Guest Blogger – Diana Rubino

I’ve been a mystery book buff since age 12 when I started reading the Trixie Belden series (similar to Nancy Drew). As my reading preferences matured, I graduated to murder mysteries. I always wanted to write one, but didn’t believe I had the ability to weave an entire plot around a murder, plant clever clues, red herrings, and surprise the reader with ‘whodunit.’ So I began writing murder mystery subplots in my historical novels, starting with FROM HERE TO FOURTEENTH STREET.

When I wrote my biographical novel about Eliza Jumel Burr, Aaron Burr’s last wife, my agent told me it needed a bit of ‘punching up.’ I pondered how to do this, then thought, ‘what would be more punched up than a few murder mysteries?’ So I wrote two subplots involving true-life murders that occurred during the time of the story. In one of them, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton defended the accused, Levi Weeks, after his fiancée Elma Sands was found drowned in a well once owned by Aaron. In real life, Levi was acquitted, but public opinion maintained this was due to Levi’s high-priced ‘dream team.’ In my story, I involved Eliza in the lives of Levi and Elma, and Levi eventually confesses to her. As for all murder mystery authors, knowing the killer makes writing a mystery less daunting. I began writing mystery subplots in my books that followed: DARK BREW, FOR THE LOVE OF HAWTHORNE, and the biographical novel I just finished, about Edith (Mrs. Theodore) Roosevelt, who helps the New York City Police, of which her husband is Commissioner, find a serial killer.

I stay as close as possible to the historical record, but in writing novels, I must ‘take license’ and weave fiction in with the true life events. I’m careful to give readers lush descriptions of the settings, to send them on a journey back to that time, without rambling on, to avoid giving a history lesson. That, as well as writing murder mysteries, became easier with practice.

 ELIZA JUMEL BURR, VICE QUEEN OF THE UNITED STATES

Abandoned and left to survive on the streets of Providence, Betsy Bowen dreams of being reunited with her father – none other than George Washington. During her ninety-one years, she begs, sells her body, marries a rich man, marries a poor man, solves a murder, meets her father in secret and becomes Eliza Jumel, the wealthiest woman in New York City. She actually could have been George Washington’s daughter, according to the historical record–he visited Providence nine months before she was born.

A story of desperation, ambition, heartache and betrayal, borne with humor and refusal to compromise with what the heart asks first.

Purchase ELIZA JUMEL BURR: http://getBook.at/ElizaJumel 

Diana writes about folks through history who shook things up. Her passion for history and travel has taken her to every locale of her books, set in Medieval and Renaissance England, Egypt, the Mediterranean, colonial Virginia, New England, and New York. Her urban fantasy romance, FAKIN’ IT, won a Top Pick award from Romantic Times. She is a member of Romance Writers of America, the Richard III Society, and the Aaron Burr Association. When not writing, she owns CostPro, Inc., an engineering business, with her husband Chris. In her spare time, Diana bicycles, golfs, does yoga, plays her piano, devours books, and lives the dream on her beloved Cape Cod.
Visit Diana at

www.dianarubino.com

www.DianaRubinoAuthor.blogspot.com https://www.facebook.com/DianaRubinoAuthor

and on Twitter @DianaLRubino.

Putting the Corona Virus in My Next Book

Many have asked writers whether or not they were going to do it–include the virus in their next work of fiction. My answer at first was no, and I started writing my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery to be right after Christmas. But as I was writing, I realized at some point in this series I’d have to mention the virus–after all it is affecting all of us.

Another thing I considered is the fact that the virus and what it has caused may be with us for a long, long time.  It is far too big a happening to be ignored and everyone is being affected by it in many ways.

I began thinking about my ongoing characters and how they would feel about what was going on, the new rules and the restrictions. Like in the real world, because they all have different personalities, they all have different reactions. And, oh, my goodness, there is a wealth of  varied beliefs and feelings in my own family as well as on Facebook to pique my imagination as to what each of my characters might be thinking.

