Wednesday, September 30, 2009
Clothes Do Not Make the Writer (Thankfully)
I fall into both camps that were discussed yesterday—I do get up and get dressed almost immediately upon waking, but there are those days when I loll in my pajamas for a few minutes. These are the days, inevitably, when it is raining cats and dogs and someone needs a ride to school. On those days, yes, I have been known to drive around town in Old Navy pajama pants and a “Life Is Good” tee shirt, hoping against hope that I don’t break a law that would require that I pull over and face a cop, most of whom live right in the town. I’d never live it down. And, for sure, I’d end up in the “Blotter” section of our local paper, the section most often cited as the first one everyone goes to on Thursday when the Gazette arrives. Trust me—you do not want to see your name in the Blotter.
I could be one of those writers who spends an entire day in pajamas, but I don’t feel like the day has any merit until I’ve showered and dressed. Additional grooming is another matter entirely. I have just returned from a lunchtime trip to Trader Joe’s where I realized—upon gazing into the mirrored glass above some of the pre-prepared dinners—that I never brushed my hair today. There’s really no point in getting up and worrying about what you’ll wear if you forget to brush your hair, is there? Thankfully, I never forget to brush my teeth but remembering to put on a little make-up? Another one of my issues.
Work attire usually consists of tee shirts and jeans. However, there are some days that require that I leave the house to see a client and on those days, I usually put on a pair of nicer pants and a blouse with a cardigan. My mother calls these “wake clothes” because they are too dressy to hang around the house in, yet not dressy enough to wear to a wedding. To her, they represent the clothes that we normal folk call “business casual” but since we’re a wake-professional family (all Irish-Catholic families are to some degree), she has denoted them “wake clothes.” Feel free to adopt this phrase into your vernacular. Guaranteed, most everyone will know of which you speak. Incidentally, husband I went to Bermuda this summer to a resort that had five restaurants on the premises, many requiring “smart casual” wear. We wore our wake clothes. We weren’t turned away.
The only problem with the tee shirt/jean combo is that it doesn’t allow me to wear many of the fifty-odd pairs of shoes that I own, many stilettos, most dressier than the usual daily ensemble requires. So every once in a while, just to shake things up, I will put on a pair of shoes that I shouldn’t be caught dead in during the day in the middle of the week and prance on down to the A&P to clickety-clack along the aisles, feeling like Amazonian shopping woman.
But here’s an equally thought-provoking question that I’d love your input on. What’s on your desk when you write? What are your magic writing talismans?
Tuesday, September 29, 2009
What is Proper Writing Attire?
I have a good friend who gets up at 4 a.m. everyday and begins writing in her pajamas and doesn't get dressed until she's through with her literary process.
I must confess I always get dressed before I start my day doing anything. Could be partly because this was what my mom did until she reached her 90s, then she'd eat breakfast in her bathrobe and get dressed afterwards. Another reason is for twenty-three years hubby and I ran a licensed residential care facility in our home for six adult developmentally disabled women. We never knew when licensing or the regional center might make a surprise visit and I didn't want to be caught looking less than professional.
I no longer worry about looking professional, but I always dress for whatever I'm going to be doing the rest of the day. Once I take my shower, I put on whatever I'm going to be wearing no matter what time that happens. I do not like to change clothes. Strange, but true. Hubby is just the opposite, he's wear his grungies until just before it's time to go somewhere.
Another reason I get dressed right away is because of family members who just drop in. No one bothers to knock around here and once we're up the front door is unlocked.
So... I could be writing in casual clothes because I'm staying home all day or you might find me in business type clothes because I have to go to a meeting--like today.
Tell me about your writing attire.
Monday, September 28, 2009
One class focused on early TV shows like Howdy Doody (hello Clarabelle!) and Captain Kangaroo (cheers Mr. Greenjeans). The production values were scarcely high-tech. There was no attempt to hide Howdy’s puppet strings and the kids in the peanut gallery were sitting on wooden benches five feet from the action. And yet they captured the imagination of kids across the country.
My own kids loved Mister Rogers Neighborhood. Calmer and far less frenetic than Sesame Street, my children, especially son number one, adored King Friday XIII and the Neighborhood of Make Believe. Little hand puppets captured his imagination, and this was the kid who adored Star Wars, so it wasn’t like he didn’t appreciate special effects.
Fred Rogers was a different kind of children’s TV host. For the first time, the star was supposed to be a grown-up, not an oversized child who got into mischief (see Pinky Lee). Rogers talked directly to children, offering reassurance and advice that this Mom continues to find valuable. There was a gentleness to his show I miss – both in current kid-vid, adult TV fare, and for that matter, in real life.
Of course, not all my TV viewing (or my children’s time in front of the boob tube) was of the educational variety. Growing up, I watched plenty of dumb sitcoms that thanks to TVLand, I can now rewatch. It’s like entering a time machine. On The Andy Griffith Show, there are silly (even offensive) stereotypes about men and women; alcoholics like Otis Campbell are portrayed as nice guys who just need a safe place to sleep it off; and in one recent show, I actually heard Andy Taylor tell Barney Fife to “come out on the porch, I need a smoke: – and then we watched him light up!
I read a lot, but also spent hours in front of the television watching soap operas, game shows, and variety hours. I’m convinced that time dedicated to All My Children and General Hospital taught me about plot development and pacing (most of all, I learned that at some point, a storyline can get dragged out waaaay too long and the audience, or reader, loses interest).
What were your favorite childhood TV shows – the good, the bad, and the ridiculous?
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David
Friday, September 25, 2009
I recently asked readers at my blog for some help with fresh topics and my friend Cathy McDonald asked this:
I know you read a lot...how do you keep the plots and twists and characters that you have previously read about from becoming a part of your book? I mean the leftover spaghetti from Sunday, the corn and green beans we had Monday, and the roasted chicken leftover from tonight will become chicken vegetable soup tomorrow...each part recognizable from some other dinner. How do you make it a "new meal" in your head rather than leftovers you remember?
Good stuff. I like this vegetable soup analogy except the part about the spaghetti noodles. But if I were having dinner at Cathy’s house, I’d eat the chicken, vegetable, and spaghetti noodle soup and love it. Mmm!
