Something’s Gotta Give

When I began to write “for real,” I was working. There was never enough time to do what needed to be done, even when I woke up at 4 AM to peck away. Watching television soon went by the wayside, and not only because I couldn’t wrestle the remote away from my husband. I got antsy and guilty sitting around, and most shows were simply not my cup of tea. No canned laughter for me. No darkness and gore and violence. And definitely no Real Housewives of Botoxia and Implantistan.

Fast-forward to present-day Maggie, who still doesn’t turn on the TV in the living room, but…

I confess. I am cheating on my book and streaming stuff on my computer. Here I sit barefoot at my desk, my screen bigger than the first black and white TV my parents bought in the fifties. I am a fool for procrastination—my current WIP has been about half-way done for too many months to count. I’ve tricked myself into thinking I’m doing “research” by watching newish mystery series. I dream of the Lady Adelaide books being optioned (Manifesting. Make it so. I will put shoes on for the premiere.).

I always had trouble committing to “tune in next week,” but how lovely it is to be able to binge several episodes at once, only pausing for snacks and nature. I prefer cozy, light, nearly disposable shows. However, I find gritty Slow Horses on Apple+ extremely compelling, though I’ve had to close my eyes for a lot of it. The writing is perfection. Gary Oldman is simply spectacular, but does need a shower.

If you, too, are looking to kill a few hours/search for inspiration, I have some suggestions. They are in no particular order, not even alphabetical. I may not watch much TV, but my husband has a subscription to virtually every streaming service out there, so some are on Acorn and BritBox. You will notice most shows take place in the UK, because I am a hopeless Anglophile and I miss our trips abroad.

  1. McDonald and Dodds, set in Bath, England, features an older neurodivergent sergeant and his very ambitious young female boss who has come to count on his off-kilter detection skills.
  2. Agatha Raisin, based on the M.C. Beaton books. Nice ensemble cast. A bit (okay, a lot) silly in spots. Great clothes, though.
  3. The Chelsea Detective. London. A houseboat on the Thames. Multifaceted, empathetic leads. Really good and the city looks great.
  4. Only Murders in the Building. NYC. Sweet Selena Gomez with geezers Martin Short and Steve Martin. So much fun, though it got kind of crazy/uneven as the season went on. Can’t wait for Round 2 anyhow.
  5. Shakespeare and Hathaway. P.I.s in Stratford. Wonderful scenery. A tribute to British actors resembling real people in all their avoirdupois and scruffiness. No Botox here.
  6. Harry Wild. Ireland. Retired (abrasive, wine-swilling, grammar-and-literature-addicted) college professor discovers she has a knack for solving murders, much to her Garda son’s dismay.
  7. Murder in Provence. Mature adults in a mature relationship. Food. France. More food. No subtitles necessary because they’re all British actors who look like they’re having a blast drinking French wine in lavender fields after work.
  8. Madame Blanc. France again with British actors. Armchair travel avec antiques.
  9. Whitstable Pearl. Kent, UK. Diverse cast. A little moody. Interesting cases. The beach. Made me want to drink beer, eat seafood, and watch the sun go down.
  10. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Wales. Classic Christie. I’d read and seen it before, but this latest production was very stylish and I’m going to watch it again.

I also viewed the new Dalgliesh iteration. I read all the books when they came out decades ago, so consequently remember none of the plots, LOL. The look is very evocative of the time period, which is slightly depressing. Dalgliesh’s male sergeant is as sleazy as they come, and has the mustache to prove it. It’s very well done, but I can’t say it warmed my heart.

What have I missed? What else should I be watching? Will I ever finish my book? Stay tuned.

Posted in Maggie's Posts, Uncategorized | 14 Comments

Weekend Update: May 7-8, 2022

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be a posts by Maggie Robinson (Monday) Jule Selbo (Tuesday), Joe Souza (Thursday) and Susan Vaughan (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

GIVEAWAY!

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson is giving away a print copy of The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (three short stories and a novella featuring a calendar and pet photographer as the amateur sleuth). To enter, leave a comment after reading Kaitlyn/Kathy’s last blog https://mainecrimewriters.com/2022/05/02/whatever-happened-to-and-a-giveaway/#comments The comment should be left AT THAT POST. A winner will be drawn on May 10.

