Need a Word For That

Here are a few situations I could use new words for. You know, as a writer. Not that I’m confessing anything…

  • The inability to do something despite writing it in your to-do list every day for an entire month.
  • The realization that you just performed an action in a manner exactly like your mother/father used to do.
  • The listing of everyone in your family–including the dog–before landing on the name of the person to whom you are actually speaking.
  • The curious time span between the opening chords of a beloved song you haven’t heard in awhile and the slow recognition of what the song actually is.
  • The irritating thing underneath your foot that you never can identify, despite removing and searching your sock and shoe twenty times.
  • The rushing back of memory just at the instant of triumphant location of an item in a hard-to-find place (where you put it for safekeeping but then forgot where that place was).

From Page to Screen

Whenever I am truly passionate about a book, I hope it will be adapted for the screen. I want to see the story unfold visually and the characters interact.

Then when it does come out, I can’t wait to see what choices have been made. There’s so much to evaluate.

  • How successfully have they cast the characters we’ve come to know and love?
  • Have they captured the essential tone/feel of the created world?
  • Which aspects of the narrative have they emphasized or discarded?
  • Have they maintained the Core Thing, whatever it is, that we love most?

And so on.

Sometimes, the changes made to the story are smart, and we go home happy enough. Sometimes, they’re downright unfathomable, and we go home sputtering about, say, the unnecessarily added character or incredibly absurd ending.

No matter what, I enjoy pondering the relationship between the original and the adaptation. Sometimes, they seem like different things altogether. Case in point: Charlaine Harris’s wonderful Sookie Stackhouse/Southern Vampire Mysteries. Anyone who has read the series then watched True Blood is aware of the epic variations between the two, particularly in storyline and tone. And yet, they are both very satisfying in completely different ways (I liked the books better, of course, because #books4ever).

All of this raises the questions: what are the books or series you love that you’d like to see adapted? And whom would you cast as the leading characters?

Keeping it Together

January has always meant a fresh start, a blank page, and I love the annual picking-out-of-the-new-calendar trip to the store.  Actually, make that two calendars: family and personal. It’s a simple method that has worked well to date. Traditionally, the biggest question has been what format to use for the personal calendar. Go for monthly (good visual overview but no place to make lists)? Or weekly (can’t see the month at a glance but has space for reminders)? Or daily (lots of space for lists but have to rewrite whatever isn’t completed again on the next day, plus can’t see “big picture)? Or a monthly/weekly, which means everything has to be written down twice? But the point is that there is only one personal calendar to complement the family version.

I realized last month that the simple two-calendar system has somehow evolved into the following:

  • Monthly Family Calendar: on the refrigerator, with everybody’s meetings, activities, appointments, etc.calendars
  • Weekly Pocket-Sized Calendar for Work: has space for specific reminders and appointments on the left, blank side on the right for list-making (often supplement that page with post-it additions because I’m a hardcore list maker). Good for carrying around, but doesn’t have enough space to incorporate all of the stand-alone stuff (see below).
  • Monthly Calendar for Mysteristas: small, stands upright on the office desk just for blog scheduling, which I also use to check things off when the guest posts have been formatted.
  • Monthly Calendar for Book: large size to see activities/deadlines that would otherwise be lost in the work calendar, which brings me to this month’s theme of “anticipation” > today anticipation feels a lot like anxiety about all that goes along with the book coming out in April. But I digress.
  • Cell Phone Calendar: All of the above entered there for reminding purposes. (Not as helpful as it would seem, because  I swipe to clear the screen after a reminder comes up and then promptly forget about it.)

Although I have more calendars than ever before, I feel less organized (and far more overwhelmed).

Must. Stop. The. Madness.

So I turn to you, dear readers: what is your system? I could use some help…or a hug.


A Different Kind of Mystery

Sometimes I have to go off-topic. I hope we’re all okay with that, because there is a mystery that needs solving!

I saw this “Create your Own Child’s Cape” thingie in a store and I thought, wow, a cape kit? How cool.

cape I don’t know why I thought it was cool. I have no need for such a thing. My kids have no need for such a thing.

Maybe I was briefly lured in by the “sew easy” part of the promise on the package.  Or perhaps I was momentarily enticed by the alluring spiderweb pattern on the cape.

Anyway, long story short, I thought wow, a cape kit! But then I noticed the “Just add fabric!” part.

Wait, what?

Isn’t a cape pretty much…um…fabric?