This isn’t the first time I’ve thought about her question. I’ve heard authors address the same thing at writers’ conferences. At least two panelists have said that they refrain from reading mysteries while they are working on a book because they fear committing what one speaker dubbed “subliminal plagiarism.” I subliminally plagiarized that guy and used his phrase as my title today.
So I guess now this has happened to me.
But seriously, I count myself among the lucky ones because this hasn’t been a problem for me yet. Maybe that’s because I’m only working on my second book. I’ll be interested to hear what the other, more prolific, Stiletto Gang ladies have to say about their reading and writing experiences in this regard. Since it takes me about a bazillion years to finish a manuscript, refraining from reading mysteries anytime I’m working on a project would basically mean taking a vow of whodunit chastity.
Even though it takes more than a year for me to write a book, the whole time I’m working on the story I already know what I’d like to happen. The struggles, conflicts, clues, and ending have already been imagined if only in a crude form. The real work lies in getting the words on paper and bridging the gaps in the story. In other words, I’m not at a loss for ideas once I’ve started a story. The idea train has already left the station.
When I read other people’s books, I’m relaxing and being entertained. In fact, I’m usually reading those books because I’m putting off working on my own. The last thing I want to do is make any connections between the polished, engrossing novel in my hands and the horrid, incoherent rough draft waiting on my laptop. A link between the two would only remind me of what I ought to be doing instead.
But perhaps the most compelling reason that ideas never mix for me is that when I’m reading, I’m not in my world anymore, I’m in the story world. I’m not thinking about my manuscript challenges because I’m too caught up in the action on the page. When I’m away from a story I’m reading, I’m more inclined to worry about its characters or try to find time to sneak in more reading than I am to draw parallels to my own work. I think because, to some degree, I view the story I’m writing as work and the ones I’m reading as fun.
Here’s the best way to explain. I wouldn’t enjoy a pool party with my co-workers. Part of that scenario is fun but the other part is work. Mixing them together is just a bunch of unsightly researchers in Speedos.
Thursday, September 24, 2009
My Fall TV Line-Up
For decades the Special Fall Season TV Guide was my playbook. (Remember when the TV Guides were small and user-friendly? No grids.) I compared the new shows to each other and figured out their timeslots. In the pre-vcr days, I had to choose between competing shows. I was partial to dramas. Still am.
I tried to give each new show a look. It used to be that all shows were on at least a half year before being cancelled or moved to a new day and time – so with a little organization I could sample a couple of episodes of each before settling in with my favorites.
Not so any more. Some shows are cancelled after two or three episodes. If you want to see the new shows, you have to hurry!
I still subscribe to the TV Guide, but I don't get my tv program planning from it. I get lost with all the channel listings.
I'm left with commercials. Yep, commercials are good for something! When I see a commercial for a new tv show that looks interesting, I take note of the name, then look it up on-line. Every self-respecting tv show has a webpage or maybe even a whole website dedicated to it.
My returning favorites are:
New shows I want to see:
Medium – saved by CBS from cancellation. Shame on you NBC. It's a wonderful drama.
Dancing With the Stars – good fun.
NCIS – CBS – love the whole ensemble cast.
Criminal Minds – I've been watching the repeats and I'm beginning to like it very much.
The Mentalist – CBS – Simon Baker is so cute.
House – Fox (It took awhile for Dr. House to grow on me but my co-author loved the show, so I kept watching.)
Ghost Hunters – Syfy (Why in the world they changed the network name from Sci-fi, I'll never understand.)
The Good Wife - CBS - stars Julianna Margulies - loved her on ERWhat new shows are you planning to watch?
The Forgotten – ABC – my prediction – I love the premise, I'll probably love the show, and it will probably be cancelled before midseason.
NCIS – Los Angeles – CBS – rarely are sequels as good as original but I'll give it a try.
Mercy – NBC – love nurse shows – this looks to be a good one. Does anyone else remember Nurse with Michael Learned? I absolutely adored that drama.
Eastwick – ABC – probably too campy for me, but might be fun.
FlashForward – ABC – interesting – not sure what it's about but I'll watch once or twice since with BattleStar Galactica gone I have an opening on my science fiction dance card.
Trauma – NBC – I used to love the old Emergency series and ER was a long time favorite. Maybe this one will be good too.
Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Getting to Know You (Ok, me)
Case in point: yoga.
For years, I was a faithful practitioner of yoga, knowing that it would be the best thing for my type-A, control freak, slightly ADD personality. I went every week with my purple mat, in my cute black stretch pants (that incidentally could have benefited from a tummy control panel) and twisted myself into various positions, holding them as long as I could, and trying to think about anything but all of the things I wanted to think about. I never could execute a handstand, but I could live with that, because when it came to the “pigeon pose,” I was a champ.
The only problem was, I wasn’t relaxing. What I was doing was stressing about not being able to relax at yoga. And I was thinking about other stuff that didn’t have anything to do with my own inner peace, chakras, or mindfulness. Every time I got into a pose and was instructed to hold it, my mind went in about five hundred different directions, starting with: “Things I need from Shoprite: eggs, milk, butter, toilet paper…” Then I would refocus (and readjust my tummy-control-less yoga pants) just in time for the next pose and clear my mind. Seconds later, I was back to: “…chicken, bread, toilet paper—oh, right, I already have that on the list—beer…beer…beer…”
My friend, Tami, is a yoga instructor and in the best shape of anyone I know (with the exception of trainer Shari). She is also very serene. She has graciously invited me to her class and while I was tempted to go, I never took the plunge. I couldn’t figure out why. Then, it finally hit me: I don’t really like yoga.
For all of you yoga devotees, let me be perfectly clear: the problem is me, not yoga. Yoga is a fabulous form of mediation and exercise. It’s just not for nut cases like myself.
But for years, I kept thinking that because it was such a fabulous form of mediation and exercise, I should do it. Even though it didn’t do anything for me physically or spiritually. I finally found the courage to articulate this epiphany to my friend, Melissa, who stared back at me and said, “I could have told you that.”
Why are our friends more likely to know more about us than we know about ourselves?
Now that I’ve embraced this new-found self awareness, I have also finally admitted that I really don’t like the beach. It’s hot, it’s crowded, and there’s sand. And flies. And it’s outside.
