Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 6

Holy cow!  How had Delicious Detective Sinful guessed?  Little innocent me, in the wrong place at the right time?  No way.

Okay, maybe I lied.

It would serve him right.  Him and Merry, huh?  Turning my back on that pair, I let my sweatshirt slip a fraction more off my shoulder as I sashayed back down the sidewalk.  I wiggled with each step and fluttered my hand close to the neighbor’s picket fence.  In case I lost my balance.  You never know what a klutz like me will do.

It wasn’t far to my bungalow, where I lived all alone now that my parents had passed after that freak accident at the Brickyard.  Darn it, why was Sinful deliberately tormenting me with that reference?  He knew what happened.

Oops.

“Are you okay, dear?” said a tiny woman’s voice from under a Texas-sized straw hat.  Widow Winnie Wilton rose from her gardening stool on the other side of the picket fence and steadied my arm through her work gloves.

“Thanks, Mrs. Wilton,” I said, leaning against the little spears of her fence.  I glanced over my bare shoulder to make sure Sinful hadn’t seen my klutz moment, but luckily, he’d disappeared inside Grumpy’s house.  “I’m fine.  Guess I’m not so good at walking in these things yet.”

“I’ll never understand why you young folks even try.”  Winnie laughed good-naturedly.

I laughed too.  “I wouldn’t do it, except for…”

If I didn’t get more practice walking in these four-inchers, I’d fall flat on my face tonight.  That nerdy Fred Boschman would probably never even notice, but still.

“Except for what, dear?” Widow Winnie said.

“There’s a party tonight,” I said.  I don’t usually do blind dates, but a girl living on her own has got to party sometimes, right?  And besides, the retro disco ball was going to be a charity fundraiser for the police department, so maybe Sinful would be there.  A girl could hope.  That’s the only reason why I’d agreed to go with Fred.  Really.

“I’d break my neck for sure.”  Winnie’s tittering laughter died, along with the reminder of death in the neighborhood.  We both turned to observe the scene of flashing blue and red lights.

“Tsk, tsk,” Winnie said.  “Such a shame.  And his boy, Elton, just come to town for a visit.  First time in a long time.  He works down on an oil rig in the gulf, did you know?  They say that ever since that shark attack took Mr. Fries’s leg, he and his boy never saw eye to eye.  It was something to do with politics and the environment, they say.”

“Who says, Mrs. Wilton?” I asked.  She’d been the neighborhood gossip for as long as I remembered, and I’d grown up on this street.

“The spirits, dear.”  She winked.

Oh boy.

I couldn’t waste anymore time prattling with my crazy neighbor, because I had plenty of work to do, if I was going to be ready for tonight.  I waved goodbye, pulled off my sandals, and hurried on down the street, barefoot.

The sunlight glared, and something sparkled, blinding me as I turned up the sidewalk to my front door.  Owww!  I stubbed my toe against a crack, and my four-inch sandals fell from my arms one at a time, plunking into my weed-infested lawn.  Darn crack!  Home repairs never seemed to end, even though the bank balance kept sinking.

What had blinded me was something glittery, half sticking out of my mail slot, although it wasn’t time yet for the mail to arrive.  Which reminded me of that other delivery I’d received, well past mail time.  “Dear Duncan,” my ex boyfriend, Aloysius Everslam, had written, although the envelope had been addressed to me.  The creep.  Luckily, I’d broken it off with Alo before things had gone too far.  It had been just like him to make sure I knew he was in a new relationship.  Like I cared.  Him and Duncan Meadows, so what?

I shivered at the memory of my close call, and ran up onto the porch, reaching to yank the paper from the slot.  Glitter dripped across the plain white sheet of typing paper, forming words.

“I see you,” it read.

I sucked in my breath and glanced over my shoulder.

A dirty white van with a Saints bumper sticker parked across the street.  Had its driver seen me over at Grumpy’s place earlier this morning?

Designer Seeds

“Write the story that only you can write,” one of my writing teachers once told me.

I wasn’t sure at first what that meant.  At the time, I was writing a historical mystery set during the days leading up to the first Turkish coup, when Ataturk’s generals stepped in to restore his vision of westernization, which was gradually eroding.  It was an exciting story, with lots of drama and suspense, and it was inspired from my personal experience.

But it wasn’t my story.  A historian could’ve written it, and probably a lot better.

The manuscript spent a lot of time languishing in the bottom drawer of my desk while I pondered and researched even more.  And then that writing teacher’s advice finally clicked with me.  He had been talking about a sort of “designer seeds.”  The story seeds that were designed especially for me to write weren’t about the historical events but instead about the American dependents living there at the time and interacting with those events.  That was me, and it was my story.

