When I left Florida I swore I would never go back in summer, a season that starts with 90’ temperatures in March and refuses to leave until late September. But I find myself compelled to keep returning to one of the hottest parts of the state – the shade-less ocean of cement known as Disney World. Thankfully, one place stays refreshingly dark and gloomy.

 

Haunted Mansion full view

No matter how many times I go through the Haunted Mansion, there’s always something missing. Even the backstage tour lacked a cohesive story of how the mansion came to be. How did the opera company die in costume? What happened to all those ballroom dancers to keep them twirling into eternity?

The tale I heard as a child centered on a couple on their wedding day. Before the ceremony, they played a game of hide and seek. The bride hid in a trunk in the attack, but became trapped and suffocated. Her body was never found, and her empty hearse waits at the front of the mansion. Deeply depressed, her groom hung himself. His body is revealed during lightening flashes in the first room. The bride’s ghost, with her glowing red beating heart, stood by the trunk in the attic.

water color side door

Not too long ago the ride was restructured and the story changed. The bride is now a serial killer who murders husband after husband. The outside of the ride was themed to include an unrelated murder mystery so subtle you’d need to be trapped in line for more than an hour to realize that’s what you’re seeing. The mystery is solved at the very end of the ride – if you keep a sharp eye out. I’m more in favor of the nods to the old tale, like the dog tracks that lead to the servant’s entrance outside of the cemetery.

sepia side

Those tracks make me think about the caretaker – who was he? What was his dog’s name? Where did they and all of the 999 Happy Haunts come from? That’s a book I’ve wanted to read for a long time, so I’ve started writing it. I’m moving the mansion from Florida to a small seaside town in North Carolina. I’ll be visiting Edenton, NC and a few other cities, trying to find one with the right feel. I’m hoping for a layer of genteel decay, a sense of beautiful bones under an aged face. A place that was golden once, but has gone gray with waiting, abandonment and wood beams, gingerbread work on houses that need a coat of paint.

The story isn’t waiting for research, it’s forming itself in notes and drafts. A woman runs away from tragedy, going to a home she never knew she had. But homes are haunted with the things we could have done, the ghosts of the people we might have been. The poor dear doesn’t know it yet but she’s going home to a haunted mansion.

15. June 2015 · Comments Off on What I’m reading… June 2015 · Categories: Uncategorized

Moments after turning in the final galley edits for Under a Blood Moon, I binged. I devoured not one or two, but thirteen books. I thought I could hold myself to ten. I even left the store with ten. Then I found myself at the library the next day – getting another few, just in case. When I’m writing or editing, I dangle books as reward, finish fifty pages of edits and you earn an hour of reading time. With no edits, I’m like a kid in a candy store, greedy and glad all at once.

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

Scarlett Undercover by Jennifer Latham

Scarlett thinks like an old gumshoe from a Noir novel. She talks tough, in the kind of metaphors you don’t see in modern novels. She just happens to be a Muslim-American teenager. Her story weaves Muslim faith and folklore together, exploring mythology and asking questions about who Scarlett is and who she wants to be. It’s a young adult novel, that I’m sure was aimed at kids in the 9th grade. I’m nearly forty and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The mystery involves djinns (both good and bad), cultists, and kidnapped kids. I’d consider this a good ‘beach read’, engrossing and fun.

Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye

On the other side of the spectrum is Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye. Here the mystery was tense and gritty. In the first pages of the story a man captures a group of women, intending to rape them until they agree to become prostitutes. He’s not the bad guy. That crime isn’t even the worst one in the book. New York in the 1840s was a rough place, and Faye is willing to show you all of that. She also shows off the daily life of her character, a man in love with a rich and diverse group of friends and found family. Most of them speak Flash, a language of street slang so complex that most English speakers can’t follow it. The language, setting, and the characters in this novel made it impossible to put down. I know the author says this is the last Timothy Wilde mystery, but I’m hoping she’s lying.

