The importance of extra eyes

Since my last post, I have been busy with editing the first 100 pages. Those chapters take place in Dublin, Ireland and two of my writer friends in Ireland offered to read the chapters. I got one back from Mick Helpin by email with suggestions and then yellowed shaded areas that he questioned and/or had suggestions for.

Paul T. Lynch and I Skyped for two days and he went chapter-by-chapter with suggestions and corrections.

While I’ve been to Ireland a few times, and been lucky enough to meet and become friends with many writers there, I am in no way an expert on Dublin. I know what I see. Last June/July there was a lot of construction as workers laid trolley tracks on many of the streets,  including O’Connell Street in the City Center.

When my friends offered to read the Dublin chapters, I jumped at the chance. I visited and did research on Dublin, with Google maps, etc. As a writer, even a writer of fiction, it is important to get real destinations correct. No quicker way to turn-off a reader than show him/her that you don’t know what you’re writing about. That’s one of the reasons I stay as true as possible to the businesses and people of Key West.

One of my rewards is receiving emails from readers mentioning they know the bar and where there just last month! Or that’s where they celebrated their anniversary. It’s a lot better getting those emails than one saying ‘You don’t know what you’re talking about!’

Mick Helpin gave me some suggestions about changing the opening. I liked them, but the opening is done and to change it would mean major re-writing. I like the opening, so I will stick with it.

One of the reasons I don’t usually read my own books after publication is that I find places I realize I could’ve done differently. Maybe better or added a clue.

I think we can, as writers, look at others’ work and think of how we’d do it differently. Human nature, I guess. What we have to do is send in the best copy we are capable of at the time and go on to the next project.

My last book is always my best, or so it should be. I learn from each book I write and from books I read. The day I stop learning is the day I stop writing and that day I’d better be dead!

With Mick and Paul Lynch I hit the  jackpot. Both are familiar with Dublin, its character as a city and its language. Most big cities have a language of its own, be it Dublin or Boston, or NYC, or L.A. . . .

With their help I am able to get the Irish character speaking properly even when slang  is involved. Harp beer, a big seller at Irish pubs in the States, isn’t sold in pubs in Dublin. A real error on my part, if my friends hadn’t pointed it out. You can find it  in pubs to the North.

My point is, if a writer can find people who will read his/her works with a critical eye and offer an honest evaluation, grab that opportunity. It’s golden!

When I finish the book, I will go back to the first section and work on the corrections and suggestions my friends gave. If I tried to do it now, I just be putting off the job of finishing the book. That’s why it’s called re-writing!

Finishing a chapter

I finished chapter 33 yesterday. More interruptions than I care to admit to kept me from writing, but that is a writer’s life. Since mid last year, I’ve had more distractions than I want. But I’m beating a dead horse here, ain’t I?

No one is holding a gun to my head or my children as hostage, to keep me from writing. The fault lies with me. I’ve broken years of routine. Up around 6 a.m., cafe con leche, start the computer, go over yesterday’s pages. Begin new pages. Look at notes. Allow characters to takeover and tell me where to go. Another con leche.

Noon, or a little before, I’m done. Mentally whipped. I may like where I am in the story and possibly treat myself to lunch downtown with a friend. Or I am not excited with where I am and worry about where the storyline is going. That worry will follow me to bed.

I might sit under the house, have a beer and cigar while I watch TV, but my mind will be more occupied with the story than with the news or a program I recorded earlier. TV is often an escape. It allows my mind to rest. Other times it’s background noise.

These days, I find myself writing more often in the late morning into the early afternoon. I’m okay with that, as long as I am writing. But old morning habit has had me schedule doctor appointments, lunch dates, visit to the tailors and other things in the afternoon. My friends know not to call me until afternoon.

Here is something Robert DeNiro said (I think he’s been reading my mail):

The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing. Isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.

Robert De Niro

 

Rainy day writing

It rained overnight and now it’s drizzling. A good time to make a cafe con leche and write. I am working  on chapter 33, it continues in the graveyard where chapter 32 ended.

I spent the first part of the morning reading over and making changes to chapter 32. My mind seems to work faster than my fingers, when it comes to writing. I am always finding a sentence where I’ve left out a word. Thankfully, Word warms me when I type the same word twice.

