Love the new cover!
Today and tomorrow (March 6-7) you can get my tiny collection of very short stories, Spirits of Place, free on Amazon. It’s a quick read, seven flash fiction pieces that form one longer story about the relationship between consciousness and place, seasons in both nature and life. First published in 2012, it’s been updated with a new cover and forward.
Also, for today only (March 6), you can get The Minimalist Woman’s Guide to Having it All free on Amazon, as well. I wrote it nearly three years ago, and find that it still holds true, which is why I haven’t written more books on the subject.
Hope you find these enjoyable and/or useful, and if you already have them, let someone else know.
Just a quick note:
An Uncollected Death is now live on Amazon, and it’s free today and tomorrow (March 1-2) for its inaugural weekend. The print version will be available in a week or two. If you enjoy it, leave a review!
My first Charlotte Anthony mystery, An Uncollected Death, will be for sale on Amazon on Friday, February 28th. I’m taking requests for a free Review Copy until 9 pm CST on Thursday, February 27th, which will be available in epub and PDF formats. The book will first be published digitally on KDP and priced at $4.99. Print and audio versions will follow. (And I just love the cover that Steve created!)
Is this book for you? It’s a traditional/literary/cozy mystery. Minimalism, downsizing, and understanding the meaning of our stuff plays a role, too. Here’s the official description:
Broke. Empty nest. Career and friends gone.
Charlotte’s only ray of hope is a new job editing the notebooks of a mysterious author from the 1950′s, Olivia Bernadin, who was poised to rival the very best when she disappeared from public view for reasons unknown.
Finding Olivia battered and left for dead was not exactly what Charlotte expected her first day on the job. The editing project continues under the supervision of the author’s sister, Helene, but Olivia has hidden the notebooks amid her hoard of collectibles with only cryptic clues as to their whereabouts.
Enter the only son and heir, Donovan, a nervous character who seems to have an agenda of his own. His machinations bring Charlotte far too close to the town’s criminal undercurrent, who will stop at nothing—not even murder—to get their hands on a rare book rumored to be somewhere in Olivia’s house.
Charlotte finds herself a suspect in Olivia’s murder on one hand, and staving off financial disaster on the other. On top of all this, she has difficulty learning to trust her new acquaintances, as well as her growing feelings for Helene’s friend Simon.
Solving Olivia’s murder requires understanding what made her tick—and that means finding all the notebooks before Donovan has the estate hauled off to auction. As Charlotte perseveres in her search and studies the clues amid Olivia’s collections, she uncovers a story that reaches from the French Resistance to the Vietnam War—and it hints at a shocking truth about a world-famous novel.
AN UNCOLLECTED DEATH is a book about a book about a book. It is also a story of life, death, and renewal in a small Midwestern college town.
In light of how indie publishing/branding works, I’ve also set up a Facebook page. If it’s your cuppa tea, I’d love to see you over there, too
Time to snuggle up with a good mystery
Reading a novel series slows down time, I think, and that is a good thing the older one gets. When I follow a series about the same protagonist(s), whether in books or on television/video, something happens to catch me up out of my own life and place me amid another life with just the pertinent highlights. Perhaps that is why binge-watching entire 90-episode series via Netflix or another service is such fun, because it increases that sense of immersion in a time warp.
There are more novel series than there is time in my life to read them. I can read quickly, but I don’t like to, not if the book is any good. Reading slowly enough to form a mental picture of what is happening, right down to the specifics and the emotions, is all part of the immersion process. It’s like savoring every bite of a favorite dessert. In this way, reading is different than watching. When you watch a story, the tempo is controlled by the director, and the experience is fairly passive: you sit back and let it hit you. When you read a story, you are the director visualizing the author’s script, picking out the bits that resonate, filling in the gaps in description, and choosing when to pause and pick up again–if at all.
I read mysteries, almost exclusively. There have been periods of my life where I read large amounts of nearly all kinds of fiction, from classics (English major, duh), translations of the great Russian and French novels, and most of the well-regarded 20th century novels through the 1980′s, including a rather lot of science fiction and fantasy. From the 90′s on I had very little time to read, and when I read, I wanted the coziness of traditional mysteries. Read more »
Focus on the Large Red Ball
Learning to be a novelist is learning to focus, and to focus in a particular way. Since I had no track record of finishing the second draft of a novel-length work (several NaNoWriMo “winners” don’t count), I had to overcome the dilettante factor and actually devote myself to the task of learning the craft as I wrote.
Inspiration wasn’t a problem, but plot outlines were, among many other things. As different problems in the craft of novel-writing crept up, I dealt with each, reading and learning from many other writers, and applying the methods that seemed most suitable for my project and my temperament. And I kept notes along the way of what worked for me, and what didn’t.
