Good Bye

Alas, the time has come to cut bait on The Seasons of Doubt, a book I’ve been working on three years.

We’ve had a rough and uncomfortable relationship this story and me. At times it seemed to want to be told, then wouldn’t cooperate to tell it. Maybe I couldn’t hear it, maybe it was Mary, the woman telling the story, who couldn’t tell it.

We’ve given up on each other twice before and each time we’ve touched noses and started over again. This time I think our relationship is terminal. Part of me is relieved, part sad. I wonder if other writers grapple with this kind of thing.

Adieu, Mary, fare thee well.

Your Place Your Time

I learned something huge from Stephen King: we writers need a place and a time to write. He  means no interruptions, doors closed.

Yeh, right. When you’re rushing to get to work, when the laundry needs doing, diapers need changing, and some robo’s calling for your vote, maybe it’s not so easy.

Years ago, I wanted to write so bad, but it hadn’t been going well, so I gave it a try. In the mornings, I began turning off my phone and closing up in my little space (a landing at the top of the stairs). I resisted the urges to check email and the stock market. Laundry did not exist. The phone didn’t exist. I kept myself cooped up there, hands on the keyboard, rear in the chair and—voila—pages began to get written.

I told friends I wasn’t available in the mornings, but some still called. I felt guilty when I didn’t answer, had to make myself resist.

My friends have since learned I’m not available mornings until after eleven o’clock. And, to a person, they respect my privacy. One, an artist, is the sort who thrives on contact. We share an awful lot in common and can debate almost anything endlessly. He waits, and when the phone rings at 11:02 I know it’s him.

Get your hands on Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He’s a generous master at conveying the behaviors that allow writing to get done. And one of his most important lessons is  we need some place and time for our writing or our stories will never be told.

Thank you, Stephen King.

A Final Critique

Hi, Everyone,

It’s been too long since I’ve posted. I’ll admit I’ve spent the last few months withdrawing from the world and its fracases. And I have been doing writing (escaping? who knows).

So, what’s new? I’m closing in on the completion of two novels. They’re linked (mildly), and they’ve deserved all of me in order to get to know the people telling the tales and getting their stories down.

I’ve come to the phase of writing a novel I’ve never been good at: the great last read.

It’s the time you have to back away and approach your stuff as someone who’s never seen it before and I’ve never been real good at it. I can do that to everybody else’s, but when it’s mine, I just haven’t been able to resist fixing my own pages as I read.

Fixing doesn’t work when you’re supposed to be a reader. And my stuff always has a lot of warts that need fixing. Even Donna Tartt’s stuff had warts, so did Wallace Stegner’s, and Stephen King’s and Irma Frabbish’s (just kidding, I don’t know Irma).

This is the time when the best authors take a step back and take one last looksee before they send their final writing out.

We writers do a lot of critiquing and we learn to be pretty good at it. I have to forget what I know what’s in my stories right now. I want the same distance I can give somebody else’s story I;ve never read.

Good critiquers don’t fix. Good critiquers don’t rewrite. Good critiquers read, take notes, let the author know what they think. Critiquers jot down where the pace lags (the story’s boring), where the writing doesn’t work (is telling too much and is pretty didactic and preachy), places where stuff doesn’t make sense, where it’s redundant.

Easy-peasy when it comes to critiquing somebody else’s manuscript. Not so easy with your own.

Well, that’s where I’m at: critiquing my own stuff. I hope I’ll be able to pick up these two manuscripts and be clear with them like can be with other writers’. I hope I can read them with a critical eye.

I plan to hold to this mantra as I read: “No fixing stuff. Not. Not. Not. You get to fix them later, Jeannie.”

If you’re of a mind to throw some good juju my way right now, I’d be ever so grateful. Maybe one day I can return the favor.

Ta-ta for now,

Jeannie

The Secret First Draft

 

For my class centered on first-draft writings and geared to uncertain or inexperienced writers, the cozy loft at Another Read Through books is perfect: relaxed, inviting and as warm as your living room. Surrounded with books, it’s just the place for us, who long to tell a story, to face the blank page. A blank page can be a devil.

As our guide in the class we’re using Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. King knows how hard it is to write honestly and he insists the only good writing is honest writing. But he gives us a real method to deal with it:

Close the door.

