Mother’s Day Fun and Writing Updates

After three months of babysitting most weekdays, I’m on holiday this week. My S-I-L is taking the week off and guess what he’s doing? Toilet training Ellie. Yes, they’ve read up on the topic, seen a video, I think, and feel they’re ready. Let’s hope Ellie feels the same. 😊

At 21 months, she’s already using “no” a lot and having the occasional tantrum when things don’t go her way. I’m sure it’s been quite a week, but this is one of the great things about grandparenting. The responsibility isn’t mine, at least until next Monday.

As you can see from the photo, we enjoyed a happy Mother’s Day with my son doing most of the cooking. My daughter’s next baby is due in mid-August, just after Ellie turns two, so more fun is coming up, and more big changes.

On the writing front, work continues on the urban fantasy. After going through a long and invaluable critiquing process I’ll be reaching the end of that part of the process in a few more weeks. Perhaps then, I’ll look for beta readers in earnest, but it would be a huge commitment for them, so I’m thinking of what I should offer in return. A gift card perhaps? A quid pro quo arrangement?

I’ve also finalized decisions about the jacket design for the Casey mystery novella and am working on nailing down a September release date. There are also some archived online workshops I’m catching up on this week.

As you can see, I’m not slowing down on my holiday. But the weather’s been rainy and uncharacteristically cold in my neck of the woods, so why not catch up while things are good and I’m motivated?

So Long, 2021

I imagine many people have good reason to see this year end, and for things to improve in 2022. I totally get it. Here in British Columbia we’ve suffered a grueling year. Mother nature provided harsh reminders that she’s hurting and we’d better smarten up to avoid more death and destruction. As I write this, Vancouver was -12 degrees Celsius overnight. In our area, this is rare but not as unsettling as the forest fires and heat dome last the summer, and the major flooding that wiped out entire farms and killed many animals in the fall.

Worldwide, there were immense challenges, much of which saddens and angers me, especially at the horrible way people treat one another and the planet. But I also saw plenty of grassroots heroes showcased on TV, helping friends, neighbors, and community through crises. There are still many good things happening. There is still hope. It also makes me really appreciate the blessings our family enjoyed this holiday season.

Although we had snowy conditions for part of the hour+ drive to our daughter’s home, Christmas was delightful. Ellie wasn’t quite sure what was going on with all the gifts, but she certainly took to her new Elmo and other toys.

Despite the weather and ominous COVID challenges, I took some positives from this year. I worked diligently on editing the urban fantasy and made good progress, thanks to my wonderful critique group. I’m finally going back to finalizing the Casey Holland mystery novella for beta readers, which I’ll be seeking over the coming weeks.

I also returned to craft fairs and facilitating this fall, and enjoyed our first family vacation with Ellie. When it comes down to it, for me it’s all about family and doing things that fulfill me. My first full year of retirement has been busy and rewarding, but as always, I can’t wait to ring in the year new and see what the next chapter brings. Happy New Year to All!

Pixabay image by Gerd Altmann

Making the Most of Writing Time

Before, I get to today’s post, October’s mystery sales promotion is half over. If you haven’t had a chance, please take a moment to browse through a diverse roster of mysteries and thrillers. The $.99 sale for my books, Knock Knock and The Blade Man ends on the 31st. You can find the link HERE.

I have the entire week off from babysitting fourteen-month-old Ellie. At our Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, she discovered a love of pie, especially with a tiny bit of whipped cream on the side. She literally vibrated with excitement after her mom placed the spoon in her mouth. As you’ll see from the photo, meals are generally happy occasions.

Loves her scrambled eggs and veggies

I find myself with plenty of extra writing time this week. One of my ongoing challenges is to write and edit more efficiently, so I’ve implemented a strategy that’s worked before. First, I gave some thought to the projects I want to work on.

These days, it’s three novels. The urban fantasy is currently under weekly critiquing and my Casey Holland novella is nearly ready for beta readers. After working on notes, character profiles, and an outline, I’ve also started writing the first draft of a paranormal mystery.

Each project is given one hour during the day, give or take. After the first hour of work on a book, I stop for exercise. After the second hour on a different project, I stop for lunch. After lunch, I work on the third, and so far. If I want to work longer I can, or I can switch to marketing tasks.

This strategy works well if I don’t have appointments or other commitments, but because I find it tiring, I use this approach in spurts rather than month after month. I’ve always found that working on the same project all day, even with breaks, doesn’t always bring clarity, focus, or new ideas to the page.

On Monday, I’ll be back with Ellie for the next three days and feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot. 🙂

The I-Think-I-Can Approach

Planted in April 2021

A story starts with an idea, like a flower starts with a seed. It’s planted. It germinates.

As with a book or the sunflower that just bloomed in my garden four days ago, it can take a while. Weeks. Months. Even years. The process is often unpredictable.

