Archive for the ‘A Writer's Life’ Category

“What’s the most important thing you’re putting off?  And why haven’t you done it yet?  What do you need to make it happen?”

I was brought up to believe that procrastination was right up there with idle hands, as in, “The devil makes work for idle hands to do.”  The procrastination version of this saying was, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

So it was a shock to me to realize, some years ago, that procrastination has its place in the grand scheme of things.  I was in college as a “non-trad” — a non-traditional student, meaning someone who has left college before being graduated, then returned at a much later date to finish things up — in one of those colleges designed for people like me, who have day jobs and an alternate life.  Meaning, each semester lasted eight weeks; you took two courses per semester, and you had eight weeks to complete all the course work, including whatever final paper was due.  I would always leave my final paper till the very last week, unthinkable in my youth; but somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that if I began the paper during, say, the second week, I’d be putting it together without all the facts I needed, facts that I would have at hand by the seventh week of classes and that would make my research more efficient.  So I’d research during week seven, write during week eight, and come out of the process with an A in almost every course.  (The one B I earned was during a class that lasted until 10:15 p.m., and I’m a morning person.  That class was never going to be very successful.)

And yes, I am procrastinating now on answering this question, because it means opening up a semi-secret part of me, and I’m not sure I want to go there.

I write.

I have three complete book-length manuscripts squirrelled away in a drawer.  I have shared them with a very select audience, which seemed to like them, and with an editor at a publishing house who demanded that I make major changes to the plot line; and while I can see her point, I feel as if to do so would be to compromise the integrity of the story.  Just how much do I want to be published, anyway??

I’m still not sure.  And that’s why I’m putting off editing the manuscript of the very first book, which is the foundation for the other two that are already written, as well as for the final two in the series that, as yet, exist only in my brain.

What do I need to make it happen?  Either the courage to perform major surgery, or the courage to find somewhere else to submit the thing, that’s what!  And just at present, I have the perfect excuse for putting it off:  an impending death in the family.

So if I’m Missing in Action for a few days, you’ll know why.  And if I’m Missing in Action for more than a few days…you’ll know that I found the courage to become a “word surgeon.”    😉

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I have a problem:  I’ve decided that for my fourth novel, one of my characters has to go.  I’m not sure if it should be my hero or my heroine — at the moment, I’m leaning towards my hero — but it seems to be the only way I can bring their story up to date, from the fall of the Soviet Union to the present time.  Atrocity though the March bombing of the Moscow Metro was, looking at it from an author’s standpoint, it provides the perfect occasion to bump somebody off.

Those of you who were my beta readers for the first two novels:  If you’re still interested, the third novel has been completely revamped, and I would be interested in your comments.  But meanwhile, whaddaya think:  Should it be the heroine or the hero?  “The Lady or the Tiger”?

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Well, it’s really frustrating not to be able to copy the image into WordPress, but — I have “completed” my third novel, second draft.  It has huge holes in it, but there is a beginning, a middle, and an end, and — more importantly for me — I did it in a month.

Thanks to Elizabeth, once again, over at the Garden Window — having gotten me into this fix in the first place (for which I am profoundly grateful!) by posting on her blog about this contest, she has now come to my rescue by pointing me to the directions for uploading the image.  I was hoping I could get away with not having to save it to my computer, but frankly, for bragging rights like these, it’s worth it to have the “badge” saved in My Pictures.  Never in a million years would I have thought it possible to write a 50,000-word novel in a month!!  (It does help that I’ve been kicking around ideas for two years — still, the thing would remain unwritten to this very point, if it hadn’t been for this kickstart.)

Somebody asked me if I had written about an Orthodox priest, and no, I haven’t done that.  I guess I will have to consider that for the next series.

Wishing all readers of this blog a Happy Thanksgiving — at least it will be a more relaxed one for me.    😉

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Bite the Bullet

I’ve done it:  I’ve joined National Novel Writing Month. =:0    This evil suggestion came to me from Elizabeth, over at The Garden Window, who is also dipping into the world of temporary insanity known as novel-writing.  In this case, it may lead to permanent insanity, since the idea is to write a 50,000-word novel in thirty days.  Are we nuts, or what?!

The only good thing to say about it is that you don’t have to complete the Magnum Opus — that’s just the goal.  The real objective is to get you off your duff and start writing, and I must say that for me, it’s actually been a gift — I’ve entered text that was written but not typed, and am almost at the point where I can add new material that I’ve been kicking around for at least a year.  You are supposed to start the novel on November 1, but I wrote to the contest organizers and explained that new material would require background that I had already written, and could I pleasepleaseplease use that material, if I wrote 50,000 new words?  And they agreed.  So for me, the objective will be to put in 65,000 words total, since the old material I had on hand comes to 15,000 words.

