I just got home from watching the ‘Crawdad’ movie. I’m not sure why I was so moved by it, but I kept thinking…how atmospheric and gorgeous the scenery and cinematography were…and how I wished I could write like that.
I haven’t read the book. Reviews say the movie falls short of the book, but I cannot see how. It was a majestic piece of work, in my opinion. The kind of movie that moves me to put my fingers on my keyboard and wax rhapsodic about it.
I did not expect the murder mystery part of it. That was a lovely surprise and kept the story from being another sad sack movie about someone who’d raised themselves without the proper family to look after them. To be honest, I thought it might be a memoir.
It was anything but.
“Where the Crawdad Sings” captured, in the most captivating way, the essence of life. Heroism, individualism, sacrifice, rising above circumstances, the futility of wallowing in self-pity, humility, justice, kindness, generosity, innocence, purity, and more. It is (without being heretical) its own bible, of sorts. Lessons of humanity in ninety, too-short, minutes.
The twist at the end left me breathless, and even more so the mystery of whodunnit left hanging by several threads. This is the kind of device that keeps readers thinking about that movie for a long time…chewing on that last bit. Who did it? Why? How did they get him up there? Did they drag him up there, or did they PRETEND he’d fallen that far? Et cetera. As you can tell, it made quite the impact and I’m still chewing on the ending. Like a luscious, perfectly grilled filet paired with a Caymus red.
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 edgy protagonists 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” released in April of 2022, and the final book releases 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.
Summer 2022 is almost here, and I didn’t know, back in the quiet, rain-drenched, fall…that a bumpy road was ahead!
Thus far, my writing journey has taken a back seat to nail-biting. For starters, the second book in the series, The Rising, was two entire weeks late (forever in launch terms) due to Amazon holding it up. And as a nice caveat, they wouldn’t tell my publisher WHY it was held up. Censoring? Supply chain issues? This was a head-scratcher. Next, my order of my own personal stash of books has been delayed, another mystery. Without a stash of books, I cannot do as many author events. I have Book One, but people are gnashing their teeth to get Book Two, and so far…nothing has shown up at my front door! Shipping problems? Who knows. All I know is…tomorrow I have a very cool event in Port Royal, SC, with 40 vendors, and I have plenty of The Deadening, but only three advance review copies of The Rising which I will sell at a discount, because the only thing different about an ARC is a cover that has not been finalized. I am holding out hope that a box of fresh-off-the-press copies of The Rising will appear on my doorstep before tomorrow! In the meantime, the fabulous bookstore owners where my events are held this summer are being nice enough to order the books for me. My stash will show up sooner or later.
But that’s just the beginning of the bumpy road…
My daughter’s family came to visit over the Easter weekend, and I was SO delighted because I hadn’t seen them in a while…and the night they arrived, I had a severe vertigo attack at 3AM. I don’t know if you guys are familiar with this condition, but ohmigosh, I’ve never endured such a thing. Hellish torment are the words that come to mind. I couldn’t get out of bed for a couple of days, and when I did, the whole world spun around me, even though it really wasn’t spinning. I could only sleep in one position: on my back as still and straight as a board. A friend suggested the Epley Maneuver…which I pooh-poohed because I tried it myself and thought I was going to die right there on the spot. However, after six days of spinning crazily I relented and went to a chiropractor. Poof. All better. After three treatments, I am back among the living. But wow. Just…wow. I don’t know if I have ever felt that helpless in my life. SO humbling, how finite and ethereal our health is.
After two weeks of dealing with vertigo, I’m in a mental state of limbo. I’ve tried to let go of expectations, because…let’s face it. Aren’t they usually way too ambitious? Being flat on my back and unable to lift a finger has given me an interesting perspective. I’ve returned to being grateful for the small, uninteresting, non-intimidating things, like standing up without my head exploding. Or turning my head to see something without my eyes rolling around in my head like marbles. Kneeling down and picking up a stray bit of debris on the floor without becoming so dizzy I fall over. Things like that make my day now. Doing laundry or fixing dinner is rather miraculous, too.
Isn’t it funny how the unexpected twists in life help us understand how finite and transitory we are? I don’t mean to get all philosophical or anything, but these issues – and we all have our own unique bumpy roads – can’t help but reset us. Our expectations. Our priorities. Our commitments. Our relationships.
I know that I will get back to normal, and the irritating barnacles of life will start calcifying my outlook again. But I certainly hope…that when I think about the helplessness and panic I endured for two weeks…that I will peel off those barnacles sooner than later.