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Recently, while offering advice to a young friend, I blathered to a halt and recalled advice offered to me when I was growing up. I didn’t ask for most of it, but that never stopped adults from handing it out. It seemed almost as if spouting words of wisdom and/or warning was a requirement for being a parent or grandparent, aunt, uncle, or friend of the family.

Some advice made sense. (Take along an umbrella if it looks like rain. Don’t dive into a stream until you know where the rocks are. Don’t play with snakes with triangular heads. Don’t pet skunks.)

Some I didn’t see the logic for until I was older. (Always keep a fund of walking-away money. Learn to drive a stick shift. Be careful who you step on as you go up the ladder, because you might meet them when you come down.)

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

And some seemed suspicious and unreliable—then and now. (Never go out in old or torn underwear because you might be in a car accident. Clean your plate because people in India or China or Africa are starving. Always respect your elders.) I regularly pondered questions like: Would doctors and nurses pause in their efforts to save me in order to comment on the sad state of my undies? If I ate more, how would that help a hungry person in another country? Did I have to respect criminals and disgraced politicians simply because they were older?

When I started taking writing classes in the early 90s, I got an avalanche of fresh advice. My mentors explained the logic for bits of wisdom they dished out, but I soon discovered that every writer walks a different path. What works for one, might not work for another. So, while I took advice about the importance of characterization, plot, and trimming dead language, I ignored several other snippets.

Here are some suggestions I considered and discarded.

Set a daily word-count goal and stick to it. No excuses. I like goals and I love meeting them, but I knew there would be days when I couldn’t crank out enough words to hit the mark. I also knew I’d try to make up for that “failure” and put too much pressure on myself. I decided I would write at least five days a week, but write only what I could, not what I “had to.” Sometimes that’s 3,000 words. Sometimes it’s 300.

Don’t start writing until you have a complete outline. If I adhered to this piece of advice I’d have exactly NO novels in print. Having been chastised in elementary school for getting my Roman numerals and capital letters in all the wrong places, the thought of outlining makes my stomach clench and my creativity go AWOL. Give me a pack of file cards and I recover and start plotting.

Know everything about your characters before you begin. My characters have a way of growing and changing as they come into contact with others. Emotion, conflict, and a need to take action have an impact. Characters may be altered in ways I couldn’t foresee in the plotting stage. So, I establish basic physical characteristics, a bit of back story, and a few notes about their unique outlooks and voices. Then I go for it and see what they’ll say and do.

Over-the-top characters won’t sell. Hmmm. Tell that to Carl Hiaasen or Tim Dorsey. As a reader, I don’t much care for mundane characters with blah lives, so I no longer hold my characters back—except to keep them from tossing the F-bomb.

Write what you know. What I know is that I don’t know much. Writing only what I know would be a limiting experience. So I altered that advice to: “Write what you can imagine. But do research.”

How about you?

What advice have you taken or rejected, cherished or laughed at, passed on or passed over?

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches).

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.  http://www.deadlyduomysteries.com

 

I admit it. I’m a fan of TV shows and Internet articles about the bizarre, the unexplained, and the weird. I’ll happily sit for hours, munching popcorn and watching programs about UFOs, creatures lurking in lakes and rivers, beasts prowling the jungle, and, of course, Bigfoot.

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Mostly I watch those programs alone. My husband—no, make that my long-suffering husband—checks out after about 25 minutes, rolling his eyes as he departs for his man cave. What I find intriguing or amusing, he finds ridiculous.

So, when I mentioned that Bigfoot would feature in the 4th Subbing isn’t for Sissies mystery, I wasn’t surprised by the expression on his face. It implied that I had yet another screw loose.

Undaunted, I plunged ahead with No Substitute for Myth. As the title suggests, the story deals with myths—not stories of gods, goddesses, flying horses, and heroic deeds from ancient times—but mundane and fairly modern stories and sayings and traditions. Often we accept them without question.

For example, when I was young I was told that if I kept popping my knuckles, I’d get painful arthritis. I stopped popping. But guess what? Recently I read about a study that indicated I could pop all I wanted. Granted, the study looked at only a small group, but it led me to conclude that the knuckle-popping warning from my grandmother was another way of telling me to “knock off that annoying habit.”

