Category Archives: writing

Staycation 2016: Day One

Sorry, that pic is a complete misrepresentation–it’s a chilly day in NoVa, and the forecast is gloomy for next week when we finally do get to the beach. That said, I’m having a great start to Staycation 2016. This morning I went to Panera, and our usual counterperson whipped out a copy of The Juliet for me to sign! She tried to impress the other workers with my “celebrity,” but they weren’t buying it, lol. Nevermind, it was a great boost as I get going for real on the second book in the New Royal series, working title: The Orphans Court. My research has already given me one of my timelines; while Orphans Courts are common in Pennsylvania and Delaware, Ohio only had these for a very short period, meaning my “Clerk” will be writing his log circa 1800. Not to give too much away, but the discovery of this log will send shockwaves through contemporary New Royal, Ohio.

Hello Whiteboard, my old friend . . .


I’m writing in “Statcation” mode again because last year’s Staycation was so successful for me in drafting The Mean Bone in Her Body, Book 1 of the New Royal Mysteries. Now all I need is energy and creativity!

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Write What I Fear? Yeah, but . . .

Another one of those quotes rolled by in my feed–something about writing what you fear, and I think this time it was from Nadine Gordimer. I have always ignored that advice. I’m adventurous, but I write escapist fiction on purpose, and if I write something that goes beyond the visceral or seems original and deep, that’s an accident. My experimentalism is about pretty phrasing, too–I’m a confectional writer–rarely driven by meaning. If it comes to meaning or creates a unique effect, that’s swell.

Except. Here I am about to move into the final acts of a manuscript draft that turns out to be about a subject I have feared and avoided all my life. That subject is mental illness, and my goal of addressing it with meaning in within the context of a murder mystery may not be met, but at the end of the first draft process I will have “gone there”–I will have written about what I fear.

But here’s the twist–the only reason I have been able to do this with any confidence/relative comfort is because I have a safety net that’s never been there before–a publisher who is committed to me and invested in my work. That’s no guarantee that this book will see the light of your e-reader, but it’s just enough support for me.

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Go Set a Watchman and Reading as a Writer

There is so much noise surrounding today’s publication of Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman that I’m sure you don’t need my contribution, but here’s my initial take anyway: whether this book is worthy or not, it’s presence accomplishes a particular transfer of experience–readers of the new book are reading as writers read. They are analyzing every element of the new work through the filter of authorial and editorial decision.

This certainly happens in other media, especially series work with canonically built arcs, but I think this is a different moment, say, than the Star Wars prequels. Mockingbird has been delivered to us as a conventional book release, but also over the past 55 years via school reading lists, nostalgia, and other cheap vehicles–to say the least its readership is a broad, demographic-smashing one, and everyone is an expert.

I’m half sad, half grateful for the phenomenon. On the one hand, reading like a writer means that absorptive experiences are harder to access–suspension of disbelief is a fragile condition for a writer. On the other hand, we have a rare opportunity to share ideas about construction and constructed-ness as we test the resilience of the original book and our memories.

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How big is your whiteboard? (Spoilers)

Some fun. On the left is my whiteboard for The Juliet, due out this year from Pandamoon Publishing. On the right, the board for my current project, a murder book with the working title Mean Bone in My Body. The whiteboard I used for Death Wishing is packed away in the attic, but it was about twice the size of The Juliet board. The size of the boards has zero to do with the complexities of the projects (The Juliet is by far the most multi-stringed of the three projects), but wit my cheapness. The giant board for Mean Bone is left over from one of my husband’s projects. I wonder if using it (along with a whole-hearted use of scrivener) will affect what I intend to be a compact and tidy little mystery . . .


Larger than Life

Fall for the Book is over for this year, and not only did I have the pleasure of reading at a Noir at the Bar event, I also saw Roxane Gay and Sophie Hannah. Roxane’s reading was packed with fan-girls, and the line to get books signed was outrageous. I’m told the ran out of copies of Bad Feminist. 

Sophie Hannah read from and talked about The Monogram Murders, a new Hercule Poirot mystery she has written, approved by the Christie estate. There are so many fascinating details about how Hannah worked with the estate and built the book that I urge you to keep an eye out for any interviews she gives, but there was a particular takeaway that keeps me thinking . . . She said that she really loves writing characters that are exceptional, like Poirot, and that she loves creating plots that are barely possible, pointing out that a lot of contemporary crime writing is about normal people doing desperate but sadly common acts of badness, and that contemporary sleuths are rarely as gifted as Poirot or Holmes. The reason I keep thinking about that is I don’t think I’ve ever written an exceptional character, someone who is a genius or truly talented. I always write about nervous freaks, most of whom are trying very hard not to be noticed in the world.

Maybe it is time to try that–to write about someone who is more than competent, more than lucky.

obvious thought

parking this here for a mo. I’m reading a very popular book that isn’t grabbing me,even after 90+ pages; it makes me feel like a tourist in the main character’s life, which is lovely but not really compelling. I think this is because there aren’t a lot of developed scenes so far, and they aren’t really dependent upon each other except by sheer chronology. There’s a lot of “X hadn’t seen such an X before, but somehow his instincts told him he needed to X just as soon as it was X-ing possible to do so.” (There’s lots of “to do so” diction flooding the story)

The other thing that struck me–and not as a criticism, necessarily–was that the 3rd person narration felt like 1st person, especially in its leisurely exposition. Which leads me to my obvy thought: what is the relationship of 3rd/1st person narration to scene-built fiction?

I know that with my latest novel project I deliberately worked in 3rd because I wanted a scene-built story, but that may be my quirk. I was also turning my back on the most distinctive element of my debut novel, Death Wishing, which was the main character/narrator’s affected voice.


I was just in a department meeting where a consulting firm was trying to impress upon us the importance of consolidating our communication efforts. They had specific recommendations that ranged from free to v. expensive, but during the sad, inevitable portion about twitter, instagram, etc, and student participation in such, one of our members (someone younger than me) said, “But how do we know social media works?”

I’ll leave that there.

I haven’t blogged much lately, mostly because I dedicated myself to finishing the novel draft. It’s out to my first line readers. My main worry is the ending and how it doesn’t directly answer the question of the novel.