Mystery Writer’s Gratitudes

Ah. . . Thanksgiving.  It’s that time again to express to no one in particular and everyone in general our thanks for the abundant gifts of our lives.  We’ll make Thanksgiving toasts. We’ll make cherry pie. We’ll make a mess of the kitchen! What joy!

Some will find quiet, reflective moments, in between deep-frying the turkey and football half-time, to think of all we have and how “that person over there ought to develop a better attitude about being grateful.”

Some may think about the first Thanksgiving in the snow and cold, while they wait in airports filled with passengers from cancelled flights, because of the snow and cold.  If this were a “feel good” column we’d be off with a Frank Capra plot line of Thanksgiving dinners arriving from local restaurants for all those stranded travelers out east.

But this is a mystery column, so I’m plotting against the airline ticket person with the I’m-not-sorry-for-you attitude, and enjoying the vision of a suitcase used to subdue the guy with the shifty eyes, who just cut in line. Back to reality, and I have one more thing to be grateful for–I’m not among the ones stuck there.

Before the hoopla of the holiday season begins, I thought it would be good to express my personal thanks as a mystery writer:

  • Newspaper clipping that started it all.

    Mysteries-I’m grateful for them all.

    Thanks for the 1860’s . . .
    This is when the era of mystery writing took off.  Something about the repressive nature of the Victorians created a need to pop a button or two, and do-in–in the most civilized manner and only on paper of course–one’s friends, neighbors, and loved ones.

  • Thanks for obnoxious sales clerks . . .
    who take forever to ring up purchases.  When I’m not plotting their deaths, I’m enjoying the “wasted time” in creating new story ideas.
  • Thanks for frozen turkeys
    As I poke and prod to check for thawing, I get a real idea of what a dead body might feel like–heh, heh, heh.
  • Thanks for those who betray, for cruel bosses, & neurotic childhoods
    They make great victims, murderers, and odd characters in between. . .and best of all, they have no idea what a source of inspiration they are!
  • Thanks for Sudoku and Crosswords
    They help me sort, shuffle, and explore the possibilities of multiple solutions to one puzzle.  What could prepare me for detective work better?
  • Thanks for the gruesome, gory, and “too close to real” mystery shows
    They convince me to stick with cozies as a writing genre. Eew!
  • Proph & Nalla with my book signing table

    My partners in crime.

    Thanks for pesky pets
    When I’m not filling food bowls, walking out in obnoxious weather, playing chase to get my shoe back, or cleaning up “accidents,” these special creatures cuddle up and inspire great love–through a cloud of bad breath and smelly coats–kind of like an old gumshoe.

  • Thanks for Littleton, Colorado
    With a name like “Littleton” what could possibly go wrong?  It’s a place full of friendly people, but isn’t it great to be able to drive around where you live asking yourself, “where can I dump this body today?”
  • Thanks for “deadlines”
    Who needs lifelines when a good solid, dead one will work very well?  Self-imposed or set by an editor, a deadline reminds us that every good thing must come to an end.
  • Thanks for my reading friends
    Without you, I’d be just another tree falling in a deep dark woods, and wouldn’t tell a story or make a sound.

Wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving and a wonderful holiday season ahead.


Beta Reads are Done – On to Rewriting

Whoo Hoo!  I have received the last of my beta readers’ feedback for the second Daisy Arthur novel, Sliced Vegetarian.  Now its on to another rewrite.  This is where some of the more detailed work begins in developing a novel.

What are “beta readers” and how do you go about “rewriting” a novel?  Good questions!

Writing and Editing

The work begins again!

While I’ve read a ton of books on writing, there are few out there that go through the entire writing-to-publishing-to-selling process.  I suspect this is because writing is an art form, and for some reason, either artists were excused the day they taught Documentation-of-Process at school, or artists are subversive rebels who strive so much for unique vision that nobody wants to hurt their feelings by saying there is a standard way of completing this kind of work. Art and efficiency seem to be diametrically opposed.  Hmm.  More on that another time.

For now, let’s explore the beta reader.

I chose my three readers with care.  I chose three because of the ancient custom that says three is a perfect number (I am not too proud to go by a little who-do-voo-do occasionally).

Anyway, my first reader is a sister of mine, Winnie.  She’d read Faith on the Rocks, and noticed some challenges with word choice and character development, and let me know.  When someone reads your published work with such care, how can you pass the opportunity to tap them on the shoulder before you go to print again?  Winnie reads in the mystery genre, although she likes more of the soft-boiled or even harsher mysteries, rather than cozy.  Her comments on Sliced Veggie (my nickname for the next book) were insightful and detailed.  I will have some fun going through rewrites from her notes.

My second reader, Melissa, gave back great detailed work and helped tremendously with the sensitive areas self-esteem.  Did I tell you that Sliced Veggie is a tale of too much?  Feelings can get trampled in such a story.  Melissa helped keep me on track with a focus on maintaining Daisy’s friendly voice and sensitivity to others.  As a software testing and documentation expert, you know that Melissa caught several of my typos as well.