But, like I said, No Substitute for Myth also involves Bigfoot, less in a reviewing-the-evidence way than in presenting him as a symbol for the unexplained and unknown, for all we wonder about. I’m no Bigfoot expert. And I don’t intend to try to become one.

I admire people with the courage to venture deep into the forest in search of something large and perhaps dangerous. But I’m never going into the backcountry in search of proof. I believe in Bigfoot just enough not to hunt for him. I’d rather take on a crush of shoppers at clearance-sale day or tell a friend her new jeans make her look fat.

And, quite honestly, if I came across a set of giant footprints, I’d walk briskly in the opposite direction of where they were headed. And if I heard what I thought might be Bigfoot, or saw him, I’d run. If I could. I’m more likely to be paralyzed with fright, gibbering with fear, wetting my pants, or all of the above.

If Bigfoot isn’t in the forests of the Pacific Northwest where I live, other not-so-friendly creatures are—bears and wolves and cougars. To trim the odds of running across them, I’ll stay on the sofa with my popcorn and the TV remote.

What about you? Are there myths you hold near and dear? Myths you’d like to see busted? And do you believe Bigfoot exists?

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone), and other works. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.

http://www.amazon.com/Substitute-Myth-Subbing-isnt-Sissies-ebook/dp/B00YI7UTN4/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1436463023&sr=1-1&keywords=no+substitute+for+myth

 

https://store.kobobooks.com/en-US/ebook/no-substitute-for-myth

 

http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/no-substitute-for-myth-carolyn-j-rose/1122025758?ean=2940151390163

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

 

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

When I wrote my first TV newsroom mystery (now out of print and going to stay that way), I called it Face Time. The title referred to the amount of time viewers would see a news anchor’s face during a newscast. Over the years, I’d worked with several anchors reeled through tapes of news programs and literally counted the seconds their faces filled the screen. If their co-anchors got more time, they’d complain to the producer and news director.

The title spoke to me. But not to others. I argued with everyone (including writing coach Elizabeth Lyon) who said they didn’t get it, didn’t think much of it after I explained it, and felt it wouldn’t sell books. Eventually they wore me down and I went with Consulted to Death because the death of a media consultant sets the plot in motion and the title signals that the story is a murder mystery.

Although I felt like I was the only writer ever to go to war over a title, I wasn’t. Here’s what Lyon says in her just-released booklet, Crafting Titles:

In my years as a book editor, I’ve seldom seen an early title make the final cut. Critique groups, family, friends, and editors may passionately insist that you change your title. . . Because every novel can have many good titles, set your sights on finding one that captures the essence of your novel, has the right “sound,” and reflects its genre.

Crafting Titles by E Lyon

Crafting Titles by E Lyon

In the first section of Crafting Titles (available from Amazon, Crafting Titles by Elizabeth Lyon, Nook, and Kobo), Lyon reviews the many benefits of using a character’s name, like Lolita, or The Great Gatsby. After that, she examines the possibility of using the name of a place:

A setting may become a major character. If place sends seismic waves throughout your story, consider . . . compelling reasons for selecting it as a title.

One of those reasons has to do with the theme of the book, so I pat myself on the back that I used Hemlock Lake as the title for the first of my Catskill Mountains Mysteries. For the protagonist, the remote lake and the small town beside it are poisoned by past events and memories, and those poisonous feelings shape the story and his future.

Elizabeth Lyon, author

Elizabeth Lyon, author

In Lyon’s words: Titles that telegraph themes may unite many levels of the novel: plot, character development, an image or concrete thing, a place and era, an emotional tone, an atmosphere.

Elsewhere in her booklet, Lyon discusses the use of important things or meaningful objects as titles, the use of quotations and literary references, and titles that fit specific genres. She also considers the ideal length of a title, and branding for sequels and series.

Reader recognition of your book is particularly important if you decide to write a sequel, a prequel, or a series. Publishers—and fans—often hope, or even expect, sequels or series. Novels destined to be sequels or part of a series typically have similar titles. A handy way to accomplish this is by repeating a pattern of words in every book title.

