Never, never, ever give up!

To become a published author, it takes a good amount, if not a ton, of perseverance, defined as: “…a continued effort to achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition.” Oh dear. Who likes to deal with difficult situations, failures or opposition?

Let’s make things a little simpler by distilling the definition into three words: Never Give Up. That’s much better, isn’t it?

As writers, we may sometimes feel like a seedling that’s been planted and knocked around by the elements, without experiencing much growth. We may (or our projects may) eventually shrivel up and disappear. But what if growth is occurring without our (or the seedling) even knowing it?

Take the Chinese bamboo tree. It’s a challenge to grow. The farmer plants the seed, waters and nurtures it…and nothing happens the first year. Or the second year. Or the third. Why bother taking care of something that’s not growing? Because something miraculous does happen in the fifth year. The tree grows almost 90 feet in six weeks! How is that possible? Because during the early years, the plant is developing strong, unshakable roots.

What if the farmer had given up because he’d seen no results? Bye-bye bamboo tree.

Let’s say you needed to split a boulder in two. You grab a hammer (a large one) and strike the rock. Nothing happens. You strike it a few more times. Still nothing. Maybe a few chips, if you’re lucky, but no split. After about the tenth or maybe twentieth blow, the boulder breaks in half. During the previous nine or so times, something was happening. All those blows mattered. You just couldn’t see it.

Writing can be the same way. Sometimes the words flow, and sometimes they don’t. Progress can be slow and even unrewarding at times. We write a passage and wonder if it’s any good. Can we stay focused and nurture our writing by forging on? We must. How else will we know how tall we can grow?

Short Story Success!

I’m so happy, actually ecstatic, to report that my first short story will appear this November in the anthology, SNOWBOUND, to be published by Level Best Books.

Here’s how it happened:

I read the call-out for stories via my Guppies listserv. If you’re a mystery writer, I can’t underscore the importance of joining Sisters in Crime and their subgroup for the unpublished – the Guppies. Where would I be without them? Odds are I wouldn’t be a published novelist and a short story wouldn’t be in my cards either. The Guppies are a treasure chest of resources and wisdom, not to mention superb classes, especially those taught by expert editor Ramona Long.

Using high-grade, escape-proof iron, I chained myself to a chair, prepped to plow ahead with my short. There was only one problem: I didn’t know what to write. But I was certain of my setting: Boston. I knew the locale well, and SNOWBOUND required a New England setting. But who would be my hero/heroine?

I scanned Boston news stories and read about a young police cadet who earned a commendation for helping detectives apprehend a felon. My heroine was born.

In my last blog post, I wrote about a character I’d imagined based upon an encounter with an older gent during my day job. Guess who ended up in my short story? The cane-carrying senior with the big black shades was going to encounter my cadet. But what kind of encounter?

For me, the hardest part in writing a novel is the beginning. I discovered the same to be true for a short story. I like action, so I threw my heroine, Cadet Lyndrea Watson, into the police station, manning the front desk, and nearing the end of her shift. Lyndrea needed to behave the way I imagined a heroine to behave: ever helpful, kind, responsible, and conscientious. Always striving to do her best.

Lyndrea is doing just that when confronted by “the nut job,” an older man wearing space invader type shades. He approaches her, asks a few questions, and says he’ll wait for her outside. What does he want?

The answer to that question and Lyndrea’s need to do the right thing is what propelled my story forward. I initially wrote 4700 words. Then I set the story aside and revisited the draft a week later. I shaved off about 600 words. I set that aside and revisited days later. A bit more shaving, and voila! My short story was born.

Shaping Characters

If you should spot me in a coffee shop staring at someone, please feel free to march up and tap me on the shoulder. It’s likely I’m stuck in a character reverie.

That happened to me recently when I was in Manhattan Beach, California, in a little café bakery. That is, I caught myself staring.

A woman walked in, a very pregnant woman wearing an ankle length sun dress, with a brown bob of a haircut, and a prominent, straight nose. As I continued to stare at her profile, I imagined that if she were to turn toward me, I’d discover that one eye was blue, and the other a silvery gray, due to blindness. I went on to imagine her as a highly proficient, in-demand assassin…on maternity leave. And so formed the character, in my head, of course. Now, what to do with her?

I shelf these characters in a file, in case I can use them in a story. It could take years to find them a home, but I’ve actually done just that with some of my imaginary peeps.

A man once walked into the legal non-profit where I work, an older man wearing older man clothes and sporting older man style, along with black space invader type shades that entirely blocked his eyes. He claimed he was a retired teacher with a workers’ compensation issue. But that’s not what he was to me.

I saw an older gent, in blacked-out shades who was a former DEA agent, forced into retirement by his failing vision, perpetually on the hunt for suspects. He still had what it takes, but one by one, his health and limbs were failing him. He needed a partner to take on what he could not.

This character found a home in a story. It took a few years, but he settled in quite nicely and found an able-bodied partner. And together, they made a solid team. More on that story to come.