I’m nearing completion (I hope!) of my 14th Jeri Howard novel, The Things We Keep. Fellow Ladies of Mystery author, D. Z. Church read the latest draft and pointed out words I’d left out and words I’d repeated. She pruned instances of words I habitually overuse – “so,” “then,” and “now.” She also took out many of the commas that I love to sprinkle all over my work. More importantly, she indicated several rough spots requiring attention. Yes, we all need that second pair of eyes. I’m now in the process of revising the draft.
I’ve been working on this book for nearly two years and hoped to finish it by the end of 2021, but as we know, life intervenes.
Once the book is finished, there’s the whole prepublication drill. Already have a cover – here’s a first look! I’ll create the front and back matter, format the book and write snappy descriptions that will make readers want to buy the latest Jeri. Publication date, copyright – a lot to do.
After that, what next? That’s a question recently posed by several people. A good question, since at any one time I am juggling six or seven plots in my head, always looking ahead to the next project.
I get emails asking if I’m going to write another book featuring Jill McLeod, my sleuthing Zephyrette, who solves crimes in the early 1950s while working on the streamliner train known as the California Zephyr. The short answer: yes, I have a plot in mind. That answer also serves for Kay Dexter, the geriatric care manager protagonist of my book The Sacrificial Daughter. Then there’s Maggie Constable, the retired San Francisco Chronicle reporter from my novella, But Not Forgotten. I like Maggie a lot and she needs a book of her own. In the meantime, she puts in an appearance in The Things We Keep.
Other characters clamor for attention. One of them is Mrs. Grace Tidsdale, the redoubtable Tidsy, who appears in several Jill McLeod novels. She’s a woman of strong opinions and actions, with an interesting past. That’s a trait she shares with Rose Laurent, the former stuntwoman, actress and director who appears with Jill and Tidsy in Death Above the Line. Both women have backstories I want to explore.
Characters and plots roam through my head, the characters with their hands up, waving, and shouting, “Me next!”
I have ideas for several standalone novels and pages of plot notes and character sketches to go with them. The Mendocino book, which takes place in that remote village on California’s north coast. The Guam book, which harks back to my days in the Navy on that Western Pacific island. The dysfunctional family book simmering on the back burner for years.
Well, you get the idea.
What comes next? I suspect it will be the historical novel I started two years ago. I was already several chapters into it when I got the idea for The Things We Keep, which appeared in my head and jumped the queue.
Once I return to that book, I’ll be steeping myself in New Mexico history in the late 1870s and early 1880s, doing research from a whole pile of books I’ve collected over the years. That will be quite a change from Jeri Howard in the 21st century.
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