And you thought you knew everything about me by now ….
For 10 more facts, click right over to my guest blog at Lisa’s Book Critique.
Write First, Clean Later
It has come to my attention lately that I curse too much. First my husband said to me, “Why do you curse so much?” Then a reader mentioned that my series character had become more foul mouthed in the second book. So I had to think about it. And I don’t have a good answer. Like almost everything in life, cursing is a habit. And so, like all the other bad habits in my life, I’m trying do without. Fortunately, it’s not an all or nothing proposition like smoking. I like to think that I can cut back on the cursing—reserve it for special occasions and not slip all the way into my current pattern. I’m not giving it up entirely, and I’m not looking for sainthood.
But what about my characters? Do they curse too much because I do? How much should characters curse? Of course that depends on the character. But now I’m reading back through the story and looking at every curse word and asking, “Is that necessary? Will another word choice be as effective?” I’m not the pandering type, but I also don’t want to alienate readers with unnecessary offensive language.
Of course, if my character discovers a bomb in his briefcase set to go off in 30 seconds, he’s still likely to say “Holy shit,” but maybe not “Oh f**k.” We’ll see. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Do your characters curse? Do you ever tone it down with sensitive readers in mind? Should we?
My husband and I have decided to give up cable TV. This is a small deal for me, because I watch very little—daily pre-recorded Jon Stewart shows and Bill Maher on Fridays. It’s a bigger deal for Steve, but he found an article online about how to get a bunch of TV shows through his computer and we’re expanding our Netflix subscription. He seems excited to make the change. The motivation? I got tired of writing that $162 check every month for 20 minutes of daily entertainment. I told him we could spend the savings anyway he wanted. (I suspect we’ll end up with motorcycle accessories.)
The bigger benefit though is that we both plan to do more reading. I was so excited by this possibility that I ordered a stack of books from Powels. Here’s what’s in my to be read pile:
A Nail Through the Heart, by Timothy Halinan
Kidnapped, by Jan Burke
Money Shot, by Christa Faust
Invisible Prey, by John Sanford
Safe and Sound, by J.D. Rhoades
The Black Path, by Asa Larsson
Lost Dog, by Bill Cameron
Go Go Girls of the Apocalypse, by Victor Gischler (Steve plans to start with this one)
Any bets on how long Steve lasts without cable?
Yesterday I finished the edit/second draft of my WIP (meeting my Sept. 1 deadline!) and today I feel a little lost. Writing that story has been my main focus for the last six months. It was the activity around which I structured my life. It’s not that I lack things to do; my list is longer than ever. In simple terms . . . I miss the creative process. I miss looking forward to where the story was going each day. I miss my characters.
I’m already thinking of things I need to add or fix. But I’m only making notes. I’m resisting the urge to go into the file. I have learned over the years that it’s important to let a novel sit and jell for a couple of weeks after the first major draft is completed. This is very difficult for me. I like to keep moving forward, and I’m anxious to find a publisher. But it’s critical to take a break and get some perspective on the story. When I come back to it, I’ll see flaws and gaps that I can’t see now. So for now, the manuscript is chillin’.
So today, I’m working through my list of things to do, brainstorming for my next novel, and cleaning. This is the “later” as referred to in my blog title.
Writers: Do you let your story chill? And for how long?
My commute was up the stairs. My workday was self-directed, flexible, and light on responsibility. Most people would call it the ideal job. For me, working at home for a magazine was a long slow descent into depression, anxiety, and claustrophobia. The rest of the magazine staff was in New York, and a week at a time would pass without a call from my co-workers. E-mails simply served to exchange files. I was alone for eight or nine hours a day for more than a year and it drove me insane. I am a social creature. I generate energy from being around people. But that period in my life was years ago, before CrimeSpace, Facebook, Twitter, and list servs.
Now I’m working at home again as a novelist and freelance editor. So far, I’m loving it. But it is different this time. I’m connected to people through the Internet, and I’m able to set my own hours and take breaks when I want. But I worry about what it will be like for me six months or a year from now. I want this career phase to work out long term. So here’s my strategy for staying sane while working at home:
- Make time to reach out to people on the Internet periodically throughout the day.
- Have lunch with real-live person once a week.
- Conduct interviews in person even if they can be done by phone.
- Schedule regular social activities (such as weekly bowling with my brothers).
- Join a writers group and meet periodically (I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my list).
- Open Pandora, click my funk station and dance for five minutes at least twice a day. Dancing is so joyful, it wards off depression.
I assume that most of the people I interact with throughout the day also work at home. So tell me, how do you keep from getting cabin fever?
