Rewriting, Work in Progress, Writing

Two Books at Once

Well, I finally have the time now that I don’t work nine to ten hours a day for a newspaper. What I used to do for an hour or so at 5 a.m. if I was lucky, now can fill as many hours as I want. It’s an adjustment for sure and a blessing. So, as this blog’s title suggests, I have started a new novel and am heavily rewriting another.

First: the new novel — No. 6 in the Isabel Long Mystery Series, tentatively called Following the Lead. This one starts immediately after no. 5. If you’ve read Working the Beat — thank you very much — you will know what I mean. My goal is a minimum of 500 words a day, a very manageable pace, and at this point I am 14,000 words into it. I like where this book is going. The goal is about 75,000 by the way.

Without giving away too much, here’s a hint from the opening paragraphs:

The manila envelope’s contents have been on my mind since he handed it to me in his office and said, “It’s your next case.” And there it sits on the back seat of my car, bugging the heck out of me to stop and rip it open.

“Do you think it’s another unsolved murder?” my mother asks after she gives the fat envelope another glance.

“No clue,” I answer.

Second: the old novel. Actually, it is the first one I attempted. When I showed it to the person who became my first agent, he was far more interested in another, one of my hilltown novels that has yet to be published. It is inspired by my experience working and living in a psychiatric half-way house. I did that when the state was in the process of shutting down its mental hospitals, as they were called, and putting the ex-patients in half-way houses.

Here is the synopsis:

Bia Fernandes leaves a dead-end job to work and live at Swanson, a psychiatric halfway house, where she learns more than she expects from its ex-patients. Meanwhile, it is 1974. The Watergate scandal, a craziness of national proportions, is coming to a head.

Swanson House is an old mansion that will be torn down for a highway coming through a dying mill town in Massachusetts. Among the ex-patients living there are: Lane, who compiles his observations in small notebooks with titles like Twisted People; his silent sidekick, Kevin; Angie, who claims to have been a groupie to rock stars; Jerry, the ultra-hip ex-carnie; and Carole, who says doctors stole her baby. They work factory jobs, take their meds, and interact like a family. The three other staff members at Swanson have their own problems.

Although the Swanson Shuffle is fiction, it was inspired by my experience as a live-in staff at a psychiatric halfway house. But Bia has her own story to tell, and she handles the situation much better and with far more humor than I did.

Anyway, as I reread the manuscript, I’ve found simple editing — changing, adding or deleting a word here and there — and complex editing — a scene that should be eliminated, added or drastically changed. I am on my second round since I restarted, printing out 50 pages at a time so I can go at it.

I am glad to have the time to do both.

ABOUT THE IMAGE ABOVE: Yes, my novel for middle-grade readers is free Saturday, Feb. 26 and Sunday, Feb. 27 for Kindle readers on Amazon. Looking for a fun fantasy with genies, magic powers and a little bit of danger? Give The Twin Jinn at Happy Jack’s Carnival of Mysteries a try. here is the link for that:





Rewriting, Writing

Hey, Look What I Found

I was rearranging stuff in the attic, when I discovered another version of my novel The Swanson Shuffle. As yet unpublished, the novel was inspired by my experience living and working in a psychiatric halfway house. I have envelopes containing manuscripts of my other works, but what made this one especially interesting is that it’s bound with plastic cover and rings. I believe it was a requirement for one of the contests I entered a long time ago, and I had a copy made for me as well. Although a bit yellowed on the bottom, it has survived two 2,400-mile moves across the country.

I wrote Walking in Place, which is the book’s original name, in 1999. I failed to lure an agent or a publisher for it. Actually, the agent I did get passed on the book and instead agreed to represent one of my hilltowns novels, which alas, he couldn’t get published. Yes, it’s been a long, strange trip.

Then in early 2014, I rewrote Walking in Place and renamed it The Swanson Shuffle. Both titles refer to the side-effect of one drug a few of the residents of Swanson House take. I have had a hard time finding a publisher for that one as well, so I’ve decided to read the original and see if there is anything in there I could use to make the novel better.

The two versions have many of the same characters. The protagonist is named Rose in the first book and Bia in second. The first is written in first-person past tense, and the second, first-person present tense.

Walking in Place begins when one of the residents, Jerry, has been arrested. The Swanson Shuffle starts with Bia coming for a weekend as part of the interview process. She meets Jerry outside while he’s working on his car.

The first version has hardly any chapter breaks. The second, as is typical of my current writing style, has lots.

In the first book, a lot of the plot revolves around Rose’s relations with the staff, including a bit of romance. The second focuses on Bia’s relationships with the residents, who, frankly, are far more interesting than the staff.

I finished reading Walking in Place when I awoke this morning at 2 a.m. and couldn’t go back to sleep. In the end, I decided I made the right move rewriting Walking in Place. I was pleased at the progress my writing made during those fifteen years. The Swanson Shuffle is tighter, livelier and certainly better written. It’s also a better story.

But I acknowledge there might be some passages and ideas I could take from the first.

I am also weighing which title to use — and whether to change the novel to past tense or even third-person. I may experiment with a couple of chapters. Such fun.IMG_0904

By the way, that was my second discovery last week. The other was a copy of Lady Chatterly’s Lover, circa 1928, that I scored in a free book box in downtown Greenfield. It originally belonged to a local library, and considering its controversy, I am a bit surprised.

I will go through my collection and see what I can spare in return.

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: My copy of Walking in Place.


books, Rewriting, The Sweet Spot, Writing

Reading Backwards

I pulled the manuscript for The Sweet Spot from its envelope to read yet again. This time I am doing it backwards.

I read about this technique on the internet, where else, and once I realized it meant reading backwards paragraph by paragraph, and not word by word, I thought it was worth the try.

No matter how much I edit and proof copy, especially an 80,000-word novel, I find stuff I should have caught. I might feel a tiny bit reassured when I read other books — including those published by university presses — that have typos. But that’s not reassurance enough for me.

Plus, I hate making more work for Michelle, who designs my books. The Sweet Spot, one of my hill town books, is the next on her list.

Amazingly I found reading backwards a rather easy and useful process. Instead of focusing on the story line and characters, I concentrate simply on one paragraph at the time. It’s a manageable approach, and in the process, I’ve found a missing article or two, and other stuff. Here’s one: Edie stops to buy food on the way to one of the book’s most crucial scenes — when she goes to reason with a distraught Walker, her ex-lover. It’s important she stops to buy food because she learns an important piece of info from the clerk. But I don’t mention the food again. Did Edie bring the food to Walker’s cabin? Did she leave it in the car? Maybe she should only stop at the store for directions and maybe a drink for herself. It’s a matter of a dropped detail.

I’ve written before that I read my manuscripts aloud, more than once. This round of copyediting, I am reading The Sweet Spot backwards and out loud. It is a slower process than reading the usual way so I only do several pages at a time. And, yes, I have my red pen handy.

AN UPDATE ON THE AUDIO BOOK: I am a bit frustrated by my efforts to record Professor Groovy and Other Stories. It has consumed many of my waking hours and I am unhappy still. So, I decided to put it aside until the weekend and take a good hard listen then. I’m not giving up, but a break is in order.

THANK YOU: I appreciate all who have bought and read my books. Here are the links to them on Amazon: Peace, Love, and You Know What and Professor Groovy and Other Stories

ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Blooming Russian sage is a hotspot for bees on our little piece of the earth.