Two Overlooked Impacts on Editing

Pexels Image by Suzy Hazelwood

Thank you to those who commented on last week’s blog. They inspired me to give more thought to writing productivity and editing, specifically, since it’s 100% of my writing life these days.

Whether I’ve had a good or lousy editing session depends on a number of factors, like how many other things I have on my mind, whether I’ve slept well, eaten properly, or even exercised. As mentioned last week, skill and time play a role in productivity. But here are two more factors that tend to slip off my radar.

One is location. After blogging about the importance of stepping away from writing to get a change a scenery, I’ve also remembered that editing in a different space from my usual spot often has a positive impact on my work. It can be a library, the car, (I did that a lot while waiting for my kids’ extracurricular activities to finish) or somewhere else. Those changes helped me see my work in a new light, literally and figuratively.

Last week, for example, I drove my husband downtown to have a minor medical procedure. While I waited to pick him up, I went for a walk and wound up in a food court at a large mall. I ordered lunch, found a table removed from everyone else’s and, after eating, pulled out the Casey Holland novella I’ve been working on. I don’t know if it was the lighting, the white noise, or what, but I suddenly found entire sentences that didn’t need to be there. Would I have done this had I been working at my home office? I don’t know, but I do know that those lines had made it through umpteen previous drafts.

Here’s another, often overlooked impact on my editing life. Moods. After times of frustration and annoyance at my secretarial jobs, I’d find a quiet place on my lunchbreak and start crossing out unnecessary words. There was something about a “let’s cut to the chase and bloody well get it done” frame of mind that helped cut superfluous words. So, if you’re in a lousy mood and don’t want to get down to editing, try it anyway. You might be surprised.

I’m not suggesting you’ll be a better editor if you’re experiencing negative emotions. If you’re really happy or relaxed, editing can go well, too. All I’m saying is that my moods have an impact on my work, so I now attempt to make them work for me. If I’m experiencing intense emotional or physical pain, however, that’s a different story, and probably a topic for another day.

Writing Full Time: Living the Dream, or Not

Last week, I was interviewed by podcaster, mystery novelist, and artist, Joanna Vander Vlugt. Joanna’s podcast, JVCArtStudio From the Dressing Room. We discussed all sorts of things about writing and the writing life. Please check it out  at: https://anchor.fm/jcvartstudio/episodes/Mystery-Author–Debra-Purdy-Kong-e16s9ns

Now, I need to thank blogger Jacqui Murray for today’s post. We were discussing a topic on her blog, which gave me the idea for this one. Thank you Jacqui!

I know many writers dream of writing full time. It was mine, too. I was lucky to have that opportunity for three years when I left the world of retail and took time to decide what to do next. By the time I ventured into security work, I was more than ready to return to part-time work, and not just for the steady paycheck. You see, I never intended to write full time permanently.

The truth is, some of my best ideas for short stories, essays, novellas, and novels, came from real-life experiences. In the podcast, Joanna and I discussed Casey Holland mystery #4, The Deep End, because it was the book that most draws on my experience. When I was a criminology student, I volunteered at a youth detention center and kept notes for a paper I’d be writing for a course. Let me tell you, those notes came in handy when I started that book two decades later.

I’ve found plenty of inspiration and motivation by simply going out in the world. Whether through employment, fitness centers, volunteering, socializing, hobbies, writing events, or riding public transit, there are endless opportunities to pick up snippets of great dialogue, create a character, or define a setting.

During those three years, it turned out that I wasn’t that much more productive than I had been when working part-time jobs. I’d learn to become efficient with time management. If I only had forty-five minutes to write, then I got down to it. If I had a whole morning, I’d browse the net and answer emails before opening up the WIP. The point is, you don’t have to be a full-time writer to be a productive writer.

Even if you’re writing world-building fantasy and science fiction novels, your stories still need conflict, relationship, and dialogue, and ideas for your plots can certainly come from real life.

