The End

I just finished the first draft of my 6th Jazzi Zanders mystery.  I pushed pretty hard to give myself plenty of time to send it to my critique partners so I can work on their feedback before my May 4 deadline.  I’m excited about this one.  The fifth book comes out September 22, so this one won’t come out until spring 2021.  That’s close enough to Easter that I’m ending it with Jazzi’s Easter meal for her family at her house.

Writing about an amateur sleuth means that I need to have a good reason for Jazzi to be involved in each murder case.  For this book, I planted a dead body in her sister’s shampoo chair in the salon Olivia and her mom co-own.  Worse yet, the killer used Olivia’s favorite, expensive scissors to stab the new hairdresser she’d hired.  And since the shop hadn’t opened yet, and it was Olivia’s scissors jammed in Misty’s chest, she’s the prime suspect.

My daughter was a hairdresser before she went back to school to become a nurse.  And she swears that being a beautician made her a better RN.  She learned to handle any kind of client that sat in her salon chair, just as she now needs to handle every patient who ends up in one of the beds she has to cover.

For this book, though, besides Jazzi’s sister, I wanted to pull in another character, someone from her past–her ex-fiancée.  Chad has married since they broke up, and he and Ginger have been happy until she tells him that she can’t have kids.  He was honest when they met and told her his big dream was to be a father.  When she confesses that will never happen, he feels tricked, cheated, and he’s not nice about it, but when Ginger disappears, he regrets how he treated her and wants her back.  Unfortunately, after the police start searching for her, they find her body close to the town where she grew up.  And…of course, Chad is the prime suspect because spouses always are.

No one in Jazzi’s family has anything good to say about Chad, and Ansel’s only heard how horrible he treated her.  So when Chad asks for Jazzi’s help, he’s not keen on it.  I liked the interplay between them while Jazzi tries to convince him that Chad needs her.  He’s not jealous of Chad.  He just doesn’t like him, but he finally reluctantly agrees.

And for the first time in the series, I have Gaff and Jazzi respectfully disagree on where the clues lead.  That was interesting to write, too.

There was enough going on in this book, I had to be more careful than usual trying to pull all the threads together before the last chapter.  I’d planted clues, introduced characters, and they all needed to be there for a reason.  My fear was that I might have forgotten one of them.  I don’t think I did, but my critique partners will notice if I messed up.  There were more twists than usual near the end of the book, and I worked harder to make them land at the right places.  All in all, when I wrote the last scene, it felt good that everything added up and came out the way I hoped it would.  At least, it feels like it did.  Like I said, if it didn’t, my CPs will use more red ink than usual:)

True Detective

My grandson is here on leave, staying with us this week.  We love watching TV together at the end of the day.  And this time, he came with his lap top so that we could watch the first season of True Detective together.  He’s been wanting me to see it for a long time, but it’s a lot more fun watching it when he’s here, because we’re those awful people who pause shows and yak about plot points and characters while we watch.  We’d never do that at a movie theater.  It annoys me when I pay to see a movie and people talk during it.  But at home, hey, it’s a whole different story.

We haven’t finished the series yet, but we started it last night and even HH got so hooked on it that we binge watched four episodes in a row until we were too tired to watch anymore.  The first thing I noticed was the show’s opening.  The music and images reminded me of the opening for True Blood.  Moody music.  Moody images that flash on screen.  You know, for sure, that you’re not going to watch a Hallmark movie.  And I don’t mean that as a put-down of either.  I happen to enjoy both.

The Long Bright Dark begins with the first body the detectives, Matthew McConaughey and Wood Harrelson, find.  And of course, the victim is staged.  Her naked body is kneeling and bent over with antlers tied to the top of her head and a “devil’s cage” made of twigs hanging over it.  She has stab wounds on her abdomen.  It looks like a ritualistic killing.  And after examining it, McConaughey declares that she isn’t the killer’s first victim.  There had to be more leading up to it.  Woody Harrelson doesn’t believe him but soon learns that his new partner might be odd, but he’s brilliant…and obsessive.

