Herding Cats

We’ve had a lot of posts here lately about our writing process, what works for us, and sometimes what doesn’t. We’ve also talked about writer’s block. What we haven’t talked about yet is the herding cats stage of writing. Coincidentally, that’s exactly where I am in my latest book, Pirates on Parade.

Herding Cats

Pirates on Parade is a departure for me. I usually write traditional mysteries with an edge. Pirates is a cozy. The first in what I hope will be the Southernmost Secrets series set in the Florida Keys. I dove into this book with great excitement. The first chapters practically wrote themselves. Then came chapter 13.

Most writers will confess that they have a chapter or page count where they are certain:

  1. They have no idea how to write a book.
  2. No one would want to read it if they finished it.
  3. The other books were flukes.
  4. It’s time for the delete key.

Chapter 13 is it for me. I wrote it on Saturday and thought, this is awful. The entire book is dreck. I spent Sunday going through the manuscript finding plot holes, picking up threads of red herrings and theme, looking for clues I knew had planted and couldn’t find.  I recited numbers 1 through 3 above out loud. Before I got to number 4 I realized (yet again) that writing a book is like herding cats, and chapter 13 is where I need to get my cats into the corral.

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No more letting them laze about with nothing to do. No more letting them discuss what they are going to do. It’s time to for me take charge. By chapter 13 there should be order in the writer’s mind, if not the story. Carefully planted clues should begin to sprout. Chapter 13 is the waist of the story. The place for the first dramatic twist that turns the story in an unexpected, but inevitable new direction.

This story needed to lose a few pounds to bring it into form. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that despite my dark thoughts, most of the story was in place. The action made sense, the direction true. There needs to be some tightening, some remedial outlining, and I need to hone a subplot that I uncovered in my panicky race though the pages.  Once that’s done, my cats will be in the corral and I can move forward and let them have their head again.

Why did I ever doubt it. I’ve herded cats before.

The gang 008Writers, do you have a falter and move on point in your books? Is it in about the same place?

Readers, do you have expectations of the action of a story in the books you read? Where do you expect to find certain events and do you feel something is missing if they don’t show up?

 

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Serendipity

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines serendipity as “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” That’s quite different to coincidence, which every mystery writer will tell you doesn’t exist, although the case can be made that the two intersect at several meaningful points. Serendipity may also have a bit of getting what you need when you need it whether you want it or not component mixed in as well.

What is at the bottom of all of this? A few months ago, my cousin called from out of the blue. We hadn’t been in touch in years, decades of years. There was no inciting incident, we’d been close as children, but life got in the way when I went off to college and she married and we ended up living half a continent apart. The first thing she wanted to know about was all my books. When I asked how she knew I wrote her response was quick and sure, “That’s all you ever talked about. What else would you do?” I had to confess, I’d done a lot, but I hadn’t had a new book since 2016.

The silence, as they say, was deafening. I told her what I’d been doing in the meantime. Working on a new series, learning the craft of marketing, which for me was harder than the craft of writing, and of course, there was the day job, and family. She listened, I babbled. Every single word I spoke was true, but they felt like excuses. Why wasn’t I writing more? Other writers balanced the same challenges I did and accomplished far more.

Fast forward to Peg’s recent post titled THE TRUTH OF IT and Liz’s post titled A WRITING RUT. Those posts both appeared at the precise moment I most needed to realize I wasn’t alone. Others were subject to the same doldrums and fighting their way through them. The comments were enlightening, the suggestions hopeful. Serendipity.

The gods had given me a part of what I needed. A sense of comradeship in a barren desert of abandoned words. Still, it wasn’t quite enough. Time was my biggest problem. My typical workday stretched twelve hours beginning at four-thirty in the morning. Add in family obligations, it left little time or energy for creativity except on the weekend, which was usually filled with the chores of everyday life, and my one vice. The New York Times Online Edition.

This Saturday, as the sun brightened my office window, I saw an article about time management. The title claimed productivity wasn’t about time management, but about attention management. That got my attention. It seemed that all I was accomplishing with my endless to do lists and forced scheduling was setting myself up for failure. What people actually accomplish is what they pay attention to, and depending on the person, there are optimum times to be most productive. Eureka!

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Will this newfound knowledge be effective? Only time will tell, but it does make sense, and I’m more than willing to try.

Have you ever had a situation where all the pieces came together from multiple sources to give you what you hoped would be the solution?