If you’ve already put decades into the workforce and have done plenty of volunteering, hopefully you have notebooks full of ideas, bits of dialogue and setting notes. Still, there’s nothing like a change of scenery to help you get a fresh perspective on your work, to see or touch or smell something new. And wouldn’t it be great if the best of those moments were woven into your manuscript?

If you find you’re at your best writing full time, then go for it, but take those breaks, try something new, a new exercise regime, a new recipe, a new place to visit in your own locale. You might be amazed at what’ll it do for your writing.

Three Dominant Writing Challenges

Before I get into today’s post, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been on a sales promotion blitz for my Casey Holland mystery series. Until August 28th, all six books can be purchased for under $10 (US) The first one, The Opposite of Dark, is free and the next two are $.99 each. You can see all of the books and sale prices on one page at https://tinyurl.com/myhvfzjp These sale prices are also available on other platforms.

Now, all writers who hope to make a living from their work, or to at least supplement their income, face many challenges. For me, those challenges often boil down to three primary things: time, energy, and skill.

Those who need a day job to pay their bills, are raising kids, or caring for aging parents, are all-too familiar with the time challenge. Over the years, I’ve developed strategies, mainly by preparing for the project(s) I intend to work on that week, and minimizing internet and TV time. I’ve also carved out time by giving up exercise or housework. Not a huge sacrifice really, but there’s a price to be paid regarding exercise, which leads me to my second point. Energy.

Even those of you who’ve carved extra time for writing might discover a lack of energy for a variety of reasons. COVID hasn’t helped, especially with mental health issues, but there are other physical health challenges that I’m finding as I age. For instance, I need to nap more often because my brain becomes foggy after 2:30 p.m. Second, I’m dealing with neck and shoulder pain these days, which has flared up off and on for twenty years. Other writers are enduring health issues that drain them of creative energy or even the inclination to sit in front of the keyboard and start working. Grief, stress, loss of income and/or home, and other uncertainties all contribute, as I’m sure many of you know.

Last but not least, is skill. For newer writers, the question often is, can I do this? Will I ever be good enough to write one publishable story? Is there a better use of my time? For more experienced writers, it’s the inability to find an agent or publisher for their finished novel(s) that results in the same questions. For those who’ve been published, self doubt creeps in with lousy reviews, poor sales, or the sinking feeling that you’re not good enough to keep doing this.

I’ve dealt with all of these issues, and more, over the past four decades, and here are two things that have kept me going. First, I still love writing, editing, publishing, selling, and even some of the marketing stuff.

Second, I don’t constantly berate myself over mistakes and disappointments. At the end of every week, I conclude that I did the best I could with whatever time, energy, and skill I have. I’ve used this mantra for years and it’s helped me come to terms with things. If you think it’ll help you on your creative journey, feel free to use it. You deserve to acknowledge your challenges, and you deserve to give yourself a break. The mountain you’re climbing will always be there, you don’t need to break your back, or your spirit, over it.

World Elephant Day

My babysitting duties are in full swing, which has been great fun so far. Ellie’s started dancing to songs in one of her musical books. Thursday to Sundays are my days off, which also means catching up editing, blogs, book reviews, and other things, so these week’s blog is a short.

My World Wildlife Fund calendar reminded me that today is World Elephant Day, so I thought I’d share a link for further information on how to protect these beautiful creatures before it’s too late. You can find it HERE.

World Elephant Day began in 2012 and is acknowledged every August 12th. All elephant species are in danger, and given the state of the world these days, I’m going to focus more on how I can help the environment. Donating and writing about are just two of those things.

My New Normal Begins

She Loves Her Balloon!

This week, I’ve started my new role as part-time caregiver for my granddaughter, Ellie, who’s just turned one. Because the commute’s too long to do daily, I’m staying out at my daughter and son-in-law’s place for half the week. I have to say, I’m getting a good workout by keeping up with Ellie as she crawls and pulls herself up on things constantly.

It also means reduced writing time and fewer blogs, but this is my choice. While it’s been a privilege to spend my first year of retirement writing full time, I’ve also reached a point in my life where doing so isn’t necessary. Honestly, there’s been many periods where it’s not been a priority. I’ve been lucky to enjoy part-time work, for the most part, and always found it easier to focus on writing when time was compressed.