The combination of the new detective–an outsider–and the detective at home in his station and his home town–is used often, because it works.  It creates conflict between the protagonists to add to the conflict of the story’s plot.  And The Long Bright Dark does a great job of both.  Both characters are flawed but view life from really different angles.  McConaughey doesn’t believe in anything–religion, institutions, relationships; whereas, Harrelson is a married man who believes in family values, even though he rationalizes what that means so that he can sleep with someone else.  After all, gritty detective stories can’t have protagonists that are too happy, right?

Just like in the series True Blood, the story is set in Louisiana, and the poverty of many of the settings sets the tone for the serial killer who preys on women and children.  There’s a gritty texture that runs through every episode.  Our grandson keeps reassuring me that I’m going to like the ending of the show, and I hope he’s right, because it’s hard to tell how the protagonists are going to fare from one episode to the next.  And that’s a pretty awesome achievement, in and of itself.  The Long Bright Dark is done well.

 

Just Do It

A little while ago, I tweeted that I’d hit 30,000 words in the book I’m working on, and going to the dentist began looking better than sitting down to write.  Finding the right words was like beating my head against the wall.

I’m now up to 37,000 words, and it’s amazing how much difference reaching the actual middle of the book can make.  Ideas are picking up again.  Every writer’s different, so someone out there must enjoy middles, but they’re work for me.

I have friends who are pantsers, and they often tell me that when words don’t flow for them, they know something’s wrong with their manuscript, so they let the story stew for a while to find out how to put it back on track.  I get that.  But I’m a plotter, and I fight with my story structure before I start writing.  So when I glare at my computer screen and curse whatever I’m working on, I know it’s just par for the course.

Now you’d think that wouldn’t happen when I have ideas for every chapter, wouldn’t you?  But the book still becomes a jumble in my head somewhere along the line.  Characters do things that aggravate me or don’t do what I expected them to or don’t turn out the way I wanted them to, and I pretty much don’t like the entire thing by then.  And I’ve learned from experience, the only thing that works for me when I reach this point is to just keep writing.  With my plot points, I know I’m not going in the wrong direction and I’m making headway, so even if the words stink and the characters are flat, I can go back and fix them…once I like them again.

My sad truth is that there are days I love writing, and there are days I’d rather toss my keyboard in a lake.  The good days BY FAR outweigh the bad, but to get to more good stuff, I have to glue fanny in chair and keep going.  This does NOT work for some of my friends.  Their stuff just keeps getting worse if their brain is telling them something’s wrong and they ignore it.  But for me, writing is as much of a discipline as a joy.  It’s like exercise.  If I stop, it’s hard to get started again.  So good or bad, it’s better for me to slog through it.

And it never gets easier.  I thought it would, but there are rhythms to my writing.  The first fourth of a book is exciting–introducing characters and new ideas.  The second fourth starts strong and fizzles as it goes until I feel like a tortoise trying to make it to the actual middle.  The third fourth picks up when the protagonist digs in and gets serious about meeting her challenge, but by the end of that fourth, I feel like I’ve run an obstacle course… and the course won.  When I finally reach the last fourth, it’s a race to the finish line.  I pick up speed as I go, and I might even like the book again.

I’ve gotten used to the love/hate relationship of each story, so when I loathe it, I know it’s temporary.  And I write on.  I understand the writers who start lots of stories and never finish them.  The sparkle wears off.  The writing becomes sweat equity.  But it’s part of writing a book.  So don’t give up.  Don’t despair.  Just keep at it.  And happy writing!

Finishing Up

I’ve mentioned before that I rewrite as I go when I work on a book.  This time, for the Lux novel I’m working on, I felt as though I’d written too lean.  I have a habit of doing that.  So before I reached the last chapters, I went back and polished everything I’d already done.  I added a character because I thought the story needed it.  And as always, I added more description and details.  Then I read the first chapter to my writers’ group on Wednesday, and they wanted even MORE description.  I must have REALLY written lean this time:)

The result is, I think I’ve made this book too short, but that’s how I’d planned it when I started out.  I intended to self-publish it on Amazon.  When I write a Muddy River, I purposely aim for about 60,000 words.  I’ve said many, many times that I’m a plotter.  I’m not only a plotter, I pretty much know how many plot points I need to get the number of words I want.