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

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Rooting for Routine

Things have been a bit chaotic in my life this past month.

In 2021 we learned the folly of waiting until spring to line up people to do things around the house that we can’t do ourselves. Covid-related materials shortages and overbooked contractors meant we waited until late summer for a new patio door and early fall for a replacement fence.

This year, we began active planning in January. Our list included some pandemic-delayed indoor projects, including painting the downstairs and installing new flooring in the living room. April would be a good time to get the work done, we figured, and it would be most efficient to schedule jobs back-to-back. This turned out to be true, but boy, was it ever discombobulating.

Every time the painting action moved from one room to the next, we had to shift furniture, strip the windows of their curtains and do other preparatory work that left our house looking like we were either moving out or moving in.

But the painting was a picnic compared to the flooring, which required us to relocate all of the living room furniture into the den for several days. This made for a lot of seating, but to watch TV you had to vault over the back of the couch, which was jammed up against the loveseat. Once ensconced, you were pretty much stuck for the evening.

I worked from home for a few days while this was going on, juggling phone calls and trying to draft documents with a power saw and a hammer for background accompaniment. Not easy for a woman who likes to work in near silence. Not easy at all.

By the beginning of this week I was starved for normalcy. All I wanted was to go to work at my office and come home to a house that looked like our house, eat a typical dinner at the normal time and do a bit of writing before winding down in front of the TV.

I didn’t want to move furniture around. I didn’t want to rehang artwork. And I most assuredly didn’t want to try to watch the Red Sox game from my favorite chair, which was marooned in the kitchen with a bad sightline for the clicker.

My spouse observed that I always have a hard time when my routine is disrupted.  I was so crabby I almost debated the point until I realized the truth in her words. I think of myself as both easygoing and resilient, but the fact is, when my world gets turned upside down—even temporarily—I’m like a child who hasn’t had her nap.

I take comfort in predictability. I get up at the same time each morning, drive a favored route to work, eat the same thing for breakfast and lunch each weekday, return home more or less at the same hour in the evening and settle in after dinner to write.

Boring? Maybe, but it works for me, which is why disruption of my nest threw me for such a loop.

But the other truth I had to face Monday evening when I was feeling out of sorts is that amid all of this tumult, I haven’t been able to maintain my writing routine in the past month.

I like to write every day. I don’t always achieve it, but I’m happiest when I’m in that rhythm. For the past month I’ve not had the time or energy to maintain it, and that’s why this is probably the grumbliest post I’ve ever put up on MCW.

Rest assured that next month I’ll be back in my usual groove, observing all my daily rituals, banging out some words every day, and writing a more cheerful post.  Unless another major something needs to be done around here, in which case all bets are off.

READERS:  Are you creatures of habit or happiest when life is unpredictable? Please feel free to share your experience in the comments.

 Brenda Buchanan brings years of experience as a journalist and a lawyer to her crime fiction. She has published three books featuring Joe Gale, a newspaper reporter who covers the crime and courts beat. She is now hard at work on new projects. FMI, go to http://brendabuchananwrites.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Brenda's Posts | 13 Comments

DOES SILENCE IMPLY CONSENT?

John Clark sharing a very personal experience. By now you have seen the stories regarding the leaked documents from the supreme court regarding Roe VS Wade and the sense that the justices are leaning heavily toward abolishing that landmark decision. Make no mistake, this affects men as well as women.

In the early 1970s, I was in a contentious and dysfunctional relationship with a young woman who was attending a Maine college. It was one of those that should never have come about, but weren’t many of us stubborn and afflicted with poor judgment in our early twenties?

She was on the pill, so the thought of pregnancy wasn’t something I worried about. I should have. She decided the pill was making her fat and stopped taking them, but didn’t tell me. The next thing I knew, two people who were completely unprepared to become parents, were facing that reality. Legal abortion was only available in New York at that time. We agreed that despite the distance, cost, and possible traumatic effects, that was our choice.

I remember answering an ad in The Maine Times and scheduling the appointment. To say the drive down was tension-filled would be an understatement. I wasn’t allowed to wait at the clinic, so I wandered around NYC and have a vague memory of eating lunch at a Chinese restaurant. After returning to the clinic and paying while she was being discharged, we drove back to Maine with very few words being spoken.

