Writing Plan for the Week

No server access? Get out the Underwood!

Not having a plan is like not having server access. You get nowhere!

According to my business card, I am a writer. So what should I be doing tonight? Well, it’s Sunday night, the wind from Hurricane Joaquin has barely touched us, and the rain has slowed to a fine mist. It has not been the best beach day but at least we in Seaview have not been tormented by flooding problems. Other parts of the East coast? Not so fortunate.

Aside from the three church services this morning, and the potluck lunch, and the trip to the Brown Dog Ice Cream Store in Cape Charles, and a nap, and a fine dinner of grilled cheese sammiches, what else should I be doing? Lucy Silag of Penguin’s Book Country published a blurb about treating your writing career like a start-up, akin to business management for writers. I’m not sure she had these line items in mind:

Watch latest episode of Dr. Who? Check.

Make a fresh pot of coffee and have a cup? Check and check.

Post the recipe from the potluck? Check it out here.

Plan the writing for the week?

[insert cricket noises here]

Shazbot – I knew I had something else to do. Let’s try this and see what happens:

Monday – AM: revise query letter.  PM: read Matterhorn, written by Karl Marlantes.

Tuesday – AM: check QueryTracker for agents accepting culinary mysteries. Or mysteries. Or anything.  PM: Keep reading Matterhorn.

Wednesday – AM: Twitter-stalk agents and see what they like (and don’t like) in a query. PM: Keep reading Matterhorn and take mental break – yoga class.

Thursday – AM: Make decisions on agent queries. Customize and send. PM: no spare time.

Friday – AM: Research publishing through Booktrope and Book Country. PM: Keep reading Matterhorn.

Saturday – AM: Try to finish Matterhorn. PM: Read out loud the first few chapters of The Milk Chocolate Murders (to get back into that frame of mind.)

Sunday – evaluate the plan and make a new one.

There you go. That should keep me busy for a while. Will this work? Maybe. Will I follow the plan? Perhaps. Is it better to have a plan than not have a plan? Definitely.

Do you have a plan?

If so, please do share. And I’ll make you a deal. You give a short synopsis (is that redundant?) in the comments and I’ll follow up next week with how my plan went. I’ll even ask you how your plan went. We could call it…writers supporting writers! Has a good ring to it. Hey, it has worked with the Book Country Buddy Program. It could work here, too!

Looking forward to your thoughts!

DJ

 

 

 

Count Basie and Sisyphus walk into a bar…

Sometimes art can be found in the most unexpected places.

Sometimes help can be found in the most unexpected places.

Question: what do Count Basie and the mythical trouble-maker Sisyphus have to do with my writing?

More on that question in just a bit. First – some good news. I have just received some awesome feedback from Henery Press about my first novel, The Apple Pie Alibi. No, it’s not quite ready for publication, but major strides will be made thanks in large part to the personal comments from the staff readers at Henery. You can’t buy this kind of assistance. Well, maybe you could. But it would cost a lot more money than I have in my pocket right now. And who would have thought a literary press would take the time to do this? It was as unexpected as finding a big band in the desert.

Not familiar with Henery Press? Based in the greater Plano / Frisco area just north of Dallas, Texas, Henery focuses much of their attention on bringing cozy mysteries to the market. And I must say, their book covers are awesome. Every so often, the good people at Henery sponsor what they call a Sub-Spree. They choose a sub-genre (oh, say culinary cozy, for example) and then open a separate mailbox for those submissions – for one week and one week only.

You don’t know what genre they will choose next, so it would be near impossible to read the announcement and then write a novel to fit. Your best course of action is write your novel, and if it fits the sub-spree requirements, fine. Otherwise, you can always submit the traditional way to Henery.

What’s the difference? Neither sub-spree nor regular submissions require agents. As long as you fit their genre and style requirements, you are cleared hot to submit. But here’s the inside scoop: sub-spree submissions will be read within 10 days or so – and personal comments from the editors and staff will be sent to the author. It’s like getting 10 minutes with an agent at a writer’s conference, except there is more than one agent, and you get more than ten minutes, and you find out not only what they dislike, but also what they like. No form letter at all; just help from an unexpected source.

