Friday, July 25, 2014

It's All About The Writing

This past weekend I was the moderator on a panel of authors at the Carson Library. With me were three talented ladies:  Rochelle Staab, Maxine Nunes and Kathy Bennett. I enjoy being a moderator when I have the time to read the other authors' books and put together some thoughtful questions. The event was sparsely attended but it was lively and the audience questions were well thought-out.

One theme we kept returning to no matter what the question was that there is no substitute for good writing. No matter what happens in publishing, the bottom line is that it is always, in the end, all about the book - the characters, plot and story line - and the competence of the words on the page. 

We've all read books, both self-published and traditionally published, that have made us scratch our heads and wonder how in the world the drivel came to be printed and released. And yes, I'm even talking about bad books from some of the major publishers. I've read some really terrific books from independent authors and some real garbage from the big guns. Go figure!  But publishing opportunities and fairness aside, in the end, it's about the quality of the writing. There is no getting away from that. And don't readers deserve the best we've got?

We all have our opinions on what makes a great book. A plot line or theme that intrigues me might leave others shrugging or even retching with disgust, and vice versa. But no matter the story or the likability of the characters, or even the type of book, in the end it all boils down to the writing. Even a comic book has to be well written. A children's book consisting of no more than a handful of words must be well written.  Even a book about raising chickens on a rooftop in New York City must be well written. See where I'm going here?

If you are a lazy writer and trying to cut corners or not willing to learn and hone your craft with each new project, it will show in your work. Readers may buy your first book to give you a shot, but if the writing isn't good, it will be reflected in the lower sales for your next. Trust me on this.  Readers can tell when you've "phoned in" your performance or don't have the chops or interest or professionalism to fine tune it.

So why is this on my mind today?  Glad you asked.

I'm currently finishing up the final edits on GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, my 5th Ghost of Granny Apples mystery. This weekend I'll begin the final edits on HELL ON WHEELS, my 9th Odelia Grey mystery. It would be easy to just gloss over these edits and speed through them, depending on the talents of the copy editors at both publishers to clean up my work. That's their job, right? Wrong! Their job is to help me turn out the best book I can, but MY JOB is to read every word again, for the umpteenth time, and make sure it is as clean and as perfect as it can be.  Sometimes errors can and do get through, but when I turn these manuscripts in this next week, I'll know I've done everything possible to make them as good as I can.

As of today, I have completed twenty novels and seven short stories. And while I am far from a literary author, with each one I learn more about my craft. With each book, I strive to increase the quality of my writing. My writing skills are always a work in progress. It makes no difference if I write the book in twelve months, in six, or in two, if I'm not focused on producing a quality work, I'm wasting my time. More importantly, I'm wasting the readers' time. And shame on me if I do that!

In a nutshell:

There is no substitute for or
short cut to good writing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sending You A Dozen

I wrote for about five hours today.  But even with all that time, I didn't get a single page completed on my work in progress, which is the 10th Odelia Grey mystery with a working title of JUNK IN THE TRUNK.

Did I have writer's block?  No.

Did I nap and say I was writing. No, although a short nap was taken today.

Did I spend a lot of that time on the phone with my good friend Heide? Yes.

Did I spend most of that time on my back staring up at the ceiling. Yes.

Doesn't sound like writing to me.

But it is.

Today, I mapped out in my head the plot lines for the 10th, 11th, and 12th books in the Odelia Grey series. I considered ideas, plots, red herrings, and character direction. I tossed out some. Kept others and ran most by Heide, a voracious mystery reader, for her consideration (kind of like letting someone sample food before you serve it to guests).

What time I spent at the computer was to jot down notes and very loose outlines for each book. I also wrote the opening of book 11 and the last few paragraphs of that same book. And I started the first chapter of book 12. For my WIP I jotted down notes on plot twists and small seeds to plant to set up the upcoming books.

Why all the fuss?  Because I'm contracted for twelve Odelia Grey novels and I want these last three books to be extra special and satisfying to my readers.  I don't know what's in store for Odelia after book 12, but I do know what's in store for her over the course of the next three books, each of which will take the reader closer to the climax of book 12 and thus ending the story arc I started with book 1, TOO BIG TO MISS.