The relationship ended shortly thereafter. However, the emotional part of the experience and the associated memories remain to this day. Would I want to go through it again? No, and I’m grateful I never had to make such a choice again, but I do not want that choice stolen from others in similar, or more dire situations. That seems to be on the horizon.

My point in sharing this experience is this: Ask yourself whether you want others to have a choice? Are the people running for office that you’ll be voting for respect the right of women to choose what happens to their bodies, or are they so full of self-righteousness they’re incapable of respecting others’ needs for personal freedom? If this right is abolished, what one will be targeted next?

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Win A Book Wednesday: May 4, 2022

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson is giving away a print copy of The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (three short stories and a novella featuring a calendar and pet photographer as the amateur sleuth). To enter, leave a comment after reading Kaitlyn/Kathy’s last blog https://mainecrimewriters.com/2022/05/02/whatever-happened-to-and-a-giveaway/#comments The comment should be left AT THAT POST. A winner will be drawn on May 10 and announced here on May 11.

Good luck, everyone.

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Sisters in Crime? What the Heck are They?

Kate Flora: In 1993, after nine painful years in the unpublished writer’s corner, I was on the cusp of publishing my first mystery. Chosen for Death, book one in my Thea Kozak series, was scheduled for publication the following year, and my publisher urged me to attend a national crime writer’s conference to meet other writers and hopefully find some who would be willing to give me cover blurbs for my book.

Despite being a country mouse, I followed the publisher’s advice and flew to Omaha, Nebraska to attend my first Bouchercon. Feeling a bit like Alice in Wonderland, I wandered around rooms full of authors I’d read and admired, and was given a very important piece of advice: If you’re going to be a woman in the crime writing world, you need to join Sisters in Crime.

At that point, Sisters was seven years old but I had never heard of it. I came back to New England, found our local chapter, and found a home in the wonderful, supportive, and inclusive world that is Sisters in Crime. We formed a speaker’s bureau to get our authors greater recognition. We offered seminars on craft and the world of crime and crime investigation. We built a chapter from a handful of members to over two hundred. We co-founded a regional writing conference, The New England Crime Bake, to bring the crime writing community together.

Among the special values Sisters has given me have been mentors who showed me how to do author talks, contact experts who could give advice on particular issues in books I was writing, such as details for a scuba diving scene, and perhaps most valuable, since the publishing world can be so harsh, support in the face of rejection.

I do an autopsy with Lea Wait and Tess Gerritsen

I do an autopsy with Lea Wait and Tess Gerritsen

A bit about Sisters in Crime:

No, we are not cops. No, we are not criminals. And no, we are not a gang of criminal nuns. What we are is an international group of writers who came together, initially, to combat the sexism and stereotyping that was common in the crime writing field back then. We’ve stayed together because we know that networking and support are things women do well. At a conference in Chicago about a decade ago, as we revisited our mission and looked to the future, we came up with a motto that beautifully summarized the value of Sisters in individual writer’s lives:

You write alone but you’re not alone

Through advocacy, education, our continuing monitoring project, and expansion of our support beyond novels to short stories, Sisters in Crime provides a wonderful home for writers who are looking for education, answers, and community.

Sisters in Crime was founded in 1986 to promote the ongoing advancement, recognition and professional development of women crime writers.

Back in 1986, twenty-six women crime writers, frustrated with the obstacles they faced in publishing, met at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in Baltimore to plot a path toward being treated as the equals of male writers. They gathered again in May 1987 during the Edgar Awards Week in New York to formally establish the organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC). The group formed a steering committee and held the first membership meeting at Bouchercon in 1987, establishing a tradition that continues.

