Labor Day for Writers

A little Labor Day observance note for writers:

Before publication, a writer may not have considered how the finished novel will impact their life. I know I didn’t. Besides dreams of grandeur and of readers (hopefully a good number of them) loving your book, one doesn’t contemplate the ripples a published book can cast in what were still waters. The labor involved in completing a novel? I’d compare it to driving a tank across a large body of quicksand. To make it to the other side, one must be vigilant, focused and work for it.

“Before the reward, there must be labor. You plant before you harvest. You sow in tears before you reap joy.”
— Ralph Ransom

On the upside, writing opens up a whole new world.

So why write? Becoming a published author definitely impacts one’s life…in wonderful ways:

– We don’t become published by accident: We work and re-work words, sentences and fill plot-holes until nearly nothing else can be done with a story. Pre-publication, I didn’t realize just how much time and effort it takes to reach “The End”. It can be mentally, even physically, draining. But the finished product in your hands? Oh what a feeling! I ask myself: how in the world did I write a whole book? It’s no small miracle. To make it meaningful, as Mother Teresa once said:
“The miracle is not that we do the work, but that we are happy to do it.”
That happiness may not be noticed right away, but it will come.

– A whole new group of people trickle into your life: book sellers, librarians, readers, wannabe writers, and strangers who want you to know how much they enjoyed your book! Wow wee! All of these turn into cherished participants in your dream gig. At least, they did for me.

– You’ll learn new skills: Can’t speak in public? You’ll discover that you can. That’s what happens when you pursue your passion in life. Marketing? What’s that? You’ll be highly motivated to learn because there’s a payoff! You’re sharing your loving creation with the world.

Soon what was considered work turns into a labor…of love. That’s the goal.

“Follow your passion, be prepared to work hard and sacrifice, and, above all, don’t let anyone limit your dreams.”

— Donovan Bailey

First, the Draft

If you mixed a half cup sugar with a fish head, a bag of russet potatoes, a pound of dog kibble, a tablespoon of Tabasco sauce and a shot of tequila, you’d have something akin to the first draft of my novel.

Undigestible and not fit for human taste buds. It’s only digestible if one is held at knifepoint next to a steep cliffside. I know this because I recently finished the first draft of Gambling with Murder, number five in a Southern California Mystery series.

If you remove the fish head, lessen the sugar, bake the potatoes (and add some sour cream, cheese and chives), and change around the other ingredients, you’ll eventually come up with something that might even taste delicious. It’s reaching the delicious stage that’s a challenge.

Writing the first draft can be alternately tormenting and incredible. Tormenting because of negative self-talk, lack of a proper compass and carving the time to write. Incredible because there are those instances when a chapter starts and ends rather perfectly, which is why this writer continues to write. Plus, I find that when I don’t write, I miss my characters. I enjoy going along for the ride, visiting places I’ve been to before and seeing them in a new light. I like that my heroine is a woman of action and has plenty of spunk. I especially like watching her mature.

I remind myself that the key to success with any project is to reach The End. Completing a task creates a tremendous sense of satisfaction…and, in the case of the early draft, relief.

For this writer, every time I start a new story, the question hovering above my head (sometimes looming quite large) is: can I do this? True, I’ve done it before…four times, to be exact, but can I really do it again? There’s only one way to find out.

Creating Fictional Criminals

Since I write mysteries, I need to set up each book with a criminal element to give my heroine, Corrie Locke, something to do; something to look forward to doing, in her case. She thrives on cleaning up the streets of Southern California, one criminal (sometimes more) at a time. And she’s got the skills, plus the weapons, to do it. How do I create my felons?

Sometimes, it’s as easy as reading a news story to help fashion the outline of a wicked doer. Other times, the felon slips in when I’m looking elsewhere.

In the first installment of my Southern California Mystery series, I wasn’t sure who the bad guy/girl was. I pressed on right beside Corrie to find the killer’s identity. And boy was I surprised! That’s because the felon acted pretty normal when he/she mingled with the rest of the book’s characters. Clues were tossed around, but innocent bystanders also misbehaved at times, so I couldn’t be sure who the culprit was until the very end.

How to make Fictional, villainous characters appear real? By giving them:

Motive – Villains are people typically motivated to do bad things because of their particular circumstance. The motivation could be a thirst for greed or power (as in my first book). Maybe they’re killers for hire (like the bargain basement hitman in MURDER: DOUBLE OR NOTHING) or maybe they need to exact revenge (a popular motive that appeared in MURDER GONE MISSING).

Personality – Villains need character traits and jobs. A villain could be a janitor, a student, a doctor, a college dean or an amusement park character with all the trappings. They look and dress a certain way, have favorite foods and maybe even a pet.

Willingness to Help – I’m always a little surprised to find that villains can be helpful. They are capable of doing almost anything to throw the scent off their actual plans. And sometimes, down, deep, deep inside, they’re not all that bad. And that helps throw the reader off track.

The goal is to play hide and go seek with the reader. Hide the villain and keep the reader guessing. And in my case, sometimes, keep the writer guessing, too.