I’ve spent the last four decades carving out bits of writing time on buses, during work lunch breaks, on holidays and long weekends, sitting in cars waiting for the kids to get out of school, at pool sides, skating rinks, Tae Kwon Do studios, and so forth. I’ve been lucky enough to work with agents, editors, publishers, and to self-publish.

I never planned to depend on fiction-writing to earn a living. I’ve never had a goal of reaching anyone’s bestseller list or acquiring a large advance with a major publisher. As a creative person who grew up poor, I’m quite fond of multiple income streams, even if they aren’t large. Besides, many of my story ideas always came from getting out in the world and working, whether paid or unpaid.

Sure, goals and circumstances will likely change again. These days, I’m content to write part-time. I’ll still be producing pages for my critique group every week and taking part in various events, and that’s just fine right now.

Speaking of events, I took part in a fun discussion about amateur sleuth fiction with two other British Columbia mystery writers, Winona Kent and Judee Fong, on Tuesday, which was moderated by cozy mystery author, Erik D’Souza. The recording’s still available, which you can find HERE.

If you’re interested in learning more about Crime Writers of Canada and Canadian writers, please check out the following links.

Crime Writers of Canada

Subscribe to Crime Beat, CWC’s free monthly newsletter

Celebrating Jacqui Murray’s New Release!

I’m delighted to announce that prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray has just released the second book in her Dawn of Humanity series, Laws of Nature. Jacqui writes about time periods that few authors tackle, and she does it beautifully. Have a look at today’s quick Q & A for insights on the time period Jacqui explores:

  1. What is Lucy’s relationship with animals?

Lucy and her kind considered animals the alpha in their environs. They believed them like themselves—able to plan, make tools, and evaluate circumstances—and treated as respected equals, maybe even superior because of their strength and dominance. Because of this attitude, animals and man thrived together.

  1. Prehistoric fiction sounds boring.

Not at all. I used to call the Man vs. Nature trilogies “prehistoric thrillers” because the stories share many traits found in that genre—flawed super-heroes, death-defying events, a small group entrusted to save the world despite impossible circumstances. If you like thrillers, you’ll like these prehistoric fiction trilogies. The stories aren’t about grunting cavemen who beat their enemies with clubs. It’s about the evolution of what makes us human—culture, art, body adornments, religion, decision-making, problem-solving, and more. The trilogy, Dawn of Humanity, and this story specifically deal with the nascence of those characteristics. Without claws, sharp teeth, and thick skin, we relied on our developing big brains to outsmart enemies. That’s what I focus on.

And, unless you define “boring” as spending most of their daylight searching for food, fighting for their lives, and sleeping, their lives weren’t boring either. Those “needs”—the lowest in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—consumed most of their time but not all. They possessed curious minds (which arguably, Boah’s pre-Homo genus and Ump’s proto-wolf kind lacked), asked questions, wondered why, and made decisions based on thoughtful consideration rather than instinct. Both Lucy’s and Xha’s kinds are hundreds of thousands of years from discovering the beauty of art, music, poetry, and abstract concepts but because their brains were evolving the ability to handle those advanced concepts, I show how some of them might have begun.

Here’s the book’s summary:

In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.

Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

Click Here to see the Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/gbyA9rDSy9k

The book is Available (print or digital) at:Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU  Kindle India

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.

Connect with her on Social Media:

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog: https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:  http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:  https://jacquimurray.net

The Challenge of Fictional Voices

Photo from Pexels-Pixabay

I used to read a lot of cozy mysteries. In fact, they launched a lifelong love of mysteries…Nancy Drew, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayer, and so forth. As the years passed, I found plenty of new cozy authors whose protagonists were bakers, bookshop owners, and artisans, among other things. The plots weren’t overly complex and there was usually only one subplot, but part of the attraction of cozies is that they’re light, fun reads, and sometimes I need that.