For a Muddy River book, I write out 30 plot points.  30 plot points usually equate to 60,000 words for me.  IF, which I don’t, I wrote chapters that were at least 10 pages, I’d end up with 300 pages and close to 70,000 words, but many of my chapters are much shorter, sometimes only 6-8 pages, so I need the 30 points to reach the word count I want.  And 30 always have worked on Hester, Raven, and their supernatural friends.  So, when I sat down to plot Lux, I made myself come up with 30 ideas and an extra one for good measure.  But I don’t have as many descriptions and as many characters in this mystery.  Hester and Raven meet friends at Derek’s bar to discuss what’s happening, and they travel back and forth to interview people in other towns.  That doesn’t happen with Lux, so I’m coming up short on words.  I had to come up with a few extra ideas.  I could have FORCED each chapter to be longer, but then the writing would FEEL forced.  This book has a fast pace I like.  Right now, I’m at 50,000 words with three more plot points before I finish the story and I still need to polish the chapter I worked on today.  That will add words.  It always does, but I’m not sure I’m going to able to summon even 60,000 before I write The End.  No problem if I still planned to self-publish.

BUT, I like this book so much, I’d really like to find a publisher for it.  Most publishers want at least 70,000 words for a  mystery, though, and there’s NO WAY I’m going to make that.  To come up with a book that length, I plot out 40-45 plot points and end up with about 35 chapters.  I just don’t have enough to make Lux a longer book, and the thing is, I really like it the way it is.  I don’t want to tear it apart and rework it to make it longer.  So I have a dilemma.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do.  I’ve always believed in sending in stories I believe in, with the idea that my agent or editor can always turn me down.  And if they do, then I can self-publish.  But my fearless critique partner, M.L. Rigdon, swears I write sparse enough, she can find lots of places for me to expand descriptions that will make the book better and the right length.  I’ve learned an important lesson, though.  The next time I write a Lux novel, I’ll need more plot points just because her books don’t have as many  “down” times or “soft” scenes that my other books have.  They move faster, so they need more ideas to fill them.

Toward that end, I came up with a list to fill out before I start plotting my next one.  It should give me more characters to choose from and more things to keep in mind: (and remember, this is for mysteries):

  1.  Who’s killed (the first victim), or what is the crime?
  2.   Why is the crime committed?
  3.   Who commits it?  List how and when he commits it.
  4.   Who are the suspects?  At least two.  Why are they suspects?  Any more?
  5.   Any witnesses?  Innocent bystanders?
  6.   What’s the ending?  (I always know the ending before I start a book).
  7.   Any special clues or red herrings?  Any alibis or fake alibis?  Accusations?  (I don’t always know these before I begin and have to fill them in later).
  8.   A subplot (something going on with a character besides solving the murder)
  9.   A second subplot (smaller)

I usually don’t bother with answering all of these questions, but I’m going to make myself for the next Lux,  because I know now that I’m going to need them.

Whatever you’re working on, good luck and happy writing!

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!



 

Nothing on the calendar next week

I finished writing my plot points for Jazzi 6 and sent them to my editor.  38 of them.  And they were long.  But that’s one chore done.  This book will have two different unrelated murders in it, and my plot points ended up stretching more than usual.  I guess I should have expected that.  If one murder takes a lot of scenes to solve, two murders with different motives take more.   But they’re done.  And I’m not going to start writing the book until January, so the ideas have plenty of time to stew in my mind.  I like giving them time to settle and ferment and maybe even change.

Speaking of outlining, our writers’ club carry-in was Wednesday, and one of our members is studying K.M. Weiland’s book on how to outline.  It’s detailed, so we talked about how we developed our stories a little.  He’s like me and needs structure to find his way.  We’re in the minority in my group, but that’s okay.