I probably should have done that with my Catskill Mountains Mysteries, but I got carried away with other ideas and—okay, I admit it—didn’t ask for advice. Without conscious thought, however, I set up a pattern for the Subbing isn’t for Sissies Series. The fourth in the series, No Substitute for Myth, is just out.

If you’ve struggled with a title in the past or are struggling now, share your pain with a comment. Elizabeth and I will be happy to respond.

A writing teacher and book editor since 1988, Elizabeth Lyon is the author of half a dozen books on how to write, revise, and market novels and nonfiction. In 2013, she launched a booklet series to explore one topic at a time in greater depth. Booklet #1 is Writing Subtext. Booklet #2 is Crafting Titles.

A reviewer for The Writer magazine selected Manuscript Makeover as one of “8 Great Writing Books in 2008,” and described it as “perhaps the most comprehensive book on revising fiction.” Lyon is also the author of The Sell Your Novel Tool Kit, Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write, and others.

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Myth by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches). She lives in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.  Website www.deadlyduomysteries.com

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pets

For some writers, the process of crafting a novel gets easier with each work.

Unfortunately, I’m not a member of that group.

Counting one that I tossed, three that are out of print and will stay that way, and five written with my husband, I just finished novel number 19 (No Substitute for Myth, to be released in June—or so I hope). Even though I knew the characters well because it’s the fourth in the series, and even though I had a clear idea of the plot, I struggled through the middle. Some of that struggle was due to elements I decided to add. Some was due to a feeling of being “held hostage” by my characters and wanting to be out of my office and living a life of my own.

In the previous substitute book, the beginning gave me fits. For number four, that was a cakewalk. Sometimes the ending is elusive, and sometimes I visualize the conclusion long before anything else.

Recently, while waiting for inspiration to deliver a perfect simile, I made a list of what I find most difficult about crafting a novel.

Getting an Idea. Because I’m afraid every idea will be the last, I treat a new one like the discovery of a rare plant. I record my “find” on a file card, post the card on a bulletin board, and then watch it, waiting for fresh shoots and leaves. Meanwhile, other ideas may be passing me by.

Plotting. The planning writers do is equivalent to that huge percentage of an iceberg beneath the surface. It supports your story. But the process of plot-building can be slow, and I’ve found that once characters interact, things can change. So, while I know how a book will start and how it will end, my plans for everything in between are often vague until I get there.

Crafting the Opening Sentences. Unless they come to me in a cheesy-snack-fueled dream, these are tough. So tough, in fact, that I often leave a blank space. When I reach the end, I have a better idea of how to plant the seeds of theme and plot on the first page.

Sitting. I don’t think I need to elaborate on the consequences of spending too much time on your ass-et.

Not Borrowing from Others. I don’t mean plagiarizing; I mean that unconscious shift toward a style or turn of phrase brought on by admiration for the skill of the author I’m reading at the time.

Making it Through the Middle. No matter how many file cards I’ve accumulated and how much plotting I’ve done, sometimes I feel like I’ve waded through a swamp only to step into quicksand. Often I have to go back to the beginning and work forward, reintroducing myself to characters I created weeks ago and have half-forgotten. The ending, like a mirage, seems to retreat before me.

Controlling the Snacking. When I’m stressed—and being stuck in figurative quicksand is stressful—I snack. (And I’m not talking about munching on baby carrots or apple slices.)

Taking Advice. Unless I’ve asked for it, I hate getting advice. And even when I’ve asked, I hate taking suggestions. So, when I’m deep enough in a quandary that I solicit ideas, I set them aside for a week while I work past a bout of I-should-have-seen-that resentment.

Ignoring Advice. I’m referring to the unsolicited and random suggestions that come from well-meaning folks who always wanted to write but never did. “You should write about my garden club and be sure to name all the members or someone will be mad.” “Don’t forget to give your protagonist a few cats.” “You should set your stories in Bermuda.”