According to the “see side panels for kit contents” instruction on the bag, this is a self-identified “kit.” But the term “kit” typically implies that all required elements are included. Thus, shouldn’t this “cape kit” include cape ingredient number one–i.e., fabric?

(If it’s just a “pattern,” it should say so; in that case, supplying one’s own fabric is a given. But I think we can all agree that a “kit” raises a different set of expectations.)

What’s next? Water kit: just add water?

I’ll admit: I’m mystified.

What are your thoughts, readers? Or…have you had a perplexing project material experience?

From Out Of The Shadows

This semester, I’m teaching a course on American Gothic Literature, so I have gothic and all of its shivery goodness on my mind. I’m always fascinated by where gothic and mystery overlap, and one of their points of connection involves how, typically, something must come forward from the shadows.

In gothic, there are usually actual shadows, such as those cast by the moonlight peeking through the ominously twisted tree branches in a dark forest, or those thrown by the flickering light of a torch—or it may be the shadows of the mind, where, in gothic, madness so often lurks and brings back repressed things with a vengeance.

In mystery, shadows are similarly cast, but depending on what genre we’re talking about, they may work differently. For example, a thriller might give us shadows right off the bat in the form of shadowy figures, dangerous landscapes, etc., while cozies tend to give us more of a gradual revelation: the community and characters often look bright and sunny…until the body “drops.”

Both gothic and mystery in general can be focused on the big reveal, along with any number of smaller revelations along the way. Moreover, the characters have shadow sides, too. Protagonists and antagonists alike have secrets and tendencies that may be revealed when we least expect it.

This presents quite a challenge for the writer. It’s not easy to pull off a believable emergence from the shadows that has been plausibly set up but isn’t broadcast a mile away. Plus, experienced readers are anticipatory…we know not to relax too comfortably into the story because something is coming our way from the shadows. All of this to say: when we are surprised, we should applaud the author.

What are some of your favorite examples of “coming forward from the shadows” (in mystery or otherwise)?

And now what?

Raising my hand at this month’s theme. Oh yes. I’ve made many mistakes along the way in my writing journey. Like the time I pitched an agent when I only had three chapters completed. Which is a good example of how mistakes can be learning opportunities because I will never do that again. 😉

But today, I want to focus on an issue that is ongoing. I don’t know if this is a mistake so much as an unhelpful tendency, but the early drafts of my mysteries tend to hover around 50K. In fact, with my first one, no matter how much I wrote, I was stuck on 50K for several years! And here’s the thing: they weren’t even the same 50K words…I would add thousands and thousands of words, rejoicing as my word count rose, then I’d revise out some of the old stuff (I am a ruthless reviser, which is part of the issue, I know), and it would end up too short again.

While I understand that this is my process, it’s painful and deflating. I get to a place of utter confusion, where I don’t know what to do to make it any longer, and I go about wailing and gnashing my teeth and doubting that I’ll ever be able to write anything ever again.

Believe me, I’ve explored all sorts of developmental possibilities, like subplots, expanded descriptions, new characters, new conflicts, etc. Those do lead to progress…then I revise something else out…well, you get the picture. Sigh.

Anyone else have this issue? What do you do? Or what do you struggle with in drafts?

Mistaken Identities

You know how sometimes you see a person and it looks just like someone else you know?   And for a minute, you wonder if it is them?  And maybe you even start to greet them?  And when you realize it isn’t them, it still kind of weirds you out because it’s so eerie?

Do you know what is a thousand times more eerie?  Did you ever see someone and it looks just like you?  And, for a split second, you actually have to figure out whether it’s you over there or you right here?  And then you recognize what you’re thinking and hope no one can see inside your brain because: yikes.

On the positive side, that sort of experience intensifies the creepy quotient of “the doppelgänger” narrative. There are many doubles lurking about in literature (and film, for that matter), especially in Gothic and mystery texts. I’m drawn to those tales because they’re chilling and fascinating at the same time, raising endlessly interesting questions about identity.

What close encounters of the doppelgänger kind have you had, dear readers (anywhere–reading, viewing, or living)?

Stupid Things I Need To Stop Doing

  • Reaching for clothes in the closet right after applying lotion so that all items on the way to desired ones receive smears.
  • Using the car to dry my hair via a complex system of window raising and lowering to control wind gust angles.
  • Thinking I’ll be able to catch up on my writing/editing/grading “over the weekend.”
  • Going grocery shopping without a list, somehow expecting to magically end up with all ingredients required for a week’s worth of meals.
  • Changing my mind twelve times before doing what I was going to do in the first place.
  • Hanging on to those paisley walking shorts from high school, to be ready when they “come back in style.”
  • Believing it possible to buy just one book per purchase.

