Sunday, August 1, 2021

What We're Writing Week: Imposter Syndrome by Jenn McKinlay

Howdy! I'm currently writing a book that is due in September even though I haven't received the contract for it and I can't tell you anything about it since it isn't legally locked down (that pesky contract thing) yet. Shortest blog post ever, am I right?

I'm sure there are authors out there clutching their pearls and wondering why I would write a book when I haven't signed the contract yet but the truth is I do this all the time. Last year, I wrote two books before I received the contract (pandemic issues). But I'm a speedy writer and I figure if the worst case scenario happens and the offer blows up, meaning the publisher changes their mind, I will have a completed book to shop elsewhere or publish on my own, so I don't consider it a big deal. But it is a little weird. I can admit that. 

I am also writing a lot of blog posts and interviews to promote my upcoming August 10 release WAIT FOR IT

It has been the recipient of a very lovely starred review from Booklist, which reads in part: 

I have to be honest, that sort of high praise gives me an itchy case of Imposter Syndrome, like, was it a fluke? Did I just get lucky with this book? Can I keep it up in the next book? I think being a writer is 75% self doubt and 25% ignoring said doubt and writing anyway. At least it is for me.

So, what can I share with you? How about a snippet from today's work in progress for Writer's Digest? It's called Say What? Five tips for Writing Authentic Dialogue. Here's tip number one:

1. Listen to people. I am the worst dining companion in the world because I will spend the entire meal listening to the conversations of the diners around me rather than converse with those who are with me. So rude, I know. Then I report back to my tablemates, who generally roll their eyes unless it’s something really good like an argument or a breakup. 

It's so important to listen to people talking in real life, not on television (scripted) or online (edited) but actual people living their daily lives. People do not speak like robots. If your dialogue reads like a conversation between C3PO and a Stepford wife, I am out and your book has probably taken flight and is tongue-kissing a wall somewhere. In real conversations, there are starts and stops, ums and ahs, interruptions, swears, and slang. All of those traits need to lightly season your characters’ dialogue and give it a rhythm or cadence that engages the reader as if they're listening to a real conversation. So, listen, listen, listen. 

Of course, writing think pieces about writing for other authors also gives me a scorching case of, you guessed it, Imposter Syndrome. This is ridiculous given that I have fifty books under my belt but there it is. Even after all of those books, every manuscript is a new challenge, a new K2 to climb, and I never feel fully prepared and yet somehow, by putting one word after another, I finish the book aaaaaand I still feel like a fraud. I think the condition might be chronic. LOL.

Sure, no pressure.

So, how about you, Reds and Readers, do you ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome? When? 
Why? How do you manage it?

Saturday, July 31, 2021

What We're Writing Week: Julia Shows Character

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It will surprise no one to hear I've been distracted from writing the past couple of weeks. On the "difficulties" side of the ledger, my Dad's broken hip and resulting cognitive issues means he's not going to be able to go back to his continuing care one-bedroom apartment; I'm heading to Syracuse next week to visit him, tour a possible nursing home, and help my brother pack up the apartment and put most of it into storage. (Why storage? Because this is a difficult adjustment to make, and knowing we're not giving away all his stuff is important to Dad.)

I've been immersed in the world of care-giving/making decisions for an elderly parent, along with my sister and brother, and I've been making the trip to Central NY every other week since the rehab facility he's currently in got the okay from the NYS Department of Health to open - a little. Visitors are restricted to every other day; even or odd, depending on your loved one's room number. And we're still masked - my sister and I ended our joint visit a few weeks ago by knocking on Dad's window and  waving, so he could see our smiles. It's not ideal, in that Barb and I are both seven and six hours away, respectively, but having Dad stay close to his old home means his friends and neighbors can visit him (on odd days, while wearing masks.) And it is giving me a wide knowledge of Airbnb offerings in the greater Syracuse area!

On the "joys" side of the ledger: I've recently adopted two Shih Tzus! Well, one Shih Tzu and one Shih-we don't know what else. Some sort of small terrier. Kingsley and Rocky are a bonded pair, rescued in Mississippi and  shipped up here to Maine, where we have a high rate of dog adoption. 


Somebody loved this pair a lot, because they are utterly overjoyed to meet everyone, and they are very, very well behaved. Rocky, the smaller of the two, is a total cuddlebug, who loves to lay in the crook of my arm and get belly rubs while I'm watching movies. Kingsley is a bit more typically Shih Tzu like; he wants to be around people but isn't a lap dog. The fostering agency had listed them as 6 year old brothers, but I suspect, after a week of walks, that Kingsley is older and may in fact be Rocky's father. Sire? The Maine Millennial is already planning to get one of those doggy DNA kits.

