Materialistic or Spiritual?

A wonderful man belongs to my writers’ group.  He’s a retired cop from Milwaukee, AND he teaches philosophy.  He’s writing a memoir about the experiences he had on the force from the time he was young and inexperienced to the time he retired, and his stories go from laugh out loud to deadly serious.  I love listening to him read when it’s his turn to share.

Since he has a philosophical bent, he told me that he believes most modern literature is materialistic, not spiritual.  I replied that I wasn’t sure I agreed with that.  But when he asked me why, I had a harder time coming up with an answer.  I’m not a fast thinker.  I have to ponder ideas and sort them.  But after pondering away, I haven’t changed my mind.  Maybe that’s because of the reading material I choose.

I read predominately mysteries, but I intersperse them with other genres.  And here’s what I think and the authors who’ve made me think it:

First, I don’t necessarily equate the spiritual with religion, just as I don’t necessarily equate justice with the law.  To me, being a spiritual person equates with trying to find the greatest good in ourselves, the divine.  And I’ll be honest.  I struggle with that, because I’m never sure exactly what I believe that means.  Anyway, here are my thoughts about the spiritual in literature:

I’ve only read two William Kent Krueger mystery/thrillers featuring Cork O’Connor–Iron Lake and Boundary Waters–but Cork wrestles with doing the right thing and balancing his Native American culture and beliefs with his Irish-Catholic upbringing.  Indian mysticism flavors everything in the stories.  Nature plays a powerful force.  The books are as much about Cork’s character as they are about surviving and catching the bad guys.

I’m a fan of Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby historical mysteries.  Kiera Darby survived a horrible first marriage.  In the 1830s, husbands OWNED their wives.  They could abuse them nearly any way they chose.  Sebastian Gage’s mother married beneath her, a commoner, and her family taunted and ridiculed young Sebastian.  When Kiera and Sebastian meet and fall in love, they both struggle to overcome their pasts and to treat those they meet, even their servants, even people who have wronged them, with respect.  They work to rise above the harsh lessons they’ve endured in life.  The quality of a person matters more to them than titles or wealth.  Is that a spiritual journey?  It feels like one to me.

But I’ve read lots of books where a plot revolves around people trying to find answers and overcoming their faults and shortcomings even while the main plot might rotate around a murder or romance.  M.L. Rigdon’s The Gracarin is a fantasy where the warrior Torak rules a country whose religion is based on nature and music, harmony, and where women are treated as equals.  He forms an alliance with another country that has a more structured religion, but the leaders of both worlds abhor debauchery, cruelty, and excess. They join forces to conquer the corrupt rulers of the wharf.  In many urban fantasies, the theme is good vs. evil.  Ilona Andrews’s Kate Daniels series has an over arcing story question of Kate battling her father, who wants power for power’s sake.   Kate often doubts herself and her choices, which makes her journey all the more real.  Many mysteries star protagonists who try not to be stained by the bad people they battle.  They try not to stoop to their enemies’ levels.

In an extreme example, in Mark Lawrence’s fantasy, PRINCE OF THORNS, Jorg watched enemies kill his mother and young brother before they leave him for dead.  Worse, when he’s rescued and his father, the king, learns what has happened, he chooses not to go to war over the incident.  It would be too costly.  Angry and disillusioned, Jorg runs away and joins a band of ruffian misfits.  While he’s away, the king remarries, and when his new bride has a son, the king–his own father–wants Jorg dead.  Jorg does despicable things in the book, but it’s hard to hate him, because everyone else is worse, even the peasants.  Their hate is selfish and random.  Jorg’s enemies kill for land or profit, but Jorg kills to build an army strong enough to ultimately make him a ruler.  And he swears he’ll be a good one.  He has a conscience and a code of ethics, but they’re brutal by any standards.  But then, so are the times.  Jorg’s far from the spiritual journey most think of, but his struggles are real and beg the question: Does the end ever justify the means?  Everything in Jorg’s world is relative.  Does that preclude his journey from being spiritual?

I still don’t know if I have an answer to my friend’s question.  It’s possible I’m too practical to be philosophical.  Can a person be idealistic and practical at the same time?  I’m not sure.  But it was fun to consider the books I’ve read in a different light.  Any opinions you’d like to share?

 

 

Time’s Running Out

I’m beginning to sympathize with the people who did NaNoWriMo in November.  They had a short amount of time to write a whole lot of words.  When I decided to try to write two books at the same time, I thought I had plenty of time to finish them before January.  And I would have, if everything had gone according to plan.  I know, I know.  How many times does that happen?  How many times do the best laid of plans of …well, you know.

