This is now my favorite book on writing and self-editing. Williams takes the author, step-by-step, from the first Vomit Draft to the seventh Editor Draft, with detailed instructions and examples using easy-to-recognize works like The Hunger Games or the Harry Potter series. I've got so many Post-Its marking key points that I'd like to be able to quickly refer to that the book almost looks like my current work-in-progress (almost). I've been recommending this book to all my writing buddies since I started chapter one. This book isn't relegated to my books-on-writing shelf; it's always next to me as I write
At first, I didn't think I would enjoy the book because it started out with a lot of world-building and backstory, but three hours into it I found I was thoroughly enjoying El's quirky voice and the superimposition of the life of a high school outsider/loser/nerd on top of this magical school (and this particular high school outsider/loser/nerd adored that). Read deep into the night until my eyes started to feel "gummy" (like El's), slept for three hours, then woke up early to finish.
Note: I also did not find this to be a racist story; rather, I enjoyed the fact that so many positive characters were from diverse backgrounds (the Senior Valedictorian was from Argentina, for example).
The question came from a friend who’d read early drafts of my first novel, Death and the Informant*, a cozy murder mystery on the edgier side of cozy. Back in the early drafts, my sleuth, Abbie Adams, a disgraced historical researcher, catches the eye of the newest cop in town, super-sexy Nick Preston (of course, he had to be super sexy, and of course he had to be a cop). Abbie’s and Nick’s paths cross when a suspect she interviewed for a cold case turns up dead.
And, to throw a potential romantic twist into the mix, Joss Freeman, a narcissistic college buddy who names recipes after himself and has more followers on Twitter than Abbie can count, joins her in her sleuthing duties.
Back to Nick. As I started thinking about my sleuth’s romantic interest, I suppose it was natural that he would take the shape of a small-town cop. After all, I’d crammed my bookshelf full of cozies featuring female heroines and their cop boyfriend/lover/husbands. There was Earlene Fowler’s Benni Harper series (love interest Officer Gabe Ortiz). Mary Daheim’s Alpine Mysteries, where newspaper owner Emma Lord finally marries Sheriff Milo Dodge, takes up one entire shelf. And, of course, Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum can’t ever seem to make up her mind between Detective Joe Morelli and the mysterious Ranger (both of whom are super-sexy, by the way).
So. Cop. Check. Super-sexy. Check. Available but elusive. Check.
Detective Nick Preston of the Hunts Landing Police Department has it all.
Back to Joss Freeman. The story didn’t start as a love triangle. In fact, my introduction of Joss Freeman was more of a thorn in Abbie’s side, a distraction she didn’t need. He shows up on her doorstep, an old friend demanding her help with a historical project that could save his career. He guilts her into helping him.
First-draft Joss was annoyingly superficial, belligerent when Abbie didn’t give his project equal time, subconsciously competing with Nick. With each revision, Joss became peskier and Nick became more super-sexy perfect (although, to be fair to Joss, he thought he was super-sexy perfect).
Finally, my manuscript was ready for beta-readers. And, almost unanimously, they despised the Abbie-Nick-Joss triangle.
There were a couple who favored Nick. But most favored the pesky, pain-in-the-butt Joss who wouldn’t get out of Abbie’s hair.
I stuffed the manuscript–and the beta-readers’ comments–in a drawer for over two years.
After enough time and distance, I took everything out of that proverbial drawer, manuscript and emailed comments, and looked at the story fresh.
My beta-readers were right.
Cop-boyfriend-of-the-sleuth had been done, and redone, and then done again, as evidenced by my own selective bookshelf. There was nothing new in the dynamic, nothing fresh. But, like Stephanie Plum, I couldn’t decide between my two leading men. Do I keep super-sexy Nick? Do I keep thinks-he’s-super-sexy Joss?
I got halfway through a draft that featured Nick in various occupations (he seemed to change jobs every chapter or two, but heck, it was a draft). And I realized I wasn’t that interested in him any longer. And neither was my protagonist, Abbie. Nick didn’t thrill her as he had in earlier drafts; in fact, when he accuses her of murder, she got downright ticked. And that’s what decided it for me. When my character, in her own words, was no longer enthralled by Detective Nick Preston, I knew the reader wouldn’t be.
But the dynamic between Joss and Abbie fascinated me. Old friends, they didn’t just meet in the series. Thus, they knew plenty about each other’s quirks and hurts, and ambitions, and dreams, and failures.