Phryne Fisher Mysteries By Kerry Greenwood

Since reading a review of the first Phryne Fisher novel over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, I have consumed fourteen books and watched 26 hours of her tv series. The early stories (start with Cocaine Blues) are short, under 200 pages, and can be read in about two hours. That’s my excuse for reading three in a weekend. Phryne is a wonderful character – a woman with no shame about her sexual appetites and no desire to play by the rules. Phryne grew up in starvation-level poverty and is now quite rich. She spends her time being a detective, more because it suits her than because she has to be. The books are set in 1920s Australia, which I knew nothing about and now want to visit. All of the mysteries are clever and filled with complex, real people.

To sum up I’m reading mysteries, lots of them and really enjoying historic settings and different cultures. While I love Sherlock Holmes and Nero Wolfe, it’s a pleasure to be able to read more diverse stories. I’m sure I’ll be back to the writing and editing grindstone soon, but for now I’m delighted to indulge myself in good books.

I’m delighted to reveal the cover art for Under a Blood Moon, coming soon from Wild Rose Press:

Under a Blood Moon cover

And there it is.

When I started writing, I had no idea cover art wasn’t designed by the author. I imagined myself meeting with an artist, making rough sketches on the back of a napkin, and then finally going to a studio with soaring ceilings and paint splotches everywhere. I’d stand before an easel and perfection! My book cover revealed.

Except that it turns out most covers don’t start as paintings. The artists work with digital editing software, not paint brushes. When my book was contracted for publication I was sent to an online form, not a meeting in a café. After dutifully filing in the blanks with a description of my heroine, hero, and the location, I had nothing to do but wait anxiously.

Why the anxiety? Authors don’t get approval rights over their covers. People judge books by their covers and most authors aren’t experts at marketing and selling books. Publishers are. It makes sense to let them make the decisions. If an author sees something they don’t like they can mention it, but the publisher isn’t obligated to act on it. It’s easy to daydream about perfect covers that exactly capture your book, but fears creep into your mind at the same time.

The internet is happy to share the details of covers gone wrong. There’s the painful, hilarious Kindle Cover Disasters blog and the more harrowing accounts of white washing and blond-ing of covers. The latter comes from the perception that sales are higher for blond heroes in romance and white girls in young adult. Covers reflect that to market the book, even when it’s not what’s inside. Authors post angry recriminations or apologetic notes, but that’s all they can do. The publisher gets final say.

I’m grateful my publisher doesn’t play those games. The design above is actually the third cover for Under a Blood Moon. My suggestions for the cover art were accepted and implemented quickly. One cover had a very marketable petite blond woman, but my brunette heroine wears a size large. The publisher was fine to remove the skinny blond, even though she might have generated more sales.

I’m happy with the spooky image we ended up with; it communicates the atmosphere of the book without putting ideas in the reader’s head about who does what inside the pages. Even better it reminds me of all those wonderful pulp horror novels I devoured as a teen. I’ll be making the cover art into a quilt later, and I can’t wait to see it in person.

15. May 2015 · Comments Off on Steps to Publication, all those Edits · Categories: Writing

When I dreamed of writing a novel I assumed the hard part was the writing. I imagined that once it was written my story would go on to an agent, who might offer a few suggestions, and then on to an editor. I had a vague notion that there might be two rounds of edits before publication – one with the editor and then a copy edit for grammar and spelling.

I was hopelessly naive.

When Under a Blood Moon comes out in a few months it will have been edited several times. More than I can remember actually. And while writing a book is often hard, it’s not nearly as draining as editing. I suspect I make things harder for myself by setting a firm deadline, adhering to a schedule, and paying strict attention to all the details. Then again maybe those things actually help? In any case, since I’ve been talking about editing for an almost impossibly long time now, I thought it might be best to explain what the various stages are.

Manuscripts, like good cookie dough, need to rest before they’re prepared. When I finished Under a Blood Moon, I set it aside for three months. When I returned to it, I gave it a thorough read, correcting any poor grammar or spelling. Then I sent it off to a beta reader. Beta readers don’t typically concern themselves with the mechanics of writing beyond point of view and plot. They give the book a ‘first pass’ to tell if the story hangs together. When the Beta Reader’s comments and suggestions were in place, I let the story rest again.

