Can You Keep a Secret?

5-SecretAgentManny_PrintProof2-FRONT (LindaHPLaptop's conflicted copy 2017-01-11)

Today I’m ordering a proof copy of this book—Secret Agent Manny—so I can make sure it looks pretty and beautiful and marginally correct. Wait, I mean, to make sure the margins are correct. We typesetters care about these things.

This book started as a dare (as most great books do) … by two writer friends of mine, Fara Linn Howell and Jim Watkins. The first line of the book (“There’s been an incident at the house”) was spoken to me over the phone by my electrical engineer husband while I was at a writing conference … and Jim and Fara thought it was a perfect jumping-off point for a story. Then again, bungee jumpers think high bridges are perfect jumping-off points, and I think they’re all insane.

That year, their idea turned into my NaNoWriMo novel, written on my IBM Selectric. And I’ve been tinkering with the story ever since. This past autumn I spent five wonderful days at Forest Edge Cottage in Kane, Pa. (in the Allegheny Forest), where I wrapped up the story on my Smith Corona Coronamatic.

Yes, I use typewriters to write fiction. Don’t get all up in my face about it. If these particular typewriters were good enough for Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Vonnegut and Ray Bradbury and Charles Bukowski and John Irving and James Baldwin, they’re good enough for me.

Plus, I have no real hobbies to speak of.

Anyway, now Secret Agent Manny is edited, typeset, and proofread. And it’ll soon be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble’s website. (Don’t panic. I’ll post direct links once the book’s available. Take some deep breaths into a paper bag or something before you faint. I said, don’t panic!)

If you’re going to see me at a conference or festival this year (like this one, or this one), I won’t mind if you wait till then to get a copy (so I can sign it for you and make it worth ten or fifteen cents more than you paid for it).

Otherwise, watch out, world! Secret Agent Manny is coming your way—sometime in May!

Soon . . .

It’s almost here again. Not just Halloween—with its promise of fun-sized candy bars for weeks because I always conveniently over-purchase for our trick-or-treaters (#sorrynotsorry)—but also what I like to call NaNo Eve.
For the past 13 years, I’ve spent Halloween night watching bad horror movies (usually AMC’s Fear Fest) and prepping for the start of National Novel Writing Month in November. This will be Year 14. And, as usual, I’m so excited I can barely think of anything else. This one event, paired with my discovery of Alphasmarts back in 2004, has made November my favorite month each year.

 

So, just as I’ve done for the past 13 Halloweens, I’ll spend Tuesday night gobbling tiny Kit Kat bars and cute little Hershey miniatures, sipping coffee into the wee hours, waiting for midnight so I can start on this year’s 50,000 new words of fiction.
But, unlike the past 13 years, this time I won’t be starting a brand new project. NaNoWriMo now allows participants to work on a previous fiction project, as long as all the words written in November are new to the project. And since I have a few previous NaNo novels that aren’t quite done, this seems like the year to tie up some loose ends rather than unravel new ones.
In fact, I’m modifying even that new take on the old rules a little bit further. The past two NaNo novels have been upcoming books in my Red Ink cozy mystery series. Each one needs about 25,000 words to finish the story.
You can see where I’m going with this.
So, I’m hoping to finally see complete first drafts of both The Tell-Tale Heart Attack and Charlotte’s Website in about a month. It’s making me feel so grown-up and responsible. Pretty much new feelings for me.
And because I can’t just wing it from scratch this time, I’ll spend the next two days rereading what I have so far on both novels, so I can hit the ground running at midnight on Tuesday night. I’m nervous about doing NaNoWriMo this way, but then again, I get nervous trying out a new flavor of coffee creamer. Your mileage may vary.
Let me be clear that I’m not nervous about doing NaNoWriMo yet again on a typewriter. I’ve found it’s the best way to churn out new fiction. Been practicing on both the Selectric I and the Selectric II this past few weeks. I even bought a few new “golf balls” for each of them.
The fingers are getting itchy. I’m ready.

Erma-Gerd!

So, here I sit in a glorious hotel suite a few miles from where, tomorrow, I’ll be entrenched among other people of like mind. I’m at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop. It starts tomorrow. A few of us have come in a day early to get our heads cleared, to get settled here in this strange land of Ohio.

And then tomorrow, the craziness starts.

I’ll come home inspired, exhausted, and thrilled. I’m so ready to start. Because yes, even introverts get out into the world sometimes and have fun.