At the time, although perhaps (Kate’s stats, not SinC’s) thirty percent of crime novels were written by women, the statistics on reviews and attention to those books were appalling. The attitude seemed to be that only women read women’s books, and women bought those books with their “pin money” so giving the books review attention, even though it was through reviews that books were brought to readers and book seller’s attention, was a waste of time. The SinC monitoring project began to collect those statistics, bring them to the attention of publishers, reviewers and publications, and attention to women’s books began to improve.

https://www.sistersincrime.org/page/ABOUT

A lot of great educational videos about craft here:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCqLdMJuvE_K7ddw87fyVBpg

A History of Sisters in Crime: http://homepages.gac.edu/~fister/SinCPCA.pdf

Information about the New England chapter here: https://sincne.clubexpress.com

 

Posted in Kate's Posts, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Whatever Happened to . . . (and a giveaway)

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here. I’m not sure what got me started on this topic, but I’ve been thinking lately about the various protagonists I’ve created over the years and speculating about what might have happened to them after their respective series came to an end.

I can remember quite clearly my reaction to learning that St. Martin’s Press had decided, after seven books, not to continue publishing my Face Down series featuring Susanna, Lady Appleton, sixteenth-century gentlewoman, expert on poisonous herbs, and amateur sleuth. I had a lot more I wanted to do with that character and was determined not to abandon her. I ended up writing three more Face Down novels and numerous short stories featuring Susanna and her friends and she also appears in the second book of my spin-off Mistress Jaffrey Mysteries. What happened to her after 1586 (“Lady Appleton and the Yuletide Hogglers,” included in Volume Three of The Face Down Collection). As I imagine it, she’s living comfortably at Leigh Abbey, her home in Kent, devoting herself to local concerns and taking care of her long-time companion, Jennet, who has a dicey heart. She’s been reconciled with her adopted daughter, Rosamond, and there’s a prospect of grandchildren in her future by way of Rosamond and her no-longer-estranged husband, Rob, Jennet’s son.

Will I ever write more Lady Appleton stories? Probably not. I’ve already done prequels (included in Volume One of The Face Down Collection), and frankly, by sixteenth-century standards, now in her mid-fifties, she’s getting a little long in the tooth to gad about solving crimes. Mid-fifties in those days would be equivalent to mid-eighties today. As for Rosamond and Rob, the third of their adventures (Murder in a Cornish Alehouse) left them happily returning home to London and responsible for Rosamond’s young half brother’s well-being. I didn’t actually say so, but in my mind, Rosamond was already pregnant. Raising a family should keep her too busy to meddle in more murders.

How do I know Rosamond had children? Because my other historical mystery series, the Diana Spaulding 1888 Quartet (soon to be released in an omnibus e-book edition), mentions that she’s descended from a famous sixteenth-century herbalist. Given the passage of several centuries, her knowledge of her own ancestry isn’t precisely accurate. Since Susanna had no children of her own, it’s her adopted daughter, Rosamond, from whom Diana is descended. Rosamond and Rob’s first child, Andrew, is Diana’s ancestor.

 

Similarly, the protagonists of my two contemporary mystery series have lives that continue after the final book. In the thirteenth Liss MacCrimmon Mystery, A View to a Kilt, Liss is left contemplating two possibilities for her future. One is a career as a professional investigator. The other is a partnership of some unspecified nature with her mother, with whom she has gradually developed a working relationship after years of antagonism. Either way, I don’t see children in her future, but I do see her continuing to live in Moosetookalook, Maine with her husband, family, and friends, and staying involved in community activities. She and her mother will continue to work at understanding and accepting each other. They may even succeed.

I had made a few notes for a fourteenth book, dealing with nefarious doings surrounding the construction of senior citizens’ housing on the site of the mansion that figured in two previous entries in the series (particularly in the Halloween book, Vampires, Bones, and Treacle Scones), but it didn’t have much in the way of an original plot. After seventy books, most of them novels, I ran a very real risk of repeating myself. Lacking enough of an idea to inspire 75,000+ words in a series my publisher no longer wanted. I realized Liss was in a good place in her life at the end of book thirteen and decided to leave her there.

As for Mikki Lincoln, you might think that since she’s in her seventies, she doesn’t have that much of a future left. I beg to differ. Although she and her friend Darlene have certain physical limitations due to their age, they still have their wits about them and, unlike Susanna Appleton, have the benefits of modern medicine to help them deal with the downside of getting older.