After another personal edit, I sent Under a Blood Moon off to its first professional edit in 2008. My editor was a wonderful woman with years of experience on a newspaper. She returned the paper copies to me with a thousand notes. I incorporated them, and began searching out an agent.

When I landed a real live New York agent, she also reviewed the full manuscript. After I put her edits in place another agent in her firm gave the book a read. With both sets of edits in place we sent the manuscript out to editors.

For a long time, no one called back. I did what authors do, and started work on another manuscript. Then someone called! After four rounds of edits, it was time to start the real editing process!

Content edits came first. They arrived from my editor as both general comments “add more back story” and specific comments in the text “I don’t understand the point of this conversation.” I had two rounds of content edits, which felt fairly easy and quick. I have no idea if it was either, but being done with content edits felt like an accomplishment.

If I had known Copy edits were coming I would’ve dragged my heels and stayed in Content edit forever. My copy editor had a background in healthcare and was the most detail orientated person on the planet. She picked up small inconsistencies I never realized were there. She charted the days of the full moon and wanted an explanation of how the different phases acted on my werewolves. She explained in deep detail how a person might die from werewolf attack (blood loss, not heart attack, unless it was a heart attack brought on by blood loss). She made my story stronger, but she made me work for it.

After two rounds of copy edits, the manuscript moved into Galley edits, where I am now. The proof I received for my Galley edits is what will be sent to the printers. It shows exactly how the printed book will look, complete with copyright information, dedication, and page numbers.

Galley edits have thrown me for a loop. By now the book should be perfect, but as an author you’ll always find something to change. In theory you’re only looking for mistakes, times when a character is called by the wrong name or when a word is left out. In reality, it’s impossible not to crawl along examining every word, judging it, trying to decide if it’s perfect. The Galley edits are my last chance to read the manuscript before it becomes a book. So while I know I’m neglecting friendships and sleep, I think they’re my favorite part.

01. May 2015 · Comments Off on Apologies and the Rabbit Editor · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: ,

Due to line edits, copy edits, and galley edits, today’s blog (planned topic: Beltane and Witchcraft in my novels) has been replaced with gratuitous pictures of my rabbit editor. Many apologies.

For those of you who aren’t aware, rabbits are disapproving creatures.

I disapprove

Your shenanigans are not amusing. Get back to writing.

They also enjoy sleeping on large, fluffy piles of shredded paper, if that paper contains your hopes and dreams, er, manuscript, all the better.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

Your failure is as soft as a cloud.

 

These two combine to make a harsh, but adorable editor. For example, when you get a rejection and nothing is working right you see this:

 

keep writing

I’m bored with your complaining. Go back to work.

Then, when you’re ready to give up:

Give up

Enough. I’m done.

And hide your face in shame:

 

I can't face what I've done.

I can’t face what I’ve done.

They offer you a treat. If you’re lucky you won’t fall asleep before you can finish it.

So tired.

So tired.

When you wake up, you’ll see something like this:

so bored

Why aren’t you writing?

15. April 2015 · Comments Off on Reenactments as Research · Categories: Uncategorized · Tags: , ,

I love the juxtaposition of historic values and modern settings. One of the reasons I write with vampires is the unique chance they give me to explore cultural shifts and changing social roles. In my book, Under a Blood Moon, I have two vampires, Jakob, born around 1360 and, Mark, born 1574. Jakob, a devout Catholic, values family and faith. Mark is more calloused and cynical. That’s probably enough to start writing but to really flesh out a character you need more. When you dig into the history you learn that most men in Jakob’s time couldn’t read. They knew famine personally and would have lost family members to starvation. Their church offered not only solace but also support and safety. Knowing that about him improves my writing. There’s no way around it, to really understand how historic characters think you need to do research.