I’ll just have to curl into a fetal position for most of Sunday afternoon. But it’ll be worth it.

 

And the Beat Goes On . . .

This past week I released both the print and Kindle editions of my cozy mystery, The Scarlet Letter Opener. Not the first novel I’ve written, but the first novel I’ve put out there in the big, wide world.
And it feels a lot like watching your firstborn grow up, move out, get married … all those overused empty-nest clichés. It feels like all of them, but a lot more personal because, if your novel flops, you can’t blame it on anyone else but yourself. Nature, nurture, whatever. It’s all crap when you release a novel. Well, you can try to blame it on the cover designer or your beta readers, but that’s just a passive-aggressive device to avoid blame, and it’s not fooling anybody.
Anyway, a few of my trusted friends  [read: I’m pretty sure they’re not going to kill me in my sleep] finally convinced me that it was time to step up to the plate and shoulder the blame.
Wait… this isn’t coming out the way I had expected. Not really enticing anyone to read the book, am I?
Let me skip all the boring crap about how a writer’s creative yet blocked mind works and get right to the important stuff. The pertinent facts and rules:
1. The Scarlet Letter Opener, a cozy mystery, is now available on Amazon.com.
2. Please buy it and/or borrow it from Amazon.com.
3. If you buy and/or borrow it and enjoy it, please leave a favorable review on Amazon and/or Goodreads. Authors rely heavily on those reader reviews (especially the good ones).
4. If you buy and/or borrow it and don’t enjoy it, keep it to yourself, all right? Nobody wants to hear your negativity.
* * * * *
In other, semi-related news, another novel should be showing up within the next few weeks. This one’s a lot more serious. The cover reveal should happen later this week. Rules 2–4 above will still apply. You’re officially on notice.

The Writing Process

Well, how exciting is this? (That was a rhetorical question, so don’t even bother answering it.)
I was tagged by thriller author Catherine Lea to write about my writing process. I eagerly jumped at the chance … only to realize when it was too late that I really don’t have a process.
But let’s walk through my “process” anyway — if only as a negative example to the rest of you who might want to actually be successful someday…
I’ve got the bits and pieces (very large pieces, in most cases) of ten novels now. About half of those are actually written all the way through (in first draft form, at least). The rest are in a state of confusion or frustration, percolating in a [figurative] drawer somewhere until I can work through a sticky plot point or add a few more interesting characters to bolster the boring ones I currently see on the [figurative] page.
But, all but one of those novels has started at midnight on November 1 of any given year between 2004 and now. You see, I am at heart a terrible procrastinator. And, the only thing that has nudged me out of that slump has been National Novel Writing Month, which starts each year precisely at midnight on November 1 and ends with a whimper at midnight at the end of November 30.
At the end of every November, I have at least 50,000 words written on that year’s new novel project. Half the time I keep writing and finish the novel. The other half of the time — well, that’s where the [figurative] drawer comes in.
The two novels that are on the verge of seeing daylight (Secret Agent Manny and also The Scarlet Letter Opener) were both in the best shape at the end of their respective Novembers. So, those will be the first ones published.
A few other projects have special places in my heart but need a little more work — in particular, Do-It-Yourself Widow (which placed as a runner-up in Jerry Jenkins’s Operation First Novel contest a few years ago), and also Gray Area (the only non-NaNoWriMo novel in the bunch, which placed as a semifinalist in that same Jenkins contest a few years before that). We’ll see how quickly I can tidy those up.
Right now, as I work on Secret Agent Manny, my writing process looks like this:
  • Get up to feed hubby breakfast at 6 a.m.
  • Wave to hubby as he leaves at 6:45 a.m.
  • Head back to bed at 6:46 a.m.
  • Sleep until it adds up to something close to 7–8 hours of sleep.
  • Get up again, this time to feed myself breakfast and coffee.
  • Catch up on DVRed TV shows from previous night, if needed.
  • Head up to home office and go through bajillion emails from companies I have unsubscribed from thirteen times already.
  • Answer the 2–3 valid work emails.
  • Go back downstairs to grab veggies for guinea pigs, Bob and Frid, who have been wheeking at me from across the office ever since I got upstairs. Realize that I have just reinforced the wrong habit of coming upstairs without the veggies by doing it yet again today.
  • Look at clock. Panic that it is nearly noon already.
  • Shower. Dress.
  • Sit back at desk. Go through the half-bajillion new emails from other companies from whom I was sure I had unsubscribed back in 2010.
  • Continue with paid freelance work for other writers: typesetting, proofreading, copy editing . . .
  • Tell self I should take time to do my own writing once in a while.
  • Stare longingly across the office at the writing desk I set up two years ago — you know, the one I dust faithfully every week.
  • Sit at writing desk boldly. Feel invigorated and empowered.
  • Open diary program and tell it all about my day, which sounds suspiciously like the last entry in the diary program, from 2011.
  • Give myself a self-imposed deadline for finishing first draft of novel.
  • Talk myself out of self-imposed deadline because it’s not like I’m going to fire myself or anything.
  • From the office window near the writing desk, glimpse mail carrier coming up the sidewalk.
  • Squeal in delight that the mail is here, scaring Bob and Frid, and run downstairs to get the mail.
  • While I’m down here, do a load of laundry, start dinner, and mow the grass.
  • Weep uncontrollably at my own mortality.
****
And this is precisely why Secret Agent Manny isn’t done yet.