Paging CSI: The Devil is in the Details

Every cop wishes cases were solved within the hour or half hour allotted to police dramas on television. Every writer wishes the information gleaned from the shows was sufficient to inform their writing. Fact is, neither is true. Cases take hard work for law enforcement to clear and the writer who accepts the gospel according to CSI as truth is in for some nasty e-mails and reviews when the book releases. Those loud thwacks the author hears? That’s the sound of the book hitting the wall as better educated readers let it fly.

The cure is education. One of my blog mates at Writers Who Kill, Annette Dashofy, was accepted into the FBI Citizens Academy. Her blog on Sunday about her post acceptance pre attendance vetting sent me running to my idea file. Not because I’m applying to the Academy, although I’d love to, but because it gave me a great idea for a red herring.

When I had my fingerprints taken electronically it was frustrating. My hands simply do not produce enough oil. Those whirls, arches, and loops do not stand out. Even when my prints were taken with ink the officer taking them went through three cards before she was satisfied they were all good enough for identification. And that was with someone applying external pressure as the finger was rolled to obtain optimal results.

Fast forward to my non-existent life of crime except on the page. What marks would dry fingers leave behind at a crime scene? Would the involuntary responses of the sympathetic nervous system result in sweaty palms, moister skin and better prints? This is definitely a question to store in the clues closet for a later date, and a bit more education. Could someone with dry skin leave no prints at the scene allowing the criminal initially to be eliminated?

Readers and writers, have you encountered this question on cop shows? How did it resolve? A no print crime because of…dry skin.

A Hard Day’s Read

Brain candy, Pamela, what a wonderful post, and it got me thinking.

A few years ago, the big five publishing houses began cutting their cozy lines. A lot of wonderful writers and their series found themselves without homes. It seemed as if a sea change was underway. Lighthearted reading was out. Dark thrillers were in.

Readers responded with letter writing campaigns. Big houses relented in some cases and were intractable in others. Fingers pointed in every direction. Cozy sales were good, but they didn’t carry their weight in publishing land. At least that was my takeaway. Cozies sold in the lower-priced e-book categories not in the beefier trade and hardbound categories.  Fortunately, most writers either took matters into their own hands and went indie or were able to find other homes.

Back to brain candy. As a writer, my genre has been the traditional mystery. I’m not big on putting blood and guts on the page, but I don’t shy away from them. I like to dig deep into a mystery, and explore all sides of uncomfortable topics. Note the past perfect tense. I still like to plot those mysteries, but lately, my passion has been writing cozy mysteries. Gentle, blood off the page, quirky character, small town, mysteries. The clues are hidden in human interactions not on the world stage.

While my writing style has been changing, my reading material has been, too. Reading the comments on Pam’s post yesterday made me realize I’m not alone in that. Is this another sea change we’re looking at? The world right now is a more uncomfortable place than it has been for a long time. Are we compensating with our choice of reading material?

Writers, has your writing style changed recently?

Readers, have you changed your reading material?

I Love a Parade

Here’s a secret. Two actually. Well, only one secret. The other is a little-known fact. The secret. I’m one of those people doesn’t know right from left unless I salute. The little-known fact. I was a drum majorette in my elementary school band. If that doesn’t scare you, let’s go for a drive.

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Photo Santa Claus by Tweberl

It stands to reason that with my drum majorette past, I love a parade, and I do. Except there’s not many parades these days. That’s why I love the holidays. For a parade-a-holic like me the holidays kick off with the Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving Day. Since I lived in greater New York as a child that’s a double dip. I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders in the freezing cold watching balloons glide past. In those days it Popeye and Olive Oyl flew overhead, and now it’s cartoons I don’t recognize, but the big guy still arrives at the end. You know who I mean.

Things got slack parade-wise until New Year’s Eve brought the Orange Bowl Parade. Unless you lived in Miami. Then you had the Junior Orange Bowl parade too. If you worked in an office and anyone had kids, you ended up joining them at the Junior Orange Bowl Parade. Who could resist? It’s still held in Coral Gables and the last time I attended it was a classic parade with marching bands, twirlers, and yes, floats, and a Junior Orange Bowl Queen.

New Year’s Eve rang in with the Orange Bowl. Little compares with the spectacle of a nighttime parade. Animated lights covered the floats. The themes were creative and of course, there was the perk of a winter parade in steamy South Florida. I was lucky enough to work in One Biscayne Tower during much of the early 1980s. That meant not only did the Orange Bowl march under my office windows, the Big Orange dropped down the side of my building. Talk about a million-dollar view! Who needed Times Square! In true Latin style the party and the dancing went on until the wee hours.