I started to blog this morning about McCain’s VP pick, then realized it was not a good idea. This is not that kind of blog. If you had to break down blogs into only two categories, they would fall into either opinion blogs or promotional blogs. As opinionated as I am, this blog falls in the promotional category—it’s about reaching out to readers and writers and letting them get to know me (with the idea that eventually they’ll buy my products).
And so, there are many subjects that are off limits to my blog, and many things about me that I can never share. There are many books that I will never review on this site. It is too easy to alienate people (readers) just by mentioning, hypothetically for example, that I don’t read books that have cats on the cover or in title. I would never say that here. There are too many cat-loving readers and writers out there who would be offended. (As info: PS Your Cat Is Dead by James Kirkwood is one of my favorite books.) So my goal is to be a gracious host and blogger and keep politics (and many personal opinions) out of the conversation.
Other bloggers blur this line, vacillating between opinion and promotion with occasional side trips into the too-personal. For them, anything is fair game and every opinion is worth stating. Some, I believe, would call me a hypocrite or a chicken for limiting my subjects. What do you think? Do blog categories exist? Do you have expectations that some blogs should stay nonpolitical?
I’ve been editing the first draft of my new novel, and I became aware of some changes I consistently make—for the better. I’ll share them here, in case you find them useful.
1. I get rid of the word “it” and replace it with the specific thing that I’m referring to, even if I just named that thing in the previous sentence. “Jackson reached for his Glock. The weapon felt heavy in his hand” is better than “Jackson reached for his Glock. It felt heavy in his hand.” In verbal communication, repetitive use of “it” may be acceptable, but in narrative writing such lack of clarity is ineffective and often confusing.
2. The same is true of overuse of pronouns. So I’ve also consistently replaced “she,” “he,” and “they” with the specific name of the character(s). Sometimes it feels too formal to use the character’s name three times in a paragraph, but if the character, say, a guy named Jack, is talking about the suspect, a guy named Vinnie, then referring to either of these guys as “he” can be confusing to the reader. This is a point that Stephen King makes in his great book On Writing.
3. The third most consistent edit I make is to tweak individual scenes so that they read like mini-stories, with mounting tension, a climax, and a conclusion. The exception to that structure are scenes at the end of chapters, which I often leave with a revelation, a hint of a revelation, or a great deal of uncertainty (aka, cliffhangers).
I’d like to introduce you to Sergeant Isaac Hutchison, my greatest fan. He’s a military police officer stationed in El Paso, Texas. He just found out he’s going back to Iraq in January. He already spent a year and half of his young life there, but he serves his country willingly and proudly. And I am proud—beyond words—of him.
My proudest moment as an author came many years ago after a midnight phone call. I stumbled to the phone, half asleep and half panicked, thinking, “What’s wrong?” Isaac’s voice came on the phone and said, “Oh my God. You blew me away.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. “I just finished your novel, and I had to call you and tell you how much I loved it. I loved your characters. I want to be Eric.” He recently told me he read that particular novel four times. And it’s possible my story character shaped who he turned out to be—a thoughtful, passionate man who cares about so much of the world beyond himself.
Isaac was also my first fan. He started reading my novels almost 20 years ago when they were still in manuscript form. Anytime I printed a copy of a novel or first three chapters that wasn’t good enough to send out, the stack of paper would go into a recycling box for the kids to use as math scratch paper or for drawings. Isaac would grab a stack of paper from the box, take it to his room, and read chunks of my stories. They were often just bits and pieces, 10 pages of this section and 40 pages of something else. He would often ask me to tell him how it all turned out.
Years later, he was as excited as I was to finally see my novels in print. Today, he brags about me and my writing to anyone who will listen. Now he’s waiting anxiously for the next installment. Whenever I’m having anxiety about not being good enough, I can count on him for moral support. I’m lucky to have such a fan. And such a fine son.
When my miniMac produced the message “Restart Your Computer” in about five languages, I called Rent a Nerd. Doug said the problem was serious and that he needed to take my computer to his house for a few hours to reinstall my operating system using his computer.
7:07 p.m.: He unplugged my lifeline and walked out the door.
My heart pounded as I watched him drive away. For five minutes, I couldn’t focus. I paced the house, trying to reassure myself that it would all turn okay. I had used my flash drive earlier to back up everything I ever wrote—seven novels, five scripts, hundreds of magazine articles, hundreds of query letters, dozens of essays, a handful of blogs, and a zillion other little things. It took 23 minutes to preserve a lifetime of work.