I also don’t like expensive coffee, I would rather have a big plate of fried chicken than a salad (despite what it does to my cholesterol and triglycerides or whatever they’re called), and I think that programs on public broadcasting stations are for the most part boring. I also prefer a dimestore novel to what is purported to be a literary masterpiece. I will no longer suffer through an “important work” if my mind starts to wander after the first three pages. I also prefer cheap chardonnay to the more expensive ones. But I won’t cheap out on Champagne.
By this time, you’re probably wondering why it took so long to come to some of these truths. I guess I’m just a slow learner.
So, what have you learned about yourself recently? Please share.
Tuesday, September 22, 2009
How Do You Get Everything Done?
I make a lot of lists and cross things off when I get them done. Yesterday I planned to work on a book that has just been edited and take care of some of the edits. Instead, I read and answered email, filled out an interview someone sent me, received a great review for Dispel the Mist, the third.
Once I got that of course I had to copy it, put it on the page where I'm keeping those reviews and I had to let my Twitter friends and my Facebook friends know. Holding my breath about the reveiw that might not be so good. My publisher and I both sent the book out to a lot of reviewers.
Hubby brought in the mail and I had to pay a couple of bills and I went on line to cancel a membership to something we never used--should have done that long ago.
Remembered that I should add to my newsletter about my talk at the library (not many showed up but someone I only met on Twitter and his wife traveled 1 1/2 hours just to meet me. Don't tell me Twitter promo doesn't work. Then, of course, my launch Sunday at Kirby Farms in Springville had to be mentioned--that one went super well, lots more people and books sold and the cookies were delicious.)
And that's more or less the way it went all day. I did get a little done, I'm looking for the word was and trying to turn the sentence around in order to eliminate it--works sometimes, not always.
Hubby and I did take time out to watch General Hospital together--its our afternoon rest period.
Cooked and ate a big dinner, but left right after for Bible Study--we're studying Daniel. Came home and my brain doesn't really function well much after seven, so I didn't feel the least bit guilty about watching Dancing with the Stars. (Good excuse, anyway.)
Maybe today will be more organized with less distractions--except I really must get the laundry done.
Monday, September 21, 2009
For a Sweet New Year
Surrounded by family and friends, I spent this holiday once again reminded of all my blessings. I didn’t make a list of New Year’s resolutions, but did make a personal promise to improve where I could, try harder when necessary, and accept graciously when acceptance is the best option.
Traditions are the always in life, those things we count on and by which we define ourselves and our family. So my holiday table was full of the traditional foods like apples and honey, to represent a sweet new year, and round challahs, instead of the Sabbath braided ones, to symbolize the circle of life. It wouldn’t be a holiday in this household without homemade chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps not found in the Bible, but a required food group for my family.
One of the nicest traditions of the holiday is Tashlikh, the ritual of symbolically casting off your sins by tossing pieces of bread into a body of flowing water. The ancient practice is based on the the Biblical passage in Micah, “You will cast all their sins into the depths of the sea.” Our congregation strolls about a mile down to the park that edges Long Island Sound. We sing some traditional prayers and then walk out onto the rocks and toss bread into the waters. The gulls come swooping in, happy to ingest our “sins.” Inevitably we joke that we each need to bring at least a couple of loaves of bread to atone for all our sins. The Rabbi reminds us that it's symbolic, not a one-for-one ratio of bread to sin.
The beauty of the setting, the warmth of being surrounded by family and friends, the comfort of the traditional melodies, and the sense of renewal, of starting the new year afresh, gives me a wonderful feeling of contentment and rejuvenation.
Best wishes for a Healthy, Happy, Sweet New Year.
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David
Friday, September 18, 2009
A Vegas Show Chicken in the Underbrush
When I first contacted the Stiletto Gang, this whole blog thing sounded like a good idea. I mean, everyone’s doing it, right? How hard can it be?
Let’s face it, y’all are strangers. You don’t know me from Adam. This is my chance to make a first impression, and I better make it good. So what to say? About 93 different topics came to mind, and they all sounded totally stupid. Or brilliant. But probably stupid. I was paralyzed with indecision.
So I asked the universe to send me a sign, and it did.
With a leisurely Labor day afternoon ahead of us, Mr. Wendy and I headed to the 380 Greenbelt, a rather utilitarian Texas park that meanders along a trickle of water that one might call a river (if one had never seen a real river before). We parked the Family Truckster; schlepped across the tarmac like the boring middle-aged couple we are, Mr. Wendy toting a folding chair in each hand and me clutching a plastic grocery bag with some almonds, a couple of diet sodas, and our paperbacks; and set up camp in a little plot of shade right at the edge of the sad tributary and away from the other park-goers.
We had just gotten settled in, Mr. Wendy dozing in his chair, me munching on the almonds, when I heard a rustling in the underbrush behind me. I looked around, expecting a squirrel, or perhaps an armadillo. Imagine my surprise ...
I asked the universe for a sign, and it sent me a chicken.
But not just any chicken. This was one of those fancy chickens with an absurd explosion of feathers sprouting from the top of his head and a cascade of snowy plumage springing from his backside. This was a Vegas show-chicken.
A feral Vegas show-chicken.
I couldn’t help wondering, “What’s his story?” Was he lost? Had he escaped some chicken gulag? Why did he limp? Did he have chicken friends in the park? Or was he flying solo, one chicken against the world? Was he scared of the people who wandered past him, carrying kayaks and blaring boom-boxes? Or did he hope that one of those people would scoop him up and tote him back to civilization, give him a nice shady coop where he wouldn’t have to worry about coyotes or his next meal? And what would become of him? Could such a fancy chicken possibly survive in the wild?
Some writers--indeed, some of my favorite writers--write about exotic people in exotic places doing exotic things. I, however, am drawn to ordinary folks living ordinary lives in Everytown, America. Like the heroine of I SCREAM, YOU SCREAM. Tally Jones is a small town divorcee, struggling to keep her ice cream parlor afloat and her rag-tag family out of bankruptcy. On the surface, her life is perfectly normal, but unbeknownst to her the people she’s known her whole life are harboring secrets. Those ordinary people are capable of both heroism and treachery, and Tally has to learn that bad guys don’t always look like bad guys.
