Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Searching for a Speedier Process

I have attended all sorts of classes related to writing. I’ve gone to workshops on how to get published. I’ve sat through panels about marketing. Heck, I’ve taught a few sessions in my time—classes about writing a novel, classes about writing a paranormal novel, even a recent one about self-publishing. But in all my years of listening to writers, reading about the publishing industry, seeking out tips on how to improve my craft, I have never found the secret to the one thing I wish I could master: how to speed up my own process.

Yesterday, I made a belated announcement that 2019 would not see the release of a new Bridgeton Park Cemetery book. I held off on putting that statement out into the world because I was still hoping, very unrealistically as it turns out, that I could still pull a completed novel out of my hat before we reached 2020. Not happening.

Part of the problem has been a change in my schedule. I’ve lost twenty hours of free time a week, which may not sound like much but is actually a complete game changer. It’s not just the writing time that’s missing for me; I’m also missing time to do everything around the house that needs doing. So if my housework/chore/daily upkeep time is crunched, my writing time is even more so. And not only that, changing hats from my daily job to my particular world of fiction isn’t always that easy a transition. If only I were just changing hats. But it’s actually a matter of changing my mindset, and it’s not always so easy to switch gears from what’s going on at the office to what’s going on with Cassie and Michael.

I’m also dealing with a chronic health issue that’s been going on for a year, now, and maybe I’m getting close to resolving it, but I won’t know that for sure for another couple of months, or so. Sigh.

Writing this to depress any of you is not my goal. It’s basically me just mulling over what happened during the last part of 2019 and realizing why the book didn’t get finished, even though I’m nearly halfway through it. At least, I hope I am.

So I really wish that I could find a way to speed up my writing process. I’ve never been very fast at putting a novel down on paper. I think it’s because for most of my life, I was always writing around an imposed schedule: the amount of time when I could sit down and write out a novel-length story was limited and only available to me in fits and starts. The past few years, I got lucky and had a great deal of free time to work on my stories. But things have changed back to the way they used to be and now I’m scrambling to re-learn how to write in fits and starts, if that’s all the time I’ve got.

Some people just work more quickly than I do. I sooo envy Stephen King his speed. I know he has the discipline to sit down at his keyboard every single day and write, so maybe I’m actually envying his discipline. But even if I had that discipline, and believe me, there was a time there that I did, I can’t produce an encyclopedia-length tome in less than a year, or maybe more like a matter of months, the way he does it. Maybe not many writers can. Still, the writers I read seem to be able to put out at least one or two books per year, every year. I did that just once, in 2017, when I released both These Living Eyes and Touching Shadow, Stealing Light in the same year. Truth be told, my brain went fallow after that second book came out, and it took some doing to get myself back together enough to produce She Weeps. So maybe I’m really not wired to work that quickly.

Reading a novel should take the reader on a journey. I find it interesting, and possibly just a smidge ironic, that writing a novel, any novel, also takes me on a journey. I don’t mind. I just wish sometimes on my journey that I had 1) an actual map and 2) a much, much speedier process.

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Hoping for Hope at Christmastime

Tonight at dinner I asked my grandson what he wanted for Christmas, and he said “A new computer.” He must have read everyone’s expression because he said, “I know that’s really expensive, but it’s okay. Santa can get it for me.”

The simplicity of that belief made me stop a moment, and I wondered how it was that during the course of growing up and growing older, I had somehow managed to lose some of that simple belief myself. It’s a form of innocence, I guess, but it’s not just that. He’s aware of evil in the world. He comments on news stories sometimes that I didn’t even realize he was aware were happening. He participates in live-shooting drills at school—which breaks my heart—and even though he doesn’t grasp the entirety of why he and his classmates do it (and I pray to God that he never does). He’s aware that bad things have happened to kids at other schools. But he’s still a kid and he still believes—in happy endings, in good things down the road, and in Santa himself. I know that last bit won’t go on much longer, but I’ll take it while I’ve got it.

