Friday, July 21, 2017

@#%$*** Synopsis

I did it. I finally finished a synopsis for a l-o-n-g historical novel that actually fits on one page. The whole undertaking made me totally miserable. In fact, there are a lot of writing chores that I find disagreeable.

That's the way it is with any job. We only love about 55% percent of the work and the rest is tedious, boring, or unbelievably difficult. Many teachers hate grading papers but love the interaction of the classroom. Truck drivers love to drive but hate the paperwork involved with the job. Policemen don't like writing reports. Waitresses don't like the cleanup work after the place closes for the night.

A good deal of the writing life is spent on non-creative activities. I just sent all the requested data for an upcoming event so the organizer can do a good job with promotion. Sadly, I probably get an email a week wondering when I'm going to write a sequel to Come Spring. I explain once more that my original editor was fired and I didn't have a contract for the other two books. But really, since I own all the rights I should have it up on Kindle. I simply haven't taken the time.

And then there is social media. Boy howdy. It's like navigating a maze. I know I don't do as much as I should. But I have good intentions.

 I emailed my agency to see if royalty statements had been sent for my non-fiction book. I redid a bio for an upcoming event. I contacted my Poisoned Pen buddies to see if it was a good idea to switch my domain registration to my new site.

The newest edition of Author's Guild's magazine arrived and I immediately read a terrific interview of Dennis Palumbo, who also publishes with Poisoned Pen. Although I'm registered for Bouchercon which will be in Canada this year, I haven't booked my flight. Plus I'm worried that I didn't give myself enough downtime before I go to Kansas for a signing at the Garnett Public Library.

I didn't get any writing done on my new mystery today. That's fatal. I must put that first before I become entangled by writing chores.

Instead of putting my shoulder to the wheel, I'll join my knitting group! Tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Musings (and Excursions)

This summer, I’ve traveled to Tampa, Fla., Bozeman, Mt., Millinocket, Me., and Old Orchard Beach, Me.; and soon I'll be in Richmond, Va., and then Fitchburg, Mass.

Summer is a time to recharge and move forward. I usually work on a new book –– jotting notes, outlining, and getting the project off the ground. But this year, I’m trying to finish a book, writing and rewriting. A lot. I began the book a year ago. It’s taken much longer than anticipated (and much longer than it typically takes me). I had a hard time finding the voice. I wrote the opening 50 pages three times, changed point of view and tense each time until I got those right. Now I’m 250 pages in. Jogs and long walks are helping me plot (“I’m going writing,” I tell my wife). I started with an eight (or so)-page outline, which I’ve followed somewhat. But the story usually knows where it wants to go, and I learned a long time ago to get out of its way and try to solve the mystery –– in a logical manner –– with my sleuth. If the book stalls, I missed a clue, and I go back and reread what I’ve written. This will keep me busy until the school year starts up again –– and well into the fall.

I hadn’t planned on all the travel, but some educational consulting opportunities arose –– and I enjoy working with teachers who take their craft seriously enough to give up a week in the summer –– so I’ve mixed work and play. The result has been a lot of time in the car or on a plane with books (both audio and print). My reading list to date is The Sympathizer (2015), by Viet Thanh Nguyen; Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014), by Bryan Stevenson; Passing (1929), by Nella Larsen; and Here First (2000), a collection of biographical essays by Native American writers. All are highly recommended. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably know that The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer and the Edgar, so I’m not going to plug that book –– you’ll read it anyway.
And, if you’re reading this post, you probably know of Bryan Stevenson’s incredible humanitarian work on behalf of the oppressed in the criminal justice system, so I’ll leave that one alone, too. I will, however, plug Nella Larsen’s hundred-page gem that speaks of race as a currency, and of Here First –– you know of Sherman Alexie’s work; reading this will allow you a chance to meet a variety of other native American writers. The collection is both fascinating and compelling.

Right now, I’ll be in Richmond, Va., watching my daughter play lacrosse and listened to Passing (more than once) on our 10-hour drive from Maine.