That nice elderly man who fed his wife rat poison? That high school tennis coach who gave a kidney to one of his players? That soccer mom who made a million bucks by stripping in front of a webcam? Those are the stories that really affect us, because they come out of the blue. They sneak up on us, ambush us, and force us to question our assumptions about the world we live in.
So here’s my advice to you: keep your eyes open. You never know when you’ll stumble across a moment of mythic drama right smack in the middle of your grocery store’s produce aisle. Or a brilliant bit of poetry on a bathroom wall. Or perhaps a Vegas show-chicken rooting around in the underbrush.
Wendy Lyn Watson
Thursday, September 17, 2009
I see and hear the scenes in my head. Then I type them into the computer.
Although I've been a voracious reader since grade school, I didn't try to write fiction until about six or seven years ago. My first short story was written on a computer in my living room while I listened to CNN. I wrote it while drinking Pepsi One and eating Strawberry Twizzlers.
So my writing process?
Want to guess? In order to write I have to be sitting at my computer in my living room with CNN on the tv, a can of Pepsi One next to me, and okay, well – the Twizzlers are optional. I'm not completely nuts!
Seriously, I can't write fiction using paper and pen. I've tried. A sentence or two is all I can squeeze out the old fashioned way.
I'm a fast typist and using a keyboard helps me get my thoughts down before they slither off. I'm composing this blog at my computer. I've changed the first line of this paragraph four times – trying to decide if "slither off" is the right phrase. (My co-author, Marian, wouldn't care for me ending a sentence with the word "off," but I'll worry about that later.) As you can see, "slither off" won out over "escaped."
Okay, so computer, Pepsi One, CNN, and Marian are needed in order for me to write – not necessarily in that order. I mentioned Marian before, right? She gets the credit, uh … blame for getting me into this fiction writing business. Not that I've actually met her in person – we are internet friends and writing partners. One day she typed, "We should write a book together." I typed back, "We should think about it."
I hesitated because I was afraid of failing. It's easy to have the dream of writing a book – I'd guess most people have that dream at some point in their life. Having the dream is nice. It's comfortable. It's something to think about when your day job is less than fulfilling. But actually doing something about achieving that dream is scary. If you try and fail, then what? That dream is isn't so golden any more.
But I'd been tempted, so after a few weeks of consideration, we started. We expanded a short story we'd written about a private detective and his Irish wolfhound partner. "Evelyn David" was born.
In order for me to write, I have to be in the "right" frame of mind (pun not intended but there it is), with the right tools handy (maybe the word "right" in this phrase is too much?), in order for me to find that fictional world in my head. And for me it's all about characters.
I usually put two characters in a room, close my eyes and listen for a conversation to start. Two of my favorite characters from the Sullivan Investigations Mystery series are the twenty-something computer wiz JJ and the seventy-something, scooter riding Edgar. The only thing they have in common is their fondness for Mac Sullivan and a desire to become full-fledged detectives.
"How did you like my great nephew?"
"Is the no hair thing hereditary?"
"He's a Marine."
"Thanks for the warning. Mac is getting me a Taser for my birthday."
The conversation stops. And I consider how I might use the dialogue. Or not. My writing always starts with dialogue, even if it's inner dialogue. Then I go back and layer in background details and physical action. After I polish up the scene, I e-mail it to Marian.
I've tried to outline. I know how to draft an outline. Under great duress I can create an outline and I can write by it. But the process takes all the fun out of writing for me. The voices are muffled. The typing slows. Soon I'm thinking that mopping the kitchen might be a preferable activity.
If you've read Marian's Monday blog, you're probably wondering how in world we write anything together. She likes to know where we're going before we get there. Preferably before we start. And I can't tell her – at least not until we are about 20 pages into the first draft. Then all at once some real plot starts creeping into the scenes. Something clicks. There are choices to be made. Questions to be answered. Why does JJ dislike Edgar's great nephew? And what's his name anyway? [Note: find name that is different from any other characters – and for goodness sakes no more Irish names! Ask Marian.] Is the great nephew really a Marine? Is Edgar's disappearance related to his relative's visit? Do we want Edgar to have a major plot line in this book? Where did Carrie and Ray go? This was supposed to be their time to shine and they're awol!
At that point in the process Marian and I start to figure out what the A and maybe B plot lines will be. We sift through the ideas – decide which ones make the most sense. We decide which characters we're going to use in this particular book. A very loose outline is developed. We keep writing, alternating scenes, editing as we go. We watch for the C plot line to appear – a minor storyline that develops from an unexpected event or line of dialogue. Once it shows up, we deliberately expand on it and weave it throughout the book.
Sometimes after that initial twenty pages we have to start over – sometimes we just have to rewrite a few scenes. The opening scene always gets rewritten multiple times. But the main thing for me is to start. Not talk about starting, but start.
That's my writing process.
aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
What the Heck is Scaffolding?
As with almost everything in my life, I’m convinced I’m doing it the wrong way.
When I started writing about Alison Bergeron six years ago, I started at the beginning, with the body in the trunk. From there, I jumped around, writing scenes as they popped into my head, going backwards and forward in time, finally reading the whole thing and filling in the blanks. I even had a couple of flashbacks to Alison’s college days, which thankfully, my eagle-eyed agent kindly asked me to remove. For those of you who read the “chicken salad sandwich” scene (and for those of you who haven’t, hopefully that will pique your interest), know that I wrote that shortly after I wrote the first chapter. I let my characters “talk” to me and tell me what they wanted to do and when. I still do this, by the way. I’m so intimately acquainted with Alison that when I write something that she wouldn’t say, she tells me, which keeps me honest. And no, I’m not crazy, even if I do have six or seven pretend people living in my brain talking to me about who they’d like to see murdered and why.
However, when I read my first draft of the manuscript now, I cringe. (See? That’s what a good editor will do for you.) Doing the book this way made more work for me, but it was my writing process and everything turned out fine in the long run. But there were a lot of inconsistencies that I’m glad my editor saw through to what she considered a good story with good characters. Still, I wondered if there was a better way to do this or if indeed, I was doing it correctly. I turned to my old friend (I call him that even though we don’t know each other) and writing teacher Stephen King for guidance.