I had both the Muddy River book–TATTOOS AND PORTENTS–and the contemporary mystery novel–OLD FRIENDS, NEW HABITS–plotted out.  I’d work on Muddy River in the morning, take a break to look at e-mails and twitter, etc. and eat lunch, then work on the Lux mystery in the afternoon.  And honestly, I was making great progress.  Until I had to stop to write plot points for my sixth Jazzi Zanders book.  The book isn’t due until May 4th, and I’ve never had to send in plot points way ahead before.  But there’s a funny little thing called a contract, and it listed Dec. 15th as the deadline for my cozy mystery outline.  Not sure why.  Maybe my publisher wanted to remind me that I had a book to write.  But it is, what it is.  So I had to put on my writing brakes and pound out plot points.  I need enough suspects, twists and turns, and clues to keep things interesting, and they took longer to figure out than I’d expected.   By the time I sent them, I’d lost almost two weeks.  Those two weeks pretty much doomed me.

I’m not sure that I can work on Jazzi, then if I get my pages done for the day, work on one of my other books.  The problem?  I get hopelessly messed up if I try to switch back and forth between first person and third.  And believe me, when that happens, you notice.

My daughter who’s a nurse in Indy and my grandson and his wife who live in Indy are all coming up to celebrate a late Christmas with us this weekend.  Cheers and happy dance!  We get to exchange presents and have the big, holiday meal.  By the time they leave on Sunday, though, there’s not a whole of December left.  Even if I took coffee intravenously and didn’t sleep at all, I wouldn’t have enough time to finish both books.  So, I’m playing with options.

Maybe I could write on Jazzi during the week and work on Muddy River or Lux on the weekends.  My husband would still remember who I was, wouldn’t he?  Or maybe I could write on Jazzi during the day, take a LONG break, and then work on one of my other books for an hour or two in the evening.  HH likes basketball this time of year:)

I’m guessing it’s obvious by now that I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  But I’ll think of something.  I always (okay, usually) do.  I’m too close to The End to give up now.  Light candles for me.  Send me happy thoughts.   And whatever you’re working on now, best of luck!



 

No Motivation

Life has been busy lately.  Almost all fun stuff.  My writers club had its last meeting of the year–our annual holiday carry-in–last Wednesday.  Dawn and David went all out to decorate their beautiful house for Christmas, and trees and holiday decorations brightened every room.  The food was wonderful.  It always is.  We gossiped and laughed, and since we’re writers, ended up talking shop here and there.

We won’t have another meeting until January 9.  And for some reason, that makes me feel like I don’t have to be a “good” writer and pound out so many words a day, like I usually do.  The pressure’s off, which is silly.  I still have 15,000 words to write on my fourth Jazzi mystery.  But no matter how hard I try, when I don’t feel accountable to Scribes for making progress, I revert to being a kid on summer break.  And I don’t even feel that guilty about it:)

I intend to still write, still work on book four, but I’ll write at a more leisurely pace.  I’ll enjoy the perks of the season more than usual.  We had friends over for supper on Friday night and I made Cheryl’s favorite dessert–bread pudding with rum sauce.  Next Friday, we’re having another friend come for supper.  She loves smoked meat, so I’m making smoked Cornish hens.  And Tuesday night, I’m going to a Christmas program with Sia.  I’m in the mood to play more than work, ready to make jolly.

I still have writerly duties to do.  Lyrical Press scheduled the book cover reveal for The Body in the Wetlands for December 22nd.  I need to go to Canva.com to design Facebook and twitter headers for the second book.  I need to find some excerpts I can share once in a while.  Today, I want to polish the Jazzi and Ansel Christmas story I’m going to post on my webpage this coming week.  BUT, I can work for a while, play for a while, because I won’t be reporting what I’m up to at Scribes.  I don’t have to be a responsible author again until January 9th:)

Happy writing to all of you, but I hope you get some play time, too!

 

October writing

In case anyone here was following my mystery, A Baker’s Dozen, written chapter by chapter on my webpage, I put up the last chapter today.

Next week, I want to start writing an experimental story a week to put up.  I like to read C. S. Boyack’s blog, and he’s posting a story once a week for October on his blog.  He’s a darned good writer.  So you might want to check them out.    https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/02/macabre-macaroni/

Teri Polen is doing a special October blog, too, Bad Moon Rising, interviewing authors about the supernatural and paranormal.   And yes, ouija boards scare me.  https://teripolen.com/2018/10/03/badmoonrising-cusp-of-night-by-mae-clair-supernatural-suspense/   If you scroll down, you’ll see more authors’ answers, including Staci Troilo’s.

