of us have been together all day every day.

At first, Al had lots of activities and so I was able to comfortably keep most of my beloved habits and routines. I could write in my notebook every morning, spend a good part of Monday writing a blog post, go to dance class, yoga class and writer’s group. Al golfed, went to the gym, and took up shuffleboard. He was thinking of joining a poker group that meets at the clubhouse. Those were good times.

You know what happened next. COVID-19. Al and I have been mostly at home without much interaction with others for one week. My mother back in Michigan has been isolated for two weeks. It took us a little longer to get the memo that staying home is what we should do. Al stopped golfing. The gym closed. All my activities here on the Bayou closed, as did Al’s shuffleboard. We’ve heard people are still using the pool, but I’ve never been one for pools. I prefer beaches.

All our 35 miles of lovely white sand beaches have closed. Our Michigan family has canceled a trip down. That was wise, the right thing to do. You want to be in your home state where your doctors are when a pandemic hits. Our doctors are in Michigan and we are just moving in the Medicare so we really hope we don’t have to visit any doctor here. Most people who get this evil disease won’t have to see a doctor. We are older, but we’re healthy, so we’re optimistic. Speaking of healthy, I taught Al yoga. I miss my yoga teacher, though. She was really, really good. I just do the basics, like the series of poses called Sun Salutation to “Here Comes the Sun.”

We had a dance party, just the two of us, one night, with the help of Alexa, our non-human helper. Mostly she plays songs for us and tells us the weather in Michigan. We used to feel smug about that…now we just ask so we won’t pack up the car and head north too soon. For one thing, my dad is here. I hope to talk him into coming home with us (not working so far). The other part is our house there is much bigger, although really I finally have Al where I’ve always secretly wanted him, close by my side all day every day. Except when I want to read or write.

We watched the new ZZ Top rock doc on Netflix (I’m not a fan of their music but I love a good story about creative people making their dreams come true and this one was excellent). Also on Netflix, we’re watching The Stranger. It’s good, too. I see that the new Emma is coming to video straight from the mostly-closed movie theaters. I’m torn. $14.95 seems way too much to pay. Maybe for my birthday. Until then, we’ll just go on as we have and hope the sky doesn’t fall.

Things are quiet. We see walkers and people playing tennis, but we prefer to keep our social distance. At first I didn’t even want to take walks, but since Al did yoga, I have to now. Other than walking along the bayou nature trail, we have been to the grocery store, and my dad visited last Tuesday. That’s the extent of our activities outside staying in this little condo together. Which is why I moved my desk into the bedroom. The bedroom has become my refuge for reading and writing as Al pretty much watches CNBC (or as I call it “the money channel”) from opening bell until close of market. It keeps him (mostly) calm and busy, so I’m not complaining.

We live in Pinellas County, where there are currently 38 known cases of coronavirus, the virus that causes the disease of COVID-19. That’s low and we’re lucky. Most people in Florida (70%) are retired and don’t work anymore. We’ve saved all our lives for a little slice of year-round sunshine. Our lives have been upended, sure, but we don’t have many of the problems the rest of the country struggle with. Not yet.

It’s those people here and elsewhere on the globe, who have been on my mind. I’m worried for small businesses, for the service industry, for the paycheck-to-paycheck folks. There’s a great tradition in St Pete for small businesses. Downtown is mostly run by entrepreneurs. We love that. I see I am speaking for Al now. It was bound to happen. I’m surprised at how good we get along in this small space. I’m surprised how little I watch the second television that everyone said was essential when a spouse retires. But then, I am a reader and a writer.

I am also about to turn 65, the magic number for people who want to get into grocery stores early, when everything is freshly sanitized and shelves are fully stocked. You can see how that really won’t matter to us here where almost everyone is 65 and older. It will be a mob scene, but at least a clean one.

I had big plans for my birthday. A new business in St Pete, Book + Bottle was supposed to open last week. They sell books and wine. I love the whole concept. So I was going there, dragging Dad and Al because it’s my birthday and I get to say where we go and what we do. I also planned on visiting Frida’s bakery and cafe, another wonderful local business, for my dinner out, because I never cook on my birthday. Also, they have flourless chocolate cake and great food. I went there with writer friends before the enemy virus hit, and thought Al and Dad would like it there, too.

Just like almost everywhere in America, those two places have mostly closed for business. I hope our local small businesses can keep it together until the crisis is over and we get back to normal. It feels sometimes like things will never be normal again. Or there will be a new normal. Both Book + Bottle and Frida’s have curbside service, so we may just hop in the car and go out to support those businesses from afar. I’ve never ordered a book or a bottle of wine as a carry-out before. Since it’s my birthday, I can insist!

It’s a whole new world out there. I hope you are doing well. Until next week…

Inner Critic

The number one thing people told me we needed to do when Al retired was have two television sets. I immediately saw the wisdom in this. Al loves sports and I do not. So by Big Game day, we were all set. Not only had we purchased a new television for Al, but a new recliner, too.