When I started doing that, I realized what great fun I might have. Will my police officers be good about wearing their masks when working? How do they feel about it? Who are willingly staying home? Who are resisting in a mild way, and are they a few who are completely rebellious?

Intertwining all this will whatever crimes are happening in Rocky Bluff will not only be fun to write, but a challenge as well. Do I know my characters well enough to know how they will react in certain situations complicated by the virus? I certainly hope so.

At least this is distracting me enough not to be too sad about missing all the in-person events I’d planned to go to before they were cancelled. My hope is that everything will change enough for us to see a more normal 2021, but I’m not making any bets.

Share you thoughts about all this, won’t you?

Marilyn who writes the Rocky Bluff P.D. series as F. M. Meredith

 

 

 

It’s Awkward

Once a month I appear on this blog, so I have about four weeks to think of what I want to say. Most of the time I have no problem coming up with an opinion on anything, but shaking loose an idea I want to explore and spend time with that will benefit other writers, even if it’s short, is harder.

My first idea usually gets shelved. This month I considered writing about Beta readers because two experiences from my earlier years came to mind. A friend who wasn’t someone I considered a book person asked about what I was working on. He asked to read it when it was ready. When I had a pretty good draft (perhaps fourth or fifth), I gave it to him. He gave me lots of notes and conversation, and a year later I reworked the story. He again asked about it, so I showed it to him. This time he didn’t like it at all even though it was essentially the same book. He took exception to things he liked the first time around and passed over things that excited him before. Okay. I don’t know what this means except that he changed in the interval, and first impressions are more useful than second impressions. I shelved that blog.

Than I moved on to the idea of reviewing. This is tricky for a writer reviewing in her genre, so after reviewing numerous titles in the 1980s and 1990s for all sorts of journals–The Drood Review of Mystery, Mystery Scene, and Publishers Weekly among them, and later Audible–I gave it up for the simple reason that it became too awkward. After attending a few conferences, including Malice Domestic and Bouchercon, as well as Crime Bake later, I knew too many writers whose books I loved as a reader but could see flaws in as a reviewer. Awkward for sure. End of that topic.

The pandemic is still with us but I’ve already posted about it twice and I’m sick of it. You may be too. I don’t know anyone who isn’t. How is it affecting my work? Hard to say, though I expect we’ll all discover in a year or two that we were in a fog for almost a year and we’ll look back on these months with their fears and restrictions and wonder why we did the things we did. It will be, yes, awkward. Enough of that topic.

And then we come to words. I love words. Nothing new there. I also love my dictionary (Webster’s New World Dictionary of the American Language, second college edition, printed on lovely onion skin paper), which comes with etymologies. The “Guide to the Dictionary” is a six-page explanation of the construction of the entry, all those little bits we lump together as the definition. My favorite line in this guide is “In no case is the first spelling considered ‘more correct’ or the one necessarily to be preferred.” There are also several pages on language, including English, and more on Americanisms. I’m enjoying myself but I’m not sure another reader would be. Time for another topic.

Editing is always a reliable subject because, Lordy knows, we writers do enough of it and we’re always looking for ways to be more efficient. I’d love to be able to write and construct a story well enough not to have to all but rewrite the damn thing during the editing process. I think of the standard advice, When in doubt, throw it out. The trouble with that advice is that it calls to mind a note on an article I sent to a publisher. It “didn’t fit” their journal so they sent it back, but in the notes a reader and editor left was the comment, “This is an excellent sentence.” I found the passage and read it. It read like all my other sentences. What was so special about this one? After turning to it every year or so, I still don’t know. It just looks like all the other passages in that article (still unpublished), so I seem to have not only no advice on editing but also no sense of what to edit. End of topic.

So here I sit at 7:30 on Saturday morning without a topic for my blog post. You’ll just have to tolerate my ineptness today, and I hope to do better next month. Yes, I know, it’s awkward.