Kindle Edition on fire (so to speak)…!

One day out, and so far, so good on the Kindle edition for Fork in the Road … and other pointless discussions! Still awaiting word that the trade paperback version is available on Amazon (although I’ve ordered my own copies because I get certain privileges the little people don’t).

No, wait—the little people DO get those privileges, if they don’t mind ordering directly from CreateSpace instead of from Amazon. (CreateSpace can, well, create them immediately. A few more days for Amazon to catch up.) So if you’re dying for a print copy and don’t care about Amazon’s free shipping thing, you can order trade paperbacks here:

CreateSpace direct link for paperbacks of Fork in the Road

Otherwise, I’m okay with the one-day information on the Kindle edition, having seen this little page on Amazon just now (click the picture to see it bigger and better):

FITR-25-b

And now, I’m off to go see my dad for Father’s Day. And just because he’s so danged awesome. (Or should I saw “au-some”? No, I shouldn’t. It’s an old Au joke. There really aren’t any new Au jokes, though.)

Tomorrow I head off for the St. Davids Christian Writers’ Conference in Grove City, Pa. Once I’m back, I hit the ground running getting several of my NaNoWriMo novels tweaked and sent out in the big wide world….

.

Writers, Start Your Platens!

It says something about the state of our society when seven people can sit in the back room of a coffee shop and write … and attract the stares of the other patrons and even the attention of the local newspaper. The seven of us are all writing feverishly and yet we’re making more noise than most of the patrons in the main room combined. How can this be, you ask, if the writers aren’t talking but are only writing their brains out?

Well, dear reader, I am writing this from The Great American Type-In at Cafe Kolache in Beaver, Pa. Yes, we’re typing … but we’re typing on typewriters. Not just any typewriters, either. There is no electricity required for this type-in. We’re sitting here using manual typewriters.

The strange part is all the prep work we had to do to get to this point. Hugh can’t figure out how to release the carriage on his typewriter, and there are cries of “Release the Carriage!” from all corners of the room. Three writers hover around the Olympia typewriter, pushing every piece of metal sticking out of the thing, trying to get the platen to move. The victory shouts when the thing finally sails off to one side are deafening. But not as deafening as the noise coming from the other six keyboards.

Someone else tries to find the “on” button on hers. (Okay, that was me.) Turns out a manual typewriter doesn’t have an “on” button. How very retro.

Shouts emanate from the gallery once we start the typing proper.

“Where is my apostrophe key?”

“Why isn’t there a ‘one’ key?”

“What is this key that says ‘MAR REL’ on it?”

“No exclamation point! No exclamation point!” (It’s an apostrophe and then a period after you hit the backspace key. And yes, I had to actually do that to get those exclamation points.)

My spacebar (which is not to be confused with the space bar in the first Star Wars movie) keeps giving up on me, and some of my words run together with no spaces before I catch the problem and physically pull the entire key set back into place. I discover early on that my old Royalite doesn’t even have a tab key, and I must resort to the old method of manually spacing five counts on the spacebar to make a simulated tab. The problem, of course, is that the aforementioned spacebar doesn’t always work, and so I end up with no tab/indent at all … and after all that hard work, too.

Most of us have now been reduced to using three or four fingers since these blasted things have such sticky, difficult keys that we need some real “oomph” behind our typing to get the letters to show up on the page. And don’t get me started on those sticky keys. I spent too much time last night prepping the keys with a few dozen Q-Tips and some rubbing alcohol … and the question mark key is still sticking.