I hope you’re getting as much reading and writing done as I am this summer.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Musings On the Open Road

I recently drove from Southern California to Seattle to visit my mother for her 95th birthday. (Yay, Mom! Happy Birthday!) Okay I didn't actually do the driving. My husband prefers that honor while I’d rather be the navigator/passenger. That's 24 hours or so of driving if you go the I-5 route, which we did on the way up. On the way back, we drove down the Oregon and California coasts until we got to around San Francisco where we cut inland and did the rest of the trip on I-5. (Side note here. It’s very odd for me to refer to I-5 as I-5. When I’m here in So. Cal., I refer to it as “the 5” as everyone else does down here. That’s a whole other, and interesting, story. You can read the origins of this here:

As you might guess, there's lots of time to muse over things on that long a drive. Yes, we did talk and listen to a couple of the Cat Who books on tape (really, tape, our car is old enough to have a tape deck). Sometimes, though, it was just nice to watch the scenery go by and muse over random things. Here are my musings:

Until I became a writer, I didn’t really think that much about sand on beaches. How there’s a lot of different colors and textures around the world. Yes, I’ve been to all sorts of beaches, in the South Pacific (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora), the Caribbean, East Coast of the U.S., up and down the West Coast of the U.S., Hawaii, Mexico and the Gulf Coast of Florida. I remember there being differences, but it wasn’t until I started writing my mystery series set in the fictional Los Angeles County beach city of Vista Beach, did I think about how to describe the sand. Now when I visit areas, I notice things more.
Somewhere along the coast of Oregon

Like how the sand on the beach here, where I live, is a light brown color and can get very hot when the air temperature is hot and is very hard to walk on. But the sand on the Gulf Coast of Florida is coarser and lighter in color and, even when the temperature was in the 90s, it was still fairly cool and easier to walk on. On this trip, I noticed the sand along the Oregon coast, which is very fine, but more of a gray color than brown. These are important differences for a writer. If you write a story that features a beach and you get the details wrong, someone’s going to notice.

The next thing I thought about on this trip was how something is phrased can affect behavior. Think about it. Doesn’t “I need to talk WITH you” sound better than “I need to talk TO you”? Don’t you dread a little bit more the “to” phrasing?

In California and Oregon I noticed a difference between signs along U.S. 101. In Oregon, it’s “Keep Right Except to Pass”. You know what, that’s what everyone did. Kept right as a default and only got into the left lane when passing. But, as soon as we crossed into California, it became “Slower Traffic Keep Right”. Same thing really, but now more cars stayed in the left lane as a default. I mean, really, does anyone want to admit that their vehicle is “slower” than others? Okay, maybe this is a little silly, but I really did see a behavior difference. And I have no doubt that how something is phrased can produce behavior differences in people.

So that’s what this writer thought about on a long driving trip. What do you all ponder on the open road?

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Thought About Research

I was in awe when I read Barbara's post on Wednesday about her working vacation. Reading about the time she spent on Georgian Bay doing research for her book reminded me of what I am never likely to do in the name of research. I love water, and I would happily have gone to Georgian Bay. But I would not have camped out. The only time I have ever slept in a tent was during basic training in the Army. I did not enjoy it. And the idea that I might wake up in a tent during a thunderstorm is an additional reason why my idea of "roughing it" is staying in a cabin. I don't like bugs. I don't like rattlesnakes. I worry about ticks.

Being reminded that I am not the outdoor type is depressing. I would love to plunge into research that takes me into the wilderness. In fact, I do field research. I go to my settings. I take photos and make notes. But since I write books and stories set in the past or the near-future, I am looking backward or imagining forward. I read other people's accounts of living through a flood or a hurricane. I watch news videos. I read geographic reports. I try to get as close as I can to the actual experience.

I have done experiments such as being locked in a car truck while tied up. I've visited a virtual reality lab.