“Write what you know” is pretty good advice, but I think “write how you are” would be equally good. Like most people, I’ve got an “A” game, the ability to step up to a task with everything I’ve got to produce something as close to excellent as I can. That has always worked well in the past, because most projects were of short duration. A novel, however, is a long-term project. I started out by bringing my “A” game to it day after day, and darn near drove myself crazy.
After three or four months, I realized that I was getting stressed, exhausted, and stuck. It wasn’t sustainable. Solving this problem meant stepping back from the “A” game mindset and just sitting down each day to work as little old regular me, helped along by being mindful, methodical, and a little more forgiving of the not-so-productive days. The result was that the purely creative stuff came more easily, as did research, and, to my amazement, sheer word count. I saved the stepped-up mind and energy for the copy editing process, where flow and continuity determined what had to go, and what had to be rewritten. The process took time to work out, but it’s sustainable and I know enough now to go into the next book this way from the very beginning, which should shave a few months off the writing time.
In the meantime, I also learned not to let a lot of stuff distract me. You know, like housework Over time, I learned to deal with distractions and interruptions, to compartmentalize unavoidable matters (grocery shopping, car repair, etc.) in order to protect the writer me that needed to be able to take up where I left off–even if the interruption lasted as long as two months, which it did, twice in the course of seventeen months, not to mention several of two or three weeks. Such interruptions came less frequently as I learned to stop allowing them to last so long.
You can’t blame life for doing what life does. I need to stop writing and go to the dentist tomorrow to deal with an ancient filling. Sometimes life brings good distractions, too–my first grandchild will be born any day now. Ventures to Chicago or Lake Michigan or visiting with friends and family are actually welcome, grounding me to the real world so that I don’t get lost in the fictional world inside my head and computer screen. And that, I think, makes for more readable writing.
In Time for the Holidays
On Tuesday, December 17, I typed the final words of the last quarter of my novel–and broke down and cried. After holding the scene (more or less) intact in my head for the better part of a year, seeing it manifest, knowing it was the place to end the book, was almost overwhelming.
This does not mean that the book itself is finished–that will happen in the next few days after editing and tweaking what I call Act III, and then going back through the first two Acts to comb out any snarls, and re-braid anything that’s come undone by what happens in those final chapters. The point at which it will be ready for publication is at least a month off, if I am to do it properly.
It got to this point much sooner than I anticipated. I guess I was expecting it to take its own sweet time evolving, like the massive Act II did, but it didn’t. Since I had some sort of idea how things would end up, I wrote the first parts to lead toward that goal. The writing came much more quickly and naturally. The scenes did not play out exactly how I thought they would, because the characters by this point have taken on lives of their own, and when they start interacting in any given situation, the choices they make and the words they speak can sometimes throw light on something I hadn’t thought of.
That mysterious literary element called theme revealed itself in the last two chapters, when several things from the first part of the story, both major and minor, seemed to come back to form a complete circle of sensibility. That’s when I realized that I had been working from the viewpoint of a theme all along–but not always consciously. It made both the reading and writing experience more satisfying. It will make the editing process more satisfying, too–having a handle on the thematic sensibility of the novel will make the editorial choices less mechanical, and likely much more effective.
After the tweaking and flow edit, I will go back to the very beginning and edit the word choices themselves, to make sure that the POV is consistent for 3rd person close, to eliminate excess adverbs and throwaway words, to spot unneeded dialogue tags–and missing tags, boring passages, awkward word order, flat words and fraught words, and words that tell instead of show when showing or implying would be more effective.
This first complete draft of the whole novel is three-quarters on the second draft, and totals a little over 102,000 words. I’m sure there’s about 20,000 words that can be eliminated for a tighter focus and better reading experience. Preliminary reports from the Reader Team indicate that it’s flowing well, though. One person has read all the way through the first 3/4 and wants more, ASAP, which is a good sign.
I’m deliriously happy. It’s taken a long time to learn the craft of writing a novel–and to learn how to be a novelist, to be able to sit down and take up where I left off, to learn what my sustainable level is (one can’t bring the A+ game to the keyboard every day–exhausting!) and how to use Scrivener in a manner that fits the way my brain works. Here’s hoping that the next book will go faster, now that the fundamentals are in place.
My Own Stamp on It
Periodically, I stop writing the novel itself and make notes about what I’m doing, in hopes that when I write the next one I can remember what I did that worked, and what was a waste of time. It is also useful to write down the order in which I did things, and when I realized something had to be done or undone. It’s not a diary, exactly, it’s just a numbered list. I’m 3/4 of the way through the next-to-the-last draft, and there are nineteen items on the list. No doubt there will be many more by the time the novel is ready to be published.