Amber Foxx’s Goodbye Post: On Reading Diverse Mysteries

I realized this month that it’s time to move on, so I say goodbye with my final installment on this blog. I hope you enjoy it, and that it helps you discover some new authors.

*****

 I caught myself in a reading rut. I’m not the first person to have this experience, and others have addressed it already. Nonetheless,  here’s my take on the problem as a mystery reader.

What made me notice it was a book in which all the characters were white. I suppose such towns exist, but I’ve lived most of my adult life in majority-minority places. This book woke me up to the fact that almost all the authors I’d read recently were white. Most of them write a broader range of characters, but still, I want to hear from other voices. So, how did I end up buying books this way? What was I thinking?

Actually, I wasn’t thinking. Just clicking. We often get reading recommendations through algorithms. Goodreads or an online bookstore will send reminders that a favorite author has a new book, or suggest that “If you liked X, you’ll love Y.” Authors advertise on the book pages of what they perceive to be similar books. Other ads target fans of what are referred to as “comparison authors.”  It’s a system that promotes sameness, not diversity. For that, I had to exit the net of recommendations and start searching.

I liked this article from Writer’s Digest, in which writers of color discuss their experience. I agree with those who say there is an audience for their work, but publishers may not realize it.

This site is a great shopping resource: I Found This Great Book: A Home for Readers of Diverse Books. Its creator says he loves to browse bookstore and library shelves and discover new authors because of a cool cover, and he set up the directory—quite successfully, in my opinion—to give you that feeling. He gives a lot of space to indies, which I appreciated, since I love indie fiction. I wish more of those indies published wide, not exclusively on Amazon, but I still found new mysteries to read on my Nook.

Another site I used for discovery is Crime Writers of Color.

As a New Mexican, I have to recommend the Sonny Baca  books by the late Rudolfo Anaya. Most people know his classic coming of age in New Mexico story, Bless Me, Ultima, but he also wrote a series about a private investigator. These crime novels blend in much of the mysticism and cultural depth found in his better-known works.

I plan to read not only diverse American authors, but authors from other countries, other continents. African and Asian and Latin American writers. I can’t go anywhere in person during the coronavirus pandemic, but my reading can take me all over the globe into the worlds of people whose lives are not like mine.

My writing has me at home in New Mexico, of course. Working on the eighth Mae Martin mystery. And I’ll still be blogging. Follow me on https://amberfoxxmysteries.com, where you can also sign up for my newsletter.

Au revoir and Namaste.

Amber

Choosing the Season by Karen Shughart

Murder in the Museum, my first Edmund DeCleryk Cozy mystery, is set in winter. For some reason wind howling through the cracks in the walls at a museum dating back to the 1800s, and the discovery of a body on a narrow beach at the base of a bluff amidst decayed wildflowers and dead seagrasses, seemed to fit.

It also seemed appropriate for the trees to look skeletal, bereft of leaves, symbolic of the victim’s bereaved loved ones.  And winter made sense as a backdrop for the repartee of criminal consultant, Ed and his wife, Annie, as they walked through swirling snow to meet friends for dinner at a nearby pub, or spent their evenings in front of a roaring fire, drinking wine and discussing the case while the world outside shrieked and moaned.

For me, winter is one of the best fits for murder mysteries: the blizzards, the damp, the howling of the wind; and in a maritime-themed mystery, the promise of high seas and shipwrecks. Then there are the characters who hide away to escape not only the chilled weather, but also the chilling circumstances affecting them.

Photo by Karen Shughart

That said, I’m practical enough to realize that some mysteries really do need to be set during other seasons of year. How boring it would be if all of them occurred during dark and stormy nights, excuse the cliché. So, I chose spring and summer for the second book in the series, Murder in the Cemetery. I not only wanted to progress in time from the first to the second mystery, but also the beautiful balmy weather, lush landscape and easy way of life experienced in a coastal village during warm months were a perfect juxtaposition to the coldly-executed murder that occurred at an historic cemetery. The light filtering through the trees and landing at a spot near the victim, a fox and her kits scurrying through the bushes, and the theme of flowers and gardening, which takes center stage for much of the book, all have significance to the plot.