The Ending. I think of an ending as the perfect meal—all the good stuff on the plate in portions that are just right. Not so much that servings and flavors run together. Not so little that I close the book feeling hungry. Just enough that I’m satisfied and want more from the same chef.

The title. Titles are tough because a few words have to do a lot of heavy lifting. In fact, they have to do so much lifting that I’m going to “save my strength” and save the topic for next month, when I’ll enlist writing coach Elizabeth Lyon to help me.

In the meantime, what do you think is the most difficult phase of writing a novel and why?

Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton. She lives in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking. www.deadlyduomysteries.com  http://www.deadlyduoduhblog.blogspot.com/

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

By the time I finish the first draft of a novel, my desk is awash in file cards, stacks of books, notebook pages, scraps of paper, pencil stubs, coffee mugs, and other things that don’t bear close inspection—some of which may possibly have legs.

Because everything falls by the wayside when I’m in the home stretch of a novel, there are also smudges on the computer screen, smears on the phone, crumbs in the keyboard, and spider webs in the corners. Not to mention dust, dog hair, and general disarray.

Clearly, it’s time to clean.

It’s also time to organize.

Being a Virgo, I embrace the concept of organization. Sadly, that embrace isn’t always a close or long-lasting one.

And, being a Virgo, before I take action, I prefer to have a plan. A plan, of course, requires a list. (I love making lists. I REALLY love checking off the tasks I’ve completed.)

The best list is made on a fresh, crisp, bright white sheet of paper and written in pen, never pencil. Tasks noted in ink are more difficult to erase or write over and therefore signal genuine commitment. So, pen in hand—a pen containing black ink and featuring a medium or thick point—I make a list of the steps involved in tackling the project.

#1 Assessing the Situation. Depending on the time of day, I might do this while sipping a mug of coffee, or I might have an adult beverage in hand.

#2 Gathering Materials. This part is almost as good as making lists because it involves searching through cabinets for folders and binders and colorful plastic tabs. It may also involve—oh, joy!—a trip to an office supply store where I can roam the aisles for an hour or more gazing a plastic tubs, rolling carts, clips, tacks, and tape.

#3 Deciding Where to Begin. Should I organize first and clean later? Stuff every stray bit in a garbage sack, clean, and then file and arrange those bits? Start in one corner and clean and organize as I go? Start right now? Put it off until tomorrow morning? Should I gather a few more materials first? Change the vacuum filter? Buy a new container of spray wax?

#4 Deciding What to Toss and What to Keep. Like many writers, I’ve accumulated newspaper clippings, Internet articles, and notes jotted on napkins, file cards, and grocery lists. Some are stacked at the edge of my desk and some tacked to my four bulletin boards. My fear is that I’ll toss the one note or article that might be the seed for a book, so the stacks lean like that tower in Pisa and the bulletin boards are as shaggy as the pelt of a yak. And then there are the file cabinets and those boxes in the closet under the stairs. But let’s not go there. Let’s just admit that darn few things get tossed—at least not for a few years.

#5 Getting to work. Often this requires a return to Step #1 and the fortification of a beverage.

#6 Admiring What I’ve Accomplished. Ah, the clean window, the gleaming desk, the crumb-free keyboard. Each time I enter, I pause in the doorway, gaze around, and sigh at the perfection of it all. But because of what comes next, I never capture the clean moment with a camera.

#7 Vowing Never to Sink to Such Depths Again. Notice that I don’t vow to keep my office neat and organized. I know I’ll get tunnel vision toward the end of a project and be overcome by clutter. So I stick with a promise to remain somewhere above the previous level of grunge and grubbiness. Not having that level documented in a photograph allows me to kid myself into believing I manage to do that.

What about you? Are you also prone to let things slide until you’re overtaken by a tumble of jumble? Or do you keep up with your clutter and crud? Most important, do you have a secret system for keeping up—or a creative and believable rationalization for falling behind—that you’d like to share?

No Substitute for Money by Carolyn J. Rose

No Substitute for Money by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches).

www.deadlyduomysteries.com

http://www.deadlyduoduhblog.blogspot.com/

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pets

Some writers reach the final chapters of a work in progress and get a huge burst of energy and enthusiasm. As they burn the midnight oil, their fingers become as one with the keyboard. Words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages explode onto the computer screen.

