Letters to the Editor

Years ago a local woman reg­u­lar­ly con­tributed to our newspaper’s11-15 writing let­ters page. Her pieces were well writ­ten and thought out. She wasn’t polit­i­cal or addict­ed to any orga­ni­za­tion or move­ment. She looked around, lis­tened, made deci­sions and shared her view­point. If she missed a week, oth­er writ­ers won­dered what hap­pened to her. Def­i­nite­ly an insti­tu­tion, and the read­er­ship mourned her death. Some­times a new scribe turned up, but it isn’t the same. For one, now the paper won’t pub­lish any one per­son more than once a month. There must be oth­er rea­sons. Per­haps they have oth­er avenues of expres­sion. Per­haps some are now blog­gers with fol­low­ers.

Some­times I write to my news­pa­per. Once it was about a way out-dat­ed front-page piece on med­ical pro­ce­dures. (Some­thing about it made me look up the orig­i­nal report cit­ed. I learned it was com­piled sev­en years before from queries com­piled in the pre­vi­ous ten years and includ­ed the com­ment that it was deemed unre­li­able.) Some years ago it was more apt to involve absent cov­er­age of our local school dis­trict activ­i­ties (where my chil­dren were involved, nat­u­ral­ly).

Not often, but occa­sion­al­ly, I’ll com­ment on some­thing polit­i­cal. If I do, I’ll sign my name dif­fer­ent­ly than I sign any­thing to do with my writ­ing. That’s because, with the inter­net pick­ing up every­thing, I once dis­cov­ered my com­ment over a local issue right there, with my name, for every­one with a com­put­er to see.

Okay, that’s good, right? Get your name out, can’t be bad. Except, the way I see it, our coun­try is almost even­ly divid­ed, and very par­ti­san. In fact, I see the same divi­sion with­in my friends and fam­i­ly. We all know which is which. We might even dis­cuss our dif­fer­ences ami­ca­bly. But that nev­er hap­pens in print. Don’t know why. Maybe it’s the news­pa­per with their unfun­ny car­toons lam­poon­ing both sides. It dri­ves a wedge through a coun­try that calls itself Unit­ed. And, view­ing all that angst, peo­ple take sides. They could eas­i­ly say, “If she thinks that, I’m cer­tain­ly not going to buy her books.” And who wants to alien­ate half of their pos­si­ble read­er­ship?

So, do you write let­ters to the edi­tor? Actu­al­ly, I still do. Not often, I have oth­er writ­ing that calls me.

Camp NaNo

Camp-Participant-2015-Web-Banner big

I’m busy at Camp NaNo. Pic­ture me sit­ting around the camp­fire with my tent bud­dies, snarf­ing down S’Mores. Okay, not real­ly. That short sto­ry is wait­ing, as well as edit­ing the new mys­tery. I’ll let you know how I’m doing next week. (Just start­ed yes­ter­day.)

Camp-s-mores-2Those S’Mores are look­ing good! Maybe just one.

Yum.

Okay, maybe two.

Oh, heck. Can’t leave just one!

The Writing Road

I meant to write about the road not tak­en today, to fret about missed oppor­tu­ni­ties in the past. I won­dered, what would have hap­pened had I tak­en anoth­er road? Some years ago I went, with a group of women, to vis­it our state house. We were greet­ed by our new state rep­re­sen­ta­tive, a neigh­bor. When my friend informed him I’d just had a children’s sto­ry accept­ed by a major mag­a­zine, he asked me if I’d like to work for him, cor­re­spond­ing with vot­ers. Although I knew he’d hired anoth­er neigh­bor whose spe­cial­ty was design­ing love­ly bou­quets to help him with pub­lic rela­tions, I remind­ed him it was a children’s mag­a­zine, hard­ly fare for adults. Some years lat­er, after I start­ed writ­ing mys­ter­ies, I’d think, what if I had tak­en him up. Just think, I then could have writ­ten mys­ter­ies about the ins and outs of polit­i­cal life, and point to my expe­ri­ence. Per­haps that would have inter­est­ed agents and pub­lish­ers. And, I might have closed this post with advice for the young—jump at every oppor­tu­ni­ty.