I’ve started writing book three, Murder at Freedom Hill.  Winter was not the appropriate season for this book, either, because of the way the story develops, nor would summer have made sense. The victim needed to die in the fall, but in late fall, when the brittle, brown oak leaves flutter on the trees, maple leaves swirl about on roads and in parks, families are out and about in preparation for the upcoming holidays,  and during the time of year when hunters roam the woods and fields searching for prey.

Choosing a season in which to set a book is not arbitrary, it sets the tone for what lies ahead. So many of the details of a murder mystery really are dependent on the outside temperature, the color of the sky, the bleakness or abundance of growing things and the resultant mood of each of the characters. 

Getting my Journal On

Over the last few months, I have taught two different classes on journaling, one of which has become a weekly group. The idea was that we are living in historic times, and personal journals have always been a valuable part of the historic record down through the ages.

Now, you’d think with Facebook and Twitter, that would count. Um, it doesn’t. Facebook and Twitter are public, and we tend to put our best posts forward, so to speak. There is something about the private nature of a journal that encourages more honesty, perhaps.

Another advantage of a journal is that it really does help keep a grip on all the insanity around us. Just in the past few days I’ve added a prompt to check for what’s currently bugging me and already I’m having trouble thinking of things that are bugging/worrying me.

My personal process began several years ago – I’ve lost track of how many – and is based in my own spiritual practices and a practice developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola (as in the guy who founded the Jesuits) called the Examen of Conscience.

The interesting thing is that as I was growing up and hearing about authors and being a writer and all that, I kept hearing about how important it is to keep a journal. I will admit, I tried, but it never took. Let’s face it, I am the ADD poster child, and sitting still to write something that doesn’t enthrall me, like what I had for breakfast the other day, is not going to happen. Then I heard a Jesuit priest talking about the Examen of Conscience and how it worked. In short, it gave me a series of questions I could check in with every day, or more accurately, every day I thought about it, and write.

The process this particular priest proposed was putting yourself in the Presence of God, checking in on where you’ve sinned the day before, then reflecting on how to do better and, finally, offering up a prayer of gratitude. I added a reflection on what I’ve done well because I’m really good at beating up on myself.

Believe it or not, I really like the idea of checking in to see where I’ve sinned, and actually, it helps work against the beating up on myself. It’s awfully hard to improve yourself if you don’t know where you’re falling down. To use a writing metaphor, you can’t fix your story if all you know is that it doesn’t quite work. If the actual “sin” is digressing all over the place (an example I used in Fascinating Rhythm), then you can go back and pull out all those bits that don’t relate to the full plot. If I know that I was meaner than I should have been to that tech non-support person, then I can take steps to get less pissy the next time I have to call about a problem.

I’m the last person to tell anyone that if they want to be a writer, they must journal. And if I’m honest, my journaling practice has had little to no effect on my writing that I know of. I guess trying to be a better person may help me be a better writer, and I suppose being able to stay on an even keel makes it easier to plot chaos in my made-up worlds.

Journaling is one of those things that is intensely personal and unique to each person. For me, it took a centuries-old prayer practice to put pen to paper (and, yes, I do prefer handwriting my journal). For you, it make take something else. I know someone who finds it easiest to dictate her thoughts on her phone as she takes her morning walk. And there is the possibility that journaling may not work for you at all.

But it is kind of interesting to think that someone, a hundred years ago, after I’m dead and gone, will look at my journal pages and exclaim, “Ah-hah! That’s what that was all about!”

I Love Research!

Photo I took of Grizz Flat

No matter what genre I write, there is always research. Did I say I love research? LOL The current work in progress is the 6th Gabriel Hawke novel. You would think setting the book in the county where I grew up and having had a ride-along with the State Trooper of the Fish and Wildlife Division I’d have everything I need to write the book.