BTW, the working title of book 12 is TOO BIG TO DIE.  It has a nice complete sound to it, doesn't it?

When my agent first sold the Odelia Grey series to Midnight Ink, they bought the first three. Then they bought three more. Before those were done, we pitched six more books for an even dozen books with a specific story arc.  While I haven't written the exact books I pitched, by the time TOO BIG TO DIE is released, I will have finished the original story arc. Wow, it seems like almost yesterday when I made the commitment to complete twelve books and now I staring down the barrel of the final three.

Like I said, I don't know what's in store for Odelia after book 12 is finished and released. I have some ideas for new series and other books, but nothing sold or written.  After all, I still have three more Odelia books to write before any of that happens!

Lots of good things come in dozens:

Odelia Grey books.

Whatever happens in the last three Odelia Grey books, it will be what my readers expect and deserve:
A very wild ride.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

My 6-Month Check Up

I don't know how many others out there are keeping track of their 2014 New Year's Resolutions, but this gal is!  First time ever! It's a way of keeping me focused (sort of) and honest with myself.

So, let's refresh, shall we?

 In January I made the following 2014 New Year's Resolutions:

1) Make my bed every day
2) Balance my check book every month
3) Stick to a workout and eating program
4) Read at least 30 books this year.

In April I posted a blog on my progress.  New Year's Resolution Report Card

We're half way through 2014 and it's time to review what's happening with the 4 promises I made to myself.

1) Hem, haw ... I'm looking at my unmade bed right now and it's past 1 pm on a Saturday, so I can't even use the excuse that I'm running off to work for its untidy appearance.  I am planning on changing the linens later, but that's an excuse I can only use so often. Truth is, this is the simplest of my 2014 resolutions, yet the one I can't seem to keep to save my life!

2) Yes! We are 6 months into the new year and I have balanced my checkbook to the penny each and every month!

3) This was the most difficult of the resolutions, yet I'm doing fine with it.  I could be getting a lot more excise, but I am doing much more than at the beginning of the year. Last Friday I hit over 11,000 daily steps on my Fit Bit - a personal best!  As for eating, I'm still a Half-Assed Vegan. For the most part I don't eat meat of any kind, except for the once-in-a-while turkey sandwich. I don't even eat seafood that often anymore.  At home I cook pretty much vegan and am learning how to adapt some of my favorite recipes to meatless and dairy-free dishes.  Today I'm making a vegan mac 'n cheese made with sweet potato.  My friend Lori Olson made this and said it's da bomb! I'm also cooking a lot of Indian food and loving it. My favorites so far have been vegetable masala and aloo palak. I have some Thai recipes I want to try too.  It's like I'm discovering cooking again. I even bought myself a new food processor since mine is over 30 years old and the motor is finally giving out.

As for measurable progress, I've lost somewhere between 25-30 lbs since the beginning of the year.  I don't weigh myself often because I don't want to be a slave to the scale. I've gone down one size in my clothing, which is a much better measurement than the scale. It's slow, steady and healthy progress. 

I'm continuing with my nearly dairy-free life, which has been much more difficult for me than giving up meat. As I mentioned in my half-assed vegan post, I gave up dairy hoping it would help some of my skin issues. And it has!  My long-time eczema is almost GONE. Seeing my progress, a friend who has a young daughter with bad eczema decided to try getting her daughter off dairy. Her daughter's eczema is much better after just a few weeks.

I'm telling ya, if you're having skin and eczema issues, try going diary-free. And this advice is coming from a gal who never said no to cheese, ice cream, yogurt, cafĂ© lattes or sour cream. One look at my clear, itchless skin and I'm sold!  I've learned to embrace almond milk (which I like better than cow's milk) and soy ice cream and to enjoy Mexican food without cheese.  It can be done.

4) I have read 15 of my 30 book goal so far. You can keep track of the books I've read by clicking the Goodreads widget in the top right of my blog page.

So far, 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for me. I'm not going to get rich this year (or maybe never), but I'm still writing away and my body is healthier.  And I've shown myself I can stick to New Year's Resolutions - sort of.

I wonder if I could train my cats to make the bed?