Henery Press. Not my publisher – yet. But still, a group you should take a minute to check out if you write cozy mysteries. If you like reading cozy mysteries? Take two minutes. Maybe three. Plenty of great stuff to peruse.

Now, after I take the next few weeks to finish the recipes for The Milk Chocolate Murders, I will return to the first novel and see how I can employ the suggestions from Henery. Who knows? By the time I finish the draft of book 3, working title The Wedding Cake Witness, I may have a published book on my shelf!

The answer to the question about how Count Basie and Sisyphus are related to my writing? That’s an easy one. It may be April, but this ain’t Paris, so it’s back to the depths of revision hell – “one more time.”

Writing a book was the easy part?

After one total rewrite from third person to first person, and six more revisions based on feedback from readers (and one very, very nice editor!) I am satisfied my 80,000 plus word, cozy mystery, The Apple Pie Alibi, is worth your time and a few of your dollars in trade. It isn’t the next Sherlock Holmes novel, not even a Nero Wolfe tale, but it is a decent story with a beginning, middle, and end. The characters have arcs, the story itself has structure. and the protagonist undergoes a meaningful change by the end thanks in part to her battling her nemesis – no, not the killer, but her own ego and immaturity.

And it’s still a fun read.

So now for the hard part, meaning what happens next? Fortunately, I have some options. I could self-publish through Book Country. These folks have been awesome in providing feedback and the discussion boards are something to behold. If you are a new writer, I highly recommend checking it out. Good people.

I also have a line on an illustrator looking for work. And wouldn’t it be cool to put out a nice book with the extra creativity of an artist? I think so. If I chose the BC route, this would be up toward the top of the to-do list.

I could always submit the manuscript to the Minotaur Books/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery Novel competition. This has potential, and it’s free. Bonus points for the annual convention being not too far away from where I live. Huzzah, Amtrak!

Or I could bang my head against the wall a thousand times revamp my query and synopsis and go about trying to gain representation from an agent. Wait a minute. Do authors still need agents? Why, yes. Agents, while not as essential as in years past, still maintain the keys to many a gateway. And considering publishers, the bigger ones anyway, still prefer to use agents to reduce the size of the slush pile, why ignore this important avenue leading to publication and distribution? I would love to do this. Wouldn’t we all.

So here’s the gouge: I will spend the next few days thoroughly checking the entry requirements for the Minotaur/Malice Domestic contest to see if I can submit the manuscript and still shop it to agents. I believe this to be the case, but I need to see it in writing first.

Then, it’s off to QueryTracker, Writer’s Digest, and The Mystery Writers of America to investigate which agents and presses are interested in cozy mysteries and accepting inquiries.

This should make for a fun, and most likely sarcastic series of posts. What do you think?

Stay tuned, amigos.

 

The Process of Writing

sometimes involves research; it always involves reading. So if you have been wondering where I have been lately, you’re correct – I’ve been in Mexico.

Mexico?

Yes, that Mexico. I had been finding the piles of snow very distracting, so thanks to some very good friends with a spare room in their condo, we took a week off from the real jobs and spent the past week enjoying margaritas on the beach as house guests two blocks away from the beach in Playa del Carmen, just south of Cancun.

In addition to trying my skill at napping in a hammock (I do this well once in, but getting out is another story,) I found time to read a few more chapters of Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, a great textbook on the structure of the monomyth, or Hero’s Journey.

I couldn’t ignore my culinary research, so each day was spent searching out local or regional cuisine. And chocolate. As for the former, I’m talking Mayan specialties like Huarache de Nopal, a fabulous plate of nopal cactus smothered with mushrooms, squash blossoms, spinach, chaya and panela cheese.  The latter? Homemade chocolate mousse; excellent cake, petit fours galore and even modern versions of traditional Mayan chocolate drinks. For those who know me, we didn’t hit the Starbucks for a Cafe Mocha until the last day. That should tell you something about the variety of food and drink available in the little beach town. Recipes will be posted soon enough.