I don’t and I’m having fun learning about muzzleloading rifles, rendezvouses, shooting competitions, and the general lifestyle of the people who travel to muzzleloader events.

Did you know that they not only have shooting competitions with the muzzleloading rifles, but they also have knife throwing and long bow competitions? And they all use an alias while at the events.

I contacted the person in charge of the Facebook page for the local (to Wallowa County) Muzzleloading Club to learn about the club, the rendezvous they hold every year, and all I could that would help me enhance my story. They have vendors who sell articles and clothing of the early 1800s the time period they represent while at the events.

I even drove to Grizz Flat where they hold the Rendezvous to get photos, see the area, and figure out how to set up the story.

The premise of the murder happens to be something the State Trooper told me about when I did my ride-along. He stopped on a road, across the river from Grizz Flat and pointed to the camping area. “See that campfire to the left?” I nodded. “A vehicle rolled over the campfire and caught on fire. A man died. They say he was drunk, passed out, and must have bumped the gear shirt. But after investigating, we discovered he’d had an argument with his wife.”

I said, “It couldn’t have rolled, the ground is too flat. And how coincidental would it be for the vehicle, if he’d put it in gear, to stall over the campfire. I say it was homicide.”

The trooper said, “That was what all the investigators said, but the D.A. said it was an accident.”

That is the story I am writing for this Hawke book. The vehicle is found burning over a campfire and the victim is in the vehicle. This time, Hawke will push to make sure the killer is caught and the D.A. prosecutes.

Have I mentioned the theme of my books is justice? 😉

English Language Be Gettin’ a Bad Rap Like a Overrated Airport Sammich!

That got your attention, you sticklers for grammar and its rules. For those who’re fast and loose with this part of the writing universe, you’re (maybe) applauding me I’m with you.

Before we get into the breakdown of the English language and what it isn’t and is, let’s explore some history.

From what I’ve remembered in my Greek & Latin Roots of English more than two decades (twenty years or a “score”) in completing my B.A. for journalism, our language has evolved through the Germanic and Hellenesic Wars. It also took on much change during the Battle of Hastnigs in 1066. An all day bloody battle, taking out King Harold allegedly with an arrow through his eye, ended his reign and destoryed his forces. Harold had been the final Anglo-Saxon King of England.

More of what History.com says about this war: “After his victory at the Battle of Hastings, William marched on London and received the city’s submission. On Christmas Day of 1066, he was crowned the first Norman king of England in Westminster Abbey, and the Anglo-Saxon phase of English history came to an end. French became the language of the king’s court and gradually blended with the Anglo-Saxon tongue to give birth to modern English. (Illiterate like most nobles of his time, William spoke no English when he ascended the throne and failed to master it despite his efforts. Thanks to the Norman invasion, French was spoken in England’s courts for centuries and completely transformed the English language, infusing it with new words.) William I proved an effective king of England, and the “Domesday Book,” a great census of the lands and people of England, was among his notable achievements.”

This book of my former professor’s, now in its sixth edition, says, “More than 60 percent of all English words have Greek or Latin roots; in the vocabulary of the sciences and technology, the figure rises to more than 90 percent. Through the study of the Greek and Latin roots of English, students can expand their knowledge of English vocabulary and also come to understand the ways in which the complex history of the English language has shaped our perceptions of the world around us.

