Dark humor. Dark moods. Dark and stormy nights. As a night person, I feel that darkness is underestimated. There’s soothing, sacred darkness. Darkness that makes us see.
This week, we had one of those brief, random power outages that strikes Truth or Consequences a few times a year. No light from anything but the night sky crept through my windows. The neighborhood was perfectly silent. I found my one candle and a small LED flashlight. My old flip phone made a good flashlight, too. The lack of brightness was peaceful. I had to move slowly, paying attention. With less stimulation, my mind eased into a softer place. A shower by candlelight was calming. When I turned on my new smartphone to call in the outage (in case hundreds of other people hadn’t already done so), the light was glaring and disagreeable. I was glad to turn it off.
Darkness shone a light.
Many writers are participating in NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month—aiming to compete 50,000 words of a first draft in November. I cheer them on, but I won’t be doing it myself. I don’t work well at that speed. I tried writing fast recently, as I was working on chapter three of book nine in the Mae Martin Series, and I realized the next day that I’d ignored the characters deeper inclinations in order to make Something Exciting happen. I had to go back, delete most of it, and change what remained. If I go fast, I also make incomprehensible typos and even end up typing in the middle of a previous line somehow. In the long run, writing slowly while listening to the characters hearts and letting what drives them drive the plot is the best way for me to make Something Exciting happen.
Some writers can do this while producing over 1,600 words a day, or through an outline. Not me. The closest I’ve come was when I outlined the initial premise for each of the short stories in Gifts and Thefts, following the path through my main characters’ lives in 2012 and half of 2013. And even then, a new theme emerged I hadn’t planned on. In response, I improvised the middle story, Guardian Angel, with no plan at all. I guess it’s not a Mae Martin Mystery, since it’s about her boyfriend, not her, and while mysterious, it’s not a mystery to be solved the way the other five stories are. But it fits those stories together like the keystone of an arch.
I mentioned book nine at the beginning of this post, and you may be wondering what happened to book eight. I’ve gotten feedback on it from two critique partners and am waiting to hear from two beta readers later this month. (What’s the difference? Critique partners swap manuscripts and provide feedback to each other; beta readers do the critique without reciprocity. I love beta reading for writers whose series I follow, getting to be the first to read the next book.)
The eighth Mae Martin Mystery will get a final in-depth revision based on those four critiques, and then I’ll send it to my editor. Since Gifts and Thefts came out in spring 2021, I’d love to have book eight, Chloride Canyon, come out in spring 2022. And that’s why I’m starting on book nine already. Maybe I’ll finish it in a year. Chloride Canyon has been in in progress for four years, with breaks to write Shadow Family and Gifts and Thefts. That was slow, even for me.