As a proofreader, I find this entire exercise vexing to the point of tears. I am making typos so fast I feel I will faint from the carnage. They’ll have to cart me off weeping and gnashing my teeth by the time we’re done here. I just checked the clock and it has taken me over an hour to type this much. Amazing how much my typing productivity plummets when I have to pound the keys.

That last paragraph has taken me twenty minutes to type, but this time it isn’t the typewriter’s fault. Hugh and Val have launched into a recreation of the last scene of It’s a Wonderful Life, complete with all the characters’ voices. We all feel the need to stop and listen and encourage them (not that either one of them needs encouragement) … if only to give our tired index fingers a rest.

I have tried not to mention Val’s typewriter because, well, it might embarrass him. You see, he brought this bright red plastic thing—well, it looks plastic, but it might actually have some metal on it—and I swear I saw a Fisher Price logo and an emblem of the Cookie Monster on the side. And that end-of-line bell sounds suspiciously like the Good Humor truck. But hey, it doesn’t have a cord or a battery, so it’s all good. Even if it does look more like a prehistoric Speak ‘n Spell.

Nate’s contraption (another Royal) has a button that says “Magic Column” on it. I begin to wonder if we should allow typewriters that have magic keys on them. Hell, I don’t even have a tab key, let alone a magic key. I sense a growing hierarchy of typewriters in the room. I hadn’t expected to experience typewriter envy, but I think some of us are ogling Roe’s old Remington Rand. I know I am. Not so much Val’s plastic Radio Flyer typewriter. Well, no, okay, that one too.

I sit here wondering how prolific writers of old ever churned out all those pages when it feels like a gym workout to get twelve words down at any respectable rate of speed. And now, having brought my productivity down to a mere two fingers, I find I have to look at the keys to make sure I hit the right ones at least ten percent of the time.

But I’m also starting to see the sheets of finished paper coming off the platens, being placed lovingly on the table around me. All facedown, of course, because we’re all trying to hide the rampant typos spilling off every page. Well, okay, every line, really. None of brought any Wite Out, and even I occasionally long for a spell checker. We have a ten-minute discussion on how to spell “bizarro,” followed by another on how to spell “commode.” Both questions come from the same person—okay, it was Val—so we all begin to wonder just what he’s writing over there. Then we realize that no, we probably don’t want to know.

Every so often, patrons from the main room drink enough coffee to brave wandering back here where the cacophony is erupting. They tentatively ask the question everyone else is thinking but is too frightened to ask us (since we all look like idiots back here and nobody wants to challenge the inner logic of an idiot on a mission): “What are you guys doing back here?” … followed by a stunned utterance of, “Are those typewriters?”

Then they see seven of these things sitting on the long table, and their jaws drop. We look like the sad rejects of a small town news room, and Val’s fedora with the handwritten “PRESS” pass bears this out. Not to mention Hugh’s bowler hat, which I just mentioned.

And, like any cultural oddity, any societal deformity, we are eventually left alone again and ignored. Nothing to see here, people, nothing to see here. Move along….

Hugh’s ribbon has now come to an end and has decided not to behave properly. It’s supposed to reverse course on its own but it has abdicated this responsibility. It takes Hugh two minutes to figure out how to open the typewriter up to even get to the ribbon, and then he and Rachel take another ten minutes to figure out how to turn the ribbon around. They sound like car mechanics over there, and now Hugh has come back with a flashlight to look under the hood.

Another five minutes and they have the old ribbon out and have turned it around. There is a strange sense of pride when you get one of these beasts to submit. It’s one thing to work out a software glitch with a Windows update … but it is not as satisfying as getting one of these mechanical monsters to type that stray “e” that has been sticking on you for the first hour of typing.

Our time is up and we’re wrapping things up now, after two hours of clicking and clacking (and bemoaning the fact that there was no whiskey in our coffee). I realize that, if we had been typing on laptops and tablets and netbooks, we wouldn’t have heard nearly as many cries of “Ouch!” … which came from those of us who got our fingers caught under the keys, where little keyboard monsters hide and nip at our fingertips. We’d have gotten more words written—properly spelled words, properly spaced words, words that would be readable once we got home—but they wouldn’t have been better words. Just prettier words.

These words, our words, came with copious amounts of literal blood, sweat and tears today.

We will meet again, and we will conquer these machines. And, next time, like the fabled writers of old, there will be whiskey in our coffee.

Otherwise, most of us won’t show up.