But one day, something starts to happen. Something fresh pokes through the many thoughts, or the dirt in the ground, and you’ve begun.

The journey isn’t easy. There are periods when nothing seems to be happening. This is because you can’t truly see what’s percolating in your subconscious, or what’s going on underground. Self-doubt creeps in. Maybe unintentional neglect. Or impatient waiting for some sign of progress.

Through the period of early growth, there are setbacks and obstacles. Illness, emergencies, accidents, or natural intervention. For my sunflower it was a summer of heat domes, toxic smoky air, and water from a hose rather rather than thirst-quenching rain.

Time passes. Obstacles fade. Dry toxicity turns into breathable air. Thoughts begin to gel. The story is making sense now, and then it really takes off. One day you look up and the stem is strong and two feet tall. A bud appears. The logical sequence to an approaching climax.

Finally, one day, you spot a vibrant little flower peering down at you, and you realize it’s survived a pretty long journey. Sure, the surrounding vines and tree are stronger and larger, but my sunflower stands just as proud, basking in the light of day.

May everything you create and grow, flourish.

How My Writing’s Going These Days

Before I get to today’s topic, just a reminder that BookFunnel’s free ebook giveaway is still available till July 4th, which you can find HERE. My first two Casey Holland mysteries, The Opposite of Dark and Deadly Accusations are part of the roster of over 60 novels.

Now, as writers know, editing is a long-term process that can be frustrating, perplexing, satisfying, and rewarding. But it’s never fast, as least not for me. I’ve read countless blogs, how-to articles, and a few books on the process. The information is sometimes conflicting and doesn’t always work for me, but a huge part of the process is finding what does work.

When I’m editing my mysteries or fantasy novel, original ideas often evolve into something quite different than I originally imagined. Getting the words written is one thing, but telling a story that makes sense and doesn’t confuse readers or leave out crucial bits and nuances is challenging.

It comes down to, does the story work? The question often takes me three or four rewrites to answer. At that point I’m starting to really understand the story’s purpose, theme, and through lines. With this understanding, connections start to zing around my brain, often while away from the computer. This is the part where connections and clues come need to be inserted at specific points in the text.

So, even after four drafts, the focus isn’t on grammar, sentence structure, or spelling, and a final proofread still seems far away. I do make changes as I’m working on the bigger stuff. If it sounds arduous, it is sometimes, but I honestly enjoy the process of making each page more succinct and vivid for readers.

Last week I completed the sixth draft of my urban fantasy, which took about a year, averaging a couple of hours a day. As I’ve mentioned on previous blogs, afternoons are usually slotted for other writing tasks and projects. My goal was to pare the book down from 125,000 words. By the end of draft #6 it was 120,000 words, but I’d also added some key elements, thanks to insightful comments from my critique group. With the seventh draft, I’ll still be looking to shorten it, and hopefully, there’ll be more taking out than adding in.

I’ve been working on the seventh draft for about ten days now and it’s going faster than the previous drafts. Of course, I could be deluding myself. Still, I plan to make a major push over the coming weeks, given that I’ll soon become a part-time babysitter for my granddaughter. That’ll be a whole new challenge in itself, but a joyful one.

Creating Fictional Monsters

I’ve just finished the fifth draft of my 125,000+ word urban fantasy. I began right after retirement on June 1st and many things needed to be changed along the way. I don’t edit eight hours, or even four hours a day, but prefer to work in the mornings, leaving the rest of the day for exercise, gardening, promo stuff, other writing-related tasks and online workshops. There’s also those much beloved visits with my granddaughter Ellie.

This is the quickest draft I’ve worked through with this book, but once the weather turns cold and rainy, I hope to spend more hours on actual writing. Also, there are many more things I want to learn.

To that end, I recently bought a couple of books, which I’ll soon I dig into. One is The Fantasy Fiction Formula by Deborah Chester and the other is Writing Monsters by Philip Athans. This second book really intrigues me as supernatural monsters aren’t something I’m used to creating.

I’ve been reading a lot of authors’ fantasies and although there’s quite a variey, most of them are a little too familiar. Trolls, werewolves, vampires, goblins, golems, etc. just aren’t scary anymore, so I wanted to come up with something different than this:

So, what makes a really chilling monster in fiction? There are probably a range of answers depending on perspective and experience. After all, some people are more frightened by certain creatures than others. For me, one of the most horrifying creatures are Orcs. The first time I saw them in the Lord of the Rings movies, I could feel my heart speed up a little. I don’t think I ever got used to watching them, especially on the big screen.

So, kind of monster would scare you the most? What would make your heart race just a little, and keep you up late at night, praying nothing like that could exist in real life? I’m curious. 😊

Those Crazy Creative Phases

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted a blog, but honestly this retired grandma has been on an ambitious streak. I’ve stepped up my commitment to various writing-related tasks, as well as my new critique group and volunteer work. I’ve also attended some interesting Zoom workshops lately.