While I enjoy the usual kinds of research, like reading academic articles and history books, my favorite kind of research is more hands on. I talk with and interview historic reenactors. Most people are familiar with Civil War reenactors. Many Southern states hold large scale battles and encampments in the summer. But there’s more than just the Civil War out there. In St. Augustine, where I went to college, encampments from the 16th century were common. I spent more than one summer night awkwardly pressed in a crowd of women and children forced into the old fort while cannons fired around me, trying to beat back English forces as if it was still 1586. For years I interacted with people who slept, ate, and dressed in that time period. It’s no surprise that I based Mark on what I learned. His favorite breakfast is the one I saw being eaten in the camps, his political views are shaped by the discussions I had with the reenactors while they ate.

I was recently lucky enough to find an event that focused not on one battle or time period, but brought them all together. Military through the Ages showcased encampments from a Roman Legion (64 A.D.) to the current Virginia Army National Guard. While it was hard to pull myself away from the Fenvald Vikings, the good people of La Belle Compagnie who reenact the Hundred Years War between England and France (1337 to 1453) were my best resource of the day. I learned about cooking, cleaning, women’s roles vs. men’s roles, and how fighting really worked in the time period. Reading about swords is good, holding the sword and talking to someone who uses period techniques to make swords is even better.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

One of the ladies of La Belle Compagnie and a friend of hers from about 600 years in the future.

The event included a lot of hands on demonstrations, some of them given by people who aren’t just reenacting, but remembering. This lovely woman was a member of British Women’s Land Army during WWII.

The Women’s Land Army took on the jobs left empty by soldiers. They planted and harvested crops, milked cows, and ran the home front. Despite all this, I’d never heard of them. I folded their story into the background of Margaret, Jakob’s love from the 1940s and the grandmother of his adopted son. Not far from the encampment, one of the wonderful women offered to pin my hair up. While Margaret and I don’t have the same hair, I know the way the bobby pins scraped across my scalp will end up in a book somewhere.

The seated woman was a member of the Women's Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

The seated woman was a member of the Women’s Land Army, while the standing reenactor is dressed in clothing from the Colonial era

To me history is a dying solider on a battlefield telling you his story. Reenactments give us a chance to talk to those soldiers, and ask them about the little things we might not be able to read about so easily. When you’re lucky you get a chance to feel a piece of history (or something pretty close) for yourself.

 

 

 

01. April 2015 · Comments Off on Whispers · Categories: Short Stories · Tags: , , ,

The first time I swam I was three. My pudgy fingers reached forward in a stroke I barely knew, wrapped in salt water, happier than I had ever been. My parents pulled me from the water hours later but I never really left. Most teenagers slept in, but I went back to the water every day at four in the morning and four in the afternoon. Swim team captain, champion swimmer, the water is my home. It makes the doctor’s words hard to take.swimmer

“No swimming until we take out the tubes.”

Thanks to the ear infections I’ve spent weeks listening to muffled, unclear speech. His words boom into me. I put my hands over my ears, trying to block the sound. “So loud.”

“A side effect of the tubes, everything is two decibels louder. You’ll get used to it.”


I start to hear the whispers in math class. They follow me to history, scratches of sound, like someone talking behind you or in the hall. I haven’t gotten used to the tubes. Chewing blocks out every sound. Running makes my breath as loud as a rock concert. But when I’m not doing that, when I’m sitting or reading the whispers come back. Frustrated, I say what I’d been saying for almost two months.

“I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.” Every time I say it, people speak louder and slower, a look of pity on their face for the seventeen year old who acts like an old man. The whispers stop. A bliss of relative quiet falls over me. I hear the noise of my teeth rubbing together, the sound of locks clicking open on lockers, and a thousand conversations in the hall but I can’t hear any whispers.

They come back. This time I understood them.

You’re useless. Nothing. Nobody.

“No, I’m not.” My response startles my lab partner, who raises an eyebrow before going back to the experiment.

Then who are you? What can you do?

“I’m a swimmer.”

“Yeah, sure you are, dude.” My lab partner smiles. “Best in the state in the 50 meter. Everyone knows that.”

But the whispers say “A swimmer who can’t swim. You’re nothing.”