In the beginning, I chose the type of novel I wanted to write, which in this case was a cozy mystery, ideally part of a series. Then I created roughs of the heroine, the supporting cast, the location, etc., both what they looked like and how I felt about them. Extended plots have always been difficult for me, so I found some guides to help me get going with at least a loose plot outline. Next I fleshed out the characters with back stories, and then plunged into writing scenes that corresponded with the outline.
Once a few chapters were written, I found myself not quite knowing how to make it all hang together. More research revealed that mysteries are crafted in quite specific ways. There are three story lines: the story of the crime, the personal story of the sleuth, and the story of solving the crime. Once those three synopses were written out, I had to overlap their time lines to make sure they intersected in the right places–think of a braid, or the structure of DNA.
The intersecting process helped the elements of the story start to hang together, but also threw up a lot of contradictions and other messes. This required further refinement of back stories and motivation, and provided a good time to refine each character’s voice and nature, including changing their names. Find and Replace really came in handy!
I also read about the 3-Act dramatic structure, and decided this worked better for me than the 4-Obstacle plot method I had been using, and made the corresponding changes in my outline.
The process of going back to the beginning and refining again happened about four or five more times before sending Act I out to readers for reactions and suggestions. By the time those suggestions came back, I was ready to add another suspect and another victim. The more real the world of the novel became, the more possibilities evolved, such as ways of expanding the labyrinth of the mystery and even the sense of peril for the MC. It was hard to resist using all the ideas, as well as some of the back stories, because there’s only so much you can cram into an 80,000-word book without making it an incomprehensible mess.
The more I rewrote, the more my MC took on a voice and a life of her own that was different than mine, which I think is a very good thing. I also firmed up the third-person narrative tone, to allow for a close experience of the MC’s thought processes and observations. For instance, by this time I knew I wasn’t writing a “cute” type of cozy mystery. My heroine is not the proprietor of a wishful-thinking business that wouldn’t make a profit in real life, nor does a cat talk or play an active role in solving the mystery. Instead, the heroine is facing financial ruin and the complete upheaval of her own life, a fact which contributes toward her inadvertent involvement in the crime in the first place. But it is still a cozy, traditional mystery, because there is no overt violence, it takes place in a semi-closed environment (a small midwestern college town), and the sleuth must use a combination of observation and deduction to uncover whodunit.
I wanted the spirit that keeps the MC going to be evident in the narrative tone, as well as the particular set of observational skills she brings into play. These skills will be honed in future volumes as the character grows and goes through life. There’s probably more of that right now than is even needed in this first book. Like the back stories and red herrings, a little bit can go a long way. I’m hoping that over time I will learn to wear the research lightly.
The process is taking a long time, not only because it is a first novel, but because I’m trying to avoid using a formula, and also because I’m laying the groundwork for the future novels. Taking time to get it as right as possible will hopefully save a lot of time in the future.
Stop, Go, Turn
It seems like I’ve stopped and restarted this blog again, but in truth it never really stopped. I’ve been writing my brains out and keeping up with my more well-known blog, and that’s all I’ve been able to handle. During the past six months I’ve written around 130,000 words, some published in The Minimalist Woman blog, and the rest in various chunks throughout Scrivener.
80,000 of those words are raw material for flash fiction collections, the kind of writing where I dug deep in memory and experience to capture essential moments. It was writing that had to be done to exorcise demons, as well, so that I could move on and learn to write with craftsmanship. It was exhausting, but it worked.
That part came to a conclusion in mid-August, when I realized I’d done enough, and that it was time to put it on the back burner to simmer for a while, so to speak. That’s when I seriously challenged myself to learn the craft of writing a mystery novel, to write with less angst, to write something accessible, to achieve something that I’d be happy with, particularly if I managed a series of them. I really enjoy reading cozy mystery series, and would be absolutely delighted if I could create a series of my own.
I began by finding a way to overcome my difficulty with plotting. The handiest guide was a little ebook called The Busy Writer’s One Hour Plot, which forced me to sit down and come up with enough of a concept to at least flesh out and adjust into a truly workable story line–in one hour, to boot. The feeling that I had after that one-hour exercise was exhilarating, because time and time again I’d struggle for weeks and months with plotting. That little book gave me a way out of overthinking.
Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t tend to overthink things. Sigh. As I fleshed out the bare bones of the plot, I got deeper and deeper into the back stories of the various characters. I also did a little more reading about plotting, particularly the plotting of mysteries, when I realized I was also going to have to do some kind of synopsis of the story of the crime itself, which is different than the story of the sleuth solving the mystery. In doing so, I realized that I’d written too much back story and not enough story about solving the crime. I thought I was half way through the novel, but it was actually only a quarter of the way through.
Further research and reading revealed I had to flesh out my main character, as well, to determine what her chief skill sets or qualities were that would enable her to solve crimes in ways the police could not. This took a while, too. Then there was determining whether to write from the first person or the third person limited. I’m still going back and forth on that one a bit. First-time novelists are encouraged to use the first person, as it is easier to hold a single point of view. But there are advantages to third person limited, particularly in series, when a shift in perspective would be useful or refreshing, or when a slightly detached narrative voice better suits the nature of the sleuth herself.