I don’t know about you but my life seems to revolve around internal cycles where I have a lot of energy and ambition to get things done for a few weeks—or even months—and then it diminishes. It doesn’t necessarily involve weather and seasons, although they might contribute.

During the low energy, unambitious phase, writing projects aren’t quite as important. I’ll have little interest in monitoring book sales or networking on social media. I still edit my book every day, but not for as long a period. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the low energy phase always passes, so I don’t fret about it anymore. It’s perfectly okay to make more time for rest and reading, a lesson that has taken a long time to learn.

I’ve been in an ambitious phase since about the end of August, which means, I’ve finished a fair number of tasks, in and out of the house. Due to the terrible fires in the U.S., I did retreat indoors for several days when Vancouver’s air quality plummeted. My throat became dry, eyes stung, and I started coughing after only a couple minutes outside. My heart goes out to everyone south of the border who are suffering so much through this calamity.

The air improved enough over the weekend to go back outside and continue yardwork, but the rain has now returned big time and I don’t know when I’ll get back to the garden. Meanwhile, the photos below show some of the clearing I’ve been doing in the backyard, plus our first sunflower! We’ve also harvested a couple dozen of tomatoes.

Our first sunflower! We started late this year.
Slowly clearing the weeds. The yard was completely overgrown at one point!

Of course, there have been visits with our lovely little Ellie, who is pure joy and light. She’s adopting a wide range of expressions and sounds and is absolutely delightful.

I don’t know how long my ambitious phase will last—I never do, but that’s okay. I’ll role with it and see what happens. How about you? Does your creative life involve ambitious, or other types of cycles?

Getting Involved

A few weeks ago, when I began planning tasks and events for the remainder of 2020, I assumed this would be a slower fall than usual. After all, I retired from my Mon-Fri day job and many of the in-person events I take part in are either cancelled or going online.

So, what to do? Well, the answers came quickly. First, I was invited to do some volunteer work for Crime Writers of Canada (I accepted this short gig which ends in Oct.). Second, I learned that my casual job, which is to facilitate creative writing workshops for my local recreation center, is starting up again for five weeks, and possibly longer if these in-person sessions go well.

Third, I’ve started an online writing critique group comprised of experienced, committed writers. I’ve known all of them for years and am thrilled that I’ll be receiving weekly feedback from this diverse and terrific group of people.

Finally, I’ve joined a highly interactive online organization that offers all kinds of mini courses, support, and resources, called Creative Academy. I hope to connect with authors, readers and gain assistance in areas I need help with.

While I’ve had a productive, self-isolating six months working on my current urban fantasy (over 280 pages edited these past three months), it’s time to reach out and connect with the writing community in new ways.

Getting involved whether through critique groups, courses, or volunteering seems like a great way to stay positive and look forward to whatever the rest of this year brings.

Ellie and me, Aug. 25. I swear she was smiling 🙂

The Writer and Retrograde Mercury

djfgjf-300x218[1]For those of you who read horoscope columns, you’ll probably know that Mercury is retrograde right now. In simple terms, it means that the planet appears to be going backwards, which causes disruptions, mishaps, and communication snafus, among other things. Astrologers tell us that this is a bad time to start new undertakings and buy expensive items like cars and computers.

It also means that this is a great time to finish projects, such as manuscripts. In fact, you’re not supposed to start any new projects because there are bound to be problems and mishaps. Mercury retrograde lasts about four weeks, but the aftermath can last another two, and some say you shouldn’t start anything new about a week before the retrograde period begins.

During my post-publication hangover (see last week’s post), I’ve actually been editing a couple of manuscripts that have been works in progress for a long time. Editing always helps take my mind off of chores, tough situations, and even the small things that niggle at me.

So, after six months, I’ve just finished the 4th draft of my 135,000 word urban fantasy novel. The past four weeks have gone so well that I was able to finish the last two sections more smoothly than I had with the earlier sections.

Whether finishing this draft is due to retrograde Mercury or sheer avoidance of all the marketing and promotion tasks ahead, probably doesn’t matter. Finishing it does. A 135,000 word book with five sections and seventy chapters is not something I can whip through in a couple of months. It’s a slow marathon. I’ve now put the book away for a few weeks before the next go-around.

After completing the draft of a long work, I tend to gravitate towards shorter works to edit. So, last Friday, I started the umpteenth edit of a Casey Holland novella, which I first started five or six years ago. It’s about 25,000 words and twelve chapters, which almost feels like a short story compared to the urban fantasy.

I don’t intentionally build my writing life around astrological cycles, as there are far too many other components in the decision-making process. But I am saying is that Mercury’s retrograde, I finished a long manuscript, and that makes me happy.