So what does all this have to do with writing? I'm being reminded, in a visceral way, of how interconnected we all are, and of how many ties we have, with parents, siblings, friends, and yes, our beloved pets. Sometimes, in fiction, it's tempting to simplify these connections, or downplay them, because we don't want to bog the story down or slow up the action. (Jack Reacher is probably the ultimate example of this, and even Reacher had a brother, mother, and old Army friends who pull him into events.) But ultimately we don't read novels to figure out whodunnit or to chills and thrill as the hero survives everything thrown at him - although those are very nice parts of the experience!

We read to connect with the characters - characters who in turn are connected with others in their lives. It is those relationships - Kincaid and his son Kit, Daniel and Molly Sullivan, Nathan Bransford and his dog Ziggy - that make them human, and reading about those fictional people, and identifying with them, makes us, the readers, more human. (I'll add that when Hank and Hallie wrote about writing this week, they wrote about fathers and sisters and husbands.) Everything begins with character, and we reveal our characters when they walk their dogs on a beach and visit their elderly parents.

So, dear readers, am I right? And what are some of your favorite character moments from books you've loved?

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Even Fictional Kids Grow Up

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I've never been much for rereading my own books (hence a few embarrassing continuity errors!) except for picking through bits here and there to refresh my memory of a particular event or character.  But I recently picked up DREAMING OF THE BONES (Kincaid/James#5), wondering how it had held up, and I must say it was a treat!

(How I loved this original cover, with the poet Rupert Brooke and the clock set at ten to three, as in his famous poem.)

One of the things I especially enjoyed was reading the scene where we meet Kit, Duncan's son, for the first time. Of course at this point in the story, Duncan doesn't yet know that Kit is his son. Here is our first glimpse of Kit, from Gemma's viewpoint, as she and Duncan arrive at Duncan's ex-wife's cottage in Grantchester:

Then the door flew back with a crash, and Gemma found herself staring down into the inquisitive blue eyes of a boy with a shock of straw-colored hair flopping on his forehead and a faint dusting of freckles across his nose. He wore a faded rugby shirt several sizes too large, jeans, and the dirtiest white socks she's ever seen. In  his right hand, he held a slice of bread spread with Marmite.

"Um, you must be Kit," said Kincaid. "I'm Duncan and this is Gemma. We're here to see your mum."

"Oh, yeah. Hullo." the boy smiled, a toothy grin that won Gemma instantly, then took an enormous bite of his bread and said through it, "You'd better come in."

Kit was eleven here. Now we are FOURTEEN books later, and much has happened in all the character's lives. Kit is fifteen! He lives with Duncan and Gemma and their two younger children (Toby and Charlotte) in Notting Hill, and he's working part time in his friend Otto's cafe just off Portobello Market. 

In this snippet from a scene in the book in progress, Kincaid has stopped on his way home to check on Kit at the Elgin Crescent cafe:

Reaching Otto’s, he glanced in the window. The small cafe was busy and Kit, wearing a white apron over his jeans and white shirt, was clearing tables.

Kincaid gazed through the glass. He was, he realized with a shock, seeing his son as a stranger would. When had his lost boy become so grown up? Kit looked so self-assured and confident, balancing stacks of plates and chatting to the patrons with a friendly smile. He looked, in fact, not like a boy at all, but like a young man, and a handsome one at that. One young woman’s gaze followed him appreciatively as he disappeared through the door leading down to the kitchen.

Kincaid felt suddenly as if he were trespassing, and that going into the cafĂ© now would be intruding on his son’s newly adult—and separate—life.

Shaken, he walked on a pace and sent a text instead, saying he was passing if Kit was ready to go home. The answer was swift.

Helping Otto until closing. You go on.

Well, that was him put in his place. Kincaid felt an uncomfortable sense of loss. But a moment later, his mobile dinged again.

But thanks. See you later, okay? the message read, followed by a row of smiling emojis.

Reassured, he walked on, his step lighter.

You can see Duncan is having some separation issues! As am I, but I can't stop time entirely for my characters, even though I've slowed it down. I keep spacing my book timelines closer together to keep the kids from growing out of the series!

REDS AND READERS, do you like seeing the progress of families through the course of a series? What are some of your favorites?