The novel? It has been getting some good reviews amongst the peer group. I am now drafting a second version, telling the story in first person instead of third. The first chapter has been met with much more enthusiasm. Is this a good move? Who knows. In the end I may have two full versions of the same story. But that’s okay. It’s all part of the process of writing.

I hope your writing is on track and where you want it to be. If not, maybe you need a “research trip.” May I suggest a little town on the Mexican Riviera? The sunrise is something to behold!

Sunrise at Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Sunrise at Playa del Carmen, Mexico

 

Introducing Tex Logan…

 

The start of a character sketch on the protagonist, Tex Logan, in my new wip: The Mistress.

 

Thomas “Tex” Logan, age 55, is a retired Marine Corps Master Sergeant and “special operator.” Highly regarded in Marine Corps and covert ops circles as a clutch man, the go-to guy when things look bleak, Tex understands modern technology very well yet prefers to do things the old fashioned way and has never failed to complete the mission. He now prefers to live low on the grid. If you Google his name, he won’t be there – at all. He has settled on Willoughby Spit, just south of Galveston, Texas, living on a fishing boat, the Abigail II, a ship he won in a card game.

 

When Tex worked joint ops with the CIA, he often had to bail out young Cedric Collins, son of a long-time US Senator and a novice company field operative who usually overestimated his own ability. In fact, it was Cedric who caused half of Tex’s team to die during an operation against an Afghani warlord selling opium wholesale to corrupt American contractors. Cedric wanted to be a part of the action so he inserted himself on a resupply run, only to post a photo of the ammo drop to his social media page. Unfortunately, Cedric hadn’t turned off the GPS locator on his phone. Everyone learned too late that a “sexy woman” whom Cedric had “friend-ed” on his social media page was actually a college educated son of the warlord. The son had been monitoring Cedric’s page and relayed the location of Tex and his team to his father.

 

Four team members were killed in a hail of small arms fire and incoming mortar barrage. Tex was severely wounded, his number two man, Gunnery Sergeant Chester “The Blade” Thompson was hurt worse. Tex helped the Blade to safety, hiding out until they could reach a UN sponsored refugee camp. Posing as lost journalists, they were eventually repatriated to the US by way of the US Embassy in Paris. Tex had done a tour as an Assistant Military Attaché there and still had connections there. It was there they found Cedric had written the official report of the classified operation, saying Tex had used good initiative but poor judgment by proceeding with a mission without proper T and E (equipment) causing the death of four team members.

 

Disillusioned by the cover-up propagated by Collins and supported by his father’s peers, both Tex and the Blade opted to medically retire and move as far from the military and federal government establishment as possible. Blade thought about Alaska, but Tex reminded him about his dislike of snow. Tex offered his home state, saying given their druthers, Texas would rather go back to being an independent republic anyway.

 

Tex knew an old oil and gas man, Franklin Todd, who had a few oil derricks in the Gulf of Mexico that were no longer were producing yet made excellent weekend getaways. The decision was made – The Blade would open a gun and tackle shop in Willoughby Spit; Tex would stay on the Abigail. They just wanted to live the quiet life, perhaps find a few Latinas and start families, fish for red trout in the spring and summer, hunt deer and pig in the fall and winter. They vowed to never speak of their previous lives again. If trouble ever did knock on their door, Tex knew the Abigail could get them to one of the oil derricks, a platform Tex had outfitted as a sea-going fortress.

 

Everything was as it should have been, until one day a French woman, Madeline Levieux, walked into the Blade’s store, asking for Tex…

 

Surviving the Arc d’Triomphe Roundabout – by knowing when to exit

The Champs-Élysées avenue, and the Arc de Trio...