On Writing was published in 2000 and is basically my writing bible. In it, King talks about his life, leaving nothing—including his bout with substance abuse—out while spinning the tale of how this kid from Maine grew up to become one of the greatest writers of our generation. But the message I took from the book mainly was that whatever your process, if it works, it works. No reason to tinker.
So I gave my process a name. I call it “scaffolding.” As time has gone on and I’ve written more books in the series, I’ve streamlined the process. I do write in order, but I do go back almost every day that I do write and see what I can add, delete, or revise. Do we need a clue? A red herring? A better ending to a chapter? It’s kind of convoluted but it works for me. Thank you, Mr. King, for giving me permission to approach writing as a bass-ackwards process of plot discovery.
And now, Alison and I are going to have lunch. She told me that she's hungry and wants chicken salad. (Just kidding!)
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
My Writing Process
When it's time to write a new book if I haven't already gotten an idea, I peruse the pertinent folder and begin pulling articles out that interest me. Once I think I have a clue where I'm going, I may start doing some more research on the Internet concerning whatever it is I plan to write about.
The next step is creating the characters who will inhabit the book. In my Deputy Tempe Crabtree books of course there's always Tempe and Hutch. I have to figure out who is going to be murdered and why, who wanted to see the person dead--at least three or four who could've done it. Of course there has to be a story around each of them. I like it best when I can use an Indian legend that works with or drives the story. In my latest, Dispel the Mist, what I wanted to include in the mystery was the legend of the Hairy Man. And of course I did.
In the Rocky Bluff P.D. I have an group of people, police personnel and their families. Along with the crime or crimes, I have to decide just who I'm going to showcase. I always want to be able to explore how whatever is going on affects the family and what is happening with the family affects the job. Fortunately, I have a lot of friends and relatives in law enforcement. Some I can observe, others I ask.
All the character information I write down on a legal pad. I write other things down too, just enough to get me started.
Once I really begin writing, it's on the computer, but as other ideas come to me I'll jot them down too. It's amazing how, as I'm writing, things begin to open up to me and I begin to know more and more where I'm going.
I try to write every morning except Sunday. When I'm really going strong, I might write most of the day. I always stop in the middle of a scene so when I get back to the computer I know exactly what I'm going to write next.
Somewhere in the middle of all this, I start reading chapters to my critique group who sort of act like my first editor.
Of course I'm going back over chapters all the time to make sure everything is where it ought to be and I haven't left anything out.
When I think it's done I send it off to an editor to look for mistakes and inconsistencies. Once I've fixed those I send the manuscript off to my publisher where it is edited once again.
That is my writing process from start to finish. It would be easier if I wasn't always promoting a book from the other series while writing and if I didn't have to do all the things everyone else does like washing, cleaning, cooking and running errands. I have it easier than many of my writing friends though, who are still working at full-time jobs. So I'll count my blessings.
Monday, September 14, 2009
Look Who’s Talking
I’m Marian, the Northern half of Evelyn David. In the five years that we’ve been collaborating together, Rhonda and I have often had this same conversation.
Me: So then what happens?
Rhonda: I don’t know until I hear the characters talk.
It’s taken me years to realize (and I confess that I’m slow in gaining these insights) that my writing is plot driven; for the Southern half, and she’ll speak for herself on Thursday, it’s character driven. I have to start out with a general idea of the whole storyline; whereas Rhonda insists that the characters will tell her what happens next once she gets them down on paper. Actually, that’s not a bad combination. It’s probably why, despite repeating the exact same conversation at least a dozen times in every book or story, our collaboration works so well (that and the fact that the Southern half has a wicked sense of humor).
I suspect my approach is the result of 20+ years of writing nonfiction books. Publishers insist on seeing a detailed Table of Contents, as well as a sample chapter, before forking over any money. There should be no big surprises when you write a nonfiction book. Of course, you’ll learn new things as you delve deeper into the topic; the emphasis may shift a little from what you proposed. But basically you know the ending before you start.
As with any successful partnership, both halves of Evelyn David have learned to compromise (early and often). Before we start writing, we talk through the A, B, and C plots of the book, know who our villain will be and what is his/her motivation. But it’s a loose outline subject to change – which is exactly what happened in both Murder Off the Books and Murder Takes the Cake. Rhonda was right. As the characters talked to us, we learned that the murderer we thought had done all those dastardly deeds couldn’t have killed a fly. About halfway through each mystery, the characters told us who was the “real” killer. I had to put aside my careful outline and listen to these chatty characters. They knew what had really happened.
As for my daily writing process. It involves a least a couple loads of laundry, maybe an online game of Spider Solitaire, two or three tournaments of online (no money involved) Texas Hold ‘Em – and then yes, procrastination finished, I write a couple of scenes that I’ve plotted out in my head and discussed with the Southern half. But I’ve learned to listen to what the characters are telling me to do. Sometimes they say, chuck the outline, here’s the real skinny…and then I hit the delete button and start over.
Rhonda would be so proud.
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder Off the Books by Evelyn David
Friday, September 11, 2009
The Poison Lady
TYLENOL! Anyone who has ever heard me speak, knows I consider Tylenol (acetaminophen)to be the most dangerous drug in the home. Its not the most toxic, but it is the most dangerous. Acetaminophen is widely perceived to be safe. It is not. The lethal dose 50 percent of the time (LD50) has been lowered 3 times in the last 20 years: from 20 grams to 12grams to 8 grams (16 extra strength tablets equals 8 grams). The dose currently considered to be safe is 4 grams per day; however the newest recommendations will lowering the dose to less than 3 gms.
Because acetaminophen is a "hidden" extra ingredient in many products, it is extremely easy for someone to overdose. Many over the counter sleep products, cough and cold, sinus, headache and arthritis medications contain acetaminophen. Percocet, Vicodin, Lortab and Darvocet all contain either 325 or 500 milli-grams per tablet. With a recommended dose of 1 to 2 of those tablets every 4 to 6 hours, the maximum acetaminophen dose is readily exceeded. Individuals who abuse pain medications will reach toxic levels of acetaminophen long before toxic levels of narcotics are reached.