So Al reclined in comfort while I watched Sanditon, Taylor Swift’s documentary, and two Grace and Frankie episodes in the guest room. Perfect. Al seems to really be enjoying his retirement and I get a kick out of this new laid back husband. Everything would be perfect if only my inner critic would shut up.

Most writers have some acquaintance with the inner critic. I used to shut mine up with chocolate, but now I have to watch my sugar. So, I need a new coping mechanism. Meanwhile, my inner critic laughs in glee, remarking that writing about retirement is not quite the riveting subject I had stupidly presumed would provide fodder for many a post to come.

I have a writer’s group here in Florida. I don’t say much about them because we have all agreed not to discuss anything said in the library where we meet. I am going to bend that rule a little bit because I don’t know how else to say what comes next. One woman wrote in present tense. It turned out really well, we all loved it, but then we all love everything she writes.

I was having one of those rare moments of hubris when I proclaimed “I don’t know what I’ll write next week, but whatever it is, I will write it in present tense!” That was three days ago and I have not been able to stop thinking about it and trying out sentences. My inner critic hates every single one of them. I even tried to write this post in present tense. How hard could it be?

Very. So while retirement continues to flow harmoniously, the writing has hit a speed bump. It’s not like I’m blocked. I can always write. But never have I ever had to use the backspace like I’ve done this morning. That’s fine. I love a challenge. I thought Al’s retirement would be a challenge, but no, it’s wonderful in every possible way.

I can feel myself about to do something reckless here. I’m not only going to write the group pages in present tense, I am going to post them here one week from today. And that is how to shut the inner critic up. For now.

Careful What You Wish For

Friends gave me lots of advice before Al’s retirement. The thing I heard most often was the need for two television sets. That makes sense because I dislike sports and Al can’t conquer the English accent. He likes fast action stories and I prefer PBS style romance. But we often read at night instead of watching television, except when the “big game” is on. There’s always a big game. So we bought a second television. Done.

Many women chuckled and offered variations on “It’s an adjustment.” My more frank friends said “You will wish you had more time alone.” It’s only been 20 days, and while it’s been an adjustment, it’s not been difficult. We figured out how to divide chores the first week. In a very tangible way, this is my retirement, too. Cooking, cleaning, laundry and shopping…he’s doing half of everything. And without and fuss. Or, not much.

As for fun and relaxing activities, Al is not one to sit around and…write books. He says he’s going to read some of my books, though. I won’t hold him to it. He is a non-fiction guy. That’s okay. He goes to the gym three times a week, golfs regularly and even played shuffleboard this week. He says it’s like pool. I didn’t inquire further.

I have never liked team sports: watching them or playing them. I prefer to read, and it’s true I have not had as much time to read since Al retired, but that’s fine. I enjoy doing things with Al like walking on the beach or just having a coffee together in the morning. We have been grocery shopping together and that’s more fun than you’d think. I had so many chores and rote routines, mixing it up energizes my chi.

I like line dancing though it’s not actually a sport. Well, I guess it can be, but I do it for fun. I love to dance. And I like yoga, too. It’s true I have not yet found the time to actually go to line dancing or yoga class since Al retired, but I plan to do both this week. The one thing I’ve done on my own consistently is go to the writer’s group. No surprise there. Writers are my tribe.

Most of my married life, I’ve not had a companion. Now I do. It’s what I always wished for and my dream has come true at last. It’s lovely. Sure, we’re still in our honeymoon phase of retirement. We have some tough decisions and hard work ahead, but I’m certain we’ll manage it all. Together.

Happy Writing Holidays

Stephen King does it every single day, sometimes including Christmas day. So does Nora Roberts. What is “it”? Writing. Some of us can’t go even a day without pen and paper or a keyboard. Unless we get our writing fix, things just don’t feel right.

That’s true for me, too, but I am not wealthy and I don’t have assistants to help me get ready for the holidays. Al is working more hours than God, saving up for the big retirement…so I alone must clean and shop and wrap and cook. And also bake cookies with Ben!

Since my own retirement from teaching, I’ve started most days with morning pages, and if I can’t work on my novel, those tide me over, like a snack before dinner. Or photos of my grandchildren until the next visit. But yesterday I had the whole day and I used it. Tucking laundry duty into yoga stretch breaks, I read and revised my entire manuscript.

It took about ten hours. I cut about ten thousand more words and didn’t add nearly as many back. But this morning I noted in my morning pages the holes in the plot that I need to fill. I have already filled Ben’s stocking and wrapped all the gifts. I just got back from grocery shopping for cookie ingredients and Christmas dinner.

I’ve got some final organizing to do tomorrow. Like get the guest room ready! I’m not sure when I will write those last few scenes, but I’m not worried because I know where I need to go and I’m almost ready for Christmas. I keep checking my calendar…can it be true?

Will Al really be home forever in one week? We have waited a long time for this. Even though friends think we’re in for a bumpy ride, I cannot wait to begin the next part of our life together!

And to all my friends, I wish you a heart full of love this holiday season. ❤