“The Greek and Latin Roots of English maintains the book’s much-praised thematic approach. After an essential overview of world languages, and the linguistic histories of Greek, Latin, and English, the text organizes vocabulary into various topics, including politics and government, psychology, medicine and the biological science, as well as ancient culture, religion, and philosophy. The sixth edition features revised cumulative exercises in each chapter that reinforce both vocabulary and analytical skills learned from pervious chapter. The [sixth edition] also features alphabetized vocabulary lists, new photos and cartoons, and other reader-friendly updates.”
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I (naturally!) aced this class. I’ve always loved words, how they were used, what their breakdowns were, why some words stuck and others didn’t, etc. To expound on my recent post mentioning Schoolhouse Rock and how well I did with English because of those cartoon segments, that’s how certain parts of speech made more sense and opened horizons and doors for me. Until diagramming sentences came into my world in high school, that is. I didn’t bomb those; I got cratered. But I made up for it in doing well in other parts of speech, vocabulary, subtect, contextual meanings the author was exploring, and spelling. My favorites to this day: adverbs, prepositions, conjections, interjections, punctuation marks, similies, May-the-Fours (that’s metaphors to you in Rio Linda, haha!), and plays-on-words, or more commonely know as puns.

This post was inspired by a Little House episode (“School Mom”) where Caroline Ingalls pinched hit as a substitute while Walnut Grove’s regular teacher recovered from an injury. Among her charges was a near adult-aged boy near illiterate, a “Hold my beer!” moment for Caroline when her girls called the boy “Dumb Abel.” But it was a segment of this episode that always makes me misty-eyed: Each child holds a printed letter in front of him, and they takes turns representing their letter to eventually form a word. This, over time, helps the boy become literate (and sealing Landon’s often Disney-ending writing for this show–which is why I find the writing of The Waltons much stronger.). The teamwork behind this colossal effort, the simplicity in which words are just letters strung together in a certain order, and the light in his eyes how everything made sense broken down in simpler elements, was moving. That, and more importantly–somebody cared enough to care. And you’re never too old to learn, as evidenced in the fantastic book Life is So Good. So why should the adverbe, or any parts of speech for that matter, be shorted on one’s say so?

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After the show, I wondered about how anybody–writers, authors, cumudgeounly Enlgish teachers and grammaticitians, real, imagined, or self-appointed–ALWAYS have something nasty to say about somebody else’s use of the language. Foreigners are laughed at, made fun or, or corrected to their face about its use when it’s not their first line of communication. Deaf or hard-of-hearing had to evolve sign language to its bare bones; I know a little ASL to converse in it slowly. For pregnant, they place their hands so their fingers are a third on top of one another, palms down, and arc them from their bodies to touch the bottome of their bellies. Together means hooked index fingers to “link” them. Asking the time means pointing at your wrist and holding up your fingers to represent the number; thank you mean to blow a kiss; yes means to nod your head or your fist; no means to shake your head or that fist side to side; hot means to fan yourself; cold means you hug yourself is if you’re freezing; and walking means moving your index and middle fingers in a method in how legs would walk. See where this is going? So since when did those who speak English get to be the arbitors of what’s right to say and not to?

So if a grammaticitian comes into your world, dead-set on your speaking properly in your writing as strict as the grammar rules are, your end results may come across stuffy at best, or reading like the worst pain in the ass Grammar Police Patrol you’ll ever know handcuffed you and your creativity. Nobody needs this–not you, not me, and certaintly not readers. So it shouldn’t be any surprise to you, Dear Reader, when I came axross the trend of–

DON’T USE ADVERBS IN YOUR WRITING!!!!!

all the F over social media. Done by a genre-creating author, yet, with the bestest-selling book on the craft of writing in publishing history, save for The Elements of Style.

While everyone might’ve taken this author’s word as gospel, I had to contest the premise–little ol’ David me daring to cross swords with the Goliath, multi-award-winning bestseller. Not so much I come by dissension naturally–if some of you saw my recent unapologetic and unrepentant stirrings and stances in a writing group, you’ll know what I’m saying. But adverbs are one of the pillars of parts of speech; that’s like saying you’re overusing nouns, or you’re breathing too much. Instead, this author should’ve declared JUST as boldly–

USE ADVERBS LIKE YOU SHOULD DRINK–RESPONSIBLY!

Didn’t happen. So I did it.

Oopsie.