What would happen if I challenged myself to more outdoor adventures?. Would that affect what I write about and how I write? I did go to Alaska on a cruise, and I allowed my traveling companion to talk me into white-water rafting and a helicopter ride to a glacier. . .but what I really need for the book I'm working on is to be aboard a train in a Pullman coach in 1939.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Degrees of Separation

I finally finished the rewrites for Forty Dead Men a few minutes ago. I have a book review to write, and another book to read for review. Tomorrow my husband Don goes in for an outpatient biopsy, which the doc tells us is just a precaution. (which doesn't mean either of us is looking forward to it). What I really do look forward to is Wolf Hall.

Louis Jenkins (l) and Don Koozer (r) @1965
Don and I don't watch much on television except for the occasional movie or the rare series binge-watch. (All right, I love Game of Thrones, books and series) When I find something that we both really like to watch, it is a nice bonding experience. We talk it over afterwards, and a good movie will take my mind off my troubles for a few hours. For the past few evenings we’ve enjoyed binge-watching the PBS series Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s two wonderful novels about Henry VIII’s court and Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies. No matter what your opinion of Mantel’s take on Cromwell, the PBS production is gorgeous and the acting is spectacular. Claire Foy makes an excellent Anne Boleyn, and Damian Lewis is compelling as Henry. Of course, I’d watch Lewis read the phone book and enjoy it, but several professional critics agree with my assessment.

Yet as wonderful as the entire cast is, Mark Rylance as Cromwell is eye-poppingly good, if that’s a word. How is it that a person can convey the entire gamut of human thought and emotion without ever saying a word? I had only seen Mark Rylance in one other major production before Wolf Hall, (The Other Boleyn Girl) but I have known of him for years. That is because he and I only have three degrees of separation.

Jenkins (l) and Rylance (r) @ 2012
My darling husband, Don Koozer, grew up in Enid, Oklahoma. Don is a literate person who has been interested in writing, especially poetry, since he was a very young man. When he was an undergraduate at Phillips University, he was one of a posse of four young men who liked to gather and talk literature (Among other things. They were four idiot college guys, after all.) One of the crew was Louis Jenkins, who for some years was Don’s best friend. Eventually, Louis moved to Minnesota and Don moved to Arizona, and though they still keep in touch, they have both lived long lives apart.

Don never lost his interest in poetry, and since his retirement he has had dozens of poems published as well as two books of collected works. But Louis became a professional poet.

Can you support yourself as a professional poet? What do you think? However, between working in libraries and driving UPS trucks, Louis actually became famous. He has published many many books of collected works, has read his work several times on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, and had a play based on his work produced and performed by—you guessed it—Mark Rylance.

Mark Rylance was the director of the Globe Theatre in London for years. He has won a British BAFTA award, two Olivier Awards, and three Tonys. And for two of those Tony acceptance speeches, he recited poems by Louis Jenkins. I can quite understand why Rylance likes Jenkins and Jenkins likes Koozer. They’re all…let us say…quirky. Jenkins’ prose poems are weird, hilarious, and deep all at the same time. If you didn’t see the Tony presentations, here is a link to the 2011 ceremony and Rylance’s fabulous recitation of Louis’ poem “Walking Through Walls.”

I like historical fiction and historical drama, so I was disposed to enjoy Wolf Hall in any event, but Rylance’s Cromwell is such a wonder that I’m proud to claim my three-degree separation, however dubious.

I wonder if Mark Rylance knows Kevin Bacon?
Disclaimer: This is a reworking of a similar entry I did for another blog several years ago, after I watched Wolf Hall the first time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Have book, will travel

Barbara here. Work vacations are some of the great perks of being a writer. In a recent post I talked about my obsession with authenticity and realism in my stories, to the extent that I trekked all around the Great Northern Peninsula for FIRE IN THE STARS and endured a five-day winter camping expedition for THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY. After that particular research trip, I vowed my next book would be set in Hawaii. Or on a Greek island.