But a while ago, Craig (C. S. Boyack) wrote a blog for Story Empire about writing out of your comfort zone, and he asked what authors would write if they decided to let their fingers wander out of their usual writing zone.  https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/08/31/friday-group-post-questing-beasts/

I put down short stories I’d like to try:  an alternate history, magic realism (if I can ever nail what I really think it is–but I have an idea), something creepy, and the genre I almost ALWAYS fail at–horror.  I’d like to write the scariest, baddest short story I’ve ever written.  Which might still be too upbeat, knowing me.  Aargh!

Anyway, I hope you have a perfectly wonderful time writing this month.  And if black cats and witches wander onto your pages, so much the better:)

 

It Takes Two

I tried–really hard–to kill only one person in my third mystery.   I wrote plot points for every chapter and scene, had enough suspects and witnesses–I thought–to keep moving the plot.  I had two subplots to add depth.  I was happy with what I had.  The thing is, I got to within fifty pages of the end, and I just wanted more.  I wanted something dramatic, something I didn’t expect, something that would throw all of my carefully placed clues into turmoil.  So I killed someone.  And it just felt . . . right.

Having only one victim would be a challenge for me, I knew–a challenge I wanted to meet.    But I didn’t.  Maybe I wrote urban fantasy one time too many.  I got used to having battles that kept escalating in danger the longer the novel went.  Maybe I missed that adrenaline rush.  I thought about Elizabeth George’s latest mystery, and there was only one body near the beginning of the book.  BUT, there were two crimes, and the second crime felt worse than the first.  It provided the oomph that made the ending pages stronger.

I’m not going to walk around, hanging my head in shame.  True, I tried something and couldn’t quite pull it off this time, but I sure love how this book came together.  It’s been so long since I read Agatha Christie, I can’t remember how many bodies she sprinkled through her mysteries, how she built tension as the clues added up.  I recently watched a TV remake of Ten Little Indians, though, retitled And Then There Were None, and she set a record for body count in that book.  I’m going to think about that with the next mysteries I read.  You can learn so much by studying authors you admire.  And maybe I’ll find something that will make one victim plenty to work with.  Or not.

In any event, I only need to write the big last chapter and then the shorter wrap-up, and THE BODY IN THE DUMP TRUCK is done.  I hope to write The End on Tuesday.  (I’m not even thinking about tonight and tomorrow).  But that’s only the first draft.  So it will only be The End until my critique partners give me their notes.  And then who knows?  I’ll find out what worked and what didn’t.

In the meantime, I wish you happy writing and reading!

 

Marketing

I joined three friends to give a writers’ workshop on marketing and promoting your book yesterday.  It was a beautiful Saturday.  We had a small audience, but that’s never bothered me.  I know and respect some of the writers who came to hear us.  I love and respect my fellow writers on the panel.  A win/win for me.  And then we went to the Outback to eat when the panel was over, and what can I say?  I can be had for a bloomin’ burger.  And the company?  There’s nothing more fun than talking to fellow writers.

All four of us have been writing for a while now.  Kyra Jacobs, the newest and shiniest writer in the group, is probably more savvy than I am at marketing.  I try, but I’m no whiz kid.  The thing that struck me is that we’re all good writers–all in our own way–and it’s just plain hard to get your name out there and find success.  The other thing that struck me is how willing writers are to help each other.  If we learn something that works, we’re happy to share.  We WANT to see other writers succeed.

We shared sites that had worked for us when we advertised.  Of course, the best site is BookBub.  It’s expensive, and it’s HARD to get them to accept your book, but if they take you, it’s worth it.  At most sites, you have to have a set number of reviews to be considered.  Not always true of BookBub.  They factor in lots of things.  And often, you have to have an average 4.0 ranking.  That led me to thinking about reviews.

Every author needs reviews.  If you reach 50 reviews on Amazon, you get more visibility. Amazon might even spotlight your book.  The only time I got 50 reviews was when I was active on Goodreads and BookBub accepted my urban fantasy novel, FALLEN ANGELS.  I ended up with 67 reviews, most of them good.  I really enjoyed Goodreads, but for whatever reason, the group I was in sort of trickled apart and I still haven’t plugged into a new one.  My fault, but I’m writing more, and it’s hard to find the time.  The thing is, good reviews make a difference.  They open doors for authors.  We have more options.  I like advertising at The Fussy Librarian, but you have to have 10 reviews and a 4.0 average ranking for them to accept you.  Since I started over with a new pseudonym, I have trouble getting 10 reviews.