Morning came soon enough and just in time to catch the Bluebonnet Bowl Parade. Televised from Houston. The Parade was small and sweet. Most of the floats that I remember featured Texas themes. Many were decorated with flowers. It sported lots of marching bands and it was one of my favorite parades. I remember it being short, but that could have been a programming issue. Any Houstonians out there to set me straight? I’d love more information.

The grandmama of all parades followed and besides the Macy’s Day Parade, the only one left standing today. The Rose Bowl Parade. Don’t tell my husband, but the only reason I keep signing up for cable service is to be certain to have the Rose Bowl Parade. He wouldn’t object. His mother actually travelled from Arizona to Pasadena to see the parade and splurged on bleacher seats to do it right.

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Photo New Orleans CC by erinbrace

The Rose Bowl Parade is the highlight of my New Year’s Day. The music, the beauty. I cannot imagine the patience it takes to put the floats together, the artistry, or the creativity. When I hear that each of the roses are in individual vases, I am awed at the thought of the individuals with that depth of dedication. When the last float or band rounds the corner and the presenters sign off, I’m left with the energy that comes from watching someone do what they love. The satisfaction that comes when you reach the end of a great book or movie.

I love a parade. How about you?

Baby, it’s not cold outside

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Elvis and the Village

So long, 2018. You were a testing year, and you taught me a lot. I’m grateful you showed

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Maine 2007

me I’m stronger than I knew and to rely on others isn’t a weakness, but kindness. A breaking heart heals with comfortable elastic scars, and memories stay to give solace and joy. Loved ones never leave and in those quiet moments just before sleep they often make their presence known with a light touch.

 

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Maine 2008

Welcome, 2019. You’ve got a clean slate ahead.  I’d like to peek over your shoulder at your plans, but instead, I hope you’ll surprise us all with a fabulous 365 days of joy, creativity, and peace.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I thought it

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Florida 2012

would be fun to say goodbye to 2018 with photos of various Christmases scattered through this post. The ones from Maine feature trees cut on our property. The wreath was made with cuttings from the tree. We only had one tree in Florida. The poor things don’t last as long, so we decided to wait for Maine before we get our next tree. Maybe 2019 will be the year?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa. May your holidays, however you celebrate, be merry and bright!

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You knew there was a Santa Claus, right?

 

 

A Writer’s Age

A writer’s life is full of surprises. Sometimes, when a reader meets a writer, the surprise is on the reader! I was in Barnes & Noble last week when my favorite sales person introduced me to a mystery reader, and as it turned out, a fan.

It goes without saying I was thrilled. The fan and I happily chatted about Hayden Kent, the Florida Keys, what was next. And then the surprise happened. The fan thought she was talking to Kait Carson’s mother. I paused. Thoughts pushed furiously through my brain, each shoving the other aside while I wondered if I was about to taste the sole of one or both of my retired running shoes. The salesperson saved the day. She said, “I didn’t know your daughter wrote, too.”

My fan, thank God, let loose a belly laugh. “You’re Kait Carson. The Kait Carson. But you’re not…” She blushed crimson, and she glanced at her shoes. Heels I noted and wondered if the three-inch spikes would be painful. “In your thirties,” she finally finished.

As her blush subsided, I assured her I took the comment as a compliment, and thanked her. I didn’t tell her I subscribe to and read Seventeen, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan Magazines from cover to cover to keep up. Nor did I share that the woman who lives in my head is in her thirties!

That got me to thinking how old are my favorite writers, and how old are their characters? It turns out most of my favorite writers are writing characters a good ten to twenty, or more, years younger than they are. I’m not naming names here—that’s not my place 😊—and you can do your own research. The key is, the characters are believable, and when I e-chat with these writers, or meet them on social media, it’s clear that the writer is comfortable in their character’s age group.

What does that observation mean? I’m not sure. But it seems as if as writers we become so immersed in the research and behavior of protagonists we absorb them. Their age and characteristics become second nature to us until the people who live in our heads might just surprise you, and us, with their dreams of the future.

Tomorrow is another day—being a writer is the only profession I’m aware of that lets you do it over AND retain the lessons of the past!

Readers and writers—how old is the person in your head? Your real age? Older? Younger? And is it a good year?