Sulfhydryl, SH, which given rotten eggs their smell are necessary in the metabolism of acetaminophen. In overdoses, acetaminophen depletes available sulfhydrl groups in liver cells, causing cell death and hepatic necrosis. After an overdose the patient may be asymphtomatic or may have mild nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain for 24 hours. The next 48 to 72 hours are generally without symphtoms; after that irreversible liver damage occurs. Death, in acute overdoses, from liver failure is painful and prolonged. Acetylcystine, a sylfhydryl donator, is used as an antidote if the overdose is caught in the first 72 hours.
Because of it's general precepcition of safety acetaminophen is often employed in suicide attemps destroies your liver. Acetaminophen is synergistic with alcohol. I love trivia about poison; cabbage decreases the effectiveness (but not the toxicity) of acetaminophen. Since this blog is supposed to be about poison.... consider acetaminophen one of the 50 ways to leave your lover: "Oh honey, you look like you have had a hard day. Sit down and I will bring you a drink and some Tylenol."
Luci Hansson Zahray
Thursday, September 10, 2009
About 15 years ago I started using a day planner regularly. Known to one and all as "My Book," I keep my calendar, addresses (snail and e-mail), and important facts (size of vacuum cleaner bags, type of printer cartridges, etc) in there.
I like the Day Runner brand – Week-In-View – style with replaceable pages and a 7-ringed, leather zipped cover. It has to have a zipped cover so I can keep all the loose notes and folded bits of paper I add to the front or back of the book. For about a year I carried a copy of my Echelon contract around with me in "My Book." Not sure I really needed daily access to it, but I did need to reference it a couple of times when I was travelling and my worn, much folded copy came in handy.
As much as I love computers and my Blackberry, one would think I would have made the leap from my pen and paper day planner to an electronic life monitor some time ago. I tried. Really I did. My father loves his Palm and gave me a basic model for Christmas some years back. I entered dates into the Palm but couldn't give up my day planner. Where would I put all those bits of paper that people hand me? Where would I keep the copies of my hotel reservations, my coupons, meeting notes, and all those business cards that I need immediate access to?
"My Book" goes with me everywhere. If I forget and leave it in the car, I usually have to run out in the middle of the night and get it – there will be something in it that I need in order to finish a project, write a response to an email, or schedule a meeting. I have about two years worth of information in it at any one time. If I'm ever a person of interest in a crime and a detective wants to know what I was doing on any particular date, I'm ready! I can not only tell him where I was but what size air filters I was buying and whether or not that was "trash" day at my house. And yes, I do live in fear of someone stealing "My Book." My only consolation is that it's rather large and wouldn't fit in someone's pocket or purse.
Speaking of being ready, I need to order my 2010 inserts this month. I already have appointments and events to enter for next year.
How about you? How do you keep track of your life?
Wednesday, September 9, 2009
Much Ado About Nothing (IMHO)
My husband and I chose to let our children watch the speech. No—that’s wrong. We didn’t give it a second thought. It was a given that our kids would watch the speech. And yes, in the interest of full disclosure, I did vote for the guy (not that it’s anyone’s business but that seems to be a crucial part of the debate…along with the assumption that if you vote for someone you automatically agree with everything that person says or does. Not true, by the way.). But had a previous administration’s President spoken to our children, they would have watched that speech as well. President George H.W. Bush spoke to our schoolchildren in 1991; same for President Reagan in 1988. They were/are our Presidents. We need to listen to what they have to say and make our own judgments. And civic responsibility? It’s never too early to learn that.
So I’m interested to find out a) if the kids had a reaction to the speech and b) if they are interested in talking about it at all. Because I’ve found that those things that get us adults all up in arms are really not the same things that get our kids agitated (i.e. the price of the new Rock Band Beatles edition for one). I’m guessing that the speech won’t be mentioned unless either hubby or I bring it up, or unless somebody got in trouble for talking during the speech which would be duly noted and reported on in great detail.
I decided to withhold judgment on the speech until I watched it. I know, novel idea. Many of the vociferous rantings of the last week were done without benefit of even having read the transcript of the speech. But after watching it, all I can think is, “Is this what got everybody all fired up?”
“Do your best.”
“…start with the responsibility you have within yourself.”
“Every single one of you has something to offer.”
“What you make of your education will decide nothing less than the future of this country.”
I heard nothing in the speech on health care, the war in Afghanistan, tort reform, or the stock market, some of the topics that opponents to this speech feared would be presented. What I heard was a President imploring the nation’s children to take responsibility for themselves and their education, to make the most of what this country has to offer in terms of education, and to know that who they are and how they behave is of vital importance. It was a great speech, written for a varied audience, hitting all of the notes that parents should hit every now and again while raising their own children. I’m glad President Obama spoke to the kids today, on the first or second day of school. Come to think of it, I wish President Obama would speak to them every week. Or at least come over here once a week and talk to my kids. Maybe then we could table the “great green bean debate” once and for all.
I’m getting concerned about the backlash to everything this administration, and even the smaller local ones, are trying to do. While not a fan of some previous administration’s efforts to reform certain things in this country, I do have a healthy respect for anyone who tries to affect any kind of change, even if I am ideologically opposed. So, until it doesn’t work, let’s give it a try (I’m looking at you, No Child Left Behind). But having the President take time out of his day to speak to the nation’s schoolchildren about the value of education? Not something we need to worry about.
Tuesday, September 8, 2009
Let the Sweating Begin
If they come when the tracking thing-a-ma-bob at UPS is right, they should show up on my doorstep on Thursday. That would be great. We're headed to the coast for a book and craft show at the Nipomo Library and it'll be great to have the new book to show off and hopefully sell. While we're there, we've got an evening out planned with old friends we haven't seen for awhile.
This past week we were in the high desert with the Ridgecrest Writers group. I told them all I know about electronic publishing and promoting on the Internet. We had quite an adventure coming home which you can read about on my personal blog at http://marilynmeredith.blogspot.com but of course I didn't have my new books, but hadn't expected to.
My first appearance locally will be on Saturday the 19th at the Porterville Library where I plan to tell them what inspired me to write Dispel the Mist. On Sunday, I'll have a booksigning where I live in a new little bakery and shop called Kirby Farms because they also sell produce out of their car port.