They’re wrong. It stings anyway. They keep it up all day. I’m nothing, useless, I’ll never get in the water again. They’re wrong and I don’t believe them, but the more I hear, the more I think about it. If I’m not a swimmer, if this thing with my ears doesn’t get better, who am I? When I couldn’t hear the gun, I started from the block just a second after the other swimmers. Not enough to hurt me in meets but enough that I couldn’t get my best time. I haven’t set any records, haven’t seen any improvements since the infection started.

And you’ll never set any records again.

I know the whispers lie, but it’s hard to hear them, over and over again, and not start to wonder if they’re right.


On the third day I can’t take it anymore. Every hallway, every classroom, every where I go in the school I hear them. Over and over again, repeating the same terrible lies. (I’m sure they’re lies. Really. Except what if they’re not?) The whispers have me half convinced. I break my word to my parents and head for the deserted pool. There, with ear plugs and water between us, I don’t hear them. But I can’t swim forever. Two hours in my arms burn. I’ll get caught for cutting class soon. Does it matter? If the whispers are right, nothing matters. I swim another few laps before I get out. The whispers start again in the locker room.

I’m not going crazy and the weekend proves it. Two days away from school, and I don’t hear them. I hear the water in my mouth and the rustle of the newspaper when I fold it. It should be a gift but the only thing I’m grateful for is getting away from the whispers. On Monday-

“Doesn’t matter if you hear us. It’s still the truth. You might as well kill yourself.”

For a second, just a split second, I think about taking that advice. How I might do it, how it would make people feel. Instead I add lying to cutting class and call the doctor’s office. I pretend to be my Dad. The whispers tell me I’ll never be as good as he was, never have it together the way he does. I talk over them, asking the receptionist to change my appointment. She gets me in that afternoon, and when I check in I lie some more about why he isn’t with me. I’m shocked it works. I remember what the whispers said.

There’s a loud pop when the tubes come out, a bright pain that radiates down my jaw. Pop and the world goes quiet.

“That wasn’t so bad, was it?” The doctor smiles.

“It was wonderful.”

He tells me a lot of things, but I’m focused on how I can’t hear the air coming through the vent anymore. There’s only one class left in the afternoon, and I might as well miss it, but I go back anyway. The whispers are gone. I walk the halls, check the locker room. Nothing. I’m in the auditorium back stage when the drama club starts to file in. I can hear them but nothing else, no lies, no threats.

Are they there, still trying? Still talking to me? Just in case I tell them, “Doesn’t matter if you’re there. I don’t have to listen to you anymore.”

A movement behind me makes me jump. I would’ve heard it a few hours ago, but now the girl surprises me. Pale, tired, she looks half dead with dark circles under her eyes. “You hear them? The whispers?”

15. March 2015 · Comments Off on Writing and Quilting: Editing my Stash · Categories: Experiences · Tags: , ,

The odd thing about writing is that it spreads to take over your life. You find yourself in meetings thinking about characters or editing for other people when you should be talking. In my case, writing is oozing into my two hobbies, running and quilting. My running is getting the same treatment as Under A Blood Moon, where I’m adding quality words, or runs, to make the overall product better. My quilting suffers from the opposite problem – I’m cutting out yards of fabric as if they were wordy paragraphs of purple prose.

I’m willing to bet that most of you aren’t quilters, and you probably aren’t familiar with the concept of a stash. It’s exactly like hoarding fabric, except that no quilter admits that. T-shirts proclaim “whoever dies with the most fabric wins.” There are “Fabric Acquisition Road Trips” cleverly called FARTs and fabric swaps. The goal is always to have more fabric. One of my quilting friends has proudly filled an eight ft. by ten ft. shed. Since quilting fabric is meant to last for a hundred years, the amount of a quilter’s “stash” can easily grow to surpass a thousand yards.

My own meager stash reads like a history of my life. I found quilting when I was 17. Here was a room full of caring, open women, the wise Aunts and Great-Aunts I never had. They talked about everything, helpfully corrected my mistakes, and were genuinely interested in sharing their craft with me. My mother and I were never close. I had no girlfriends. The camaraderie of women was a new and wonderful discovery. All of my fabric from those years is feminine – tiny calico prints, big flowers, pastel pinks, and purples.

