Friday, June 20, 2014

Preparing to Retreat, Part II

Back in January, I wrote about my anticipation as I prepared to attend the Sisters in Crime retreat in North Carolina. I was excited about having a week away from all distractions, in a lovely setting, where all that was expected of me was that I would write. That retreat more than lived up to my expectations. I didn't write a lot, but I spent time doing research and thinking through my plot for my 1939 historical thriller. I did some reading for my non-fiction book about clothing and crime, and I made some notes.

Both projects are still underway, and I'm preparing to retreat, again. I feel a little guilty about this because I should be able to write at home or in my office. It's summer. Theoretically, as an academic, I have summers "off". I can move back and forth between office and home working at my leisure. But it doesn't quite happen that way. I go into my office at school most days because I need the structure to keep me from spending the day getting no more accomplished than thinking about writing while I do a long list of other tasks that need doing. But when I go into the office, I get drawn into other things as e-mails pop up. Academic life doesn't stop because it's summer. If you're in the office, you're available. So, although I feel a little guilty about paying to go away for a week when I should be able to write at home, I'm going. I searched the internet and found an inn for writers in Vermont. Meals are prepared and served, and guests have undisturbed time to write. Writing services are available, including workshops. But the place also seems perfect for writers like me who are simply seeking a hideaway.

One of the attractions is that Vermont is in driving distance, so I can take along the books and papers that I need for work on my clothing and crime book. I talked a friend into signing up for the same week. She lives even closer to that part of Vermont and also has a project that she needs to work on. But we have rooms on opposite sides of the inn and will not interrupt each others work time.

Sounds terrific, right? But the thing is my retreat is coming up at the end of the month. Right now I'm exhausted after a week of getting only a few hours sleep each night. Why, you ask? Well, that's because with four weeks to do the revisions on the Hannah McCabe mystery I have coming out in March, I spent much of that time thinking about the editorial suggestions I'd receive. Not that I didn't touch my manuscript during that time. I read all 377 pages twice. But I couldn't figure out where to put the scenes from the first chapter that I was told would work better later in the book. Start with the second chapter, I was told. I explained why one scene needed to stay where it was, but I still needed to revise it so that the connection to chapter three was obvious. The other two scenes were also important. But, yes, even though they had action, they seemed out of place in that first chapter. And then there were the suggestions I'd received from my first readers when I took them to dinner. After my invitation to take this second opportunity – after their first round of notes – to tell me what I should fix, they had both suggested I add one more clue to the killer. They even suggested what that clue might be. One of them, a lawyer, pointed out a couple of legal technicalities that had bothered her. Great suggestions, and I had been waiting until I did revisions to implement them. But for three weeks I was more or less stalled out as I corrected typos and did some minor tinkering.

Then last week – with my Father's Day deadline to send in my revisions looming– I got "inspired". A looming deadline tends to have that effect on me. I figured out where to move the two scenes in the first chapter (now a flashback). I thought I had figured out how to deal with the other edits I needed to do. But then I started reading out loud. I always do that sooner or later, and in this case I really needed to do it because there had been an editorial comment about being careful of the "beats" when my characters interrupted each other.

I had left the reading aloud until three days before my deadline. I wanted to tweak the dialogue and look for minor bloopers at the same time. Except when I started to read, my characters started to talk. That was when I realized that I and everyone else had missed the fact that my detectives never asked the minister why he didn't attend the "celebration of life" that one of his church members (85 and wealthy) had given herself. She wasn't the victim, but the funeral director who had ended up dead had been at her celebration the day before. The church counselor had explained why he wasn't there, unprompted by the detectives. But when they got to their interview with the minister, my detectives were interested in what had been going on with the victim. They never asked the minister an obvious question. I assumed his answer would be that he had been kept away by "church business". But suddenly my minister was telling them about a web conference call that he needed to do with the sponsor who was underwriting his national tour in the fall. And I had finally found the perfect place to insert the magic words "morality clause" that my first reader, the lawyer, had suggested. And suddenly my minister had a much better motive for murder than he'd seem to have about three minutes before.

Wonderful! Except this happened the day before my deadline, and now I had to figure out whether this one paragraph revelation might require changes elsewhere. I sent an e-mail off the next day explaining what had happened and why I was about to miss my deadline. Two days later, I sent another e-mail explaining that I was working my way back through the book a second time. I had discovered the place where I could assert that additional clue – right there in front of me, but missed until the last moment (well, now three days past the last moment).

Yesterday, I had an e-mail asking if I'd be able to send in my revisions that afternoon. Luckily, by then, I had finished reading and made a final edit (moved the last line of the book). I dashed out a list of the revisions I had made and sent list and revised manuscript off.

This morning I slept late. But my brain is still foggy. After I've had a little more rest – tomorrow – I need to sit down and read through the entire manuscript again to make sure my revisions haven't introduced bloopers. I have until some time next week as my editor reads on her end.

But – the point I'm finally getting to – right now I'm so tired that if I went off on a writers retreat, I'd probably spend the first few days taking naps. What I need to do next week is not only strike off some items on my to-do list – like renewing my passport and getting my car inspected and ordering books for my fall classes and answering e-mails and paying bills – I need to get some sleep and some exercise and clean up a diet that has included a lot of popcorn and frozen microwave meals.

Once I've gotten the tasks done that I would worry about having left undone and gotten back into semi-healthy state, I need to do some planning. I need to think about how I'm going to use the time I have available. I need to decide what books and papers to bring along – and what would be a waste of space in my car to haul to Vermont because I'm unlikely to get that much done. I want to hit the ground running with goals in mine. That way if I take time off during my week to sit by the pool, I will not end up drifting. I will arrive knowing what I want to accomplish, and I hope that will keep me on target.

I'll let you know how it goes.


Charlotte Hinger said...

Oh Frankie. In case anyone has illusions about the peaceful life writers lead!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

I think I did before I became one.

Eileen Goudge said...

I go away for a month at a time. I hole up in a country retreat or my sister's beach house. Just me and my laptop. Like you, Frankie, I often wonder why I can't have that interrupted writing time where I live. My kids are grown. My husband is extremely accommodating. My friends know not to expect to hear from me for months a time. And yet, there's always something. Enjoy your time in VT!

Frankie Y. Bailey said...

Thanks, Eileen!

Getting away to a beach house sounds lovely. I always think better when I'm in sight of water.

When I'm at home, I always feel I should respond to daily life. Daily life eats up a lot of time.