Saturday, August 14, 2010

Can I change one more thing?

When the book is finally finished and off to the printer, two problems arise.

First, I convince myself it isn’t good enough. I don’t know if this is as much of a problem for authors who have publishers deciding when a book is ready, but as a self-published novelist, even one with a top notch editor and proofreader, people and things occur almost daily to erode my confidence. No one is shy about telling me what I should have, could have, and, if I had, would have done. So I bite my nails (well, I don’t do that actually, but you know what I mean) and wait for the sigh of disappointment from my fans. Will this be the book that disappoints them?

The second problem is that for the last year or so my subconscious has been kicking up these ideas, sometimes in the middle of the night, for improving the plot, or characters, or tension, or flow, or whatever. They don’t stop when the book is finished. So now, when I get a good idea, it pains me that it’s too late to incorporate it in the book. The only cure for this problem is to start the next book and plug away until my subconscious is diverted from the one I already put to bed.

So, Who more than Wished You Were Dead? is a done deal. On with Where Did You Meet Your Killer?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Living and Learning

Traverse City, Michigan, is fortunate to be the home of Northwestern Michigan College (NMC). NMC hosts something called Life Academy providing education for members of the community not seeking degrees. Twice a year it holds a “Campus Day” with three sessions of classes for the senior community.

Now, I grew up in the Northern Lower Peninsula of Michigan, within 25 miles of Traverse City. After getting an Associate’s Degree from NMC, I left in 1961, at age nineteen, never expecting to return. Return I did, at age 63, in 2004 after losing my husband, because my mother was still here and needed someone to look after her. I soon decided that I needed to start a new series of mystery books where I now lived.

Always interested in widening my scope of knowledge, I have attended Life Academy classes and Campus Day regularly. This year, however, I decided to do something different for Campus Day. Instead of following my normal interests, I would take whatever sessions would increase my knowledge about this beautiful area, giving me fabric for my new series of books.

All I can say is WOW. The first session was “The North Country Trail – Your Adventure Starts Here”. The North Country Trail runs from New York to North Dakota, cutting right through my section of Michigan. Trail heads and accesses along the route allow for hikes of varying distances and varying degrees of difficulty. Now, I am way out of shape for hiking, but this is going to make me get back into it. Who knew that one of the few stands of old growth timber was located right here in Michigan, protected by its marshy location from both clear cutters and forest fires? This summer I am determined to see it for myself.

The second session was “Watershed Wisdom.” In addition to Schoolship educational endeavors, which include teaching excursions for fifth and sixth graders, high school students, and adults on the Grand Traverse Bay, we discussed invasive species like Groupies, Zebra Mussels, and Asian Carp in the Great Lakes and what we could do to protect our water from pollution. Oh, my, can I see heightened emotions around these issues in such an environmentally aware city leading to violence!

The third session, “Community Development in TC – What Does it Mean?” embarked on a subject many aspects of which are already causing angst and anger in our community. All the research in the world would not have given me the insights into the why and how of what the city is trying to do as this one class.

The lesson I learned is that to step outside my normal interest areas creates a life enriching environment in which to broaden my knowledge and excite brand new interest areas, whether I use the new knowledge in a book or not. I can hardly wait for the next Campus Day.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Where Did Marge Christensen's Talent Come From?

Marge Christensen is a water color pencil artist. Why? I know next to nothing about water color pencil art.

When I first started the Marge Christensen Mystery Series, I was looking for something a little bit different. Cats and crafts and catering were well represented in the cozy mystery genre, and anyway, I wasn’t proficient enough in any of them to make it the “hook” for my series. As it turned out, having Marge be an artist was just right for the way the series developed. I have a feeling it was one of those areas where the characters told me what was true for them rather than the other way around.

In What Did You Do Before Dying?, Marge’s art started as a symbol of what she had given up when she married and had children. After the death of her husband, she began to reclaim her talent and to hope it might be a way to a new beginning. In the end, it was a unique aspect of her talent that helped bring some bad guys to justice. In Why Did You Die In the Park?, that talent led her to questions that would never otherwise have arisen. And by the time Who More Than Wanted You Dead? came about, she was beginning to depend on it to help discover who did the deed. Because, even if she couldn’t otherwise recall something she had seen, her fingers never forgot.

I only knew about water color pencil art as a serious art form because a sister-in-law, Phyllis, who unfortunately died young as a result of an auto accident, practiced it. She painted a picture as an anniversary gift for my husband and me which made me a believer in the medium at first glance. When I adopted that as Marge’s chosen art form (or she chose it for me) I figured it would be a sideline to the plot, a way to honor Phyllis. I wouldn’t have to know anything more about the art. When it became a central element in the series, I knew I was doomed to educate myself.

I purchased a kit for learning water color pencil art. Fine, as long as I was using its templates and following its instructions to the letter. Otherwise, my attempts looked more like something a first grader might do. Then I discovered some artists combined water color pencils with water color paints. That helped, but it wouldn’t make an artist out of me. I took a drawing class (all the painting classes were at bad times for me) from my local community college. The instructor convinced me that my college art teacher who, many years ago, had left me with the impression I couldn’t draw was all wet. But it didn’t make an artist out of me.

So I struggle along, trusting that Marge or Phyllis or whoever put this idea in my head will lead me when I have to deal with it. At a recent book presentation, someone asked if a person’s fingers could really draw something the person couldn’t otherwise remember. I had to tell the truth. I have no idea. But it seems to work for Marge.

Monday, May 17, 2010

My Writing Style

I don’t outline. I try to outline, but it doesn’t seem to work. If I struggle to put together some kind of framework for the book, because that is what you’re supposed to do, it is either destroyed before I finish the first chapter or I am bogged down in fitting the action into the outline and the story doesn’t flow.

