Kate Flora: February is the month when I always used to go crazy. Not dangerously crazy, just irritable, grumpy, jumpy, restless, annoyed with cold and snow and being indoors crazy. Immersing myself in the writer’s life has rescued me from that. I don’t have as much time to be crazy and grouchy when I have to meet my thousand word a day quota. So now the February crazies have been replaced by a new malady, a writer’s disease called “I don’t know what happens next.”
Not knowing what happens next is fine if you’re the reader. That’s part of the fun of reading of mystery, all that “I wonder what he/she is going to do next?” Not quite as much fun when the quota hangs there, needed to be met, and the author, in this case, me, has a whole lot of stuff on the table and no idea what to do with it. Or, as I told my trainer last week when I was particularly spacy-I’ve got a mysterious pregnant woman who knocks on the door, and a bullying man in a black SUV, and he’s looking for someone with the same name as the mysterious pregnant woman, but his description is of someone else. Fine. I can write my way out of that. But then there is a private school with a cheating and hacking scandal that Thea has to sort out. Not so fine. What do I know about hacking? And then there comes a call from the Kent School, where the headmaster is in trouble again, this time for allegedly fighting with a student.
My trainer no doubt thinks I’m nuts. At this point, so do I. How am I going to follow up all these strands and make the book make sense. And then, because I don’t have enough to deal with, I introduce a mysterious box.
All in good fun, you say. It always works out, right? Yes. It does. But what you may not see while you are reading is the blood we sweat and the tears we shed. Those bald patches where I’ve pulled my hair out. That box of leftover Valentine chocolates hidden under my desk that gets raided when the going gets tough.
Sometimes, when this writer gets sick of staring at the screen, writing words, erasing them, and sick of eating chocolate and it is not yet late enough in the day for a proper daughter of New England to give herself over to drink, I do the indoor, writerly equivalent of going out to play.
I close the WIP and pull up my friend Gracie, and let her go have an adventure. Grace Christian is a somewhat wayward US Marshal who first appeared several years ago in a story published by Level Best Books called “Gracie Walks the Plank.” Gracie has voice and Gracie has attitude and it’s fun to see what she’ll think and say. After “Gracie Walks the Plank,” I wrote a second Gracie story about a battered wife and jewel heist called “All that Glitters.” Just for fun, because she’s a vacation from my other characters, I wrote “A Hole Near Her Heart,” and then Entitlements.” My most recent bout of playing hooky from quotas has led to “Black Widower,” just barely begun.
So here’s a question for other writers: Do you ever escape from your works in progress and just go write playful stories? Dark stories? Poetry? Essays?
And here’s Gracie:
All That Glitters
Sometimes she just had to get out of the office. That’s just how it was. Ex-military and six years with the Marshal’s Service, Gracie was trained to conform. She could walk the walk and talk the talk, knot her tie and shine her shoes with the best of them. She knew shit from Shinola and she could pick the bad guy out of a crowd like nobody’s business. But once in a while, the urge to misbehave overtook her. Little stuff, like wanting to slam a jelly donut up against a wall full of wanted posters or put a fart cushion on some uptight asshole’s chair. Draw her gun at an inappropriate time and caress the barrel like it was someone’s precious dick. Stuff that could escalate if she didn’t tamp it down.
When it got so bad that she was, like the guy in the Elvis song, ‘itching like a man on a fuzzy tree,’ she’d leave the office, come out here to the park, and sit on a bench. Brick wall behind her to cover her back. And the whole roiling mass of humanity before her, doing its awkward human things. Spring drew people to the park like a picnic drew ants. Drew them in exuberant hordes, people who’d peeled down and were displaying swaths of bare skin to the sun’s warmth.