Last week, I wrote a blog piece about what I write and why I write it and someone (Joanne McDonough, I’m looking at you) mentioned that my characters are still at the age where they are not yet jaded by life. Instead they’re young enough to still be full of hope. Do I write characters like that because I would wish it for myself?

Jim and I have gone through some storms in life. By the time anyone reaches the age of grandparenting, who hasn’t? But I admit I’ve lost some of the natural optimism that saw me through most of my younger years. One tough experienced followed by others was enough to make me retreat a bit, make me cautious, make me a lot more reserved than I once was. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I do miss who I once was and what I once had. Maybe that really is why I write what I do.

This is a short piece. I apologize for that: today is my catch-up day and time ran away from me while I wasn’t paying close-enough attention. But I did want to write at least a little something, and dinner tonight struck a chord inside of me.

In this season of children’s wishes, of light and innocence and joy, I hope all of us who might have lost that sparkle we had in our youth, recapture even just a part of it for now, and into the New Year. I know I’ll be hoping that for myself.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

What I Write

One of my favorite Stephen King anecdotes was the one about the time a woman asked him, in a pretty condescending tone, why he wrote horror stories. His answer was, “What makes you think I have a choice?” I love that because it helps me feel better!

Years ago when I was first embarking on my public writing journey, as in announcing to my family that I was now writing young adult fiction, my father’s reply was “Why can’t you write like Saul Bellow?” First of all, I should have expected that kind of response, knowing my father! My second thought was, “Well, I’ve never read Saul Bellow.” I realize I may be missing a large part of my literary education by never having read him, but there it is. I guess in the end, once school lets out permanently (and we lose “required reading” lists), we read what we like. As they say, so many books, so little time.

But my father’s question has stayed with me since he asked it, and I frequently ask myself something close to the same thing. How is it that I write Young Adult novels about ghosts? How is it that I write Young Adult anything? What happened to me and my writing ability, that I never figured out how to produce some sort of Great American Novel for grown-ups? You know, the kind of book that will be taught in school or in college, and make it onto the greatest-books-of-all-time lists. Why don’t I produce that kind of important work?

Why, indeed. And should it matter?

When I was a kid, books basically saved my life. Well, books and the Beatles. But since there’s no rock and roll talent hidden within me, I started writing. As a child writer, I naturally wrote about children. My Bic pen and I wrote about children and ghosts, children and mysteries, and children and fantasy. As I got older, my characters got older. In high school and college, my stories involved characters who would have been my peer group. Then I grew up and found out that my characters still involved high school or college kids. What? What happened? I spent—and do spend—most of my time reading mysteries. Adult mysteries. So how is it that when I sit down at the keyboard with a story in my head, my characters are all youngsters with dreams in their hearts and the kind of hopes that sometimes diminish as we get older? Am I trying to hang onto my younger years? I sincerely hope not! I wouldn’t go back to those times for a trillion bucks. But somehow my writing lingers there.

Back when I was trying to market my work as a YA writer, my book sales were, oh, close to imaginary. I didn’t have a clue, and since I wasn’t with one of the big New York houses, I really didn’t have a chance with most bookstores. Then, years later, along came Terri Reid and self-publishing and all of a sudden, I had readers! A lot of that was due to Terri telling her readers about me, which is a favor I can never repay, and I am forever grateful. All of a sudden I had people actually writing to me and asking when the next book was coming out, and that is something that I never expected to have happen. EVER. And funnily enough, even though I still think of my work as Young Adult, the people buying the books are more in my own personal demographic. How cool is that???

And so I don’t write like Saul Bellow, and I know I never will. (I can know that even if I’ve never read him. I know I’m not writing what anyone could call “literature.”) But I write what I can write and much to my surprise, I have readers. I am considering branching out to a more adult series in addition to my Bridgeton Park Cemetery books because I’ve always wanted to try my hand at a murder mystery. Just what the world needs –another mystery book writer! HA! But I may do it—just to do it—and if my sales never go above, say four books sold in one year, well at least I tried it!

I sometimes do wish I had been born with whatever it is that produces real literature, but I wasn’t. My particular toolbox is in a different department, and that’s okay. At least I have a toolbox!