A Whole Lot Of Nothing

No, I haven’t dropped off the planet — at least not yet, thought I can’t say the thought isn’t tempting. The last year, or even year and a half, has been … strange. To go into detail would be boring and self-indulgent, so I won’t.

My fiction writing, though, has suffered; to that much I confess. Although I still write every day, I’m not writing what I truly love to write.

I got about halfway through NaNo last year and, between life’s interruptions and escalating computer problems, I just lost my momentum. I still had the hodgepodge of scenes, about 60,000 words worth, in Scrivener from the year before. That one, I’d tried writing piecemeal just to get words on the page, and wrote scenes out of order all over the place. They are still out of order all over the place. I’ve tried arranging them a few times, but keep getting sidelined.

Last year, I thought starting an entirely new project, a story that was trying to get out, would get me going again. Well, it did get me going. It just didn’t keep me going.

Sometime between the two, I gave in to Microsoft’s nag to update my Windows 8.1 laptop to 10. A perfectly good, efficient computer turned into a mass of problems after the update failed. Things got worse until, a year later, the poor thing was unusable. I wound up doing  a factory reset of Windows, which worked for a while, and then it began having different problems that led to a hardware failure.

Cutting the story short, I now quite like my new-to-me Mac Mini. It’s taken me a while to get life reinstalled, though I must say the process has actually been quite smooth. I’ve got the Mac version of Scrivener up and running, and have, in the last week or so, skimmed through both the 2015 NaNo draft, and the 2016 start. There is a tiny spark of enthusiasm growing (now that I’m not continually battling lock-ups and shut-downs). That spark led me back here, to the blog I’d nearly forgotten about.

I’m very grateful to the dear friend who generously sent me the computer he was planning (before learning of my plight) to retire to a closet. I might put that 60,000-piece puzzle-trying-to-be-a-novel together in the right order yet.

NaNo 2017, though? Maybe not.

One challenge at a time.

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The Black Dog

Eye-bounceflash (4)Black dogs. They have held a place in the human psyche throughout history. In some cultures, they were demonic, beings to be avoided. They were omens of death and evil. The most famous literary depiction of this black dog as evil concept is probably Conan-Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles. Well, the most famous, that is, until J.K. Rowling capitalized on the concept with Harry Potter’s “Grim“.

For people who suffer from depression, whether it is clinical or temporary due to circumstances, the Black Dog has come to represent the darkness that weighs them down. There is an interesting essay on the history of this metaphor on the “Black Dog Institute” website:

…when we put a name to our depression, increasingly it is that of the black dog, lurking behind us, or clinging tenaciously to our backs. The statesman and politician Winston Churchill drew upon this image to conceptualise his own struggle with depression, and it is with him that the metaphor is generally associated.
http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/docs/McKinlay.pdf

In my case, and considering what I am going through right now, the Black Dog is not metaphorical. My Black Dog was my best friend, my protector, my constant companion. He was my sidekick, my seizure-alert dog (self-trained) and my motivation to keep going through some really horrendous life events. The past thirteen years have not been easy ones … but they were made bearable by my Black Dog.

He died on October 3rd.

My entire world has changed. I look for him everywhere, cry for him every day. I wake up in the morning unable to imagine a world without him, and then have to face that very world until I go to sleep again that night.

This depression is worse than I ever could have imagined, and it has been incredibly hard to deal with. But we always deal somehow, don’t we?  The alternatives to putting one foot in front of the other, and living life one breath at a time, are none too good.

I actually find that writing a mystery that is dark and brooding helps. The book deals with death, and with being dead. I find myself pouring emotions onto the page that would break me if I didn’t have a way to express them.

Maybe my boy’s death will lead to what turns out to be a good story.

Even if not, though, I will miss my Black Dog every single day of the rest of my life, and, here and beyond, I will love him forever.

And then there were none….

Well, not precisely “none”. They’re all still there, those 35,000-plus words in the latest writing project. However, as I was cranking them out, letting them lead me, I got wrapped up in the story and the characters. Then, as happens all too often, I got sidelined for a very long time. Nearly a year, in fact. Although I have picked through it quite a few times in between, most of my actual writing time has been spent revising another project (written under another name) and working on shorter pieces.

This week, my daughter and I attended the first installment of a three-part mystery writers workshop at our local library. Despite the fact that (due to the above sidelines, in large part) the last thing I want right now is to be around people I don’t know, I actually had a great time. Our presenter (Frankie Y. Bailey) was bright, witty, a great teacher, and really knows her subject.  She presented the intro in an entertaining and informative way. While I learned nothing new (technically), I did get a chance to look at the old from a fresh viewpoint, and it was inspiring.

It was, in fact, inspiring enough to encourage me to pull out The Manuscript and read through what I have so far.

What I have, is a mess. Frankie was talking a lot about characters, and with her words in mind, one of my own really stood out as I read through the hodgepodge of words that sit in Scrivener, begging me to untangle them and continue. He stood out because he doesn’t work.

At all.