One of the things negative reviews have noted is Mikki’s tendency toward indulging in nostalgia, particularly when she shares memories from her teen years, That was when she last lived in the village of Lenape Hollow, New York. Looking back was deliberate on my part, since she reconnects with both an old friend and an old enemy (the classic “mean girl” from high school) and those relationships were slated to grow and change in the course of the series. Did I have plans for another book after number four? Not really. I pretty much did all I wanted to do with those characters. I envision them continuing to live and work together for at least another decade, enjoying both their present-day activities and the occasional fond recollection of years gone by. I can personally vouch for the fact that when one passes the age of seventy, memories from fifty-plus years earlier are often more vivid than those of the recent past.

So there you are, the “where are they now?” for my sleuths. I’d love to hear what readers think of those fictional futures. And, if you leave a comment, you’ll be entered to win a print copy of The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries, the one bit of “new” writing I’ve done since completing Murder, She Edited (written pre-covid and published in 2021). A drawing for the winner will take place on May 10.

 

Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett has had sixty-four books traditionally published and has self published others, including several children’s books. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Her most recent publications are The Valentine Veilleux Mysteries (a collection of three short stories and a novella, written as Kaitlyn) and I Kill People for a Living: A Collection of Essays by a Writer of Cozy Mysteries (written as Kathy). She maintains websites at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com. A third, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women, is the gateway to over 2300 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century Englishwomen.

 

Posted in Kaitlyn's Posts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 31 Comments

Weekend Update: April 30-May 1, 2022

Next week at Maine Crime Writers there will be a posts by Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson (Monday) Kate Flora (Tuesday), John Clark (Thursday) and Brenda Buchanan (Friday).

In the news department, here’s what’s happening with some of us who blog regularly at Maine Crime Writers:

If you want a copy of the poster below in .pdf send an email to songthresher@gmail.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

An invitation to readers of this blog: Do you have news relating to Maine, Crime, or Writing? We’d love to hear from you. Just comment below to share.

 

And a reminder: If your library, school, or organization is looking for a speaker, we are often available to talk about the writing process, research, where we get our ideas, and other mysteries of the business. We also do programs on Zoom. Contact Kate Flora

Posted in Sunday Updates | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Walking Geese Sound Like Old Men

The news from Trout Brook is good: the rhubarb is leafing out, the radish tops have broken the surface of the dirt, the lilacs and forsythia are budding. I noticed on my walk through Jordan’s Farm the other morning that walking geese don’t honk, but make a noise in their throats that sounds like old men farting. More on that later. The world is liminal at this moment in the year—it was sixty degrees yesterday and thirty-one this morning—but the balance is starting to tip toward spring and warmth and growth. We welcome it.

In the pandemic times, when I’ve been cautious about spending much time in the gym, wheezing and coughing with the other (mostly unmasked) types. I’ve done much more working out at home. One of the great benefits of this has been introducing myself to the podcast world and listening to various intelligent and entertaining voices.

I know Terry Gross, of course—it’s just that I don’t listen to the radio as much, since I don’t have the hour-long drives that characterized my commuting life. Fresh Air is available as a podcast and I’ve started tuning it in while I’m fake-skiing on my Concept II.

Most recently, listening to Delia Ephron talk about her new book Left on Tenth, I heard her toss off a sentence that stopped me in my tracks—literally. “Writing is your fingerprint.”

Fingerprints are unique. No one else in the world has the same set of ridges and whorls, not even a twin, if you have one. Ephron’s pronouncement struck me as an almost perfect metaphor for what a writer does, especially a writer following his or her nose and not trying to write to a market or a trend.

Writing will not let you disguise who you are. (We’re not talking about your penmanship here.) The words and phrases you habitually use, your tone of voice, how you describe people and objects, all identify you. They are unique to your perspective on the world. The rhythm of your writing is a history of where you’ve been, a guess at where you are, a hint at where you want to be.

Many of us start out writing in a style that imitates another writer, usually someone whose prose or poetry we admire. But if you stick with the discipline long enough, you learn that you are trying to speak your own stories, not theirs, and the styles you’ve tried to imitate become subsumed in your own style, unique as, well, a fingerprint.

Which for no rational reason reminded me of a quote from Kurt Vonnegut, which seems apposite in these parlous times: “We are put on earth to fart around, don’t let anyone tell you any different.”