I couldn't quite work either destination into my Amanda Doucette series – which is set in various iconic locations across Canada, alas – but I did the next best thing. I picked the beautiful islands of Georgian Bay in the sunny, warm summertime. Georgian Bay is a misnomer. It has sometimes been called the sixth Great Lake, but because of a quirk of geology it is not sufficiently separated from Lake Huron to be eligible for its own lake status. But at 15,000 square kilometres, it is no mere "bay". It is a UNESCO world biosphere reserve and home to the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. It has 2000 kilometres of rugged granite shoreline and at least 30,000 islands, which makes it a paradise for cottages, camping, boating, and especially kayaking. I did a kayak trip there a few years ago and always wanted to capture its wild beauty, powerful weather, and changeable moods. A perfect setting for drama, struggle, and escape.

Georgian Bay is about a 600 kilometre (375 mile) drive from Ottawa, so I had to plan my trip carefully. I could not jaunt back and forth each time a question arose, to double-check my facts or refresh my memory of specific locales. But since I don't really outline or plot my novels ahead of time, I don't really know what I need to know until I need to know it (if you get my meaning). This is the challenge of writing about a setting that is far from home. Another challenge is that Georgian Bay is a far different place at the height of the summer, when it bustles with tourists, adventurers, and cottagers cavorting on its sparkling waters, than it is in the icy grip of winter. I needed to see the area in the exact season I was writing about.

So my preliminary musings about PRISONERS OF HOPE were based on my memory of my kayak trip, and last summer, while I was actually still writing THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, I made a quick three-day trip out there to scout locations. This past winter, when I started to write, I used my memory and my notes; I used that writer's great friend, Google; and I relied on maps, books, and friends. What I didn't know and couldn't find out, I made up. Along the way, I kept a running file on all the questions that surfaced. What does the hospital in Parry Sound look like? What do the cottages around Pointe au Baril look like? What does a Massassauga rattlesnake sound like and how fast does it move? How hard is it to paddle in the open bay? How big are the waves?

At the beginning of July, with about three-quarters of the first draft written, I set out to answer those questions.

Accompanied by my ever-patient sister and my less patient Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retreivers, I booked a little cottage for a week on the shore of Georgian Bay north of the town of Parry Sound, which, with a population of about 6500, is the regional hub for the area. Armed with my checklist, my iPhone camera, and a notebook, I drove north and south in and out of the coastline and talked to people along the way. By kayak and canoe, I explored the inlets and islands. I experienced sunny days, moonlit nights, misty mornings, and crashing thunderstorms. I took a three-hour lake cruise through the islands, I rented a kayak to trace part of the route Amanda would take, and I hiked along the shore cliffs and through the bogs and crags of the forest. I saw rattlesnake, deer, mink, turtles, frogs, toads, herons, ducks, gulls, geese, whippoorwills, woodpeckers, and more bugs than I cared to. But that too is part of the Georgian Bay experience.

I answered my questions and found new ones. I made notes about the changes I would have to make to the manuscript and mentally added the rich detail that will bring the final version to life. But all the while I had fun as I learned more about the beautiful jewel that was my setting. I watched my dogs interacting with the environment, playing in the water and reacting to the rattlesnake. Role models and inspiration for Kaylee, Amanda Doucette's lively Duck Toller.

It made a great combination of work and play, and at the end, after I've polished this novel over the coming months, I hope readers will feel as if they have stepped out of the pages and into the Bay, dipping their paddle in the sparkling water and clambering over the smooth pink shores. I hope they will feel the wind in their face and hear the waves slapping against the boat. I hope they will become travellers too.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Help! I have no time!!

 by Rick Blechta

We’re getting ready to leave town and I have no time to finish the post I was working on for this week.

But I have two thoughts to share with everyone. The first is something I have come to believe in very strongly:

The second highlights the extreme importance of always checking one’s spelling:

I will be back next week with a thoughtfully put-together post — with exceptionally good spelling!