So, my imagination got to work, with the help of those story seeds designed just for me, and I embroiled my fictional American dependents in those events preceding the coup.  It became the story with a slant that only I could write.

Once we writers find our “designer seeds,” I think we end up with stories that are more unique and filled with passion.

Continuing this month’s metaphor, I’m super pleased to announce the planting of seeds of my book.  Dancing for the General will finally sprout in the garden of books in July!

Ten Little Seeds of Encouragement

You can be anyone you want to be.

You can do anything you want to do.

You can live anywhere you want to live.

Yes, I absolutely believe this to be true.  BUT (and there’s always a “but,” right?) you have to have enough desire, followed by a lot of hard work.  Goals start as dreams, and every dream needs a seed of encouragement.  Those seeds help us make the right choices to follow our dreams and convert them to real goals.

You want to be a writer? Or course you can.

How you define “success” in terms of being a writer is up to you.  It should be a definition you can control.  Winning the lottery is probably not a realistic definition.  No matter what, all the writers I’ve ever met have worked exceptionally hard to get to where they are.

Somewhere along the way, something encouraged them.  Maybe something as simple as one of these ten little seeds:

  1. at home, your family thinks you’re the cat’s meow
  2. at school, your teachers brag about you
  3. critique group partners laugh or cry in all the right places (it may take many sessions of hard work to reach this point)
  4. pros stop to talk to you at conventions
  5. you receive a “good” rejection, asking to see more of your work
  6. you win or place in a contest
  7. an editor asks to see your work after hearing your pitch
  8. you (finally!) receive a contract in the mail
  9. a reader reports that she stayed up all night reading your book
  10. when someone, anyone–be it an editor or a reader–asks “what’s next?”

Who knows where your dreams will take you, or how far?  You’ll never know if you don’t try, so go for it!  The choice is yours to make.  So, I’m asking you?  what’s next for you?

 

Five Funnies, Off the Grid

When my last post went up, I was off the grid.  For five days, Hubby and I adventured in our narrowboat along English canals.  And what an adventure it was, put-putting along at 2 miles per hour!  We made 20 miles in the first 2 days.  It was like camping in a 30×6 foot trailer–exterior dimensions.  We’re not campers.  Nor are we sailors.  We’re not mechanically inclined, so you can imagine the laughs!  But we’re slowly getting the hang of it.  We didn’t stall out or hit anyone (well, not too hard).  We didn’t sink the boat.  Yay!

You see all kinds of boats along the canal, from shiny to rusty, from fancy cruisers to hard workers, from weekend pleasure to permanent homes.

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1.  Gardens sprout in flower pots atop these boats.

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2.  Car in a boat.  Has James Bond arrived?

Aside from the boats, there are also the most unexpected sights along the Cut:

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3.  Gnomes hide in the trees, guarding the entrance to a secret channel.

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4.  Gorilla hangs from an abandoned cement factory.

 

5.  But my favorite sight, which bedazzled me so much that I missed the photo op, happened as we squeezed our narrowboats into one lock.  Kayakers circled below the gates.  They were waiting for boats like ours to come through the locks, which would release water into the lower level of canal, giving them a brief minute or two of roiling water.  Was this a canal form of “white-water” rafting?

Somehow, all this–and more–will have to end up as research for a new mystery!

Oh, the Spectacles We Make!

Being socially house-broken means that we usually don’t laugh when people fall on their patoots.  Unless it’s slapstick, and then it’s okay to laugh.  Slapstick usually means it’s intentionally funny.

But what about those times when it’s not?

We all agree that humor is tough to do, and then someone on the blog mentioned the closeness of laughter to crying.  The memory of my first black belt test came rushing back.  It isn’t funny.  (Or maybe it is.)  I gotta admit that yes, we must’ve all looked pretty funny–on the verge of tears, with our tongues hanging out and sagging in our twisted stances.  But bear with me, ’cause there’s a lesson in this.

Here’s how it went down:

  •  6 months previous, my sensei announces that he will hold a test, and I am eligible.  (Serious??  *uncontrollable laughter*)
  • After a lot of sweat, The Big Day arrives, and a dozen or so of us brown belts are onstage.  The watchful eyes of the peanut gallery are upon us as we “warm up” with hundreds of exercises in sets of 50’s.  Then we run through the entire curriculum a couple of times.  (So, when is the test going to start?  I am getting seriously tired.)
  • We spar for about half a lifetime, and one of my partners kicks me onto my patoot (hoots and hollers from the peanut gallery, but no sweat–they’re usually vocal)
  • We run through the curriculum a couple more times.  (Oh no!  Is this finally the real test starting up?  I am completely drained.  No way I can pass now.  Hmmm.  Guess I’ve got nothing to lose anymore.)
  • So I keep going, limping through the moves on automatic, even though I know I look slapstick ridiculous with my stumbling moves.  Maybe I only imagine the snickers — my brain’s not working so well, either.