So you can see, I was cutting in close. Though I love the hometown events, hubby and I really do enjoy the ones where we can travel a bit--it's like taking a mini-vacation.
It is time that I started thinking about my next Tempe mystery though since I'm writing two books a year, one for each of my series, I can't wait too long to get something perking. All I know so far is it will have something about bears in it. My Aspen police officer grandson's tales about chasing bears out of people's houses have inspired me.
I'll be going back to the UPS website to see how far those books have traveled and whether or not the holiday fouled up the arrival time. In the meantime, Dispel the Mist is available from the publisher, http://www.mundaniapress.com and can be ordered from any bookstore.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Whose Story Is It Anyway?
But that’s different than writing a book on a real-life event where the people involved are still alive. Laura Lippman, in her critically acclaimed novel, What the Dead Know, encountered that criticism when she based the storyline on a true-life mystery that had occurred 30 years earlier in a nearby town. She answered those critics when she explained, “Still, I hope that readers understand the difference between writing stories based on true incidents, and writing ones that are inspired by asking, "What if . . . ." With that question, real life is left behind and fiction begins.”
I accept that rationale and Lippman certainly made significant changes in her characters to distinguish them from the family in the real-life tragedy.
But this week, I read a New York Times article on Julie Myerson, a British novelist, who has written a memoir about her teenage son’s drug addiction. The boy, thrown out of the family home when he was 17, “denounced his mother as insane...for exploiting and exaggerating” his drug troubles. Myerson, who encountered a firestorm of criticism when the book was published in England, now claims that had she known the criticism she would receive, “I wouldn’t have done it.”
To me, though I haven’t read her book, Myerson violated a couple of sacred rules. First, you don’t make money off your children’s troubles. Even though she is writing from the perspective of the parent, the bottom line is that her child was going through Hell and that’s not a money-making venture. Her son gave an interview to The Daily Mail where he said: “What she has done has taken the very worst years of my life and cleverly blended it into a work of art, and that to me is obscene.”
She argues that it’s important that the public understand the nightmare of teenage drug use. But since it was clear that her son objected – this is not a guide that Myerson should have written. Is there a need for a book to help parents going through a similar experience? Probably. But since it was predicated on events in her son’s life, it was not her decision to make unilaterally.
And there is always the concept, certainly promoted by my own mother, the original Evelyn, that you don’t air your dirty laundry in public. Why would you want to expose your child to public examination and possible ridicule?
Some argue that Myerson was the victim of sexism. That mothers are held to a higher standard. Not by me. I would have the same objections had the father written this tome.
I understand that as an author, sometimes when you are in the midst of a crisis, it’s the only topic you feel you can write about. And perhaps it would have been cathartic for Myerson to write about her anguish. The difference is that this story was appropriate for her personal journal – not for publication. The cost of this book for her family may well be incalculable – regardless of any royalties she may accrue.
Murder Takes the Cake by Evelyn David
Murder off the Books by Evelyn David
Friday, September 4, 2009
The Creaky Joint Gets the Grease
I've been helping my parents move this past week, and it hasn't been easy. I feel bad for my mother who loves her old house (built in 1921 with green tile roof, original stained glass, and character coming out the wazoo). It's been hardest on her as she told us once, "I want to die in this place." But my dad's bum knees and back made it tough for him to go up and down stairs (and that house had plenty of them). So they put Casa McBride up for sale a year ago and looked at ranch houses, finding one they both really liked. Only their house didn't sell. It was on the market for months and months, and no bites except for a man who looked twice with his fiance, nearly made an offer, and then decided he didn't really like his fiance anymore. This year, they hired a different realtor, started at a bargain basement price (something Mom was not willing to do a year ago), and they sold within a month. Thankfully, they found their new house just in time. They closed on it last Wednesday. The buyers closed on their old house yesterday.
For the past few weeks, it's been Crazy City with my mom trying to clear out stuff that she couldn't take to a house 1,000 square feet smaller than Big Old House. She had my sister come in town from NYC to go through all the crap she'd stored in their basement (and closets and third floor). Molly hardly got rid of it all, but did fill several Goodwill bins. Then my brother (who is married with two kids and has a plenty-big house of his own) finally took everything belonging to him that they'd been keeping for years and years, too. Even still, there was too much to move. So last weekend, they had an estate sale of lovely antiques (and, yes, some junk) that Mom had collected for 30 to 40 years. It went fabulously with about 75% selling on the first day and another 15% selling on Sunday for half-price. (Um, anyone want a 17" x 21" rug, a chrome and glass coffee table circa 1972, or a very old French baker's rack?)
My aunt, uncle, and I helped them load a U-Haul before the real movers came. Mom didn't want movers doing any packing of boxes. We moved about five or six times when I was growing up (Dad worked for IBM = I've Been Moved), so Mom's an expert packer. Well, she packs by kind of throwing anything within reach into one box and then moving onto the next. Precision-packing it ain't, but it gets the job done. We filled the rental truck with box after box after box, finally shoving in anything else that wasn't bolted down that we could lift. We unloaded it all at their new house the next day then went back again for another load. Oy!
I'll be 45 in October, and I usually feel a decade younger (have to keep up with my husband who's, er, 35). But after all that bending, lifting, and carrying my right knee and hip felt about 100. I used to pride myself on being so athletic and flexible. I was a gymnast, a cheerleader, a Varsity track star (okay, a really slow star, like one who trips over the finish line after finishing last in the 400 meters). What had happened to me?
I can't even blame it on the breast cancer. That was 2-1/2 years ago, and I've got nearly full range of motion in my left arm/shoulder and darned good strength again. I hired a personal trainer once I was cleared by my surgeon, and Nicole whipped me into great shape before my wedding in February of 2008. I kept to that routine even after I couldn't afford Nicole anymore (or at least, justify spending $60 an hour on Nicole several times a week), and I felt as good as I've ever felt. Until my deadline crunch this year with two books due within five months of each other nearly killed me. My Epstein-Barr flared up again, which is like having mono revisit. Oh, joy! I felt drained, exhausted, tearful. The only way I could write 24/7 and get the books done was to drop everything else I could possibly drop. Yep, I stopped exercising.