The Champs-Élysées avenue, and the Arc de Triomphe in Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been pondering a new novel based on my short story Blood Lust. I’ve made some changes, tried several plot lines, even added a character from another short story series. I was circling the writer’s roundabout, wondering which exit would put me onto the path to a coherent novel. Yesterday, taking advantage of some time alone while driving on a 300 mile road trip, I verbalized (out loud) the plot options. This was a no stress exercise since I was in the car myself. The trucks passing me in the left lane are probably still talking about me on channel 19.

This whole episode reminded me of driving on the Champs-Elysee in Paris, circling the Arc d’Triomphe in that wild, no marked lane free for all traffic.  I was fairly confident I had it all down; ready to start.  After spending a few hours in the hotel that evening working on research, I was even more certain I had the makings of a decent novel. After all, I had a beginning, middle and end, with conflict and resolution, etc. etc. etc.  Everything was looking good, I had found my exit.

At 4:00 AM, I had an epiphany. A new story line. new characters, heck possibly even a new genre. I fired up the computer and started typing. In a few minutes I had an outline for a new novel, plus story concepts for at least two follow-on novels. This all happened without the aid of coffee. In a matter of minutes I had done more work on this new concept than the entirety of my Blood Lust offshoot.

Who knew? Will it work? I don’t know, but anything that hits that quickly must be worth some further thought.

Time to start translating my notes into the snowflake model and see what happens! Not familiar with the snowflake method? Check it out here.

I won’t give much away, since it is still in the early stages of development, but the story involves ninjas, motorcycle gangs and peppermint ice cream.

More to follow, I think I see my next exit…

 

 

 

Since no one else wants Monday…

I’ll take it. Yep. You can have your hump day, take all the Friday’s you can handle. Heck, even grab a-hold of the weekends, just leave me Monday.

Why would I be so crazy would I want to embrace the first work day of the week? Because my academic week ends on a Sunday of all days, at 11:59 PM Central standard time. I don’t even live in the Central time zone, for Pete’s sake. Additionally, taking classes one at a time means my brain is in the land of academia pretty much all year long, with no end in sight (the end is next year, sometime in August 2013, but it seems to be nowhere close.) And what this all means is that I use Friday night and all day Saturday and Sunday (less church time) to dot the I’s and cross the T’s on scads of research papers and discussion board topics. Whoo hoo. Doesn’t that sound like more fun than a barrel of monkeys?

Monday – thou art my break from the world of Blackboard.

Background: I have been writing two weekly serials, one a detective story and one a vampire-esque saga. Lots ‘o fun, but I just haven’t had the proper time to make continuing those efforts satisfying. I could crank out a pile of words, but if I am not enamored with the plot, the dialogue, the characterizations, etc, why should I expect you to be? Frankly, I want to spare you from reading crap. And there is plenty of that out there as it is. I’ll eventually get back to the serials, but for now – I had to make a change.

I have started an outline for a novel, based on my private detective character, Witt Kepler. This storyline may just work so I want to take my time with it. I also have numerous books given to me as presents. I am almost through the first one. Maybe you have heard of it? It’s about some girl with a dragon tattoo. I received that book last Christmas. Yes, I am behind in my reading.

I also have, stacked off to the side of my temporary workstation, a few other gems. “The Devil in the White City” by Erik Larson; “Started Early, Took My Dog” by Kate Atkinson; “The Art of Racing in the Rain” by Garth Stein; and a plethora of John Le Carre books as well as the beginnings of a decent Rex Stout collection.

Let it be known that on Monday’s – I shall read not books on employment law or strategic planning in a volatile economy, but rather books…get ready…for fun and enjoyment.

That’s my Monday mantra.

I may not get back to serious writing until next year, and that’s okay. I’ll have the degree, finally, and I’ll have read some great work by some talented writers. And speaking of talented writers, I will be reading your posts more often, as well. I will even endeavor to comment every so often, though I do not want to become a pest (or a stalker.)

So stay tuned for updates on my reading and my journey down the path of becoming a better writer. What better way to start (again) than to read?

What are you reading?