If spring (and eventually, summer) is not a time for farting around, I don’t know what is. But we keep working, don’t we, and we often don’t do enough farting around while working, by which I mean loosening the brain-reins, letting the story flow from where you dream, riding the wave rather than trying to control it.

Robert Frost’s Two Tramps in Mud Time says it clearly (and yes, folks, it is still mud time, even if your roads are paved):

Only where love and need are one,
And the work is play for mortal stakes

Is the deed ever really done

We may be playing for mortal stakes, but for the best writing we do, the work becomes play, becomes farting around in the best possible sense of the word. So forgive me my crudities, my friends, but fart on. Fart on.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Don’t be afraid of the nuts and bolts of writing

I was giving an author talk a couple years ago, answering the usual questions about my process, when I got an odd response: “Isn’t that cheating?”

I was, if I remember right, describing how I used a big calendar to keep my timeline correct and a large whiteboard to keep my plot sorted out. My answer to the person? Something to the effct of: “When you’re writing a book, the only ‘cheating’ is plagiarizing. Nothing else that gets the book from your head to the page and results in a completed manuscript is off the table.”

He seemed disappointed, looking to catch me in a gotcha moment, I expect. The inner me wanted to say, “Okay Pal, how is YOUR book coming along?” But I didn’t. 🙂

I’ve thought about that exchange a lot since. I find readers are very interested in the writing process, and they’re usually accepting of mine, even if it confuses them. And I find it often does confuse them. My guess is that non-writers and maybe even aspiring writers are spoiled by what they see on TV or in the movies. They see Castle or some other fake writer merrily typing away in an unnaturally clean home or apartment, or some rustic, yet well-appointed, hideway. There are no legal pads scattered around, no other sign the person is writing a book, just the writer and the keyboard and a look of satisfied accomplishment on their smug fake writer face.

Today we’ll talk about reality. At least my reality. Every writer has a different process, which is the first thing to keep in mind. You may hear it all the time, so remember it: there is no “right way” to do this. As far as mine goes, I don’t recommend trying it at home, kids. Unless it works for you.

Before we start, let’s discuss the “works for you” aspect and get it out of the way. I was delayed by months starting my second Bernadette “Bernie” O’Dea mystery, NO NEWS IS BAD NEWS, because I’d decided to try Srivener. I know that people have had wild success with it, so I’m not knocking the product. But for me, not so much. In theory it sounded great — it helps you outline, sort out plot, characters, etc. But I could never untangle it and it kept me from writing as I tried to work within its confusing vortex. I even got a used copy of “Scrivener for Dummies,” but it didn’t help. I guess there’s some circle of dummy below the average dummy that I burn in. Again, this isn’t a knock on Scrivener — I know some people love it. Keep in mind as you read this that we’re talking about my process, and every process is different.

I tried Dabble with the book I’m working on now. I liked it in a lot of ways, it was kind of a much simpler Scrivener. A spunky, friendly hard-working tool. And I did squeeze out about 115,000 words. But when it came time for what I call the “forming the book out of the clay” part (sometimes that part has more bad words, but that’s the basic idea and a blog post for another day), I converted it to good old Microsoft Word and ended my $10 a month subscription. I’d tried, but failed, to use the plot cards, outlining, etc., that seemed so great in theory.

The writing process can be more than just a keyboard.

So, what DO I do, you may ask?

Over three books, now on the fourth, I’ve refined my system to a well-oiled process. I’ll break down the tools (keeping in mind that the computer and brain are the most important parts and should not be discounted):