Whenever I came across an author I really enjoyed, I tried another of the individual’s series, but it usually proved to be a bit of a letdown. The reason for this was the protagonist’s voice. That character sounded identical in vocabulary, tone, and favorite catch words to the previous series’ protagonist. I felt as if I was reading the same book. For some readers the similarity might be okay, but I wanted a little more. What I’ve learned from firsthand experience, though, is that doing more isn’t easy.

Many of us create protagonists that are composites of people we’ve come across in our lives. These characters might also be completely fictional, however, the phrasing, word choices, and reaction to situations, are often drawn from our own background and experiences. As a starting point, that’s fine, but do we want to spend our entire writing lives creating the same protagonist?

Maybe the answer’s yes for some, particularly if you’ve created a complex, multi-faceted character; however, I’m trying to create something different from what I’ve done before, especially now that I’m working in a separate genre. It’s been challenging. All those notes I’ve made about unique and hopefully memorable characters don’t always fully appear on the page until a few rewrites later, and even then I still wonder.

One of the many things I admire about Agatha Christie is that although Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot are both intelligent, thoughtful, and introverted, they’re very different characters, beyond Hercule’s accent.

I read somewhere, quite some time ago, that authors (regardless of genre) also tend to focus on the same theme in their work. They focus on a certain type of character, a certain type of problem, which is tackled from different angles with every book. Have you noticed this? Is repetition in characters’ voice and theme a problem for you as a reader? As a writer?

How I Spent My Break

If you’re looking for free mystery and suspense novels, I have one more BookFunnel promotion I’m taking part in this summer. This one ends on August 1st and there are nearly seventy authors participating. My Casey Holland mysteries, Deadly Accusations (#2) and Beneath the Bleak New Moon (#3) are also free, but only through BookFunnel’s newsletter campaign till Aug. 1. You can find the whole roster of books HERE.

I’m not sure that writers truly ever stop writing, even while on holiday, but I sort of managed it. I didn’t look at my urban fantasy for eight days, which became kind of difficult after four or five days. The thing is, when your mind is relaxed and all is quiet, ideas pop up.

This is how I found myself working on characters and an outline for the paranormal mystery I’ve mentioned in the past. It was great fun exploring ‘what-if’ concepts and creating characters. It was even more fun coming up with ideas for monsters. I’m trying to stay away from old familiars like vampires, werewolves, and ghosts, at least with this book. Creating monsters is a whole new challenge in my writing life, but I’ve read a couple of good books on the topic.

Speaking of reading, I read a terrific how-to book called Mastering Your Mystery by Cheryl Bradshaw. She goes through the basics of writing a crime novel, but takes it further in the second half of the book by offering helpful advice on marketing, publishing, and promotion. I especially liked that she went the extra mile to provide a list of awards and competitions to submit to, and a list of sites to help promote your work. Although I’ve read my share of how-to books, I always find that reading these books sparks ideas for current projects.

Last, but definitely not least, I spent a great deal of time with little Ellie, who’ll soon be one year old. Last week, she learned to crawl up a couple of steps and had her first ‘swim’ in the lake with her mom and dad. I’m always amazed by the astonishing changes during a child’s first year of life, and can’t wait to see what the next year will bring.

She’s hold a favorite new toy, a bowling pin.
She loves her food.

Taking a Break

Pexels photo by Vlada Karpovich

Summer’s well underway here in the Vancouver area with temperatures soaring as high as 42 degrees Celsius (107 degrees Fahrenheit) earlier this week. As near as I recall, Vancouver hasn’t experienced this in the 60+ years I’ve lived in the west coast.

I have a basement office, which helps, as does the fan by my feet. The oven stays off these days, which is fine because I have a few slow cooker recipes that’ll get us through. I can edit in the morning, but by two in the afternoon, I started to wilt, although that’s fairly normal for me, anyway. Temperatures are easing slowly, thank goodness, as the city’s experienced a high number of heat-related deaths.

