Which Light Bulb Burns the Brightest?

Today’s post has nothing to do with light bulbs, but has everything to do with ideas.

After I finish each novel in my Southern California mystery series, I toss around ideas in my head for the next book. Or at least for a solid opening chapter.

For Book Five, my First Attempt at a draft featured heroine Corrie Locke lounging around the movie studio legal office with sidekick and former security guard turned legal assistant, Veera, spying out the window of their office. Their former boss is spotted entering their building. What does he want?

I kicked around that chapter a bit, then shelved it to try again. Enter Attempt #2. A totally different draft. That first chapter opened with Michael, Corrie’s sweet computer nerd, college dean and best friend turned love interest, driving her to an secret location for a surprise. Corrie’s not keen on surprises. How will she know which weapon to pack? Turns out the destination is perfect for a romantic picnic…

…except it’s not because there’s some unexpected action that prevents anything resembling a picnic. I put that scene aside and pondered yet another book.

On to Attempt #3: this opening chapter featured Corrie accompanying her loving, caring, slightly meddlesome, but very fashionable, mother to dinner at the home of a former client of Mom’s. The client asked to meet Corrie after learning of her case-cracking skills. Turns out the client is holding a séance to find her missing son and asks Corrie to team up with the psychic to locate him. Only problem is, Corrie’s convinced the psychic is a fake… or is he?

Which one of the three Attempts did I go with?

That’s right: Attempt #1…except I created a whole different Chapter One. A critical reader kindly suggested the first chapter contain more action. I happily obliged, putting Corrie in a sketchy warehouse with some highly suspicious objects, one of which comes in handy as the story unfolds and Corrie snags her first official P.I. job.

Attempts #2 and #3 may be used for Books Six and Seven. The moral of this post? All light bulbs can shine brightly, if given the chance.  

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.