Now I've got everything turned in, and I've started testing the exercise waters again. I went to Nicole's Pilates class several times to check it out, and I'm hooked. It's like one of those things where you feel like you're doing something but you're not sure how much because you aren't dripping profusely with sweat...and then the next day you can hardly move. I wish I'd had about a month or two of those classes before The Great Parental Move. I feel like a wimp.
I read somewhere that it takes 10 days to lose the benefits of regular exercise and at least 10 weeks to regain it. That hardly seems fair. I just wish someone could invent WD-40 for humans. "One squirt and you're silent as a well-oiled door hinge!" It'd make billions.
Thursday, September 3, 2009
September 3rd Thoughts
So on September 3 my thoughts would be ...
1. Staying in hotels when you're working isn't that much fun. Noises from the ice machine kept waking me up last night.
2. I love using my Blackberry as an alarm clock – no worries about wake-up calls or tinkering with the unfamiliar clock radios provided by the hotel. I have sixty-eight emails to individually delete from my smart phone. Wish it was smart enough to have a "delete all" button.
3. The free breakfast was well priced for the value. I'm sure that biscuit came with a long history!
4. The defensive driving class I'm taking today isn't what I expected. I was hoping for hints about driving on ice. Instead they want me to give up talking on my cell phone while driving. Can you imagine?
5. I need more coffee if I'm going to stay awake all day.
6. The people behind me are talking too loudly. Serve them right if I use their conversation in my next novel.
7. Is it almost over yet? I swear I'll never talk on my cell phone and drive at the same time. No, really! I'm really going to try not to.
8. The drive from Oklahoma City to Muskogee hasn't gotten any shorter in the last 25 years. No, I'm not talking on my cell phone during the drive.
9. Weather guys didn't predict rain for today! I don't know why I bother to watch their forecasts. Wait, I'm getting a weather alert on my cell phone – not that I'm looking at it.
10. Speaking of "looking," home always looks great as I'm pulling in the driveway – or at least much better than it did when I left.
11. Except ... Sigh... It was trash pick-up day today; which means I have to pick up the trash that blew out of the bins when the trash trucks made their pick up. Have you noticed that like most things, automated trash pick-up is not as good as when live people did the job?
12. Nothing good on television tonight. When do the new fall shows start airing? I need to make a decision about buying a new television soon. Typically, I want a model that I can't afford.
13. Time to write a best seller – or at least one that will pay for a new television.
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
I’m thinking yes.
It was not until I was older that I understood the magnitude of this man’s Senate career and ultimate legacy. Thousands of legislative bills presented, several hundred turned into laws. He had worked tirelessly on the health care issue since the Nixon administration, which for me was a time I was working tirelessly on one thing: getting Barry Manilow’s autograph. That will give you an idea of how long ago that was. He had been a senator for forty-seven years with only two senators—Methuselah and Robert Byrd—having held their seats for a longer period of time. Yet, this man’s life and legacy will be marred by a string of tragic events, in particular, but not limited to the drowning of Mary Jo Kopechne, his own struggles with alcohol, and his involvement with a nephew brought up on rape charges. Many people are stuck on these issues and events and can’t see past them to celebrate a life well lived, while there are others who have completely forgotten these aspects of the man’s life only to celebrate his remarkable achievements.
And then there are those of us in the middle. I can’t help thinking about what it must be like for Ms. Kopechne’s family to see all of the accolades bestowed upon him in death. But I also can’t stop thinking about a man who lived his life in public and endured shame and recriminations but who also saw two children through cancer, the death of all of his siblings save one—with two dying violently—and other tragedies that would have felled the strongest of us. I can’t help thinking of the man who submitted a letter to Pope Benedict just recently, asking forgiveness for the things he had done in his life. I also can’t stop thinking about the people interviewed who said that he had personally helped them get necessary medical care for their loved ones, or information about someone missing overseas. I can’t stop thinking that I wouldn’t have had three months home with child #1 after she was born if it hadn’t been for the Family and Medical Leave Act that he, along with President Clinton, helped enact.
We are all flawed. And if you think that you are the first to admit that, you’ll have to get in line behind me. But I can’t help thinking that after reading a number of articles and watching news broadcasts and the funeral on television that this was a man who spent his life atoning. There are many of my kind (the Irish-Catholic variety) who find his brand of pure unadulterated liberalism a discredit to our heritage and religion, while others of us find it exactly what we think both embody. Social justice? Check. Helping those less fortunate? Check. Trying to make up for a life of imperfection? Check. Doing it all with a big smile on your face while eating a sandwich and telling a long-winded story? Double check.
It’s a complicated legacy, for sure. But then again, all of ours will be, I suspect. Maybe it is not what we’ve done, but what we do with the chance to do it again?
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Growing Old Gracefully
I know that I don't really feel old inside--of course it's always a shock when I look in the mirror and this older person looks back at me that resembles a cross between my grandmother and mother.
I can tell my husband is getting older because he just doesn't get much done anymore and he used to be a dynamo. When he watches TV he spends more time asleep than not. He stays up much later than I do, but he's sleeping in his chair while I'm in the bed.
If you'd seen him this past weekend though, he worked as hard if not harder than most of the younger men when we were visiting down in Dana Point at the ill-fated book launch with no books.
He knew how to and helped so many younger people put up and take down their tents who didn't have a clue how to do it. He hauled tables and put tables away. He helped in anyway he could and worked right alongside our host who is thirteen years younger.
I've always had friends who were older than I am, now most of my friends are younger. My older friends have retired to places where older people go and they've taken up leisure activities.
I can't imagine spending my days doing "leisure" activities.
If I'm not writing a book I'm planning a new one. Right now my efforts are all geared toward promoting Dispel the Mist.
Hubby and I have a lot of places to go planned for the next month, places where I'll be promoting but we'll also have fun and visit with some of our younger friends.
Our calendar for next year is filling up too--we're headed for New Orleans for Epicon--New Orleans is some place we've never been before so we're definitely going to do some sightseeing.
We don't plan to stop until we have to--not sure that fits the bill of growing old gracefully, but it will have to do.