He doesn’t fit the tone of the story. He doesn’t fit the goal I have in mind. He doesn’t fit the mood or the other characters. Naturally, I wound up getting sidetracked by this almost comic-book pseudo-being, and realize as I re-read that I have somehow managed to turn him into a key player and weave the entire blasted plot around his little devious fingers.

My choices now? Go back to page one and rewrite him, completely, starting from scratch as I try to repair a bunch of tangled ends and get the story back on track. Or ditch the whole darned thing and start from “Once upon a time”.

(Don’t worry, it doesn’t really start “Once upon a time”.)

Maybe I’ll re-title the working draft, start fresh with NaNoWriMo this year, and just try again from as close to square one as necessary to fix this little dilemma. (NaNo worked out so well last year, after all, did it not? Sigh.)

It’s hard right now to be enthused about diving into such a massive undertaking.  The workshop, though, was inspiring, and I look forward to the other two segments. Maybe I’ll wait till after next week’s workshop, which will continue on the subject of characters, and see if it gives me any brilliant ideas.

Edit and Addendum: We’re going with the final thought. The draft has been re-titled, I’m starting with not much more than the outline, and I will try to keep my demons (that was literal) under a tighter rein this year. Wish me luck!

So, Who is Your Mystery Inspiration?

Image credit to the NY Times, as posted in the article in the image link: Sherlock Holmes Is in the Public Domain, American Judge RulesYes, I have been on an Agatha kick, particularly dear Miss Marple, for some time. I’ve been laid up (that is beginning to sound so redundant, isn’t it?) recently, so am doing much more reading than writing. Reading can be done horizontally. I just can’t get the hang of typing on a laptop while flat on my back.

I suppose having Agatha Christie at the top of my favorite mystery authors list is also probably fairly redundant. I’m guessing that there are a lot of mystery writers out there whose list of inspirational sources start the same way. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Allan Poe are probably also somewhere on those lists, I’m sure. Yes, I know many people associate Poe with horror, but he also had a flair for creating intriguing mystery scenarios that teased the intellect while they shivered the spine.

How about you? Who are your favorite mystery writers? They can be ancient, classic or modern. They can be well-known or (maybe even more fun) obscure. What books or stories turned you on to them? What about their writing inspires you to create? If you’re not a writer yourself, what inspires you, period?

Feel free to leave a comment; I look forward to reading your lists — and broadening mine!

 

  • Image credit to the NY Times, as posted in the article in the image link: Sherlock Holmes Is in the Public Domain, American Judge Rules

What? Every Miss Marple story? Only $5.99?

Yes, I’m still reading Miss Marple. And yes, I know I tend to be a bit obsessed when I find something I truly enjoy. I’ve always loved this character, especially, of Agatha Christie’s creations. I’ve always loved Agatha Christie.

I also really love, “Wow, you really can’t pass this up!” deals on books.

I just happened to be looking at the next Miss Marple book in the series, when I spotted the entire collection, which has (till perhaps a week ago) been for sale for around $60.00 US, for $5.99.

Yes, that’s five dollars and ninety-nine cents. For the entire collection. That is all thirteen books — the novels, plus the entire short story collection. Now, I already own five of these books, but hey — who cares? My momma didn’t raise a dummy. I clicked “Buy Now”!

I’m guessing you will, too!

It turns out that both Amazon (for Kindle) and Barnes and Noble (for Nook) are running this deal. Perhaps it’s in celebration of the new Tommy and Tuppence series that just premiered in the UK. Whatever the reason, I don’t know how long it will last, so I’ll plug in the links here so you can grab a copy while it’s hot.

Note, too, that both formats have readers that can be installed as apps/programs on every device imaginable. So, if you don’t have a Nook or a Kindle, you can still take advantage of this deal, and install the free app on your PC, Mac, iPhone, Android Phone, tablet….

Do note that this collection is only in e-book format, and does not seem to be available in print.

Enjoy!

 

 

What Mystery Writer Doesn’t Love Agatha?

Let’s face it. Everyone who writes mystery stories fell into that vocation (or avocation, as the case may be) because they love to read mystery stories. Is there anyone out there who pushes the perilous pen who doesn’t list Agatha Christie among their favorite authors? Certainly, no one I know personally. I could read Agatha every day and never get tired of her.

All of Christie’s characters are delightful, but my favorite has to be Miss Marple. I can’t get enough of the little lady from St Mary Mead. I’m currently reading Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories. Although I’ve read many of the novel-length Marple mysteries, this is my first time through the short story collection. I am, as always, entranced by the dear old gal. Her ability to see every problem in a way that covers all perspectives and gets to the heart of the matter illustrates the creator’s genius as clearly as the character’s charm.

Agatha Christie had a way of penning a twisted tale mystery writers can’t help but envy. Our brains try to work out the puzzles as we read. We scour the pages for little hidden clues, try to filter out the red herrings, and make mental lists of suspects. Then, we come to the end of the story and say, “I hope I can do it as well some day!”

There’s a very good reason that Malice Domestic Ltd named their mystery writer awards the “Agatha Awards“, after all. I can’t think of a loftier goal than to entertain my readers like Agatha Christie.

I keep reaching for that goal, and while I reach, I will keep reading.

Thank you, Dame Agatha.