Don’t let anybody see a word of your first draft. He tells us not to succumb to fears someone will  disagree, censure, blame us for political correctness, for our mores, our manners. He tells us in the first draft to let come out whatever comes out. Anything that wants to be said whether it’s sweet, nasty, offensive. lovable, controversial, relevant, irreverent, gets said. ANYTHING.

Most of us want readers to like what we write. So we tend to write what we think will get applause. King says those thoughts kill good writing.

We need to accept that, in the end, not everybody’s going to like what we write. We can’t control every opinion. Every reader brings his/her own experience, taste and prejudice to a piece of writing. Even the most vanilla prose is offensive to some people. Our writing’s never going to make everyone happy. And knowing that can liberate us.

First drafts are often called free writes. Good reason for it. Free writes demand we write freely and that we let ourselves scribble whatever gets scribbled. Free writescoffee cup and tablet mean we don’t judge what comes out. King says these drafts are private, our secret. We show them to nobody.

But even in secret, authentic writing takes guts.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

 

 

I think it’s always great fun to discover a new author, somebody I’ve never read, or heard of. It’s even more fun when it turns out to be someone good, someone you want to read more.

I just finished The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths, an English detective potboiler by Harry Bingham. And it turned out to be a good one.

In the story, psychotic detective, Fiona Griffiths, gets an undercover assignment to investigate a vast plot to reprogram corporate payroll systems. If successful, the scheme could syphon off billions of pounds and bankrupt many businesses. Fiona is sent to infiltrate. She is perfect for it, yet her boring demeanor hides a psyche that is barely tethered to the world. But her particular detachment and intelligence suit her to both the assignment and the dangers inherent in it.

In a wonderful turn,  Fiona Griffiths’ cover, Fiona Grey, bequeaths her a mental hold on the world she has not had. And it is her cover who carries both of them as “they” are buried in the peril and uncertainty of the investigation.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths is a wonderful read.

Tana French I’m a Fan

 

The Secret Place

I just finished Tana French’s The Secret Place. What a read; fun, fast, imperfect.

The action of the story takes place in one day. The day begins when a card is posted on a bulletin board of an elite girls’ prep school. The card is unsigned; it says the writer knows who murdered a boy the year before. Two cops, Moran, ambitious but not sure of himself, and his superior, sarcastic and streetwise Antoinette Conway, are sent to investigate.

In the school, French describes an idyllic place of privilege and she nails the back-stabbing cynical teen girls who are suspect in the killing. These kids are downright snarky. Couldn’t stop hating them. Couldn’t put the book down.

Don’t expect depth, but do expect a good mystery and a bunch of compelling characters to carry it.

 

Anyone for Twitter?

 

Today’s rumination:

As per someone who “knows” and told me I should, I’ve been a tweeting fool the last few weeks. It gives me pause: Does any of my hundreds of followers really care about my 140 characters? Does anyone really read them? And conversely, does anyone actually LIKE tweeting? Particularly someone like me, a lonely work-alone writer who ponders, and ponders, and ponders her words, and who takes whatever time and space it requires to write them.

I think some do care. I think some read tweets for pleasure and perhaps knowledge. But I want some proof, some indication, some sign from the ether it’s so.

Maybe there’s a little birdy to tell me.Twitter bird

Characters Write Their Stories

 

The calendar races toward my upcoming classes at Another Read Through Books. It’s making me think of the ingredients that cook up a good story and it reminds me of the sagest (sp?) advice I ever heard. The advice comes from my mentor, Craig Lesley. The best stories hinge on characters. They make us care about their characters’ conflicts, their longings, and in the end, how everyone in the stories changes. Craig photo

Gifting Books? Great Idea

This year for Christmas, I wanted to give books for my seven nieces and nephews. Their ages range from 4 to 13. I have no idea what kids those ages are reading, so I called my bookseller before I went and asked her to select two or three titles for each age (I sort of knew what the kids were interested in).

Let me tell you, she knew her books, she knew what kids were reading and she had a stack ready for me when I got there. My own personal shopper. It was perfect. The kids probably would rather have Christmas books for kidsvideo games and toys, but I wanted to give them something that would last, like books did for me a century ago.

I came home so happy.

Now….for….wrapping…..