There’s another reason having more reviews helps an author.  It’s sad, but true, that your book just isn’t going to click with every reader.  That’s all right.  You can’t please them all. But some readers are more than happy to write the worst reviews they can to let you know how much they didn’t like your book.  It hurts.  I know people who just don’t read their bad reviews, and maybe they’re smarter than I am.  I still read mine.  I’m curious what worked and what didn’t for readers, but a really bad review feels like an open wound that takes a while to recover from.  On top of that, those reviewers give your book a low rating.  If you only have six reviews to start with, your average rating is shot. When you get a new review that’s positive, you feel like someone gave you a dose of sunshine. It affirms that you might be doing something right.

The other thing that I noticed on our panel yesterday was that every writer on it is hopeful.  We all think that the time is coming when we’ll “make it,” whatever that means to each of us individually.  For Kyra Jacobs and I, we both want to see our print books on bookstore shelves.  For M. L. Rigdon–she loves self-publishing and making all of her own choices–so she just wants to make more money.  And for Les Edgerton–well, he’s already pretty darned successful and writes pretty much what he wants to–he’d just like to sell more, too.

And so, I wish each and every one of us success.  And I wish you success, too, whatever that means to you.  Happy writing!

 

BTW, my 5th romance, FIRST KISS, ON THE HOUSE, comes out June 27th.  It’s available for pre-order now.  I think it’s pretty darned fun!  http://www.kensingtonbooks.com/book.aspx/35025

cover 5 judy

And, if you’re interested, I started a new Babet and Prosper story on my webpage:

http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

Deadlines & Writing

I did it!  I finished romance #6.  I met my deadline.  Time to toast myself and celebrate. This was the romance I thought might never end.  I kept thinking of new scenes to add to it, so it grew from 63,000–what I expected–to 73,000, which should make my editor happy.  He wanted me to make my books longer–if I wanted to.  I didn’t think I did, but this book disagreed with me.

I’m not suggesting that you can write a sprawling epic.  Every editor/publishing house has specific lengths they accept, and if you go too far under or over those, your book will be a hard sell. But I knew my editor wanted 70,000 words even though my contract was only for 60,000.  Those extra 10,000 words take longer to write, so if you have a deadline, it’s wise to write a little faster.  Which leads me to a little kernel of thought that I’ve rolled around in my head for most of this week.

I recently read a blog post that implied if writers wrote more than one book a year, they weren’t serious writers.  I guess we don’t sweat enough, suffer long enough to produce  good books.  I used to write one book a year when I had kids and my husband worked second trick, and there was ALWAYS someone underfoot, needing to do this, go there.  The kids are grown now.  I have more time.  And now, I write three books a year and squeeze in some short fiction, too.  Remember, I’m talking about 60,000 to 70,000 word books.  The good news–I’ve been at it long enough, (and that  makes a difference), that I actually think my writing’s BETTER when I write faster to meet a deadline.  I don’t ramble around as much.  Now, I aim for 10 pages a day, every weekday.  That gives me plenty of time to plot a book before I start it,  rewrite as I go (essential for me, even though it messes up other writers), give it to my critique partners, and then do a serious rewrite when I get back their comments.

This sounds good on paper.  It hardly ever works that smoothly.  I lose writing days when people come to stay and visit with us, when I get sick and can’t function, when the sky’s blue and I HAVE to play hooky, or I get a chance to go out for lunch.  But regardless of what happens, I have to meet my deadline.  And that pressure keeps the book in the back of my mind.  Writing faster also makes me more conscious of pacing, how the book’s moving.  I can FEEL it.

I’ve read novels by some of my favorite writers where I can almost tell they wrote TOO fast, that they were rushed and HAD to get a book done.  Things get lost in the shuffle–like characterization, telling details, description.  But Elizabeth George–yes, my goddess of writing–wrote her first book A GREAT DELIVERANCE–(which I consider  flawless)–in three-and-a-half weeks.  I’m guessing it had lived in her mind for so long, it gushed out.  But, in truth, there’s no perfect time schedule to write a book.  It’s according to how complicated the story is and if the story flows or fights you.   Some books come to you almost whole and you have to write fast to keep up with them.  Others, well, there’s a push-and-pull that takes longer.  One book a year or three books a year can both be good. Find your own rhythm.  Do what works for you.

Any thoughts on the subject?

I found this link from Elizabeth George on writing.  Lots of good advice:  http://www.elizabethgeorgeonline.com/faq_writing.htm

And for you pantsers out there, I found an article on Linda Howard about how she writes: http://www.gadsdentimes.com/news/20130201/author-linda-howard-reflects-on-prolific-30-year-career

We have a solar eclipse this Sunday (we can’t see it in the U.S.).  I hope the planets inspire you.  Happy writing!

My webpage:  http://www.judithpostswritingmusings.com/

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Twitter:  @judypost