April 24, 2009

Having "My Say" Again posted by Jeanne Munn Bracken News flash: I have shed the yellow silicone bracelet. Yes, folks, the book I have been struggling to write for the better part of 10 years is finished. I sent it off yesterday by overnight mail and I have had an e-mail from the editor saying it arrived safely. So I have been chanting, "The Book Is In The Mail." Also singing that line to the tune of "The Farmer in the Dell." Now that I have all this spare time (hah!), I have been cogitating about the first time I reached this point in the book's initial edition. I know that I mailed the book almost exactly 24 years ago today, because I wrote an essay for "My Say" in Publishers Weekly announcing to the world, or at least the publishing part of it, my future plans. In honor of this new milestone in my life, I am reprising the PW essay. .Herewith, excerpted from the May 3, 1985, issue of PW, page 66, "My Say." My book is in the mail. I thought I'd never live to see the day. Let me tell you about the final draft. I had trouble with the software. I had trouble with the hardware. I had trouble with the printer. I even had trouble with the typewriter I was using to type the charts. You haven't lived until you've had to rewind typewriter ribbon by hand. Those monks with their quill pens sitting in cells illuminating manuscripts look smarter all the time. But never mind. The book is in the mail and I'm never going to write another word. This house looks like a set from "The Day After." My husband thinks TV dinners are haute cuisine. There isn't a clean sock in the place, my slacks are hemmed with masking tape, my children have started to call the babysitter "Mom" and the dog needs a haircut. Six years I spent working on that book--researching, reading, checking, double-checking, editing, revising, triple-checking, looking it up, calling the library. Now I have a full-blown case of postpartum jitters. The critics will hate it. Nobody will read it, nobody will buy it. Why did I spend all that time on it? About the only thing that kept me going the last few weeks was knowing that if I didn't finish it, I'd have to pay back the advance, and I'd already spent it. Well, no more... Other people were enjoying the season. Swimming in the Caribbean. Walking around Westminster Abbey. Skiing in Vermont. But I was in the library--reading Dorland's Medical Dictionary and Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. The librarians dubbed one of the study carrels "Jeanne's Desk" and suggested that a little rent money might be appropriate. I've been working on this book so long, I can't remember why I started it. In the middle of my library marathon, I ran into my friend Carole in the reference stacks. "Remind me why I'm doing this," I said. "For fame," she said. "And fortune. Guest appearances on 'The Tonight Show.' " Well, I got to laughing so hard at that she had to slap me around a little to calm me down, but that was a couple of months ago. I'm OK now... I'm not sure what I will do with all my free time. I used to enjoy reading the newspaper, but that's out because I see too many errors or sentences I'd revise. Not "that," "who." Substitute "lay" for "lie," and "clattered down" would be better than "descended." Move the third paragraph to the lead... I can't even have lunch with a friend. I've spent so long mumbling about deadlines and book burnout that lately everybody crosses to the other side of the street when they see me coming. Or they hide behind palm trees in the bank lobby until I finish cashing in the kids' pennies and leave. I'm going to join Writers Anonymous. Then, if I feel a relapse coming on, I'll call someone. "I have a great idea for a novel," I'll tell him. "This Doberman Pinscher falls in love with a Chihuahua in Central Park. The Dobie is owned by a hooker and Chico belongs to a vice squad officer..." "No, don't give in to that vile urge," my soul brother will plead. "Have a good stiff martini and a few cigarettes. If that doesn't do it, devour half a chocolate cake. Just don't go near a keyboard." Sure enough, in a few hours the idea will have evaporated in a smoky alcoholic haze, and I'll be saved.... I'm going to clean out this swamp I call an office. Turn it into a den--a couple of easy chairs, some footstools, a nice lamp or two... First I'm going to clear this desk. Get rid of all these scraps of paper with article ideas and short story synopses. Throw away the extra (I hope!) copy of page 377. Hey, look here! The first line of that poem I was thinking about. "Grandpa was a railroad man, Erie Lackawanna". I can't just leave it that way, can I? Let's see. "I married the son of a railroad man, Denver and Rio Grande..." Just this one poem. And then I'll never write another word. Obviously, since I have spent at least 8 or 9 years on this edition of the book, I didn't learn anything from my earlier experience. Maybe now I can finally stop writing. Although...I still haven't finished that poem. Just that one, and I swear, I'm done.
Keep the Mystery Free of Sermons By Guest Blogger Chester Campbell Mysteries are no place to preach sermons. A weighty subject covered with a deft touch (does that sound like cream puff football?) can deliver a powerful message. One that comes to mind is Betty Webb’s Desert Wives, which dealt with the evils of polygamy along the Arizona/Utah border. It led to legislative action in the State of Arizona. Other books, which shall remain nameless, treat social issues in a heavy-handed manner, turning off readers who are not die-hard believers in “the cause.” Where is the dividing line, that small thread that separates the preacher from the storyteller? I think the issue must be widely accepted as just plain wrong. That was certainly the case with Arizona’s polygamists, who exploited young girls to satisfy their lust for sex and money. They got the girls pregnant to acquire babies that brought in fat welfare checks. The mothers and their offspring were kept in compounds that provided economies of scale in reducing living costs. A book’s characters can, and should, be dedicated to their cause, but the author needs to keep an even hand in dealing with the narration. When opinions other than those expressed by characters sneak in without regard to anything factual, the reader is going to start wondering about the objectivity of the book. Pontificating paragraphs that give a dogmatic view to one side of the controversy will turn people off. Social commentary which explains an author’s views on an issue can work in a foreword or a back-of-the-book explanatory note, but it has no business in the plot of a mystery. A well-written story that shows, not tells, the horrors of some threat to society will get the point across without the necessity of the author intruding. One of the major problems we’ve encountered in recent years, one that keeps popping up from time to time, is environmental pollution. Probably the most costly to rectify is that caused by toxic chemicals entering the water supply. That’s the subject I chose for my latest book, The Surest Poison. I’m not a “message” writer and approached the subject from the standpoint of how it could lead to a good mystery for my private investigator to solve. Since his background involved work as a National Park ranger, his concern with the effects of pollution were obvious. The protag and the attorney who hired him express their displeasure over the health problems created by the polluter, and some of the ill effects are shown as Sid interviews people in the affected area. The horrors that result from careless dumping of toxic wastes don’t need to be further exploited to highlight the inevitable distress. Hot-button social issues can add tension and create added interest in a mystery plot, but they should be handled with care. Have you tackled any of these pressing problems? How did you approach the subject to keep yourself on firm ground and stay out of the bully pulpit? ---------------------------------------- Today’s visit is part of Chester Campbell’s Blog Book Tour. He will give away several copies of his books in drawings at the end of the tour on May 1. Leave a comment here and you may be a winner. For more details click this link to his web site. Chester Campbell is the author of two mystery series featuring private investigators. The Surest Poison, first book in the Sid Chance series dealing with a chemical pollution case, is just out. He has written four Greg McKenzie novels featuring a retired Air Force investigator and his wife. Currently secretary of the Southeast Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and president of the Middle Tennessee Chapter of Sisters in Crime, he lives in Madison, TN with his wife, Sarah, and an 11-year-old grandson

Lorraine Bartlett

Five women, five weekdays, many surprises.

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