But, I don’t want to talk about that today. Instead, I like the road I’ve actu­al­ly tak­en. Today I real­ized it was only six years ago when, after a few hun­dred agent rejec­tions, despite a few nib­bles along the way, after writ­ing and rewrit­ing sev­er­al books, I almost decid­ed to start a blog and give way my old­est, most rewrit­ten man­u­script chap­ter by chap­ter. But first, in June, 2009, I decid­ed to give small pub­lish­ers a try. Final­ly, I suc­ceed­ed with the third pub­lish­er I con­tact­ed. And they worked fast. By August they asked to buy it. By Octo­ber 1, it was edit­ed, copy-edit­ed, cov­er designed with my input, and pub­lished. A few days lat­er, I turned 80. But, with that accep­tance, I felt val­i­dat­ed.

The book was love­ly. My friends bought it and loved it. How­ev­er, it didn’t make much of a splash. I’m grate­ful to that small pub­lish­er for actu­al­ly giv­ing me the belief that my writ­ing was of val­ue. But when my two-year con­tract ran out, I didn’t renew it, but took back my rights. With the new ease of self-pub­lish­ing, I could do just as well on my own. I had anoth­er mys­tery ready to pub­lish. Since then I’ve also pub­lished a YA mys­tery and a non-fic­tion nar­ra­tive of my father’s adven­tures as a young man. I’ve had short mys­ter­ies pub­lished as well. And, I have a sequel of that first mys­tery just about ready to meet its pub­lic.

So, per­haps I missed an oppor­tu­ni­ty years ago. No mat­ter. I don’t live in the past. I can remem­ber the past, think fond­ly of what has tran­spired, see my chil­dren and their chil­dren suc­ceed, enjoy life with my hus­band. I also look for­ward to the future and what will tran­spire.

My path took me down anoth­er road. I like this road just fine. How about you and your writ­ing path? Are you hap­py with the road you’ve tak­en?

Snoop, Student, Writer

I’ve had friends ask, after read­ing one of my books, “Where do you get your ideas?” My hus­band asks, “How do you think all that up?” I’m quite sure every writer gets the same ques­tions. And, like me, the answer might be some­thing like, “I’m not exact­ly sure,” or pos­si­bly, “Or, here and there.”

writing SnoopyThe true answer is com­pli­cat­ed. It’s a bit like the way I fol­low a recipe when I’m cook­ing. Love the pic­ture that goes with it. Beau­ti­ful. The ingre­di­ents? Oh, sure. Except, I don’t have all of them. In fact, even if I do have an item, I real­ly pre­fer anoth­er. I’ll trade off Worster­shire sauce for soy sauce every time. Let’s see, unsalt­ed but­ter? Heck, I have salt­ed. No prob­lem. Broc­coli is just as green as green beans. Recipe calls for veal, but I hap­pen to have pork. Oops, that item is one hus­band doesn’t like—I’ll skip that. I think I’ll serve the dish with noo­dles instead of rice.

You get the idea, right?

Now, how about the title of this piece. Yes, it also explains at least one writer’s sys­tem (mine). Maybe snoop is a bit extreme. Let’s say, I dis­cov­er some­thing that appeals to me. For instance, my YA Cher­ish, began with a road sign. “Sandy Bot­tom Road.” That book def­i­nite­ly used my recipe-fol­low­ing sys­tem. I’d dis­card­ed the man­u­script years before, but I start­ed with that and sub­sti­tut­ed. A skele­ton became a ghost. The girls switched boyfriends. I changed names, dipped into a vari­ety of view­points. I added real his­to­ry to alter the sto­ry. And, I def­i­nite­ly updat­ed my teens into twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry kids. Those last two required the stu­dent mode with infor­ma­tion and assis­tance from the inter­net and advice from teens.

Okay, maybe that’s not illus­trat­ing the snoop-stu­dent mode of a writer. Snoop: Scan news­pa­pers for some­thing new I can incor­po­rate into a mys­tery. How about the item about a sev­en-year-old girl who takes fan­tas­tic pho­tographs? Check. Now, here’s an item about Workam­pers, or peo­ple who live in their RV campers but trav­el around tak­ing short term jobs to sup­port them­selves. They stop to work for a sea­son at theme parks or a few weeks at local cel­e­bra­tions. Check. How about those books I’ve gath­ered dur­ing our sail­ing years at small Chesa­peake Bay towns—books about local his­to­ry, many men­tion­ing the War of 1812? Check. Okay, now for the study. Read and com­pare those local his­to­ries. Check it out on the inter­net. Study reen­act­ments, his­toric fig­ures’ lives, maps for place­ment of my fic­tion­al town. That’s the tem­plate for my upcom­ing mys­tery, For­got­ten Body, now await­ing one final run-through, for­mat­ting, and cov­er.