I was applauded in some cases–“Thank you, Scribe, for sticking up for us foreigners newly learning English.”–but for the most part, people attacked me in perception I attacked him! Was I a bestseller (No.)? Was I jealous (**laughing** Hardly.)? Oh, yeah? Where’s your book (In my computer, thank you for asking. Next!)? Gonna self-publish because traditional houses think you suck, huh (Um . . . some who’re traditionally published with contracts as thick as my femur is long are more interested in checking a PC box than honing decent writing for repeat business, and that ain’t me, so . . . NEXT!)? And so the storm raged. But I held my ground for the lowly, ain’t-good-for-nothin’ adverb. Inevitably, the next part of speech to be attacked, which I meant satirically, was the semi-colon. I called it–but I was only kidding! The bullies weren’t. And still ain’t–they’re attacking free speech altogether, never mind parts of it, but that’s another topic for another post.

Here’s the thing: all parts of speech, punctuation, consonants, vowels, and its references, have a place, even the ugliest of words. They. ALL. Have. A. Place. Yes, there is such thing as too much telling. There is also such thing as too much showing. And too much setting. Too much descriptions. Too much backstory. Too much info-dumping. Too much . . . too much . . . too much . . .! So it’s the adverb’s time to be bullied. In an era of can’t we all just get along, there sure is a lot of bullying going on we’re told to not do otherwise. And taking adverbs out of sentences for the sake of, guess what happens to and with that sentence? Its subtext and context are changed subtly and obviously so the paragraph around that one sentence with the shameful adverb being cross-examined is also changed. Leave the adverb alone. It’s has a place–so let it do the job it’s supposed to do.

And there is such a thing as too much use in strong verbs, too; once everyone’s doing it, and is doing it, what makes it special in that piece of writing anymore? To steal a phrase from one of my many favorite PIXAR movies, The Incredibles, where Syndrome says, “Once everyone are Supers . . . no one will be,” is just as fittin’ here as it is anywheres else.

Not bad advice from a villain, despite discovering too late his cape was a bad idea. So you too, Dear Author for your even Dearer Readers, don’t let YOUR writing cape do you in on the adverb, either. ‘Sides, if Superman and Batman and Robin handled theirs with finnesse and class, please make your use of grammar just as messy to match your imagination. Do so freely, wildly, often, richly, and boldly.

And, of course . . . do so indubitably.

Time to Write and Other Fictions

by Janis Patterson

I used to have a dream… a dream of a place where I have no responsibilities, no job to go to, no social obligations to fulfill, no time-consuming errands to run, no organizations to which I have made promises… nothing but time and quiet in which to write. The archetypical ivory tower.

Well, I can tell you the archetypical ivory tower is very overrated. Like everyone else, The Husband and I have been pretty much self-quarantined at home for what seems like the last couple of aeons. Oh, we have gone to the grocery about once a week (a giddy exercise in freedom!) and once to the bank (drive-thru only) and occasionally to pick up a take-out meal from Desperados, our very favorite Mexican restaurant (food is good as ever, but just not the same experience), but to a modern couple living in a big city with lots of connections and work and organizations, our recent adventures have been pretty thin.

Which, you would think, would be wonderful for my writing. Aside from fixing dinner most nights and a load or two of laundry each week, I have nothing to do but write.

Except I can’t.

The Husband is very good – most of the time – about not bothering me while I work. It took a couple of years in the early part of our marriage, but he did learn that when my office door is closed no one disturbs me unless there is blood or flame! (I should say we’re an older couple, and it’s just the two of us and one very bossy little dog.) While we’ve been sequestered he’s been working his way through some stuffed old boxes of his stuff that date from the time of our marriage.

Me – “You need to go through those boxes and get rid of a lot of that stuff.”

Him – “I know what’s in every one of those boxes, and it’s all stuff I want to keep.”

Me – “Well, then, go through and pack it carefully in new plastic boxes – those cardboard boxes are yucky.”

