Friday, January 4, 2008

Fraidy-cat, fraidy-cat . . .

By Lonnie Cruse

My name is Lonnie and I'm a frady-cat. There, I've said it. Outloud.

What am I afraid of? Writing a mystery novel. Yes, I know, I have four books in print in the Metropolis Mystery series and one in the Kitty Bloodworth, '57 Chevy series. I've gotten good reviews. I have readers who e-mail me to demand I finish the next one right now so they can read it. Doesn't help.

Every time I start a book, I'm afraid I can't write another whole book. Afraid I can't get the story out of my head and into the computer. Afraid I'll overlook something important. Afraid I won't be able to come up with enough words to meet my publisher's minimum word requirement. Afraid my readers will show up on my doorstep and demand their money back. Sigh.

So what to do? Well, I know a lot of writers who say they don't read anything by other authors while writing a book for fear of absorbing that writer's style or theme into theirs. But I love to read, and since it takes me a year to write a rough draft, polish it several hundred times, run it through my friendly readers (non-writers who are terrific at catching errors) my critique group (writers who are terrific at catching errors) re-write again, and submit it to the publisher for edit, then start another book, if I didn't read while I wrote, I would, um, never get to read anything. So I read and learn from other mystery writers. What works for them, and what doesn't. But back to my problem.

After taking time off from writing over the holidays (okay, I was scared to start a new book, sigh) I finally decided to start typing in the idea that I'd been kicking around for months. And the fear came back. But as luck would have it, I was reading a mystery by Donna Andrews, CROUCHING BUZZARD, LEAPING LOON. And it is a hoot! Andrews knows how to turn a phrase. No information dumps or long descriptions that take the reader out of the story. Every page makes me want to keep going. And I love her humor. If only I could write that well.

So what did I learn from reading Donna Andrews? Well, one thing I generally shy away from is giving my favorite characters too tough a time in their private lives. Let the perp shoot at them? Run them off the road? Chase them with leathal weapons? No problem? But interfere with something my characters really want out of life? Frustrate them? Big problem. Maybe I'm afraid of my characters? Possibly.

But Andrews lets things happen to her characters that has me rolling in the floor, laughing myself sick. So, hey, maybe it's time my characters faced an obstacle or two not related to the murder? Yes, indeedy, it is. I'm now about ten chapters into the new book and a new character I've created is driving my regular characters nuts. My lead character is trying to think of a way to bump her off and not get caught. In the scene I'm writing this week the new character totally disrupted a very important family gathering. I can't wait to see what she gets into next.

I won't ever be able to write like Andrews because she has a unique voice, as do all writers. But I do enjoy writing a story with humor in it. I happened to read an interview with Andrews recently on a blog. So all this exposure to Donna Andrews and her writing got me thinking. She sits down every day (maybe weekends off, I can't remember what she said about that) and WRITES! And the job gets done. And I suddenly realized that the longer I stay away from a story, the harder it is for me to get back into it. To just write it. Because the fear builds by the day. But if I write each day, it's much easier. So that's what I'm doing. Writing each week day, no matter what else is going on. And I leave off in mid-chapter so I have somewhere to go, or somewhere to start the next day. And it seems to be working.

Is there a point to all of this? Possibly. If you are a first time writer, don't be a fraidy-cat. Just sit down and write it. If you are a twentyth time writer, don't be a fraidy-cat, just sit down and write it. You can do it, we can all do it. FDR is attributed with saying "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." I think that pretty well sums it up.

Hmmm, I wonder if my new character has any experience with explosives. Excuse me, I have a scene to write.


Joyce said...

My name is Joyce and I'm a fraidy-cat.

Maybe we should start some kind of support group for fraidy-cats...

Lonnie Cruse said...

Great idea, Joyce! I think we should meet at a good virtual restaurant where the food is good but no calories.

Darlene Ryan said...

As weird as it sounds I always recite that FDR quote to myself when I go swimsuit shopping. Really. Compared to swimsuit shopping beginning a new book is easy.

Lonnie Cruse said...

I gave up on swimsuits a long time ago. We don't mix well. Snicker.