Now I’m working backwards on the story line, to get a sense of what elements my sleuth is going to pick up on, the ones that will enable her to solve the mystery. That will also help me tell the story more effectively, help me determine the narrative voice, the point of view, all those things that will make the sleuth and the world of the novel memorable and sustainable through a series.
It’s been a fascinating process, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able to essentially drop everything else and learn the craft. I hope to be done with the first draft in a month’s time.
Last Flower in the Drought
Weather is a huge determinant of human action. This summer started out so brilliantly, with a long warm spring that made working and playing outdoors so wonderful and it seemed like everyone had the same idea. Bicyclists, walkers, runners, children on scooters and skateboards, people dining al fresco–this was going to be a rare year, indeed, for those who lived in this part of the world.
Of course, being this part of the world, it didn’t last. The summery spring grew into a desert summer, an unrelenting heat wave untempered by rain. Even my garden, designed to thrive in very hot direct sun, has all but given up any effort to bloom. Supplemental watering keeps the plants alive, but just barely. The native plants, like the corn lilies that nearly all the local gardens have, are also finished. Perhaps the daisies and coneflowers will generate a second bloom before fall, but I’m not getting my hopes up.
This has meant a lot of time spent indoors, much more than planned, and being indoors means one might as well work. It’s been a productive time, in terms of word-count and brainstorming. I’m still not sure I’ve got the short story collections collected in any coherent form, but the BIC (Butt In Chair) method has worked well, and I find my enthusiasm remains steady and satisfying.
Sleep continues to improve, as does my overall health. The adjustment to HRT continues, with the initial hyperfemininity subsiding a bit and settling into a lighter way of being than I experienced prior to starting it. I know I want to try my hand at writing mysteries, for instance, because I do enjoy reading them and my life circumstances are certainly conducive to the sort of place and character development that fits the convention of “cozies.” Extended plots, however, have always been difficult for me, and I’m working on a list of plots and inciting incidents that I feel I could develop with conviction.
My initial research into writing cozy mysteries has revealed many resources for writers, such as books on police procedure, forensics, plot conventions, mystery writer networks, etc. I stumbled across many interviews with favorite authors, some of which were also very illuminating. It’s a craft, that is for certain, and I’m keen on learning as much as I can about it.
BIC is good for getting actual words and scenes written down, but BOS (Butt On Sofa) is good for curling up with other peoples’ books in order to gain insight about crafting genre fiction. It’s also good for the browsing research needed to understand how things work in the world of crime-solving, whether by a professional or by an amateur sleuth. It’s also good for sipping tea and daydreaming, letting a sense of the world of one’s novels grow, expand, and shift.
I know this might not be happening if the summer weather had been pleasant and I was out in the garden or hiking in the dunes.
Imagine not being able to leave the room. Wherever you walked, wherever you went, the room remained around you, a furnished consciousness.Even working in the garden, perfectly functional and able to tell weed from flower, you are conscious of kneeling on the hardwood floor amid the table legs and chair seats. A glance across the lawn is still a glance through a curtained window. Time stopped in that room, after thirty years of writing at the table, imagining worlds and rooms and situations far outside its walls and lamps. And now, outside the walls, you cannot leave them, they are burnished across your eyes like a ghost of radiation.
Is this what prisoners see when they are finally released? Are they ever truly able to stop seeing and feeling the confined perimeters, even in the middle of an ocean or a field of wheat?
Discipline forms vision in spite of its intent to release it. Whatever forms our discipline, be it obsession, dedication, work ethic, or circumstances, will in the end color and perhaps limit the resulting work.
So perhaps it really is important where we choose to do our work, and why. Or maybe we don’t have as much of a choice as we think, we choose the spaces that are the result of the choices we have made in life as a whole. Garret or garden studio, a corner of a sofa or the kitchen table, those spaces and their immediate surroundings will appear, literally or metaphorically.
Where we are at becomes what we have to say.
So let’s say, through some great force of life or life choices, we radically change our physical circumstances. We uproot from a small farming community to a foreign capital, or from a factory town to a shack along the gulf—how long will it take to change the rooms and confines of old? Will we still feel the hardness of the dining room chair where we sat to write for a couple of decades even while we now sit on a canvas sling chair with a pen and notepad in front of the ocean? Is tactile memory as burnished as the visual?
Then there are the layers of memory, after a decade doing this, another decade doing that, one after another, and they are all there, many rooms, many chairs, many views from many windows, many possibilities simultaneously possible.
There are some advantages to having lived and taken things into our own hands. Maybe they’d contribute to good work, maybe not. But they contribute to one’s own voice.