Meanwhile, my hubby and son are starting a two-week vacation tomorrow, so we’re taking time off to spend with family. I had my second vaccine on Sunday, a Moderna this time; the first was Pfizer. There were fewer side effects the second time around, which is good news. There’s nothing like having a mild fever during a major heat wave. I’m looking forward to visiting with friends again and entering a store without a mask, which will be optional (depending on the situation) as of July 1st in our province.

I’ll check my emails, but basically, I just want to take it easy, enjoy some downtime, and read books. What I’ve learned from vacations is that when your mind is relaxed and the to-do list is empty, story ideas tend to pop up, so I’ll keep a notebook nearby. Earlier this year, I began compiling notes for a new series I’m really excited about, but I haven’t opened the file folder in over three months. Perhaps, it’s time. We’ll see.

I’ll be back at it in a couple of weeks, revved up and ready to go!

The Blade Man Excerpt

This is one of those weird weeks that’s been inundated with appointments, the kind of situations where one appointment suddenly becomes three because more work or information is needed. Time constraints have kept me from coming up with a new topic this week, so I’m sharing a short excerpt of my latest Casey Holland mystery, The Blade Man, which was released in February 2020.

I was thinking about the book last week, because June 15th was the tenth anniversary of an infamous day in Vancouver history, the Stanley Cup riot. For those not of you not familiar with hockey, the Vancouver Canucks were hosting the Boston Bruins in game seven of the Stanley Cup final in 2011. There’d been an electrifying and intense winner-take-all buildup to the game, and, well, the Canucks lost.

Some of the fans didn’t take it well and begin throwing tantrums in the streets. Drunkenness, anger, and disappointment escalated into a violent mob who took to burning cars and looting buildings. People were hurt. It was not our city’s finest moment, but the following day all sorts of people arrived and began cleaning up the glass and debris. No one asked them to. They just did it.

That riot inspired the opening for The Blade Man, but my story takes place in Coquitlam, BC, a municipality east of Vancouver. Here’s an excerpt from the opening of the book:

“Wesley, look out!” Casey Holland ducked behind the bus driver’s seat and glanced over her shoulder. “Everyone down, now!

Casey didn’t know why Wesley bothered with the yelling or the horn. Minutes ago, a mob of teens and young adults had overtaken the road, ignoring his earlier blasts. Why would they listen now?

The Molotov cocktail exploded on the road, rocking the bus slightly. Somewhere outside, a woman screamed. Casey peeked out the window to see a woman running from the flames flaring up just a few feet from the bus. If they had to evacuate, she’d make damn sure that the half dozen passengers who’d decided to stay on board got out of here safely. A decade of security work had taught her to stay calm in tense situations. She’d be deceiving herself if she wasn’t worried, though. A drunken mob was a new experience she’d rather live without.

“That was too damn close!” A middle-aged passenger glared at Casey. “I thought you called the cops.”

“I did.”

“Then where the hell are they? The RCMP detachment’s just two blocks from here.”

“Manpower shortage, most likely. From what I hear there’s trouble at the rally in the park.”

“Then they should have called for reinforcements by now,” the woman grumbled as she opened a window. “It’s too hot in here. Don’t you have air conditioning on this bus?”

Casey admitted it was unusually warm for mid-May. “Sorry, no. This is an older model.”

“Stupid company,” the woman muttered. “This is the last time I’ll ride an MPT bus.”

Casey hoped so. She stood and used her phone to record the broken glass and burning rag on the road. She zeroed in on the five culprits in ball caps, hoodies, and bandana-covered faces who were laughing and high-fiving one another. The stench of gasoline and smoke made her cough. She’d closed all the windows when the trouble started, but she wasn’t going to make anyone close them again in this heat, at least not right away.

. . .

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find the book at these sites:

Amazon universal link: mybook.to/TheBladeMan

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-blade-man

Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1495092401

Barnes & Noble : https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-blade-man-debra-purdy-kong/1136038076;jsessionid=586EF327BB32223BF6FBE875896E9649.prodny_store01-atgap14?ean=2940163854387

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=CpMvEAAAQBAJ