Final Stages

As I finish up Book Two in the Olivia Callahan Suspense series, I’m thinking about what a huge effort it is to take a story from idea to the advance review copy (ARC) stage. I don’t know about other authors, but I’m so sick of my manuscript by the time I’ve written the story, edited it myself and rewritten the story; recruited betas to read it so I can get input from fresh eyes and perspectives, make the changes suggested, look over it again, format the darn thing in a suitable condition for my editor to start a developmental edit…and after that edit, THEN it goes to copyedits and another round of corrections. In between all that, I try to stay current on social media, schedule author events, and submit cover ideas to my publisher that they will then turn over to the artist. A friend of mine asks if after my book is published, will I read it and regret changing some things, or regret ending it a certain way?

I had to laugh. Heck, no, I don’t read my books after they’re finished. It’s too late to do anything about changing things at that point, and truly, I don’t want to lose myself in the story again, I want to write a new one! Besides, after I’ve taken a breath, and looked back on that the journey of that book, I think about how much further I’ve come as a writer, and the progress that occurs at every stage.

The final stage of a book is bittersweet. After all the blood, sweat, and tears…the critiques and changes and hours spent editing…it’s hard to let go of it. I feel the same way about jobs I’ve had, or bitter debates with relatives or spouses over details that in the long run, matter not one bit. Even the Bible states very clearly that ‘things come to pass’, and that there are seasons for things. Right now I’m in the ‘final stage’ season of my book. Relief is right around the corner, and soon I’m going to let go of it, and schedule a break before I start another one.

So my question is, why get so worked up about stuff? Why do we waste our days this way? It all counts. It all teaches us important lessons. And every experience we have eventually culminates in one, big, fat, final stage. And even then, if you believe in Christ, there’s an eternal stage after the final-final-final stage that sounds pretty awesome.

My daughter’s father and I haven’t been together for more than thirty years, so the final stages of that marriage happened decades ago. She called me with the sad news that her dad was in ICU, with maybe six weeks of life left, and she is in his hospital room, trying to help and support, even as I type this. A final-final-final stage is happening for her dad, and she’s making sure he knows that he counted. For him. For her. This is the important thing…that each final stage hopefully makes a positive change in us and others. She is holding his hand and being there for him to let him know…that his final stage…counts.

In the current climate of 2021, amidst all the fear, worry, anger, and posturing…I don’t care if we vax or un-vax, protest or complain about the protests, cling to socialism or cling to capitalism. Sure, I have my preferences, but in the huge scheme of things, it’s all headed to a final stage, anyway. If I get involved, one way or the other, I should be kind. If I disagree with someone, I should respect their choice. If I get upset over a reaction, or government mandate, I should pray, and act accordingly. Above all, I should not waste my short seasons of life with worry, hate, fear, or inappropriate reactions because of someone else’s choices that have nothing to do with mine. Sinking into the abyss of hatred or judgment robs us of joy.

I’m not letting anyone steal one minute of my joy. Venting and complaining and pouting about something is a complete waste of time, and not worth it. (Not that I’m successful in keeping these things at bay all the time, but I DO know life is better without them!)

I can’t even believe the crazy back-and-forth happening on FB, and the nasty, hateful comments. How do these people even have time to sit there and monitor and answer comments all day long? Isn’t there more to life, people?

During every stage, I’m putting joy at the top of my emotional stack, and hatred and judgment at the bottom. Think about it. The final three letters of ‘enjoy’ are ‘joy’. Let’s get out there and roll around in it.

(Hint: it helps to limit time on social media!)

The “What If?” Factor in Fiction Writing

When I started writing in 2009 as a humor columnist, I wrote in 800-word sound bites that wrapped up neatly and made people laugh, but made them think, too. It was a fun couple of years writing that column weekly for the local newspaper. Then I decided to write a book, a completely different animal.

Unfortunately, I just sat down at my laptop with the seed of an idea and started typing. I wasted a lot of time doing that, but I got a feel for how it felt to write a long piece rather than a short one. Then I started attending writing conferences, and my eyes were opened.

I’d made…Every. Mistake. In the book. (Pun intended)

I went back to my laptop armed with hundreds of pages of notes from writing conferences, and began afresh. One thing that finally wormed its way into my brain, after studying the publishing business from the ground up, was that I was cross-pollinatating women’s fiction and suspense, a process referred to as “genre confusion.”

This is not what publishers are looking for. The book has to tidily fit on a shelf beside other books of the same ilk, and my ilk was confusing. Genres have extremely specific rules, at least if you want to land a publisher; and if those rules aren’t respected the manuscript gets tossed on the slush pile. At the bottom. I got rejected more than thirty times, but kept trying. Finally, I landed a knowledgeable agent that had worked as an acquisitions editor for a major publishing house, and this woman taught me a lot about genre. As we worked together on my manuscript, she proclaimed that I had to choose: women’s fiction or suspense, and if that if she were me, she’d choose suspense.

So I did. Everything I wrote had a dark side anyway, and it didn’t appear I could willingly leave this behind, so instead, I embraced it. This has been great fun. Then, in wondrous and fabulous epiphany, at one of my writing groups, I heard the best definition of the difference between mystery and suspense ever: Mystery is Whodunnit. Suspense is Whydunnit.

The intriguing “Why” of the suspense genre nudges my books toward a women’s fiction/book club slant, and I’ve been writing dark and twisty stories about psychologically or emotionally flawed women ever since.

THE ‘WHAT IF’ FACTOR

Upon finally landing on a genre I enjoyed writing, I looked around for ideas. I am one of those people who enjoys talking to strangers and discovering fascinating tidbits about their lives, so it was no surprise when at one of my writing events for my first book, I stumbled across a story idea for the next one. Among all the authors sitting at tables, salivating for customers to buy their books, one woman drew potential customers like flies to honey. I couldn’t stand it, I had to find out what was so different about this author. I ran over to her table, and we began chatting. She told me she’d had a horrible car accident that had nearly killed her, and she’d been in a coma for six months. When she woke up, she said, she was completely different. Instead of a shy wallflower, she arose a confident, funny, arresting woman, in love with life and grateful for every second. She laughed about it, and I was somewhat horrified, but thoughtful. We parted ways, and The Deadening was born from that idea. I started playing the “What if” game. What if this woman was assaulted? What if her identity has been erased and she lands in a hospital as a Jane Doe. What if her personality is so different, that even her family cannot believe it. What if she had a ridiculously tragic marriage, and her new personality isn’t swallowed so well by her husband?

See how it works? It’s best to play the “What if” game with a couple of glasses of wine and a cat in your lap.

I am happy to report that as a result of playing the “What if” game, my publisher offered me a contract for the next two in the series. “The Rising” releases in 2022, and the final book in 2023. By the time these books release, ‘what if’ I stumble over countless other story ideas in this wild adventure that we call life? I’m positive that I will, and I’m pretty sure they’ll end up as books, too.

Ramblings about Character Development

“Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.” — Natalie Goldberg

It worked to my advantage, in the end, to have married men I wasn’t supposed to.

Multiple messy divorces and child custody issues have a way of hanging around in one’s brain for a long time. As do the legal bills.

Alighting from these experiences as a frantic and focused single mom with four kids, I didn’t have time to think about how any of it could end up being a good thing, but it has turned out that way. Miraculously.

As I sit here and write guest posts for the promotion of my second book, and think about the next two I’ve been contracted to write, I’m darkly grateful for these experiences, because I can write my edgy, page-turning thrillers with the quiet competence and composure of “been there, done that.” As hundreds of thousands of other women before me. Single moms, I salute you. It’s not an easy task, or one that anyone would undertake willingly.

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