A square from my first quilt, tiny light blue, purple, and pink flowers mixed with a pink-purple. I loathe calicoes now.

A square from my first quilt, tiny light blue, purple, and pink flowers mixed with a pink-purple. I loathe calicoes now.

Fast-forward a decade, and I was working in Washington DC, one of a million drones for the federal government. My greatest fear was that I would wake up forty years later, having wasted my life in the same building, at the same job. My fabric: skulls, screaming ghosts, bats, and spiders; a not-so-subtle expression of rebellion sewn into traditional patterns.

I liked this fabric so much I had it made into a dress. The skulls glow in the dark!

I liked this fabric so much I had it made into a dress. The skulls glow in the dark!

And now? Now I’m buying batiks, saturated color that doesn’t have a wrong side. Some quilters frown on bold colors, saying they take over a quilt. That’s what I love. I like creating a pattern of lines and geometric shapes, creating order with color. Modern style quilts, with their hard lines and 1960s feel have become my new favorite.

Back to the editing: I’m getting rid of fabric. That’s a shocking confession for a quilter, but there are things I’m ready to let go. Editing my writing has taught me that less is more and it that applies to my fabric. When I got rid of 22 yards this week I realized that every yard felt like a burden. I felt a pressure to use that fabric as soon as I could, and guilt over the way I carried it with me over various moves and over the years. Getting rid of it took an item off my to-do list and freed me up to take on other things.

I don’t know what those other things are. Right now, writing is the focus of my life, quilting doesn’t seem as important. I’m pretty happy about that, and I’m excited about the future. But while I’m looking forward to road tripping to Bouchercon (a conference for mystery writers) this fall, I still might stop at fabric store along the way.

01. March 2015 · Comments Off on Reseach Road Trip: Rosewell Plantation · Categories: Experiences · Tags: ,

As I type these words, a cold rain falls down, turning to ice almost the instant it touches something. Icicles cling to the eaves of the roof, the edges of cars, and any living thing that holds still. We’ve slogged through snow since Tuesday, but next Wednesday will be seventy degrees. More snow arrives on Thursday. The ping-pong of Spring weather makes me dream of the summer, when I took clear, dry roads into the middle of nowhere to find things to put in a book someday.

Ruins of Rosewell (photo is "Rosewell.VA" by Agadant  Licensed under CC)

Ruins of Rosewell
(photo “Rosewell.VA” by Agadant )

Last August, I sought out Rosewell Plantation. Just one or two steps above a road side attraction, Rosewell mattered once. These days, you’d be hard pressed to find the place. You take a rural highway, pass historic battlefields, go over a bridge, and then wind through farmland long enough to be sure you’re lost. The houses hide behind pines and oaks, bright red pickup trucks show in between the branches. If you’re lucky, you stopped at the 7-11 nine and half miles before for a bottle of water or a clean bathroom. Your only other option is the plantation visitor center or a tree.

Besides the bathroom and the small refrigerator with the cool bottles of water, the visitor center holds a one room exhibit of artifacts found at the house. Learn about the rough draft of the declaration of Independence that Thomas Jefferson wrote here or watch a quick movie about the restoration efforts. The gift shop boasts two display cases filled with out-of-print books, talked up by a volunteer who works hard to sell them. I couldn’t tell if her enthusiasm came from desperation, boredom, or devotion. In any case she walked out to the shell paved parking lot and pointed to the right. The land around the plantation is rented to farmers, corn in the front, soy closer to the main house. She warned me at least twice not to pick any of it, and to stay out of the fields.

The road to the plantation is paved only with dirt. If you let your hand drift outside the window you risk feeling the slap of corn stalks. An uncomfortable drop off exists between the soy bean plants and the road, a two foot rise of crushed shells and white dirt. It’s not like the car would have an accident, but the wire around the beans would surely snap, ruining a paint job, so it’s best to drive straight, trying not to think about what would happen in the one lane space if another visitor was leaving at that time.