Someone asked me at a book signing if I re-read my books after they are published. My answer was “No.” I did, in the beginning, read the first book. I think any writer who re-reads his/her work will always find places he/she would do differently or should have done differently.

What I’ve convinced myself of is that I did the  best I could do and with each book should be getting better. Of course, it’s the reader who lets us know if we are doing better. Could be the sales or an email, but the reader is the decision maker.

Guess it’s time to try to finish chapter 33. Have some bad guys to shoot and Mick Murphy has some bad news coming! Still raining!

Edits remind me of cod liver oil!

After having two friends give the first section of my work-in-progress a read and edit, I sent it off to my editor. It came back yesterday with a lot less corrections than my earlier books came back with.

Edits are like the cod-liver-oil my mother used to make me take when I was feeling ill. The taste was horrible but the affect was good.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are a lot of books out there these days. E-books and paper books that are made available to writers by Amazon and Amazon’s company CreateSpace.

The difference between a self-published author and an independently published author is professional editing and professional cover design. My two readers are not professional editors. The both are voracious readers of mysteries and know I want honest criticism. I think they enjoy pointing our mistakes in timelines and repeated comments.

You may have a PhD in English but that doesn’t make you an editor or your own work. Kind like an attorney representing him or herself = they have a fool for a client. Same thing goes for a writer depending on his/her ability to edit. It’s also not a good idea to have close family do it either. Of course, there are exceptions to the rule.

Since I had no editor for this blog, I am sure some of you notice errors on my part. I go  over the blog a few times,  including spell check, but errors slip in. I apologise for this, but it’s inevitable!

With a little effort, most anyone can use Amazon or CreateSpace to publish their works and it’s free*. If I can do the layout, etc on both, anyone can. What used to take me weeks to accomplish, I can now do in half a day. While all this is free, I do spend money on a professional editor and cover designer. Remember, the costs are a tax deduction!

Speaking of tax deductions, I will be attending the Dublin Writers Conference this year in Ireland. Dublin, as well as all of Ireland, is a wonderful place for writers. They actually have bookstores and signings! It is the last of June and if you want to know more about it go to: https://smarturl.it/dublinconference. 

I’ve finished my edit corrections, agreeing with most of them. That’s another thing, a writer doesn’t have to agree with the editor, but should work with the suggestions and see if they make the story read better. If not, there’s no law that says a writer has to make the changes. For me, I have a real problem with that and who and with tenses. I know it but write without too much thought of those problems because I know my editor will catch and fix them. Of course, I tell her I do it on purpose to make sure she’s earning her pay!

*CreateSpace does offer paid services to writers for editing, formatting, etc. It’s for those without time, I guess.

One down, how many to go?

As chapter 32 reached about 1,300 words (before editing), I ended it only sentences away from the action. The idea of ending there is to get the reader to want to move onto chapter 33. Ending a chapter is often important. A local radio personality, Bill Hoebee, once commented to me that he was up half the night because every chapter of my book left him wanting to know what happened next. Not a bad ‘on air’ comment from someone who admitted he hadn’t read a book since his college days!

It all goes back to what I mentioned earlier about the “USA Today” syndrome. People expect it short. An “in-depth” news story rarely exceeds a few minutes on the news programs. How often have you read a front-page story in the newspaper only to turn to the jump page and see a large block of type and didn’t bother reading more?

I have a son who’s an MP in the Marines and years go I went to a partent-teachers night and questioned his English teacher about Alex’s A in reading. I’d never seen the kid open a book! The teacher explained that the kids learned to read off a computer not “Dick & Jane book” like I did! That leaves two generations behind me who grew up with computers. I had two tin cans hooked together with twine . . .

As a writer, I have to take all this into consideration. I write hoping to entertain a reader and to do that I need to keep the reader’s attention. He/she can close my book (or close the tablet) and grab someone else’s book. That’s also why researching is important. Readers may like it short and quick, but they also expect honesty. Call a magazine for a semi-automatic handgun a “clip” and you’ll turn off anyone that knows guns and today that’s a lot of people across the country. Today, Fiction has to be written honestly.