Not me.

Even when I long to write THE END, have a clear idea of all facets of the conclusion, and possess the file cards to lead me there, I move like a geriatric sloth on a chilly day.

Why? Fear the project will fail? A desire to remain close to my characters and live in their fictional world longer? Poor work habits developed in childhood? All of the above?

I have no idea. But it happens every time I close in on the final 50 pages. I lounge in bed longer, read the entire paper, fill the bird feeder, let the dogs in and out and in again, add to the grocery list, etc. Once I’m in my office, I revise and rework, cut and paste, add and delete. When I hit a wall with that, I get right down to the process of wasting time. A LOT of time.

Recently—while wasting time avoiding work on the final chapters of No Substitute for Myth—I made a list of my top 10 ways to burn hours—all without leaving the room in which I write.

• Cleaning. This can range from washing the window to running the vacuum to dusting to dragging a Q-Tip between the keys to dislodge crumbs.

• Filing. Sticking receipts in their proper folders is mind-numbing, so I let them pile up for a day when I need time-wasting projects.

• Considering the merits of light bulbs. Should I try a different wattage, another brand, a new lamp? Research can stretch for hours.

• Chair adjustment. Should it be higher or lower? Do I need a cushion? A footstool? Better lumbar support? What about the armrests? More research is required.

• Rearranging. This covers the desktop, bookshelves, other furniture, contents of the drawers, items pinned to the bulletin board, and paintings on the wall. If I tackle documents and pictures saved in my computer, I can waste a day or more.

• Phone calls. Relatives? Old friends? New friends? Neighbors? Timeshare salesmen? Sure.

• Personal care. What better time to file and polish my nails than when I’m about to launch the final big scene? When I’m done applying lotion, I’ll use my reflection in the computer screen to pluck my eyebrows. Then it will be time to massage my neck, flex joints, and do a round of chair exercises before putting my head down on the desk for a restorative nap.

• Computer games. The sky’s the limit for this one, and that’s why I stick to Solitaire. Until recently I deluded myself into believing I was playing only a few games a day, but my new computer keeps track. Let’s just say that if I had a dollar for every game, I could buy a tropical island.

• Paperclip jewelry and accessories. Why stop at a necklace when I can make a belt or a tiara?

• Searching for quotes involving the wasting of time. Even Shakespeare had a few of those. And if I happen to be writing a blog about wasting time, I can call it research.

The added bonus of wasting time at or near my desk, no matter how I go about it, is that within seconds I can pop my work in progress onto the screen and appear to be doing some actual writing. This is useful if the other writer in the house passes by. “I didn’t realize you were still writing,” he’ll say. And then he’ll back out of the room and trek down the hallway to scrounge something for dinner, allowing me to play that black queen on the red king.

I’m always looking for some fresh ways to goof off, so please use the comment space to share. Remember, the time has to be wasted without leaving your workspace.

Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

Maturity by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, No Substitute for Maturity, and, coming early this summer, No Substitute for Myth), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone) and other works. She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.

www.deadlyduomysteries.com, http://www.deadlyduoduhblog.blogspot.com/

Although I don’t consider myself a star graduate of the write-what-you-know school of crafting a novel, I’ve found personal experience provides a firm foundation. Still, a few months ago I found myself on shaky ground, deep in write-what-you-don’t-know land.

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pet

Author Carolyn J. Rose and pets

When I pounded out the final pages of Through a Yellow Wood back in 2011, I thought I wouldn’t visit Hemlock Lake again. So, in tying up loose ends and leaving the characters looking toward the future, I gave Camille a baby bump.

2014 rolled around and my fictional folks started lobbying for me to continue their lives in a third book. Since the previous mysteries began in the spring and concluded in September—and since I’m a Virgo and can’t resist a pattern—I knew this one would start as winter retreated from the Catskills. That meant Camille would have her baby on the pages of The Devil’s Tombstone.

