24/7 the writer is on call

In the time I’ve not blogged, I have written three chapters (40-42) and am half done with chapter 43. I should have written more  . . . a lot more! Of course, I’ve been watching too much MSNBC. But I’ve found that it has actually helped me in coming up with a new ending of my book, Mistaken Identity.

In  my opinion, a writer of fiction is on call 24/7! What’s that mean? It doesn’t mean living, eating, sleep  in front of your computer, the screen always on waiting for that moment of clarity and/or brilliance.

I  my case, it means no matter what I’m doing when I am away from writing, editing, my mind is still buzzing, looking for some sharp dialogue, a piece of unique scenery I can work into the story, seeing a character that catches my eye and find a place for him/her in the story. Day dreaming, my wife tells me!

I find a lot of what will end up in my stories in the bars and restaurants of Key West. (Try explaining that to  my wife). It’s a tourist town but it has also become a destination for the wealthy. They’ve driven prices up for everything from food to rent. However, some of the real colorful characters of the island have hung on and seeing the two cultures mix is interesting and note worthy.

I’m at a nice restaurant and at one table are a few divers just off the boat and I can tell that from their dress and conversation; a table over are two couples with creased pants and tailored shirts, whispering; another table has a rag-tag couple of sailors who have stopped on their trip to Cuba and the rest of the Caribbean.

Was it Billy Shakespeare that said, All the world’s a stage? Well, whoever said it was right. Unless you’re writing sifi the real world is swirling all around you. Everything you need for the background of your story is right there, you just have to stop and observe  it. Because writers are observers and recorders of cultures and time.

My point in all this (yes there’s a point) is that in watching MSNBC’s Morning Joe recently, I was hit one morning with a new twist ending to my book and it came from the news! I’d explain it in more detail but then I’d have to explode your computer, or whatever you’re reading this on, like in the  opening of the old TV show Mission Impossible, but bigger.

The discussion on the TV focused on something that had been talked about before but the other morning, after some self-editing and wondering about the ending of my new book, the conversation between guests and Joe took on a new meaning. “What if,” I thought to myself, “I used that?”

How to twist the story in that direction came to me instantly! The more I thought about it the more fun it became and easier too. I took my small notebook I bought last year at Eason’s in Dublin and wrote down my thoughts.

If you’re a writer in any stage, stop and look around you. Pay attention and see things you’ve seen forever and look at them with new eyes and ideas. I’ve driven up and down US1 to the mainland and back too many times in the last 20 years, but I still stare out at the vista and wonder how Mick Murphy would react to such-and-such situation out there on the water or on one of the mangrove island. A good place to hide a body? It makes the ride a lot more interesting.

The opening chapters of Right As Wrong Can Be takes place coming southbound on US1 and the whole ride at night is true . . . accept the bodies and terrified teenage girl.

Keep your eyes open and look around like it’s the first time. You might be surprised.

Now, for the next two days, I will be following the drama playing out in DC. Maybe someone will say something that will kick-start my brian to work toward my ending.

    (I look forward to hearing from you and welcome any comments and suggestions)

Two sides of editing

I finished chapter 37 last week as well as chapters 38 & 39. For me, it wasn’t a productive week!  I didn’t even get much reading done and I feel a writer must read.  Three to five chapters a week, five-thousand words a week,  would be good and that’s what I used to be able to write before all the drama came about in Washington. I have cut back in my watching of cable news. Somewhat.

Re-reading and a lot of self-editing took place in the afternoons and early evenings last week. It amazes me  the small things I miss when I write and often after my first read through. That is the reason I am big on getting my story to as many eyes as possible and to a professional editor. I am sure the punctuation errors in my blogs prove my point.

Once at a newsroom in Key West, when I worked as a journalist, the publisher (son of the paper’s owner) was looking at cost cutting. One of his suggestions was doing way with copy editors! Why couldn’t reporters edit their own work, he asked.

After about fifteen-minutes of comments by editors and reports, he let go of the idea. That there weren’t more laughs when some thought he was  kidding, says a lot about the newsroom back then.

I know writers that are the other side of the coin. They would edit, edit, edit till the unicorn returns. I think it has to do with self-doubt and insecurity. Knowing when to stop editing, when to stop asking people to look at your work and not taking everyone’s advice to heart, is also important.

