Saturday, March 2, 2024

What We're Writing Week: Julia Slowly Staggers To A Stop

 JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: No, it's NOT done yet, dear readers. This is absolutely the worst part of the book for me - the ending. I swear, if I could just publish manuscripts that were 5/8 done and crowdsource the endings, I'd get books out - gosh, who knows, maybe every three years instead of four!

My issue with getting over the finish line is partly me, and partly the nature of the genre. For me - honestly, I don't know. I always slow down here, and we know, I'm not that fast to begins with.

 Psychological barriers to completion? Fear of success or failure? Not wanting to let go? I've done a lot over the past years to improve my scheduling and organization; maybe now it's time for therapy.

The nature of the genre is such that the end of any sort of crime fiction is usually 1) the high point of action and 2) has to tie all the threads together. For the first, well, I'm known for my action sequences. I like them. The readers seem to like them. But they are HARD! Making sure the reader knows who is doing what, where in space and when in a sequence of events... sometimes it feels more like planning a multi-person jaunt through an unfamiliar city via public transportation.

As for tying the threads together - I can only point out I have more than one unfinished piece of very elaborate needlepoint. Oh, I just LOVE adding more and more and more threads. Figuring out what to DO with them... not so much.

However, I am progressing. In fact, if I didn't write such #$%& long books,  I'd be done now, or close to it. Alas, I don't seem to have any more control over the length of my stories than I do anything else. Truly, writing is a mysterious process. 

This is the place where I would usually put some hopefully interesting question that would stimulate lots and lots of backblog comments. Instead, I have a favor to ask. Will you, dear readers, be my accountability partners? I'm highly motivated by guilt (if you had met my mother, you'd understand)  so if one of you asks "Julia, have you written today" EVERY DAY until I finish, I'll be too embarrassed not to write. Don't all do it, for goodness sake, that would be a nightmare. Just one person.

TIA, Julia

Friday, March 1, 2024

What We're Writing--Debs Practices the Jump Start

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Every time I finish a chapter, or a chunk of chapters, I have to regroup. I wouldn't exactly call it "writer's block," more a "take a deep breath and regroup." I think there is always a bit of resistance to plunging into an imaginary world, maybe because it can be so scarily absorbing once you've dipped a toe in.

So here I am, plugging away on Kincaid/James #20, with all my writing prompts and boosters; the cup of tea, the journals, the pens, a couple of British home magazines for setting inspiration, but still, the dreaded BLANK PAGE stares back at me!

So what to do??

This is where the jump start comes in. I talk to myself (not out loud, although sometimes I do wander around the house muttering when I'm working out a really thorny plot point...) or maybe I should say I talk to the book. Maybe you could call this self-brainstorming? 

Sometimes I do this with some messy journaling in the running notebook I keep for the book-in-progress, but this technique actually works better on the computer. I'm a pretty fast touch typist and this lets me toss things out as fast as I can think them. Because I'm normally such a persnickety writer, this seems to  help bypass my constant mental editor--and that is hugely liberating.

It might go like this:

--Okay, so where's Gemma? Has she checked in with Duncan and the kids? Did she ever get a sandwich? Maybe she stops at Pret again--she's going to turn into a Pret sandwich at this rate. Will she go home or does she have time to visit the crime scene again before dark?

--Must get back to Melody? Her vp?

--Hawkins waiting for Max's return from mortuary, very nervous, has only done FLO in training course.

--Duncan, home, speaks to Kit about the phone call.

--Quill leaves Karo at the flat, he will drop her bike on the island, she can get train home later. Sets up pub meeting where?

All of these little snippets would go on in much greater detail. Before I know it, the characters start talking, bits of dialogue are creeping in, and suddenly I have the blocking for a chapter's worth of scenes, in some sort of logical order, and I've broken the blank page curse.

Here's a non-spoiler-y bit of the scene where Gemma does get her sandwich, jumping in as she's in the car with her new detective sergeant, Davey Butler, on the way back to her new police station.

Gemma nodded. “We can only hope.” She glanced at the time on the car display. “People should be getting home from work soon. When we get back to station, get a door-to-door started in those flats overlooking the canal. And let’s have a word with the residents in the end of that estate in Aberdeen Place, and with the staff of the pub that overlooks the access to the canal. What was it called?”

“Crocker’s Folly,” I think.

Gemma gave a snort. “That must have a story.”

“I think they have Indian food,” Butler said, his expression dreamy.

“Oh, don’t torture me.” Looking out, Gemma saw that they were passing the Savoy. She made a quick decision. “Let me out, will you, before you put the car in the garage. I’m going to grab a sandwich before I come up. Want me to pick you up something?”

“I had a bite in the London’s canteen. Not bad. Nigerian food today.”