And that meant I was in big trouble. I’ve done a lot of things in my life, but giving birth wasn’t one of them. What if I got it wrong?

Channeling Butterfly McQueen as Prissy in Gone With the Wind, I raced to my husband’s office (AKA the man cave in the basement) crying, “I don’t know nothin’ ’bout birthin’ babies!”

“Pick an evening when I’m out,” he counseled when I calmed down. “Invite your gal pals over for one of those macaroni-and-cheese-fueled talk sessions. They’ll give you graphic details.”

Eeekkkk. That was exactly what I wanted to avoid.

As the oldest of a pack of cousins, I often overheard my mother and aunts sharing their experiences during labor and delivery. I was too young to fully understand, but old enough to pick up on words like pain, exhaustion, intense pain, contractions, endless pain, pushing, screaming pain, etc.

I got the idea—giving birth was a far cry from a walk in the woods or a picnic at the beach. I also got that each woman experiences labor in different ways, and that time and pain could vary greatly.

A few hours spent scouring the Internet and a slew of postings confirmed that I had plenty of leeway. If I wanted Camille’s baby to pop out, that could happen. If I wanted labor to go on for a day or more, that could also happen.

I decided Camille would be in enough trouble already—stranded by a snowstorm miles from medical assistance—so I cut labor short. But being stranded created new problems for Camille. And for me.

Back on the Internet, I scrounged information on home deliveries and problems that could arise. I read about dilation and contractions, umbilical cords and the placenta. My head spun about like it belonged to the girl in The Exorcist.

How much detail would female readers want? What about male readers? And what about my male protagonist?

I couldn’t recall my father or uncles hanging around while their wives recounted birthing stories. In fact, I recall them doing disappearing acts worthy of the greatest illusionists.

In the end, I glossed over parts of the process and left out far more than I put in. After reading the scene a friend told me, “At first I was angry that you didn’t describe the birth. I felt cheated. Then I realized that anything you wrote wouldn’t be my experience and I would feel angry about that as well.”

That doesn’t exactly mean I got it all right. But maybe it means I didn’t get it all wrong.

Did I learn a lesson from my venture into write-what-you-don’t-know land? You bet. I’m close to 200 pages along in No Substitute for Myth and sticking to writing what I know. Um, except for the parts about Bigfoot.

The Devil's Tombstone by Carolyn J. Rose

The Devil’s Tombstone by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches).

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.  www.deadlyduomysteries.com

It rains a lot in the Pacific Northwest. Yearly totals exceed the national average. Some folks describe the climate here in Washington as nine months of rain followed by three months of drought. Those nine wet months have given birth to a wealth of terms to describe the stuff dropping from the sky. Increased interest in weather phenomena has helped add to that list.

Carolyn J. Rose, author, 2015

Carolyn J. Rose, author, 2015

When I grew up in the Catskills back in the 1950s, long before 24/7 weather reporting and weather-related reality shows, we had relatively few words to describe precipitation: snow, sleet, rain, thunderstorms, hail, and drizzle. Today, I hear more descriptive words: mist, mizzle, sprinkles, deluge, drenching rain, driving rain, pouring rain, torrential rain, continuous rain, freezing rain, and intermittent all of the above. There’s also fog, freezing fog, and snow in all its forms and accumulations.
All that winter precipitation makes for glorious green growth, tall trees and rushing rivers. It makes for great skiing, boating, fishing, gardening, and dozens of other recreational opportunities.
It also makes for a lot of dank and dreary days.
My first Northwest winter (1989-90) was filled with new experiences and I scarcely noticed the weather. My second winter, however, was ugly. Fog moved in, not on little cat feet, but like a 200-pound cougar driving a bulldozer. That fog hung around for weeks. I made it through by indulging in massive bouts of comfort eating followed by rolling up in a quilt for yet another nap.
The next fall, having finally shed the winter poundage, I vowed to adopt a healthier lifestyle and focus on the weather in my fictional settings instead of outside my window. By spring I was halfway through a novel and hardly noticing the thick drops hammering on the roof. (Except when the gutters clogged with leaves or a leak appeared in the living room ceiling.)
Since then, I’ve followed the same plan:
• Step up those vitamin D capsules.
• Beam on those bulbs. Light up the workspace. Strings of twinkle lights are always fun. Phototherapy with a light box may brighten your mood and regulate your circadian rhythms.
• Cut back on greasy foods and heavy meals. (I know, I know. That’s tough to do with those holiday parties and treats, but give it your best shot.)
• Don’t overdo coffee and caffeine. Sure, it wakes you up on a dreary morning, but too much can mess with your sleep patterns.
• The same goes for alcohol.
• Escalate the exercise.
• Get out and confront precipitation. Walk in all weather.
• Concentrate on what you can control and try not to think about what you can’t.
• Do nice things for yourself.
• Vary the routine. Go places you’ve never been—even if it’s just a new coffee shop or walking trail.
• Catch up on movies you’ve been meaning to get to and books yet to be read.
• Reconnect with old friends and make new ones.
• Ask for advice about beating the blahs.
If you have tips for powering your writing through the winter, please share them in the comment space. I’m always looking for ideas to add to the list.

