Making Mistakes

I’m at a point in my work in progress (Mae Martin Mysteries book eight) where my protagonist feels compelled to both help and confront the antagonist—a person who has wronged her and done even greater wrongs to people she cares about. Then the antagonist, through actions that karmically earned a disaster, is in crisis. Perhaps there’s an ideal path Mae could take, but can she see it? As the author, do I want her to?

In this book, Mae is taking a college course on Eastern Philosophy. She’s doing her best as a beginner to explore the wisdom of the Buddha. The antagonist’s brother and his roommate are dedicated yogis, not just in asana practice but in attempting to live the philosophy. Mae’s summer house guest is an Apache teenager who is training to become a medicine man. In the scene I’m working on, these well meaning, spiritually aware young people are in a situation where the right action is hard to find. Hard to agree on. Is there room for compassion and outrage at the same time in the same heart? At thirty, Mae is the oldest of the group. She’s likely to mess up. I was not very wise at thirty, myself. Wiser than I was in my teens or twenties, but I’d be making a mistake to portray her with the wisdom of an elder.

I’d also be making a mistake if my characters’ errors are unsympathetic. I have to write this so the reader can feel the struggle. It’s not easy to love your enemies.

“Book Prison”

Greetings from my cell. No worries, I like it here, and I do get out for exercise, social contact, and to teach yoga. The view of Turtleback Mountain from my back window is beautiful, and the cell is quiet. It’s my apartment. “Book prison” is a phrase I’ve heard other authors use, but I’ve never experienced it this way before. I have to get final revisions done before the next Mae Martin mystery goes to my editor in mid-September, and I keep finding more things I want to fix. Though I’ve done all the major revisions based on my critique partners’ input, I’m discovering things they missed, especially those pesky over-used words. I’m also making a few cuts and obsessing on getting the chapter-ending and chapter-opening lines just right. After that, I’ll need to read the whole thing again to make sure I didn’t change anything that affects the clarity and continuity of the plot. I have sketches of many unfinished blog posts in my “yet-to-post” file, but no time to polish them until I let myself out. Au revoir. My inner warden is telling me to get back to work.

Reading it Forward with my Team

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:

Marion Eaton

Virginia King

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.)

Behind the Scenes

For quite a few years I worked in theater, as an actor and choreographer. I loved the early rehearsals, while the creative process was first getting underway— seeing how a dance looked when done by the cast rather than as plotted in my head, or exploring characters with other actors. The hardest part, for me, was tech rehearsal. Did the revolving stage work? Did the dancers’ costumes look right under the lights? Performers spent hours holding their positions on the stage while the techies fine-tuned lights, sound, and scene shifts. Tedious, but without it, the play would be a disaster. If that revolving stage messed up, my choreography would quite literally topple. If the lighting cues were off, my dancers wouldn’t look their best. These long tech nights were hard, but social. The whole cast and crew went through it together.

Dress rehearsals were a relief, and they felt exciting. They were followed by the director’s final and sometimes strong critiques as well as encouragement and praise. If I was the choreographer, it was my last chance to get every detail polished.

And then the play opened, was seen, enjoyed (or not) and reviewed, and sooner or later, it closed.   Getting a book ready is the same only different. The early process—the improv, finding a character, getting plot inspiration—is exciting. The sharing of that process with critique partners makes it more so—getting feedback, going back and changing things, seeing how others react. I revise through a series of critique partners and beta-readers. It’s a lot like the rehearsal process, refining the way the play will be performed. I like to print the book out at some point in the process and mark it up—like a director giving an actor notes— making sure I’m clear with for the characters’ goals and conflicts in every scene, and the inner work in their “soliloquies.”

Then, there’s tech. I read the edited copy to make sure my editor and I agree on all the changes. I get professional proofreading and fix the errors. And then, there’s that final, perfectionistic proof, proof and re-proof. Day after day of it. Tech rehearsal, all by myself. Fixing that last imperfect sentence that didn’t bother anyone else—beta readers, editor, proofreader—and that last little typo no one could see. I like to think no one saw it because the scene was so compelling, but I think it’s also related to the way an e-pub page looks compared to a Word document. It’s like the way the costumes look under the lights. The colors and textures change. It’s unfamiliar. I look at the e-pub document the way I look at a book I’m reading, rather than a book I wrote.

Of course, after the fourth upload and double-check, I may have gotten used to the e-pub page’s appearance. My fear: I may have induced an error while being a perfectionist. Then I finally stop fussing over it and hit publish. This is not the dress rehearsal, this is it. Unlike a play, though, there is no striking the set, no closing night party. No closing night. As long as my performance is well received, it can run as long as I live. Phew! Snake Face is available for pre-order, and will be released Nov. 1.

The best part of being finished? I have time to read other people’s books again!