Him – “I’ll get around to it.”

Repeat this conversation a time or two a year for almost every year – and there are a number of them – we’ve been married.

Well, the Chinese plague lockdown has taken away all his excuses. He can’t go to work, we have no meetings, and he can watch only so much idiotic TV, so he finally said he’d do one box. Of course, that led to another and another (we’re actually seeing parts of the storage room floor we haven’t seen in a couple of years!) and now it’s a treasure hunt.

Him – “Look at what I found! I’ve been looking for this!” is repeated several times a day. The first few times I was jubilant – and just a little bit self-satisfied – but after a day or two I decided I had to work and went behind the closed doors of my office.

Except I can’t.

I am facing two book deadlines (not counting my recurring blogs) and I need to write. Deadlines have been sacrosanct my entire life and I will do just about anything to meet them. Worse still, I pretty much know what I’m going to write, so it isn’t a real case of writer’s block, it’s just… just… The best description I can come up with is a non-religious accidie… a laziness or indifference to the entire process.

My mind wanders – and not creatively, as it should when you’re writing. I find myself either becoming fascinated with something that has nothing to do with what’s at hand or just shutting off and staring at something, such as the rose bush outside my window or the TV screen, and both are just about as edifying.

Perhaps the dirty little secret of this Chinese plague lockdown is a lack of structure. I’ve worked since I was in school, and most of the time done it well, but there has always been a structure. There have been structure-less days, of course, and on occasion a week or so such as in a vacation or an illness, but I always knew that at the end of  a certain period of time the structure would surround me again and that knowledge kept me going. Or started me up again, to be honest.

Now, with no real end in sight and a tragically changed world waiting outside my (metaphoric) front door, I don’t know what to do. I was always pretty good at living inside a structure, but I suck at creating one. However – I know something has to change, and the only thing I can influence or change for sure is myself, so I have been working at writing out a schedule. Somehow that makes it the more real. It’s about time I learned how to schedule… oh, I’ve always known how. It’s simple. The hard part, the part I must master, is fulfilling it.

Hope all of you are staying safe and well. Please take care of yourselves.

Back in the Saddle Again

As we enter quarter 3 of 2020, I’m finally getting back into the groove and picking things up where I left off before this year took a massive left turn into the scary land of Pandemicia. Before COVID-19, I was on track to launch the first three books of my debut cozy mystery series this fall and about to start launching a series of social media courses for authors.

*whistles and puts hands in pockets* Yeah, that’s not quite how quarter 2 went. On the bright side, I was able to focus on finishing my thesis (and master’s) so now I can re-focus on other goals without that on my shoulders.

Anyone else returning to some normalcy in your writing or life after the initial onslaught of the pandemic?

It feels so good to be thinking about writing and publishing again, and be able to share that with you all! I recently finished working with an amazing cover artist on my debut cover. I’ll be sure to share the cover in a future blog post and talk about the elements of cozy mystery covers.

Another good thing about the unexpected break from writing (can you tell I’m an optimist always looking for the bright side?) is that I have SUPER fresh eyes to read the current draft of my cozy. I’m sure that’s going to come in handy.

To be honest, I can’t really recall where I left off with it. It’s like life pre-COVID is still a blur. I know I was revising and working on a revision plan, but I don’t recall quite where I was going with everything. I’m going to take that as a blessing that I can now look at it with a new perspective and not be bogged down by old ideas. Hopefully the strongest ideas from before will return or I’ll get some new ones.

This week, I’ll be reading what I currently have and tackling a new revision plan. By the time my blog date rolls around for August, I’m sure I’ll have lots of exciting things to update you on with my indie publishing journey. Possibly new release dates picked out for early 2021 (because fall 2020 definitely won’t be happening at this point, haha), tales from Revision Land, maybe even talking about the process of working with a hired editor. So much goodness to come!

I’d love to hear what’s going on with you. Do you have any summer goals? Anything you’re happy to be returning to after some time away?