"The notion that such persons are gay of heart and carefree is curiously untrue. They lead, as a matter of fact, an existence of jumpiness and apprehension. They sit on the edge of the chair of Literature. In the house of Life they have the feeling that they have never taken off their overcoats."
- James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times

Monday, March 12, 2012

How's the writing coming along?

People ask me that all the time. I don't know the answer. As a matter of fact, when I typed the words, they actually don't make any sense. How is the writing... progressing?

One word at a time.

When I first got serious about writing and wanted to write an entire novel, I didn't know what kind of story I wanted to tell. It was disturbing, let me tell you, to feel like I had this ability to put some pretty nifty words together and yet couldn't think of a damn thing to say. As a last resort, I took a short story I had been fiddling with for years, and made turned it into a novel. A really bad one. A really bad novel that taught me so many things:

1. Sometimes short stories are short for a reason.
2. It may have been bad, but I was capable of writing 90,000 words that had a beginning, a middle, and an end (more or less).
3. Clever writers might be able to bend the rules, but people learning to write a novel should listen to the experts.

When I got the idea for Freezer Burn, I made sure I was writing an active, perky-paced mystery. I fell in love with the characters and the plot and tried to make my readers love them, too. After I had finished (and edited, etc.) it, I got a publisher's interest so quickly that I didn't have to split my time between writing the next story and trying to push this one out of the nest.

This was a good thing, because I didn't have a next story. I knew I needed to write another Peri mystery, but I had no idea what kind of story to plop her into next.

Slowly, painfully, Hit or Missus took shape. It was a difficult child, but I finally wrestled it into a book I was finally proud to put my name on. In many ways, I love it as much, if not more, than Freezer Burn.

As soon as it was published, I knew the kind of story I wanted to tell. The third mystery, which is half-way written, deals with murder and arson. I'm burning Benny's house. He loses at least some of his Dino memorabilia, and of course, there's a stray body in the house when the fire is doused. I'm on the back nine, so to speak, of the mystery. It should be a breeze from here. Except...

I've been thinking of what to write after this book. I'll return to Peri, but first I want to write a mystery set in the AQHA horse show arena. The idea came to me one weekend when I was showing my horse, Snoopy. One still-yet-dark morning, I walked down the barn aisles at the L.A. Equestrian Center, passing by the mounds of used shavings that are dumped at the end of each aisle, to be picked up by a tractor once or twice a day. I suddenly imagined a pair of boots sticking out of the shavings, and a worker, thinking someone had thrown them away, trying to pick them up, only to find feet still in them.

And here we go, into a strange new world of trainers and riders and show promoters, all with their own motives and agendas.

So when I'm not writing the book I'm on, I'm thinking of my cast for the new book. Except...

While I was at the Southern California Writer's Conference, two interesting things happened. The first is, I sat in on a workshop given by Charmaine Hammond, author of On Toby's Terms, a book about their rambunctious Chesapeake Bay Retriever. She is a dynamite speaker, full of ideas on marketing and promotion, and I couldn't write fast enough.

The second thing that happened was that I met a lady I have been conversing with through Facebook, Debbie Emerson Echelberger Haas (tell me I'm not the only one who sings "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt" when I read her name). She told me she's from San Marcos, which is where Snoopy went to meet Dr. Martinelli. Naturally, I had to prattle on a bit about why Snoopy had gone to see him, and Debbie said, "You should write a book about his experience, for kids who have accidents and injuries."

I don't think I'm ready to write a kid's book. I know they are the hardest, not the easiest, books to write, and I know how flooded the market is. However, the two interesting things collided in my brain to produce a desire to write Snoopy's memoir, from his perspective.

Fortunately for me, there was a workshop that day where you could pitch your book to an editor and a publisher and they would tell you whether you were being clear, telling too much/too little, or even had something marketable. I sat down and wrote and rewrote (and rewrote) furiously, then walked into the workshop and rewrote a little more. This is what I pitched:

"A young horse tells his story of becoming a champion, breaking his leg, then fighting to return to the show arena, to prove he's the same horse, only different."

The publisher, Jennifer Silva Redmond, said, "First of all, I'm your audience. I was a horse crazy girl and you've plugged in to that part of me that still wants to read a good horse story." She looked around the room and continued, "And I think there are probably more women in this room who were horse crazy girls and would read a good horse story."

Almost every woman in the room raised their hand.

So now I'm about 10,000 words into Snoopy's story. It's fun to get into his voice and see the world from his view. At the ranch, we tease that Snoopy is our four-legged Forrest Gump, so interpreting life for him is both a writer's challenge and dream.

From not knowing what to write about, I'm now juggling three completely different stories. Each day, a different one tugs at my sleeve, wanting my attention. How is my writing coming along?

One word at a time.

1 comment:

Tameri Etherton said...

You know I'm totally excited to read Snoopy's story and I'm so excited you're 10,000 word in. Isn't it awesome how the ideas just start top pop and percolate?

For the record, I don't sing that song and have never even thought it. Nope, not even once. Twice maybe, but not once.