A story that had stalled for me was suddenly alive with new creative possibilities, with characters that appeared more true-to-life than the idyllic world where a girl meets a super-sexy cop.
I probably never would have reached that point, however, without the crucial feedback from my beta-readers and “resting” time in the drawer, where the love of old characters could fade, and the appreciation of new ones could percolate.
Late last year, I took that five-year-old manuscript and revised it with an eye towards making this a series about Abbie and Joss solving crimes instead of just Abbie with a couple of dudes in the periphery. Instead of being flat, the characters now had depth and more meaning behind their ultimate actions. The story was actually easier to write in that final revision. And that was the revision that was accepted by my publisher.
So, that’s what happened to Nick. I explained the evolution of the story to my friend whose phone call prompted this post. I’m not sure she’s forgiven me. She was one of the beta-readers who’d rooted for Nick. But, as I told her, it’s been more fun to write about Abbie and Joss now. I’m busy drafting outlines for the next books in the series, a series where the arc is so much easier to envision.
She elicited one promise from me, though, that Nick wouldn’t go away.
Note: even as I write this, I anxiously await my editorial letter from my assigned editor at CamCat Books. The editorial letter is the first step in an author’s journey with a traditional publisher and is going to be the document that shapes future edits and rewrites of Death and the Informant’s chapters. My editor might take all my new and exciting ideas about these characters and chuck them out the window. Who knows? Stay tuned.
I confess. I’m a compulsive binge-watcher. Once I find a show I like, I pretty much can’t stop watching it until I get to the end. This has wreaked havoc with my sleep (there was that little devil on my shoulder saying, ‘It’s four a.m. – surely you can watch one more episode?’). Food, too – the other night, the Doordash delivery guy texted me to tell me my lunch was still on the porch. And my dog still hasn’t forgiven me for that especially long stint a couple of weeks ago when I refused to get up off the couch.
In my defense to my dog, this Yankee transplant hibernates in the summer, and it was really hot outside.
Still, I was admittedly surprised at the variety of small-screen stuff that captured my attention these past few weeks.
So here are four shows that I caught, liked, and will likely watch all over again.
I always knew that Paul Giamatti was a great actor, and I really had no idea who Damian Lewis was before I started watching this show, but the two of them together are explosive. Paul Giamatti plays Chuck Rhoades, U.S. Attorney, on the opposite side of the law from billionaire hedge fund owner Bobby Axelrod. In between these two powerful characters is Rhoades’ wife, Wendy, played by Maggie Siff, who, you got it, works for Axelrod. These two powerful men tangle wits and manipulate other people with the mastery of puppeteers. They are also both deeply flawed and imminently likable. And for anyone who’s from the Tri-State area, the cityscapes of New York are gorgeous. Season 5 (interrupted by COVID) returns in less than a month.
I love the way British do crime, with more emphasis and plot and character and less on shootouts and car chases. Brenda Blethyn plays Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope, a cop with the personality of sand paper who can sniff out the teeniest clue. Underneath her tough-as-nails exterior as an officer with deep compassion for the victims and an unswerving determination for justice. Filmed in the northeast of England, Vera’s scenery is breathtakingly beautiful. The series is based on the books by Ann Cleeves, a new favorite author of mine.
This show was a surprise too. It’s kinda been decades since I fell for a sweet drama like this one. The show stars Alexandra Breckenridge as “Mel” Monroe, a nurse practitioner who uproots her life to move to a small northern California town, and Martin Henderson as Jack Sheridan, local bar owner and former marine who has a case of PTSD. But, for me, the characters who are stealing the show are Hope McCrea (played by a brilliant Annette O’Toole) as the busy body mayor of Virgin River, “Doc” Mullins (played by an equally brilliant Tim Matheson) who used to be married to the mayor, and Colin Lawrence as “Preacher” Middleton, chef and buddy to Jack. This show had a way of getting under my skin and not letting go.
Shadow and Bone
I’ll admit, I wasn’t into the hype of this show or the books before watching any of it. Luckily, a friend warned me to read the books first. I devoured the whole series in one weekend, and then spent the next three nights watching the screen adaptation. I’m not sure I can wait another year for Season 2, will just have to watch Season 1 (again, bingeing, of course).
I think writers catch their inspiration from so many artistic sources, so I’m not by means feeling a little sheepish about the fact that some of what inspired me this summer came via a flatscreen TV and bowls of popcorn. And, I discovered two new favorite authors, Ann Cleeves and Leigh Bardugo. Not too shabby for a summertime couch potato.