But I do have a still bet­ter exam­ple of the stu­dent mode for an author. I’m now work­ing on a short sto­ry that may turn into a novel­la. I’m plan­ning to make it per­mafree to inter­est peo­ple in my mys­ter­ies. It’s got­ta be good for that. And, I’m strug­gling. But, I’ve found help by read­ing the writ­ing blogs, newslet­ters, books, and mag­a­zines I’ll nev­er aban­don. That’s because, invari­ably, a phrase or sen­tence will spark an idea. Most recent­ly it was part of a sen­tence in R.A. McCormick’s arti­cle in the Sis­ters in Crime Gup­py chap­ter newslet­ter, First Draft. Quote, “sur­prise as the sto­ry goes in a direc­tion that read­ers don’t expect.” It’s not new infor­ma­tion to me, but those words remind­ed me—“Hey, that’s what I need!” The oth­er man­u­script help was a guest appear­ance by anoth­er Gup­py, Kaye George, on B.K. Stevens’ blog, The First Two Pages. Yep, after read­ing Kaye’s clear show and tell of the way she added each ele­ment, I knew what I had to do. Ramp up my begin­ning as well as sur­prise the read­er.

So, next time some­one asks me where I get my ideas, what will I answer? “You see, there’s a talk­ing bird—not a par­rot, I’ll have to look that up, and one of those mini-hous­es I’ve read about that is cramped with one per­son, but I’m putting two in there. And there’s this guy who faked his death and will come back to upset the lady who thought she was a wid­ow about the time she’s get­ting seri­ous about some­one else.” Will that be my answer?

More like­ly, I’ll reply, “Oh, here and there.”

As a read­er, I’d prob­a­bly love to hear more. But, as a writer, do I want to rat­tle on and bore my read­er even before the book is out? Hope. How about you?

Thoughts on the Writing Process

One Penn­syl­va­nia Dutch expres­sion I’ve heard is: “Too soon old, too late smart.” A more com­mon expres­sion is: “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I guess I could accept both those sen­ti­ments, but as the 85-year-old self-described Grand­ma Moses of Mys­tery, I tend to ignore them. Why else would I read writ­ing mag­a­zines, lis­ten to videos, and inter­act with oth­er writ­ers to learn more of my trade? Or, am I relearn­ing things I thought I already knew?

I’ve been attempt­ing to write a short sto­ry, a pre­quel to my first mys­tery. writer at workEvery day I start­ed over, chang­ing what I had writ­ten, decid­ing it was all wrong. Then I read a blog post from a well-pub­lished author I fol­low. She was hav­ing trou­ble writ­ing her newest book. She decid­ed the prob­lem was that she didn’t know where it was going, what should come next. She had to take time out until she knew what her char­ac­ters would do. A few days lat­er I read a mag­a­zine Q and A with an author. His words—writing was a strug­gle all the way. But he also said that if he were told what a scene should be, he could write it eas­i­ly. The idea was the hard part.

Okay, got it. Yeah, that idea. And I real­ize, when I’m writ­ing a full-length mys­tery, I keep a sep­a­rate file to talk about my sto­ry. I ask myself, would Jo do that? If she did, what would her sis­ter say? What would Mel do? I’ll ram­ble on down one path, then back up. “Nope,” I tell myself, “that’s not right. But maybe, if she said…” And I’m off on a new string.

So, why not do the same thing with a short sto­ry?

Hey, did this old dog learn a new trick? Umm, maybe. Maybe just a relearned trick. But that won’t stop me from look­ing for some­thing new for my tool kit. After all, I only start­ed this blog a cou­ple of years ago, at 83. And I’m still try­ing to improve it every chance I get. I try, as well, to improve my sto­ries as I write new ones. I will go along with the, “Too soon old,” part of that say­ing. But, “too late smart?” Nope, that will nev­er hap­pen.

I think writ­ers are a time­less bunch. We write about oth­ers of any age, no mat­ter our own age. Women write about men, men write about women. We send our char­ac­ters to far lands, or into their own minds. If we didn’t con­tin­ue to learn and inno­vate, we’d have one sto­ry to tell, then be done. I’m will­ing to bet, each writer has learned some­thing com­plete­ly new with­in the last year, and writ­ten about it. Do you agree? Or, do you dis­agree?