In 1725 they called it the grandest home in the nation. In 1916 it burned to the bones.

plantation photo0001

Click to enlarge

For a few decades Rosewell was something of a local celebrity. Kids came out to play here, each one leaving their mark on the antique bricks. The names are clearly visible, some have dates scratched into them. I spent a few minutes trying to follow a timeline of my life in them. A brick for the year my brother born showed up quickly, one for the year I was born took a bit more time. They stop soon after the house won its place on the National Historic Register but Joey and TJ haven’t been erased.

plantation photo0004

Click to enlarge

Restoration efforts seem shaky. Groups come out to plaster over brick. Modern beams are sunk to support the old structure. But somehow the work doesn’t seem to have gone on lately, certainly not this week or last, probably not in the last month. The volunteer warned us about ticks in the interior of the house. There was a problem with funding for the proper weed-eater, the bugs couldn’t be controlled in the high grasses. I didn’t mind, the wildflowers and high grasses added to the air of companionable neglect. You could tell from walking around Rosewell that a small group of people loved it. They wanted it to be grand again, to remind the world of how important it had been once. There’s something wonderful about local people fighting to keep a local place from being forgotten by the rest of the world.

plantation photo0002

Click to enlarge

17. February 2015 · Comments Off on Editing and the Hourglass · Categories: Writing · Tags: , ,

I’ve been editing Under a Blood Moon this month. It’s become the main focus of my life. Luckily, I ended a 15 month volunteer commitment in January. All my other hobbies suffer greatly, no weight lifting, barely any running. My quilting sits neglected the antique sewing machine silent. Why this all consuming obsession?

I have always believed that editing is reduction. To quote Stephen King the formula is “2nd Draft = 1st Draft – 10%”. I can’t count the number of drafts Blood Moon has undergone. I have documents labeled ‘maybe final’, ‘final’, and ‘really final’. Somewhere along the way I cut too much. My editor advised me to add back-story, to flesh out the characters. She pointed out readers will feel blindsided by a vampire mentioning his son for the first time on page 200. I’ve lived with these characters so long it never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t think 600 year old vampire, 36 year old son, kid must be adopted and move on.

My secret weapon is an hourglass:

An hourglass filled with purple sand, rests in the snow

Not even snow can freeze time. My Haunted Mansion hourglass.

I bought it as décor. It doesn’t keep time very well. I suspect most of my hours are actually a bit longer than that. I’m learning to adjust to longer lengths though, to let things develop on their own. I sit down at my writing desk, a rickety combination of silver steel and glass that looks better than it functions, and I flip the hourglass over. For that time I do nothing but edit. If I think I need to fact check something on the internet, I note it for later. The door to my office is shut and email turned off. If I absolutely must take a break, I lay the hour glass on its side, stopping the flow of time and sand.

I wish I could tell you that I often find myself working past the end of the hourglass. Instead, I find myself shaking it, wondering if something got stuck. Putting words back into a work leaves a lump. I go back time after time, smoothing it down with both hands like making a bed, hoping some future reader won’t see the bulge.

We’ve had a bad winter storm, leaving me alone in the house with my words. I’ll write three sentences of dialog, short little lines. The hour glass finishes. Liberated, I move on to something else. But an hour later, my mind is still on those sentences. Two hours later I rewrite them, saving the first ones just in case they were better. Then, five hours later, lying in bed, the perfect set of replacement sentences comes to me. I repeat them over to myself, twenty words chanted like a mantra while the lap top boots up. Finally, they rest beside their kin, perfect, exactly what I wanted, twenty words out of the five or ten thousand I swore to myself I’d add by February 28.

I promised one short story a month on the blog, but lately that’s become ‘a custom more honored in the breach than the observance’. There’s no room in my head for other stories, for matching clothes, or preparing meals. I’m sure I bore people; the long road to publication (8 years!) can’t be thrilling to anyone but me. Someone mocked me because I have no social life. I’m not sure I need one. After all, I have a book. It makes me happy, angry, frustrated, excited, and tired but mostly happy.