Sometimes I wonder if I write the first draft of the books at all or if someone else is channeling through me. The characters often go where they want to go, do what they want to do, and have conversations that seem to come out my fingertips without going through my brain. When they decide to take a break, I might as well put the book aside for a while. It’s time to blog or promote or do the dishes or something until they come back.

Some planning has to be done, however. For instance, it took so long to write the first two books in the Marge Christensen series that I need to fast forward in time between each subsequent one or continually write about the past. That involves knowing what has happened to the characters since the last book before starting the next one, while not skimming over anything the reader will want to be in on. And I normally have to decide who is going to get killed, and usually where, and sometimes how, though I often don’t know any of that or, especially, who did the deed until I’m well into the book.

The first draft of my books are always at least ten thousand words shorter than the shortest books in the mystery genre are supposed to be. That’s because my characters don’t always look around them. They miss clues, which I have to spell out for them. They don’t observe their surroundings, so I, not a visual person myself, have to try to make them clear for the reader. It’s up to me to polish words and sentences, make sure the plot hangs together, and to plug any loopholes. I usually go through three or four drafts before I feel the book works. But it is still too short.

After all of that, I do some word searches. Do you know how many times a person can use the word “then” or “and then” in telling a story? Too many! I find every one of them. Getting rid of them always leads to more active, vibrant language, which means telling what happened in the “then” space always adds good words to the book. Not like the word “just”, which mostly just (oops) gets deleted.

I’ve learned not to worry if the book is still somewhat short before going to the editor. Editors, because they come from a different perspective, have this way of spotting what you have missed. That’s why I have my books edited by two different people. Two different perspectives. The third book in the Marge Christensen series reached the desired length when I revised it after the first editing. That’s good, because one never knows if the second editor will want to take some stuff out!

I’m now trying to get a start on my fourth book in the Marge Christensen Mystery Series. I’m only doing this, you understand, because Marge let me know there was still more going on in her life. Because at the same time I’m trying to start a new series set in Michigan, where I now live. I might have given up on this idea, since Marge is so insistent that I pay attention to her, except that the characters have already taken over. They have let me know they have a story to tell, and I just (oops) have to get started and let them tell it.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Side Benefits of Doing Presentations

Doing presentations often results in benefits that have nothing to do with selling books.  Yesterday I had a presentation at a senior living facility (one of my favorite places to do presentations) on the other side of the state.  Now, if you are familiar with Michigan, you know that there isn't all that much distance between lakes.  Yet, though I grew up here and returned six years ago, I had never seen Lake Huron.  Mention of Lake Huron didn't even make me think of Michigan.  After all, I live in Traverse City, on Grand Traverse Bay, off Lake Michigan.  Isn't that the garden spot of the state?

This is April, a month in Michigan when, if you don't like the weather, you often only have to wait five minutes.  Even though we have had an unusual number of pleasant days in March and April, this one dawned especially bright and beautiful.  I crossed the state praising God for the sun, the fresh air, the rolling hills and pine forests, for His whole creation.

I stopped at a city park on Tawas Bay, off Lake Huron, before going to the signing.  When I mentioned this, the activities director there suggested I stop at the local state park, directly on the lake, before heading home.  Another lady said I might want to drive home a different way, north along the lake before heading west.  I did both.  It made the trip a little longer (about two and a half hours going, almost four hours returning) but I enjoyed every minute of it.  Even if I never get across the state again, I'll remember there is another side, and that beauty hugs Michigan between two awesome bodies of water.

I did sell a few books at this presentation, but even if I hadn't sold a single one the trip would have been well worth my time.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Book Dilemma

In his later years, my father lived in a split level house. On the lower lever he had a bedroom with office alcove and a recreation room. Covering the walls, on shelves he had made, were books. Floor to ceiling, wall to wall, books. Now, I don't know if he read all those books, except for the Zane Gray and possibly the books about WWII, in which he lost two brothers. I don't know where he got all those books. All I know is that he loved books: loved to be surrounded by them, to see them, to smell them.

My husband was not a reader. He read what was requried for instruction, and to research companies for investment in their stocks. Much of that reading he did at the library. He believed in libraries. He might purchase a book if it would be useful to return to again and again over time or if he wanted to share it with others. He did not believe in purchasing books for pleasure reading which then took up room in your house and which you would never read again. Unfortunately, for me he was right about the never read again part. I rarely go back to a book after I've read it, no matter how good it was.

Now that I'm a widow, and a writer, I find my relationship with books somewhat conflicted. I write book for pleasure reading that the reader is not apt to read again in the future. Nevertheless, I would like very much for people to purchase my books, and that has made me feel guilty about not purchasing more of other people's books. But I'm a voracious reader and have become a dyed in the wool library user. Besides, I've moved enough times that I can see the folly of acquiring a huge library of my own.

Of course, I try to support my fellow local authors by purchasing their books at signings and presentations. I have to go into bookstores, with their shelves full of temptation, when I have my own signings, too. I think of my shelves at home, rapidly filling. I think of all those books in the library I still haven't read. But I rarely leave the store without spending more than I made.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Can it be that long?

Can it really be six months since the last time I posted to my blog? I didn't mean for it to happen. Life got in the way, I guess.

I do have difficulty with blogging, however. While some people seem to be able to pick up on whatever is going on around them and expound on it, I have to think about it first. After I've thought about it for a while, I don't think I have anything new to say about it. And some people are confident enough of their ideas to instruct and correct others. I hesitate to express my own opinion, and when I do I sometimes get shot down by those who know how it should be done.

I'm going to loosen up, though. When I am mulling over a sticky or interesting problem in writing or in life, I'm going to try to mull it over with printed words. And when I have something put together, I'm going to post it on my blog before I can change my mind about it. I think. We'll see.