Now that my Jazzi book is planned out, I can return to working on the two books I’m writing simultaneously.  I’ve missed them.  Hester’s had to find substitute teachers to take her place in her school for young witches twice now, and she’s ready to get back in the classroom to check on her students.  They’ve been so good to the friends who stepped in for her that she decides to reward them by letting them make witchy ornaments for their Christmas trees at home.  The ornaments serve a double purpose.  First, the kids love making them.  And second, she explains the meaning of each one while they work.

I was fascinated by the articles I read about the pentagram inside a circle.  I never realized that each of the five points stands for different elements: earth, air, water, and fire with the top point symbolizing the spirit, and that a witch can rotate the pentagram, not for Satanic purposes, but to concentrate on one element of magic more than another.  The circle stands for infinity and unity, so that the physical and spiritual are combined to channel magic. Interesting, at least to me.  Hester goes on to make other symbols, but I only had room for two of them in the chapter I polished today.

I didn’t get to my contemporary mystery at all while I worked on plot points, but I’m looking forward to writing new pages for it tomorrow.  My daughter Holly asked to see what I’d done with it, so far, so I sent her the pages I have done; and she called today to tell me she was surprised by them, since they’re not at all like a cozy, and she liked them.  Always a relief.  She’s a tough critic.  She gave me plenty of ideas on how to tweak the things she thought I skimmed over (I do that in first drafts), so I’m one step ahead on that.  I’ll have ideas to fix those flaws when I do rewrites.

But the really good news is that I don’t have anything on my calendar for next week.  NOTHING.  I’m hoping to duct tape myself in my office chair and pound on my computer until my fingers grow so thin, I can’t keep my wedding band on anymore.  Okay, that won’t happen.  I’m always telling my HH that I’m working fanny off, but he always tells me it’s still there:)  Regardless, I hope I get a lot of work done on both books next week.  Even if I’m lucky and I do, I’ll still have a lot more to do.  But I’m getting there.  Little by little like the tortoise, and some day in the dim future, I’ll cross over the finish line.

I know December is a busy month for everyone, but I hope you find a minute or two to hit the keys.  Whatever happens, I hope you enjoy the season.  And happy writing!  Or reading!  Or celebrating with friends!

And remember, I welcome comments and questions.  Just saying…

 

October

My birthday’s actually at the end of September, but according to the zodiac my birthday month is September 23 to Oct. 22.  So October is a special month for me.  Every year, when I reach it, I feel more energized, like I’m starting a new year.

Also, October is the month in Indiana when the leaves change color and the air grows nippier.  And at the end of the month, there’s Halloween.  I’ve always liked fairytales, paranormal, and supernatural.  And All Hallow’s Eve is when the veil between our world and the spirit realm thins.  Witches celebrate Samhain and put out a saucer of milk for Cat Sith.

Cat Sith inspired me to write a short story for Muddy River.  No horror or ghosts or goblins.  It’s how the supernaturals in Muddy River celebrate the holiday.  You can find it on the Muddy River Snippets page here: https://writingmusings.com/snippets-page/.  

And today, for the Thursday Snippet, I put up a Halloween story for Jazzi and Ansel.  The body on their front stoop isn’t a stuffed dummy.  It’s real.  https://writingmusings.com/the-body-in-the-lake-a-jazzi-short-story/.

Another reason for me to celebrate lately is that I finally finished the plot points for Muddy River Four.  I’m often tempted by the desire to just wing it and see what happens, but it never works for me.  It always costs me more time and effort than if I make myself pound out ideas for chapters so I can see the cause and effect that take me to a book’s end.  When I write willy-nilly, letting my characters lead me, I run amok.  My characters must not be trustworthy.  Not sure what that says about me:)

Anyway, I’m going to try to pound out a Muddy River by the end of November, because my next Jazzi mystery is due on May 4th, and I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t get as much writing time in December as I usually do, so I’ll rub my hands together and plot out Jazzi 6 in-between holiday things.  I mean, it’s more important to see friends and family and have fun:)  Once January hits, I can hibernate and hit the keys every week day to make my Jazzi deadline.

At least, that’s the plan.  For now.   But you know how Life goes.  The best laid plans and all that….

So, I’m wishing you an awesome October, and happy writing!