 

The Devil's Tombstone by Carolyn J. Rose

The Devil’s Tombstone by Carolyn J. Rose

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and The Devil’s Tombstone, just released). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, and projects written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches).  www.deadlyduomysteries.com

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking.

One of the drawbacks of being a writer is the amount of time spent sitting. Sitting, unfortunately, can lead to spreading. Factor in winter and the holidays, and that spread can increase. Call it what you like—literary luggage, an author’s ass-et, or proof of weighty writing—the extra poundage is clearly not fictional. There comes a point where something must be done.

In previous years I’ve fought flab by making resolutions, pasting unflattering pictures on the refrigerator door, and buying a new bathroom scale. I’ve battled bulges with diet, exercise, and by standing at my desk and walking in place to burn calories as I write. I’ve even purchased heavy-duty fat-squeezing underwear to try to convince my fat cells to shrink. (For the record, they don’t make elastic strong enough to take on my midriff bulge. If you’re working on inventing something more powerful, picture me raising my hand to volunteer for product testing trials.)

This winter, however, will be different. This winter I refuse to enter into a feud with fat. If I can’t be leaner, I’ll settle for looking leaner.

Carolyn J. Rose with keyboard

Carolyn J. Rose with keyboard

Here’s my plan:

Step 1. Wardrobe overhaul.

Black is in. Almost everything else is out except a few articles with vertical stripes. Floor-length capes and billowing blouses are also in. They can hide evidence of too many cheesy snacks. A glittery tiara might provide distraction. A sandwich board with a controversial message could provide even more distraction. Should I end up being chased and/or assaulted by those who oppose the message, I’ll burn off a few calories in the process and “collect” characters and scene ideas for future books.

Step 2. New rules for social engagements.

Accept only invitations to events held by candlelight. Not only will that make me look slimmer, but younger, too. Should there be an incident that involves the fire department, I can always file the experience under “research.”

Step 3. Control photo opportunities.

Unless the photographer is a master at retouching, close-ups are out. Objects in the distance always appear smaller, so I’ll head for the last row in a group shot or ask the photographer to move back. (Moving back to the city limits is good; taking the shot from a satellite is better.) Any photo taken in a driving snowstorm will be a keeper.

An alternative plan is to surround myself with so many tools of the writing trade that I’m barely visible. (Memo to self: write larger books—coffee-table size—and buy a giant keyboard.)

Step 4. Rethink vacations and vacation photos.

Who wouldn’t look smaller standing beside a towering redwood, visiting a hog farm, or hanging out at the top of Mount Rushmore? What about riding an elephant? And it’s hard to tell what’s under the puffy clothing needed for a visit to the top or bottom of the globe.

Step 5. Fun-house mirrors.

It’s not enough to attempt to fool everyone else; I’ve got to skew my own perceptions as well. A solid wall of mirrors designed to make me look taller and skinnier would be a nice addition to any room. Heck, why not every room?

Step 6. Ask for ideas.

This is where you come in. Unleash your imagination and share your suggestions in the comment space.