I couldn’t stay still. So I started to clean. I swept and mopped the floors, then looked at the clock: 7:36: What now? It was way too early to sit down and relax with a book. That doesn’t happen until 10 p.m. and not always then.
I started writing this blog in my head as I dusted the living room. My fingers itched to get the words down as they came to me. But I had no computer. I went back to my husband’s office to see if he wanted to take a walk. He wasn’t around. But there sat his computer, monitor on and keyboard still warm. It’s a PC! I thought. But I needed to write. I needed to be productive. I can do this, I thought. I wrote my first novel on a Commodore 64, my second novel on a Brother word processor, and my third novel on a primitive PC. I looked around his menu for some kind of Word software and couldn’t find any! His Gmail was open, so I clicked “Compose” and started to write. It was awkward using a standard keyboard and Big Bear chair, but I had a story to tell. So I wrote most of this blog in an e-mail and sent it to myself.
8:15 and no call. I found my husband and we went for a walk, cell phone clutched tightly in hand.
9:02 and the phone finally rings. Doug did not have good news. I needed a new machine. But he brought my wounded Mac back to me and fired it up.
9:19 and I’m back in Word, online, and in my familiar world.
Yes, I am addict. And there is no cure.
This morning I’m posting an essay I wrote a few years ago. It’s an opportunity to get to know me (and my writing). If I were to write a similar essay today, it would be called “Pain, Pools, and Turing 50.” (Sounds like a another blog.)
Last Friday my husband turned 40. This weekend he’s putting the finishing touches on a three-wheeled motorcycle he built from scratch during the last few months. Are these things related? I think so.
First, the man is no mechanic. A fine cabinetmaker and all-around handyman, yes. But typically, I can’t even get him to change the oil in my car without nagging. So last fall when he announced he was going to build a vehicle, I was stunned. And skeptical. I kept it to myself of course, after gently asking, “Are you sure that’s what you want to do, honey? You know how much you hate to work on cars.”
But the “trike” was different—a funky blend of Volkswagen bug and Goldwing motorcycle that resembles a mutant dune buggy with fat tires and cool handle bars. The trike became an obsession. First he brought home the decrepit orange “bug” that would become a fixture in our yard for months. Then he spent hours searching the Internet for information, downloading hundreds of trike pictures in the process. Entire weekends were consumed with trips to Harrisburg and Springfield, tracking down obscure parts and make-shift pieces. Then the long haul began, night after night spent in the garage, step by painful step, putting the thing together.
My husband is not an electrician either, but he mastered the wiring system of a VW and recreated it to make the trike street legal. He also taught himself to weld steel, do extensive bodywork, apply fiberglass, and paint metal. It’s been a tremendous amount of work. I’ve never seen him so happy. Or so obsessed.
Turning 40 isn’t easy. You hear about men buying spendy red sports cars or running off with their secretaries. I’m proud of him for turning his mid-life anxiety into a creative endeavor that the whole family can enjoy. But I’m glad it’s over. The weekly trips to Furrow’s and Knecht’s began to drain our checking account. And I started to think he’d conceived the project just as an excuse to accumulate every tool he ever wanted. (Who really needs a compression gage?)
But I’m mostly anxious to get out on the road. I grew up with motorcycles and have missed the rush of adrenaline that kicks in as you swing your leg over the seat and fire up the motor. I’ll be forty soon enough myself, so I know what he’s been feeling. In fact, I found myself in a tattoo parlor yesterday afternoon having a blue butterfly etched into my calf. How did this happen? my mother and husband both wanted to know.
It was easier than you might think.
The night before, a youngster where I work announced her intention of getting a tattoo, and I was hit with a pang of jealously. I’d wanted one since I was a teenager. But I’d always worried that someday I’d be 40 and cringe at the sight, hearing that nag in my head say, “What in the hell were you thinking?”
But that day was almost here, and so still was the desire. Even the design and color I wanted remained unchanged after 20 some years. When another co-worker, also approaching the big 4-0 said, “Let’s do it,” I thought, why not?
It was a great adventure, a day filled with the same nervous excitement I experience before boarding an airplane—that tumultuous feeling of knowing that when I walked out of there, I would never be exactly the same again. And liking the thought.
Yes, I know, someday I’ll be 60, and possibly I’ll look at my tattoo and shake my head. But I’ll know what I was thinking when I got it. I was thinking that life is short and the thrills are few and far between once mid-life (parentally inspired) maturity sets in. So to hell with convention. Next weekend I’ll throw my tattooed leg over the seat of a trike and ride with the wind.