  1. Massive amount of dry erase markers in as many colors as possible (more on this as we go).
  2. Large generic month vinyl sticky calendar page — This is essential to keeping the timeline straight. Don’t you hate it when you’re reading a book and the days don’t match up? “Wait! I thought that happened Sunday! But she’s saying yesterday and now it’s Thursday!” Bang! The book hits the wall across the room, flung by you because you now can’t focus on what’s happening because you’re distracted by the time mixup. I try not to get too detailed — I put important plot points and other happenings, and, when needed color-code them (more on the color coding later). Also, while I know it’s a good idea to not be specific about a year, I use a year when I’m outlining the plot so that the calendar makes sense. All of my books have had specific years for good reasons. In the one I’m writing now, there are things that happened 11 or 12 years before that the protagonist can’t find online because it’s before newspapers were putting everything online, and it has to match the ages of people in the book. Please don’t try to talk me out of it. I’ve given it a lot of thought. Someday I do hope to write a book without a specific year (another blog post for another day). But I digress.
  3. Giant piece of poster board. This is to stick the vinyal calendar sheet to, as well as the post-its …
  4. Post-It’s. I like the rather large ones that look like little legal pads. I write down thoughts, themes, things I have to add and anything else that I need to remember, and stick them to the poster board. I also like the the smaller multi-colored ones that I use for a variety of more specific things, like a plot thread (green for one, pink for another, etc.) and either stick them to the calendar, or the outline, which we’ll talk about later.
  5. Legal pads. I have these by my bed, in the bathroom, on the coffee table by the TV, even one in my car, so when I get an idea, a snatch of dialogue, a plot twist, whatever, I write it down immediately because I’ve learned the hard way I’ll forget it if I don’t. I was gratified to learn, watching “A Very British Murder,” on Brit Box last night that Agatha Christie did the same thing, only with composition books. Yes! (By the way, if you have Brit Box or want to spring $6.99 for a month’s subscription, I highly recommend this three-part documentary, in which British historian Lucy Worsley dissects how the public’s interest in murder grew over three centuries in Britain, and how it influenced mystery writing).
  6. Giant whiteboard panels. I was gratified to learn that rather than spend  several month’s worth of Gifford Ice Cream money on a whiteboard at Staples, you can buy 3-by-4 foot whiteboard panels for less than $10 at Lowes or Home Depot, in the lumber department. If they get too dirty and you can’t clean them, they’ve served their purpose very inexpensively. I usually use one for a plot outline, which is an organic thing that changes frequently (that’s why I need a whiteboard!) Usually, when I start a book, I have an idea of where it’s going, but if I try to plot it out in detail, I get bogged down and discouraged. So, I write and outline and write and outline. The outline is more to keep track of what’s happened than to plot out what will happen. And here’s where the different colors come in — the outline starts out in black, but as I go through the book (over and over, folks!) I sort it out in color for plot, sub plot, character development, big happenings, etc. This helps me “see” the book in several ways that  you can’t see by looking at a doc on the computer.
    I also, when I am in my first drafts, make every scene a chapter. This allows me to just focus on the story as it’s coming out of my head. Structuring those “chapters” into scenes, generally three to a chapter, comes much later.
    I use a second one to write down themes related to characters, or some other major thinga I need to eep in mind. Both whiteboards, along with the big poster board with the calendar, are displayed around my living room, or wherever I’m writing, so that I can glance up and see stuff instead of having to click somewhere or rifle through papers. My cats love it, by the way! More places for them to hide.
  7. Little glass easel board. I was so thrilled to find these glass easel boards,made by Quartz, at Staples a couple years ago! First of all, they’re green and I love colored glass. But also, they’re a nice alternative to a whiteboard if you are changing what’s on them daily (or more often), because they don’t get all grungy with repeated use. I use mine to plot out my ever-changing daily schedule. Sometimes it’s all the things I have to do that day, including The Book. Sometimes it’s what I want to accomplish in the book.
  8. Microsoft Word. It’s got everything I need, where I want it. No Google docs (good for sharing with others, bad bad bad for writing, rewriting, revising and editing). No fancy software. You can do what you want with Word. I’ve been using it since it was Work (I think? Or whatever it was).
  9. Brain, imagination and keyboard. None of the other things work well, if you don’t focus on what’s important — writing the book you want to write.

When I talk to people who are just beginning to write, or who “want to write,” that they often seem bogged down in the how. Some of that, I believe, is that they’re looking for a shortcut to make it “easy.” It’s not a how, it’s a what. It’s writing. There’s no “easy,” just things that are specific to you that will get it from your brain to a completed manuscript with the least amount of pain, confusion and suffering.

I didn’t plan the writer’s helpers outlined above, and wouldn’t have dreamed of them when I started writing my first book. They’re just what evolved as I wrote and began to understand what I needed to keep the ball rolling and keep it all sorted out.

I’ll channel the great Stephen King, who in his book “On Writing” makes the point that what you really need to do is just sit down and write.

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