My conclusions:  I did my best.  I couldn’t do any better than my ability at the moment.

Sound familiar?  You bet.  It’s the same in writing.

When the test was finally over, my sensei peeled me up off the floor and tied my new black belt around me.  But, wait.  Hadn’t he noticed all my mistakes?  All my sloppy moves?

Yes, of course he had.  What I hadn’t realized until then was that it wasn’t so much about perfection as much as it was about persistence.  I hadn’t given up, and that’s what mattered.

The same is true for writing.  There’s always time to perfect our ability if we give ourselves enough time to persist.

As for the laughs along the way, whether they’re real or imagined, I ask you:  who’s gonna end up with the last laugh?  The one who stays in the game, or the one who never tries?

Rolling with the Punches (of First Draft)

Flexible.  That’s the key word in this writing business.  We gotta be flexible, because we can’t always predict the curveballs Life will toss at us.  We can’t always predict those things that later we wish we would’ve known.  Sometimes they morph into mistakes, and maybe we shouldn’t avoid them, as Sam pointed out yesterday.  Maybe it’s all part of the Bigger Plan.

It’s the same with first drafts.

I’m a pantser, trying very hard to learn how to write to outline.  Right or wrong, I have this idea that outlines should save me a lot of trouble down the road.  At least, that’s my theory, because I often take wrong turns and end up un-writing thousands of words.

So, for my current Work in Progress, I decided to try this outline approach.  I used as a template Hallie Ephron’s blueprint in her wonderful book, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.  Lo and behold, answering her questions and figuring out what information needed to go when and where actually gave me the skeleton of an outline!  I sharpened my pencils and was all set to go.

Somewhere about 10k words in, I noticed my draft was a bit off-kilter from my outline.  No problem, I told myself.  The story itself was more or less on track.  I will go back and edit later, of course.  I kept plowing on, introducing the cast one-by-one, including Victim #1, Villain, and Innocent Suspects, all as previously outlined.

Then around 18k words a new character popped into the story, arguing with Victim #2.

Hello, who the heck are you? Where did you come from, and what’s your beef?

The character explained, told me his name, and convinced me of his need to be in the story.  I decided to let him stay.  What harm could he do?  Someone has to do the grunt work in the story, and besides, I Am God.  I can always take him out later if he doesn’t pull his weight.  I assigned him a Supporting Cast role and moved on.

Now I’m 26k words in, and I still can’t persuade Innocent Suspect #3 to show his face.

C’mon out!  You’re overdue for your scene!  

He is still not talking to me.  I suspect he doesn’t want to be in the story.  Maybe he’ll show up later, but later doesn’t fit with the outline.  *sigh*  I will press on without him for now and see how the draft turns out.  I’ve got to be flexible.  I just hope I am not on the verge of a character revolt.

If only I’d known…

$64,000,000 Questions

If Only I’d Known…

My mom wasn’t always right.  If she had been (may she rest in peace), then I wouldn’t have had to hide my writing notebook from her when I was a teenager.  She thought that writing mysteries wasn’t challenging enough, but boy, was she wrong!

And speaking of challenges…

If we mystery lovers really wished we would’ve known the things we do not know, then what would happen to the mystery in our books?

If we mystery lovers knew on page one whodunnit, would we read on?

If Only I’d Known…

How to read faster.  Speed reading was the only subject I ever failed in high school.  I was given a machine with a bar of light that swept down the page of my book.  But the story swept me away, instead, and I failed to notice the bar of light waiting for me to catch up.

If I had learned to read faster, how many more books could I have read by now?

If Only I’d Known…

Memory doesn’t last forever.  Back in my twenties, I didn’t even keep a calendar, because I remembered everything.  No need for a journal when every day was fresh in my mind.  No need to keep elaborate spread sheets on characters and plot threads.  {{shudders}}

 So, when did spoiler alerts transform into gentle reminders?

If Only I’d Known…

When to end a book.  If I had known, maybe I wouldn’t have cycled through draft after draft of books.  Some of them changed their endings; some of them had no endings and got pitched into the bottom drawer.  Maybe I would’ve saved years of time.

How many more books could I have written by now?

If Only I’d Known…

The secret handshake.  I would’a become a bestselling author!

But then…would I have been able to write the books I really want to write?

That’s another $64,000,000 question!  What are some of yours?