Do you have any such dreams for change, dear readers?

On Dreaming (And Writing)

I once confessed to a professor how intimidating it was to submit my writing.  She gave me a long look and said, “Well, I think it’s fair to say that nothing was ever published that wasn’t sent out first.” There it was. In a nutshell. If you dreamed of publication, you had to send your work out. Intimidated or not.

Over the years, I have sent many things out–poems, short stories, essays, etc. Some of them have been published, some of them have not. In other words, I am well-versed in the language of rejection.  You can’t be a writer and not be.  (Well, maybe such writers exist, but I don’t know any of them.)  It’s discouraging and brutal but then, something is accepted, and your dream is fed. You feel rejuvenated for awhile. But you never know which of your submissions will be rejected and which will be accepted. You just have to send things off and hope for the best. And, no matter what, you go back to your writing in the meantime.

Because it’s the writing–the act of writing–that makes us writers.

I don’t even know how to say this next part. But people keep telling me that I have to say it out loud. Forgive me for repeating–it’s been announced elsewhere (and thanks so much for the kind words in response!)–but here goes: Henery Press will be publishing my first mystery next year. Which still feels like a dream!

And now, back to writing.

Not Losing Heart

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about difficult long-term projects: how much endurance they require, how there are points where the desired outcome seems impossible, and how giving up may actually seem like the logical (and more attractive) option. For example, in my teaching job, it has been necessary to produce scholarship. Here’s how that process has tended to go.

  1. Have jolt of awareness that remaining employed demands publishing of artifact. Summon vague wisp of potential idea.
  2. Launch on research “quest” (jaunty euphemism for painfully methodical gathering and reading of materials).
  3. Gasp, moan, and fight to remain calm upon realization that your idea has already been articulated by other people, with better style than you could ever manage.
  4. Keep expanding/focusing/swerving around your topic until you carve out previously unexplored niche.
  5. Manufacture abstract dotted with shiny glimmers of future goodness. Refer to existing critics and theorists to indicate possession of proper knowledge base but, most importantly, remember to say that you will “demonstrate the significance of” the topic rather than “talk about how cool it is.”
  6. Submit until a willing audience appears.
  7. Rejoice over acceptance, despite chilling enormity of what you’ve just promised to deliver and have yet to create.
  8. Make notes. Make timeline. Make coffee. Make apologies to family.
  9. Draft fast to counter horrifying blank page mode—i.e., blurt out nonsensical cornucopia of huge generalizations, desperate connections, and ludicrous evidence.
  10. Review, reorganize, and refine (aka “rassle”) to a workable core, but save initial ramblings in different file to pilfer at later time if necessary.
  11. Commence another researchapalooza.
  12. Discover that you are being pulled in new direction, which renders more than half of current draft irrelevant.
  13. Gnash teeth and pull hair. Vent. Give up.
  14. Go for walk. Go for run. Go for drinks.
  15. Be shocked when random epiphany prompts another attempt (all hail the subconscious). Incorporate new concept, which leads to unexpected progress.
  16. Live in the zone. Hear self explicate project to every unfortunate person who asks how you are. Watch their eyes glaze over.
  17. Rework until there is an undeniable logic to the discussion, which you even sorta like. Faint twinkle of light at end of tunnel appears.
  18. Continue revision: number of phases at this point will depend on how long you have to complete the project, how much sleep you need to function, and how many times you can reread your draft without shrieking in the manner of gothic heroine pursued by dangerous monster.
  19. Experience perceptible shift to concern with voice. Tighten, transition, thesaurusize, tweak. Become obsessed with alternative ways to say “relevant.”
  20. Locate proofreader (may require begging, pleading, and bribing). Make appropriate changes. Recheck quotations, complete bibliography, format manuscript.
  21. Change title 126 times, only to return to the original.
  22. Labor until you feel the click—that joyful internal affirmation of completion—or until the deadline arrives and you are forced to end the misery.
  23. Wake from writing coma. Notice house is mess, health is mess, self is mess. Relearn how to live among humans.
  24. Celebrate completion and vow never, ever to do this again. Break resolution as soon as memory of suffering fades.

There are similarities to writing mysteries here, obviously. So here’s the question: how do you keep from losing heart when you hit those inevitable setbacks or pauses?