I travel to places I want my characters to go so I can a feel of the landscape, weather, streets and traffic, and so much more. My Key West is recognizable to anyone that’s been here. I often hear from readers about the bars and neighborhoods in my books. They are happy to know exactly where I am writing about; they had a drink at the bar and think they met some of the off-beat characters I write about.

Chapter 32 ends in the Key West Cemetery. If I walk through there many more times, taking notes, seeing the gravestones and crypts up close, I may not be able to leave. Someone might just dig a hole, or open an empty crypt and throw me in.

I’d better get Chapter 33 done and move out of the cemetery to a nice, friendly bar. I don’t mind if people don’t want me to leave there.

A few day off but I accomplished a lot; writing in my head

Last Thursday we headed to the mainland. The normal two-and-a-half hour drive took more like three-and-a-half. Caught behind small cars towing big boats, motor homes towing cars and delivery trucks returning to Miami. While there’s a few places along US 1 where the speed limit is 50 or 55 mph, most of the two-lane road is posted 45 mph.

I used the long, slow ride to run my current work-in-progress through my head. Riding helps me think. Of course, this time Celine was along and I had to block out her radio choices. I like to listen to Kristofferson & Waylon.

Chapter 32 is going to be longer than my usual chapters. Readers don’t want long. Some of us call it “The USA Today” syndrome.  USA Today, all the news you need in ten inches or less of copy! People today are in a hurry and long chapters scare them! I guess if you’re on the NY Times’ bestseller list it may make a different. Most of the people on that list are repeat offenders. They’re safe to read and never disappoint the readers. While those of us new to the game have to hang around the table hoping scraps will fall and we can grab them.

That’s for another blog post. Look for it.

Anyway, on the ride I figured a way to put some action into the chapter. Without having to issue a spoiler alert, I can say it involves the Key West Cemetery and this time during the mid-morning hours!

On the ride home I ran the idea through my head again, made some adjustments and am ready to begin. I Googled a map of the cemetery, though I’ve walked through it many times. I will use it for reference so I get things right. While not the New Orleans’ cemetery, the Key West Cemetery is unique with its mixture of grave stones and crypts.

I haven’t wasted my four-days off. I’ve been catching up on my reading. Right now I’m reading Police At The Station and They Don’t Look Friendly, by Adrian McKinty. I’m a big fan of his writing.

Reading is as important to writing as writing is! When people tell me they don’t have time to read and write. I feel sorry for them.

Morning Joe is still kidnapping my mornings! Hope someone is taking notes because a spectacular thriller is unraveling in Washington – no matter how it turns out!

‘Morning Joe’ on MSNBC, my addiction /or: How Washington is screwing up my daily word count

I am not interest in beginning a political discussion here, but politics – the past election and daily uproar on the news – has been responsible for me not getting as much writing done as I should.

It all began with the primary circus. I am a fan of Morning Joe. I record it and prior to the primary, I would watch it after writing all morning. Things would come up and, often as not, I wouldn’t make it to the end of the program. What kept my interest was the selection of guests. They came from both parties, so I got to hear both sides of the argument.

As the Republican candidates for president began to shrink, the debates didn’t interest me. I’d get the highlights on Morning Joe. And I did. Usually in the afternoon.

I am not sure when, but one day I made my cafe con leche – Cuban coffee – and  instead of going to my home office to write, I sat down in front of the TV. Something happened late the day before and I knew Joe or Mica would have the scoop. I watched the show and wrote in late morning and into the afternoon.

It surprised me that I could get my word limit done in the afternoon. Within a  week, I had my Cuban coffee in front of the TV listening to Joe & Mica and a list of politicians, political analysts and NBC political reporters.

I should explain that my early life involved working at a Boston newspaper as a copy boy, through an apprentice program and eventually a cub reporter. It left me with “ink in my veins” as the old adage went. I’m a news junkie. And a mystery writer. A fate I wish on no one!

What would make a fantastic thriller? How about the Russians getting involved in our presidential election? How about the elected president and his top circle of aides all working with the Russians? Maybe blackmailed? Imagine! No limits to a writer’s imagination.