A Writing Room

A room ded­i­cat­ed to writing—that’s an ide­al for any author. Or not. Some authors pre­fer tot­ing a lap­top or pen­cil and paper to the local cof­fee shop, or out­doors where there’s a love­ly view and pleas­ant weath­er.

Years ago, when I was a twen­ty-some­thing and liv­ing in Seat­tle, I did not aspire to be a writer. I thought I’d be a singer. My broth­er had a beau­ti­ful voice, my sis­ter played the piano. I had illu­sions of a fam­i­ly trio—for a few months. I took singing lessons. Since I lived at a board­ing house with a land­la­dy who said, “No prac­tic­ing at MY piano,” I rent­ed a prac­tice room sev­er­al days a week. All around me, oth­ers behind oth­er doors prac­ticed voice, clar­inet, bas­soon, or piano. But, for an hour, I had my own room.

When I start­ed writ­ing, with teenagers in the house, I heard about writ­ers who rent­ed office space, set it up with type­writer (before most peo­ple used any­thing resem­bling com­put­ers), and escaped into anoth­er world. I set up my type­writer in the base­ment. After a while, I, too, had a com­put­er.

Fast for­ward a lot of years, and my hus­band and I are liv­ing in retire­ment. Our chil­dren have chil­dren, and even a grand­child. I have my writ­ing space in the retire­ment home base­ment. I don’t need to escape from a hec­tic house­hold. But a cou­ple of days ago, I read about a local free-lance writer who has his own small office space in a local build­ing, a restored tobac­co ware­house divid­ed into indi­vid­ual offices.

Gee, should I con­sid­er that?

Nah. I look out my win­dow, and think—drive through weath­er like that, every day? Then I look at my desk, piled high with arti­cles I must save, my desk­top com­put­er, my print­er, my rolling chair, the full book­cas­es sur­round­ing me. Move all that? You think? Of course, if I had Kait Carson’s very neat office, maybe… Nope. Why change per­fec­tion?

I’ve always wondered—does tak­ing your work to a new place, one with­out a dish­wash­er to emp­ty, a dirty clothes ham­per full to over­flow­ing, and dust on every shelf—make for more time spent writ­ing?  Or, does tak­ing one­self away from dai­ly life also take away the inspi­ra­tion? Some­how, I think that answer changes by indi­vid­ual, and per­haps, even by the moment. What do you think? Have you ever tried mov­ing your work to a new space?

Too much to do!

It’s a com­mon prob­lem, at least for me. I make plans, sched­ule things — sure I’ll have no prob­lem han­dling it all. Then what hap­pens? I real­ize I have way more than I want to do.

Exer­cise. It’s very good for one, and absolute­ly essen­tial for a writer who spends so much time in front of her com­put­er. There­fore, two morn­ings a week I exer­cise with a class. Great fun, actu­al­ly. Of course, even though it’s only a 45-minute class, it takes me the rest of the morn­ing to actu­al­ly feel like work­ing. Yep, morn­ing gone.

Two morn­ings gone out of a week? No prob­lem. I can han­dle that two-week class on opti­miz­ing Goodreads for authors. Also, I can learn how to post to my mys­tery cri­tique group all over again since we start­ed using Google groups instead of Yahoo groups. (And, that course? Also on a new venue — more to learn.)

Oh, yeah, there’s a few oth­er things. I’m count­ing down the time until my new YA is pub­lished. Work­ing with the artist on the cov­er design now. And, hope­ful­ly those edits I’m doing on the sequel to Yesterday’s Body will be final edits.

Then there’s the arti­cle and the blog post I agreed to do. A month or two ago I spaced them out, too busy in August and Sep­tem­ber. Yep, due this month. Work­ing on it, real­ly I am.

Is there more? Uh-huh. Old­est grand­son get­ting mar­ried. Then the fol­low­ing week youngest daugh­ter and fam­i­ly hav­ing their annu­al, all-day fall par­ty.

I’m sure there’s a book among those I’ve read that would absolute­ly fit this post. But, will I take an after­noon lulling through the shelves, pick­ing the per­fect read to rec­om­mend? Nope, sor­ry, not today. I’m over-sched­uled as it is. I’ll have more time next week — make that next month.