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and soon-to-be-released The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, a collection of short stories (Sucker Punches) and five novels written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor, Deception at Devil’s Harbor, and the short story collection Sucker Punches).

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking. Visit website www.deadlyduomysteries.com

Author Carolyn J. Rose

Author Carolyn J. Rose

“Move on, already!” I snarled at the female protagonist in a book I attempted to read recently. “Change your life or make the best of it. Stop whining and wallowing.”

When I put the book aside—after skipping over 80% to see if I was correct about the identity of the killer—I felt relieved.

I also felt embarrassed.

My first book had been much the same. The action—what there was of it—was episodic and the scenes were repetitive. My protagonist arrived at the end of almost every chapter in tears or fuming about losing another argument started because she wasn’t enough of an adult to keep her lips zipped.

When an agent pointed that out, I was aghast. I was also argumentative. “My character is under a lot of pressure,” I said. “She’s a murder suspect. Her boss hates her. She’s miserable. She feels helpless.”

About a week after the agent scraped me from the telephone line the way you might scrape dog doo-doo from the sole of your shoe, I had a multi-part reality check:
• By the end of chapter 2, if readers had been paying the least bit of attention, they knew the character and her situation. They didn’t need constant reminding.
• A crying character gets old fast.
• A character holding an endless pity party likely won’t provide an escape for readers who may face the same kind of thing on a regular basis with a friend or family member.
• When a character decides to stop wailing and make changes, that leads to action.
• Action creates new kinds of conflict with other characters.
• Conflict drives the plot.
• A plot in gear and rolling makes readers turn those pages and maybe buy your next book.

I reviewed that teary manuscript and chopped away at the lip chewing, nail biting, pillow pounding, and other emotional outbursts. As I did, I found the objectivity I’d lost. I realized I’d become so close to my characters that I was letting them get away with behavior I’d normally grow tired of in ten minutes and walk away from at a four-mile-an-hour clip powered by a giant go-cup of coffee.

Since then, I’ve been more aware—if not while writing the first draft then in the revision process—of rehashing issues and emotions to the point of wallowing. And I’ve developed techniques to help me shake those clingy characters and see them for what they are.

First, I set the manuscript aside and ignore it for at least three months. That gives me distance.

Second, when I pick it up again, I read through it as fast as possible, without stopping to correct spelling and pick nits. Speed lets me see whether I’ve used angst as a springboard to decision or action, or whether the plot is grinding to a stop. It lets me say, “Sheesh. I’m tired of hearing about your first husband.”

Third, of course, is to ask someone to review the story. Don’t ask a close friend, the kind you drink and commiserate with. Don’t ask a friend who has more problems and issues than you do. Find a friend who, on an honesty scale of 1-10, sends the needle to 16. Thank that person in advance. (Because, let’s face it, how many of us really want thank a critic, even a constructive critic, after we’ve taken a verbal slap?) Then step aside.

Fourth, review that friend’s comments. Put them aside for a week. Then review them again. Rinse, repeat, and revise.

Sucker Punches by Carolyn J. Rose and Mike Nettleton

Sucker Punches by Carolyn J. Rose and Mike Nettleton

Carolyn J. Rose is the author of the popular Subbing isn’t for Sissies series (No Substitute for Murder, No Substitute for Money, and No Substitute for Maturity), as well as the Catskill Mountains mysteries (Hemlock Lake, Through a Yellow Wood, and soon-to-be-released The Devil’s Tombstone). Other works include An Uncertain Refuge, Sea of Regret, A Place of Forgetting, a collection of short stories (Sucker Punches) and five novels written with her husband, Mike Nettleton (The Hard Karma Shuffle, The Crushed Velvet Miasma, Drum Warrior, Death at Devil’s Harbor and Deception at Devil’s Harbor).

She grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, logged two years in Arkansas with Volunteers in Service to America, and spent 25 years as a television news researcher, writer, producer, and assignment editor in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She’s now a substitute teacher in Vancouver, Washington, and her interests are reading, swimming, walking, gardening, and NOT cooking. Website www.deadlyduomysteries.com

 

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