So, when I watch the news now it’s as a mystery writer looking at someone’s video synopsis!

A writers’ mind is full of twists and turns, seeks the unexpected and likes to hide things in plain sight. I’m guessing I am not the only writer (or person) who looks at the news and fantasies about an ending.

Today, I got some writing done on chapter 32. Timeline is right, finally. Now, someone has to attempt to kill Mick Murphy! How and where? Tomorrow is a road trip north, so I guess I’ll find out on Friday. But, taking long rides often helps me with my plot ideas. So, with a little luck by Friday I’ll have more than enough ambushes and shootouts and whatevers to get back to the discipline of writing daily and watching the news in the afternoon.

Wish me luck! Not many news junkies break the bonds of their addictions.

Editing is the brussels sprouts of writing!

A beautiful day in Key West today. Temps in the low 80s, with lots of sun. Spent much of the morning editing chapters 30 & 31. I had to correct the time frame jam I’d written myself into. It just didn’t work and I’d spent a few restless days trying to figure out how to write myself out of the situation.  I did that today. I’ll re-read them tomorrow morning and see if the changes still work for me.

Self-editing is important. Whenever I finish a chapter I let it sit until the evening and then run it through Smart Edit. Doing this allows me to write during the day and when I see too many “I began, I did this, he said, . . .” I don’t attempt to fix it because Smart Edit will point it out to me. The program brings to my attention a list of questionable items. It’s a very useful program. Sometimes I fix the item by re-writing the sentence, other times I feel it’s okay and leave it as I wrote it.

My chapters are usually short. That allows me to go over the chapter in the morning. It’s surprising how the things I missed, or words I left out or repeated. I do another self-editing before beginning the next chapter.

But my eyes on the page isn’t enough. No writer can edit his/her writings. I have a couple of friends who are avid readers of mystery fiction that take a look at my book. They are not people who will say things they think I want to hear. They make corrections, leave comments and, more often than not, are correct!

Then it’s off to the editor.

I’ve heard there are more than a million e-books on Amazon. Most of them, unfortunately, are written and put out there for  sale without editing. Or, in many cases, a family member or friend who has an English degree edits the story. That doesn’t work. You need someone who will tell you the cold, hard truth, not matter how it hurts! Even if the story has potential, a poorly written story will keep a reader from spending the few dollars for your  next book. Time is important in today’s world, and no one has time to read bad writing.

And readers talk and write reviews. We all receive bad reviews, can’t be helped. But what we want are many more 4 & 5-star reviews that show up the one or two bad reviews.

Someone, I’m sure, made you eat your vegetables when you were young, telling you they were good for you. And that someone was right. Editing is the brussels sprouts of writing!

In the beginning . . .

I am a mystery writers with a series set in Key West, Florida. While the series does, on occasion, travel outside the Keys, there’s always the Key West  influence. To find out more about my books, see some photos and learn about my background, go to michaelhaskins.net. This space is set aside for my ramblings on all kinds of things as I search for my Muse. The Muse that is supposed to help me in my writing.

If writing a short story or novel was easy, everyone would be doing it. Some days sitting down at the laptop and writing is easier than drinking a beer. Other days it’s harder than digging a hole in rocky ground bare handed.

I am working on my latest Mick Murphy Key West Mystery, Mistaken Identity, now. It opens in Key West and shortly moves to Dublin, Ireland where Murphy’s friend has been murdered. Roughly, the first 100 pages take place in Dublin.

That part of the book – Dublin’s Fair City Where the Girls Are So Pretty – is done and  out for editing. The second half – Key West, America’s Caribbean – is a slow work in progress. I had hoped the book would’ve been published by now. It looks like this summer, if I can keep up the pace of 500 to 1,000 words a day.

My daily goal has always been 1,000 words a day. Some days it  just doesn’t happen. I envy those writers that can sit and write eight-hours a day. When my writing stalls, I try to  use the time to write in my notebook about chapter ideas. Where the story is going. Who lives and who dies.

Time to open my Word.Doc and see if I can surpass 1,000 words today. Otherwise, it’s another cup of Cuban coffee – cafe con leche – and my notebook.