As I’ve said, I have a couple of friends that are mystery readers and let them have a look at my book before I send it to the editor. They have questions and suggestions. I listen to them but make the final decision on what to edit, cut out, rewrite on my own. Not even editors are always right. The writer must decide if his/her work improves from the advice. When it does, work with it. When it doesn’t, put it aside.

Now, back to chapter 40 and the twist I worked in began in chapter 39. I think my characters are having more fun than I am!


How’d that happen?

On Sunday I finished chapter 35 and all of chapter 36. Another good day of writing and avoiding television. I even got more than halfway through chapter 37. I’d spent most of Sunday evening going over the chapters, making changes and was satisfied with them.

As I said in the last post, my subconscious kicks into full throttle when I’m sleeping. Usually, when I wake in the morning it remains dormant but the result of its work are stored in whatever part of my brain I use for writing.

Usually, that’s how it works. Sunday night, probably more early Monday morning my subconscious shook me awake and helped me realize I’d put Pauly into chapter 36 and he didn’t belong there. I lay awake and thought about the chapter and knew I had done it!

I keep a reporter’s note pad next to my bed and got up and jotted down a note to make changes to the chapter. I do this because if I went back to sleep thinking I’d rembmer, I probably wouldn’t. I’ve proven that in the past and know something good had slipped away!

Today when I got to my laptop I checked chapter 36 and about halfway into it I somehow had Pauly making a comment. I went back and read from the beginning. Pauly hasn’t been on the scene for a few chapters, but there he was in the middle of a conversation.

Of course, it should have been Bob talking. It didn’t take much to fix but I did wonder how it happened. How’d I miss the mistake while going over the chapter Sunday night? Was I so caught up with the chapters that brought Padre Thomas back  into the storyline that I wrote Pauly because I knew he was coming up  in another chapter or that Burt had arrived and mentioned Pauly?

My subconscious knew! And thankfully got the message to me.

Sometimes  my thoughts about what’s coming gets ahead of me when I am writing. Kind of like I want to hurry and catch up. My editor and friends who read the chapters before the book is published would’ve loved to catch that mistake. And I am thankful when they do find something or question something I’ve written. It makes for a better story.

I am also thankful that my subconscious works when I am at play or sleeping and sometimes talks to me when I’m awake.

“What are you doing here?”

I was able to finish chapter 34 last Monday morning.

During the weekend I tried not to think about how I would end the chapter that brings Padre Thomas back into Murphy’s life. I think it was Hemingway who said (something like this anyway) “I quit writing in the late morning and try not to think about it until I begin the next day, leaving my subconscious to work on  it.” Well, if not an exact quote, you get the idea.

It seems my subconscious likes to come to the surface when I try to sleep. So, at  night I thought about how to continue chapter 34 and couldn’t come up with an idea I liked.

Monday, as I made my cafe con leche to take to the laptop I was really stumped. As I wrote  in the last post (a week ago?) more often than not the characters takeover writing the story. I gave in and figured I’d sit down, reread what I’d written and see what happens.

However, when the pages appeared on the screen, I thought to myself, “What are you doing here?” Here being Murphy’s house (Tita’s house he still considers it) and my question was directed to Padre Thomas (tho on the page Murphy asks it).

So, I wrote the question and then Padre Thomas started talking, between lighting cigarettes and sipping on a bottle of Bud!

I think when a writer is stumped with where the story line goes he/she should write, “What are you doing here?” It is a good sentence to put on the page  and to think about. It can be meant for a character, like in my case, but more importantly, it can be meant to question the writer. It might be you have to dump that chapter because you’re not meant to be there. On the other hand, your characters might explain what they’re doing there.

I finished chapter 34 and the characters were happy to keep talking and I got most of chapter 35 done! Believe me, I don’t get many perfect writing days were I can write more than 2,000 words. Wish I did.

After rereading the chapters Monday night, doing a little tweaking, I liked them.

Tuesday morning, still on the writing high, I began chapter 36. It was going pretty well too. Had lunch, read the newspapers, watched about an hour of Morning Joe as I ate.

The writing was coming so easy, I knew I’d finish chapter 36.

Back at the laptop, I reread the pages from the morning and was about to continue when I got an email news alert from NBC, CNN and the Boston Globe. Curious, I opened one and the president had just fired the head of the FBI.

There went not only the rest of Tuesday but my whole week! I turned on MSNBC and suddenly all the scheduled programing was about Breaking News!