Then Kathy, my third reader, gave me a birds’ eye view of the story from a reader’s perspective.  She let me know where the storyline was weak, and how the mystery part of it needs a bit of shoring up.  Kathy reads in my genre, and is herself an aspiring cozy mystery novelist.

There isn’t a way to thank my beta readers enough.  They may not be professional editors, but their comments from a reader’s perspective are like gold to a writer who is interested in improving her skills.  Thank goodness Thanksgiving is next week, because I have a mountain of gratitude to talk about when thinking of Winnie, Melissa, and Kathy. If you’re reading this, my friends, thank you, thank you!

Now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and dig in once more.  This will be the second rewrite of my novel.  So how does the process work?

First, I’ll re-read comments from my betas, and make note of their over-arching concerns.  Then I’ll do a quick read through of the story and change the biggest issues.  There’s one chapter, for example, that takes place in a restaurant–well, I don’t want to spoil it for you.  Anyway, I’ll hit the most troubling chapters and make the biggest changes there.

Next comes a detailed look at each chapter.  I may go from chapter one straight through to the end, or I may jump around (you never know how the creative Muse will strike).  Usually, to make sure I touch every chapter, I’ll write the chapter numbers on my white board and X them out when I feel the work is once again, complete.  For me, this is one of the few ways I truly “see” progress, and putting those Xs up is a real motivator. This is why I hate the electronic to-do lists that come on computers. One click and you’re done crossing off.  No flair or joie-de-vivre there!

When I’ve polished every chapter once more, I’ll set the project aside for a day or two (not weeks on end), read the book through once more, and send my project out to the editor who’s expecting it.  From there, it’s cross-my-fingers time for a few months while the gods of the publishing industry decide the book’s fate.  While I’m waiting on that, it will be time to outline novel number three.  But that, my friend, is a tale for another time.

Are you an author or aspiring writer?  Do you have tips on rewriting your work?  Please share here.

It’s Audio, but is it a Read?

Are you on Goodreads?  I have been dipping a toe into this site that helps you record what you read and what you think.  It’s another social medium to reveal to the world who you are and what you consider important.  And better yet, you get to see what your friends are reading too. Go market researchers! I wonder, sometimes, why we worry about our rights to privacy at all, but that’s for another blog post on another day.

Books and CDs

What is “reading?”

One of my friends on Goodreads is a voracious reader. I see updates just about weekly of another book completed and thought about.  Sometimes two books.  In my imagination I see this man doing nothing but read–big books, little books, popular, obscure.  He reads widely and voraciously.  This is similar to my good guy at home.  Jealously, I wonder how the “good reading gene” skipped making an appearance on my gene map.  I read so slowly that I’m lucky to get through one to two books a month. And these days, I hardly remember them once read. How unfair is that?

So I asked Mark about his reading.  I asked specifically how he managed to get so much read so consistently. “I listen to audiobooks,” he said simply. Audio books!  But is that still thought of as reading?  “To me it is. In audio books, you don’t have the chance to skim and accidentally miss something important.  You hear every word the author intended.”

Good argument.  Guess who went to the library this past weekend, only to discover a treasure trove of books on CD. Very cool.  I’m currently listening to “This I Believe,” a series of 500-word essays by people willing to express their most deeply felt beliefs on life. Fascinating.

Enter my good guy.  He reads, he says, about 20 to 30 books a year.  I suspect he reads more. Much more.  And this is on top of being a busy software developer and business consultant.  Oh, and television sports fanatic, political junkie, ballroom dancer and a generally busy guy.

“I don’t think listening to audio books is reading,” he said.  “When you read, you skim the junk that’s boring and get to the point.  You also see how paragraphs are constructed, where commas belong, and learn new words.  As a matter of fact, with the e-readers, I can grow my vocabulary even more because I can highlight a word and learn the definition as opposed to guessing at it like you have to in traditional books.”

Another great argument.  I can see both sides.  I do love to pop a CD into my car’s player and travel along with words and thoughts pouring over me on my way to-and-from the dog park.  Yet, I do feel I miss a lot, when I’m interrupted by the demands of driving–squirrel in the road–jerk in front slamming on brakes (or perhaps I simply didn’t see them)–do I turn right here or left? Oops! What was Jane Austin’s Elizabeth Bennett saying?

I do love  audio books, I have to admit.  When I had an office job, I used to listen to things like “How to Win Customers and Keep Them” or “The New Portable MBA” all the time.  I didn’t think of it as reading, but as information gathering, and it was terrific.

But to me, reading is more than the experience of taking in words.  I love how quiet reading is, either from a book or an e-reader.  I love how I “work” over the words, asking myself why an author used this particular phrase, and wanting to jot down quotations from the work.  I love that when I’m reading I can’t do anything else.  I’m too busy being in another world. My body cuddles around the book and together we’re off to outer space or back in time.

In short, the physical act of reading is very romantic to me.

But I’m in flux here. I’m willing to be persuaded that either form of “reading” is still reading. I’d love to hear from you.  Do you read traditionally published books, read from e-readers, or listen to audio books?  Perhaps you do both? Is there one true way to read?  Please let me know what you think.

Wishing you a good week with books of any kind.