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.
Writing may seem like a solitary occupation, and it does involve long hours alone, but like most work done well, it also involves a team. In the past week I’ve finished the second draft of the fifth Mae Martin book and sent it to critique partners. I’ve also critiqued two short stories by fellow writers and am one-third of the way through another’s full-length work in progress. None of us could do it without each other.
I have two writing support networks. For some reason, in each trio I have one British partner and one Australian. My “mystical mystery sisters” Virginia King and Marion Eaton share similar readers, people who like mysteries that go off the beaten track and have an element of non-religious spirituality, so we share not only writing ideas but marketing. My other writing trio includes two authors of humorous mysteries, J.L. Simpson and Jordaina Sydney Robinson. They both have a knack for tight plotting as well as comic timing and can tell me when I’m going off track. I can’t imagine producing a book without them.
It doesn’t feel like work to take the time to read and critique their books. I’m honored to be part of these authors’ teams and would like to introduce them to my blog readers who may not already know their work. Virginia King did a guest post on this blog, and Marion Eaton joined me for an interview.
Their web sites are:
J.L. Simpson is part of the group blog Ladies of Mystery with me.
Learn about her Daisy Dunlop series here
Jordaina Sydney Robinson’s first book, Beyond Dead, will come out soon, and I’ll be one of the first to spread the word. I mentioned it midway in this blog post a while back:
(Note: the giveaway in the link at the end is long over.)
I’m taking time to reflect on the good people and good fortune that enhance my creative life.
I am grateful for:
- Having had parents who loved books and theater and a grandfather who was a poet. I was raised on Shakespeare and Sherlock Holmes and taken to plays before I was in first grade. Language was valued in my family. My mother advised me not to cuss because it made me look as if I had a limited vocabulary—a far greater sin than saying a dirty word. My father was a late adopter of all things electronic and claimed to be a member in good standing of the Lead Pencil Society, which made him as good a letter writer as he was a conversationalist, full of wit and good stories.
- Discovering Sisters in Crime when I was just getting started on my first book. I bought How I Write by Janet Evanovich, even though I may be the only person alive who doesn’t like her Stephanie Plum series. I told myself: “She’s successful. I could learn from her.” She mentioned SinC in the book, and I joined, and through them I have found many of the people I’m grateful for, listed below.
- My first critique partner, an editor and writer. She was supportive of the potential she saw in my early efforts that didn’t turn into a polished book until I’d worked on it for over for three years. She edited it and all my other books, and has taught me about the craft of writing in the process.
- My current and former critique partners, who can tell me when something works or falls flat, offer insight into my plots and characters, and not only help me create better work, but reassure me that I’m not alone in caring about it.
- Readers. Without them I’m an actor in an empty theater. Having my characters live in someone’s mind and heart means a lot to me.
- Readers who review. They don’t have to do it. It takes time to organize thoughts and post them on a review site. They help other readers think about my work and often help them decide to buy the books.
- Tara at Draft2Digital customer service. She’s cheerfully solved many little problems for me, and she remembers me. I’m not just some author with a question. I’m a person.
- My job. Most writers need a day job, and I am blessed to have one that gives me summers off to write. When I’m grading papers until nine at night I tend to forget that—but I am grateful.
- My whole life. From the annoying people who inspired antagonist characters, to the losses and loves and joys that enable me to tell stories with a heart.
Snake Face, book three in the Mae Martin Psychic Mystery series, has been awarded a B.R.A.G. medallion. When I receive an award, I like to thank the people who helped me produce a book that earned one: my editor, Nancy Adams, my critique partners Jordaina Robinson and Janet Simpson, and this book’s third beta reader, Bette Kaminski, who helped me to make sure I had done justice to the touring musician’s life on the road.