“You’re a brave soul,” she said, raising an eyebrow at his pre-postmortem fortitude. Maybe he hadn’t been joking about the crime scene burger and chips.

A few minutes later, Gemma snagged the last cheddar and pickle sandwich from the cold case at Pret a Manger. She ate it slowly at one of cafĂ©’s tables, then sat, nursing a cup of tea and taking a moment to marshal her thoughts.

When she’d jotted some notes, she tossed sandwich box and paper cup into the bin and stepped out into the street. Patches of blue had appeared in the early evening sky, and to the west, sunlight glinted from the rooftops of the National Portrait Gallery. Across the street, people were starting to gather outside the Chandos pub for afterwork drinks, a signal to Gemma that her opportunities for that day’s actions were fast fading—and that she’d better make certain the home fires were still burning.

I'd love to know if my fellow writers suffer from Blank Page Syndrome, and if so, do you use jump-starting techniques to loosen up?

Readers, do you have any little tricks to get going on projects that can seem daunting?

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Lucy is Borrowing Bits from Life #amwriting

Lucy and John Mallory Square sunset

: I am feeling my way through the 15th Key West mystery, hoping to scribble most of the story on the pages before we drive north for the summer. As always, there have been distractions. Two weeks ago, we had our kids and grandkids visiting—there wasn't much work getting done! But even when not actually writing, I’m always watching and listening, looking for interesting bits of real life to weave into my books. One night we planned to have dinner near Mallory Square at sunset, where the inciting event of the 15th book, an explosion on a boat, occurs.  I took my granddaughter Thea over to see the square while we were waiting for our food. One of the acrobat/performers was there and I introduced him to Thea. Later, he chose her to help him with his act—and that became a snippet of the background in this chapter.

In the scene below, Hayley and her mother return to Mallory Square the day after the explosion, trying to figure out what happened. It's important because not only were they on the ill-fated boat, but they’d also hoped the cruise would bring a boost to their reputations and business. Worst of all, they’ve also just learned that someone on that boat died. They visit their friend, Lorenzo, the tarot card reader, but also talk with a pair of acrobat/jugglers who had been performing that night. 

Tobin and his partner, David, wearing their trademark bright red pants, black shirts, and black shoes, were finishing up their performance. This time they’d included a little girl in pink leggings and a blue shirt with hearts—she stood in the center of the ring holding up giant knives, while the crowd around her chanted “Thea, Thea, Thea!” When he was finished, Tobin thanked her for her assistance and tucked a ten-dollar bill into her fist. Then he thanked the spectators and encouraged them to drop tips into a glass jar. He was drenched with sweat, and looked tired but wound up, too. He was much like Lorenzo in that his work took a lot of concentration and energy, though Lorenzo’s was more mental and Tobin’s physical. 

We waited to approach him until the last of his admirers—the smiling girl who was now holding her father’s hand—moved away. I introduced my mother and explained that we had been on the boat that had blown up the night before. 

The cheery smile fell from his face. “Sorry to hear that, hope you’re okay.”

“Pretty much, just a few post-calamity jitters.” We all laughed, a bit hysterically in my case. “I know it’s unlikely, because you were working hard, but I wondered if you might have seen anything unexpected in the water or on a nearby boat before the fire started and all those emergency vehicles arrived? Apparently, the police haven’t yet come to a conclusion about what caused the accident.” If it was one, I thought but did not say.

Tobin absorbed my question carefully, rasping his knuckles over the stubble on his chin. This made me wonder whether he had pre-game rituals, such as eating certain food or not shaving until after a performance, like some professional athletes did.

 “You’ve probably reviewed all of this with the authorities,” my mother added, “but might it be helpful to talk about what you noticed before the incident occurred?”

He nodded at her. “We were in the middle of one of our shows when all the shouting started and we the heard the boom. A precarious point,” he added, with a small grin, “because I remember bobbling a little on the ladder. I was upside down at that moment, balanced on my partner’s shoulders. Everything looks different from that perspective.”

“Can’t imagine,” my mother murmured, nodding with encouragement.

“Nothing out of the ordinary sticks out that I can think of. It was a pretty good crowd for this time of year. And we’d snagged the cutest kid to help with our act. That always helps with tips.” He winked. “It looked like smooth sailing on the Gulf; I saw nothing that would have caused me to predict trouble. Oh.” He stopped for a minute and rubbed his chin again.

“It’s possible someone dropped off the edge of that boat and swam to a nearby dinghy. It didn’t register at the time, and maybe I’m making the whole thing up, but it’s possible that it happened this way.”

So that’s tiniest bit of real life worked into the story—it amuses me and I hope it amuses the folks I include as well. Have you noticed real life details in the fiction you read?