Before you get the wrong idea, this isn’t about politics. This crisis (if it is) in Washington is a TV drama that could be written by my friend and political thriller writer Gayle Lynds. I recommend her books if you like political thrillers and she writes with first-hand knowledge of Washington.

Well, for the rest of Tuesday thru Friday I was glued to MSNBC and each morning drank my cafe con leches with Joe & Mika. Everything else in my life took a back seat to the drama unfolding on the TV.

No matter your political view (or even if you don’t have one) what’s happening on our TVs is exciting and scary. Like any good thriller, we don’t know how it will end, but there are certainly a few directions it could go. Like a good thriller, the reader keeps reading to find out what happens.

Hopefully, after this weekend, I will  get back to my routine and work on chapter 36.

If you want to write a thriller, you should be taking notes because, as the old cliché goes, truth is stranger than fiction.

I look forward to reading your comments.


Who’s writing this story?

If you read Right As Wrong Can Be, you know I left Mick & Padre Thomas at odds. Very serious odds. Some readers thought it was the end of the good Padre. No. I did it because at the time, and because of the story line, it had to happen. I knew I left myself with a problem, but it was unavoidable.

Believe me, I’ve spent many restless nights trying to figure out how to get Mick & the Padre back on the pages. No matter what the idea was, or how good I thought it was, when I sat down and typed, it didn’t work.

I have a small sign in my writing room that reads: Writers Block: When Your Imaginary Friends Won’t Talk To You. Mick & Padre weren’t talking to me. If they were, I wasn’t listening.

Some writers outline their book. Jeffrey Deaver told me his outline is often longer than his book! I usually know where I want to begin, where I think the middle is and how the ending will be. I am usually wrong about the middle and the end.

Mick and his list of friends have a history. I can’t change that history. I can certainly play with it. I can make Mick frightened of something. Or I can have Norm show a soft side. Both those traits would be out of character for them, but done right it could be believable.

What I did the other day was give up on the solution to my problem. Instead of me finding the reason or way Mick and Padre Thomas work things out (or not) was to let them show me. I sat down and wrote a paragraph that recapped the ending of the last chapter and then Padre Thomas showed up! Surprised everyone (including me).

Seeing the situation in my head, I wrote (with their input) almost 1,000 words and the chapter is only about half done. I’ve avoided thinking of what happens next. Who says what. I’ll be surprised Monday when I sit down, re-read the first part of the chapter and begin what I hope will be the end of the chapter.

Will their friendship rekindle? Will they argue? Fight? The only thing I know now is that Padre Thomas is in the forgiving business and Mick Murphy ain’t! I’m not sure what that means and your guess is as good as mine on how the chapter goes.

Now I need to read Reed Farrel Coleman’s new book, What You Break.  Reading keeps my mind from wandering and I need to let Mick and Padre Thomas work out their differences before Monday so they can help me finish the chapter.

By the way, this isn’t the first time I’ve depended on the characters to help me out.


My book has grown legs!

I am at my daughter’s house in West Nyack, NY. Friday of last week and today, Monday, I was alone at the house while Seanan and her husband were at work and my granddaughters were at school and then dancing school. That left me from around 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on my own. Because it has been a short stay, I didn’t rent a car and have been housebound.

I started chapter 34 on Friday and got halfway through and finished it this morning. Have to give it a quick read-through later this afternoon.

I am lucky in that I can bring my laptop with me and write in Dublin, Ireland or West Nyack. While there are a lot of distractions in Key West and in Dublin, West Nyack this time kept me at the laptop.

Going these few days without Morning Joe has left me shaky but I’ve survived. I fly back tomorrow (United, so watch the evening news in case I’m dragged off the plane) and hope I can get back to writing in the mornings, exercise and then watch the recorded Morning Joe.

I had hopes of finishing the new book this month and out as an e-Book before I left for the Dublin writers Conference. Hope and wishes won’t get that done. If I wrote straight for two or three weeks it might get done, but then it goes to the editor and back to me for rewrites. Looks as if I will finish it in Dublin.

Like many of my books, it has legs. The thought came to me in Dublin last summer, worked on in KW, now West Nyack and finish, I hope, in Dublin.

As I said, I am lucky in that I can take my work with me when I travel and have no one to answer to but myself.

Pray or chant or whatever it is you do, for me and maybe Mistaken Identity will be out by Sept. And maybe I’ll get back  in the grove and write two books a year. A lot of work that keeps me out of the bars, but doesn’t stop me from traveling.

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.