It is a revision of the third novel in my series, Unorthodox Truths.  Those who read that first draft will doubtless be relieved to know that nearly all of it was scrapped, except for the very beginning, and the ideas I’ve been struggling to put on paper are much more realistic.  Really:  How does a man react when he learns that his wife has betrayed everything he holds dear?  I don’t know either.  Probably a mixture of rage and grief.  I do know that I want this to be a supremely Orthodox novel, so repentance and forgiveness are huge themes.

It will also doubtless tick off nearly everybody I know.  I mean, the hero — the good guy — works for the KGB, for crying out loud.  There are no good guys in the KGB, right?  (That’s why they call it fiction.)  My heroine is a former FBI agent who betrays both her country (by marrying a KGB officer) and her husband (by not telling him about a serious breach of security), despite being a rabid conservative — OK, how do you put together a conservative with living in the Soviet Union?!  As I said, it will tick off nearly everybody.  Oh, and the best part:  Both my heroine and my KGB officer are (or become) Orthodox Christians.  Which will mightily annoy the Marxism-is-wonderful crowd, if this book ever actually gets published.

Feels great to be writing again!

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Cribbed from Philippa’s blog:

The rules:  Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.   This list is in no particular order.

  1. Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy
  2. The Deliverance of Sister Cecilia, as told to William Brinkley
  3. Firefox, by Craig Thomas (?) — the inspiration for my own books
  4. The Black Marble, by Joseph Wambaugh — ditto
  5. The Mountain of Silence, by Kyriacos C. Markides
  6. Gifts of the Desert, ditto
  7. Father Arseny, translated by Vera Bouteneff
  8. A Cloud of Witnesses, the followup to Father Arseny
  9. The Apple Orchard Mystery, the first mystery I ever read — I was seven, and it started my love affair with mystery stories
  10. Winnie the Pooh, by A. A. Milne — I can’t believe my mother thought these books were stupid.  I loved them.
  11. The Church Mice series, by Graham Oakley — the only children’s books I’ve ever read that were just as entertaining for adults as they were for children, mostly due to the riotous puns in the illustrations (“Fleece & Guyle, Realtors,” anyone??).
  12. Night Fall, by Nelson DeMille — the whole book takes place in scenes I’ve known all my life, begins with the mystery of a jet that blew up just after taking off from Kennedy Airport, and ends with a chilling conclusion at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
  13. The Stork’s Nest, by Laura Lynn Williams.  As the subtitle says, Life and Love in the Russian Countryside.
  14. A Prologue to Love, by Taylor Caldwell.
  15. Well — I may as well admit it — the Unorthodox series, by yours truly.  I can’t think of any book that will always stay with me more than the one(s) I wrote myself.
Off to Jordanville tomorrow, hoping to finish the one course I never was able to get a handle on, till the year before last:  Church Slavonic.  I don’t know if I will be finishing this course this year, since I don’t know if I passed last year’s course (that instructor was going through a radical life change, from college professor to monastic, and I don’t know if he ever got his grades in for anybody).
I hate travel.  I hate the uproar of having to tie up all the loose ends of my life before leaving, I hate being away from home — especially now that there’s no one else in the house for my husband to be with — and the accommodations are, at best, monastic, which wouldn’t be a problem if you were only staying for three days, which is what they were originally designed for.  But for two weeks, I’d really like a shower that I don’t have to worry about the water turning scalding hot every time someone uses the toilet.
But once I’m there, discounting the evergreen adventure of the monastery guesthouse, it’s pure heaven.  Keep us in your prayers, as my dh will be traveling home by himself and, in two weeks’ time, returning by himself to collect me.  I don’t know why he does this to himself, but I appreciate it.

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A Writer’s Life

I think most readers of this blog know that among other things, I write novels.  They started out, 30 years ago, as a way for me to explore Russian culture and to combine my own (sketchy) Russian heritage with something very dear to my heart at the time:  federal law enforcement, which I had just left three years earlier when my daughter was born.

Well, the characters in that first book have taken on an entire life of their own since I became Orthodox — 18 years ago, now — and I found that just writing about their little Cold-War romance wasn’t enough.  Now they’re married, they have kids, they’ve become enmeshed in international intrigue — it turns out that my hero’s father was spying for the CIA.  And his wife knew about it.  And never told him.  And he’s in internal-affairs, that organ of any police agency charged with investigating police officers accused of crimes.  (When this whole thing started, my own career with internal affairs had just ended, so there was no way my hero was going to be involved in any other aspect of law enforcement!)

So:  You’re in the KGB, your wife is an American, the only reason she is allowed to be your wife is that you’ve been charged with uncovering her secret mission to Russia, and you learn that your own father’s been knifing you in the back for years — and your wife, whom you have come to love profoundly, knew about it.  And never told you.  How are you going to react??

I don’t know.

So, although this particular scenario takes place between 1985 and 1988, long before the internet became one of life’s minor essentials, my heroine has begun keeping a blog.  In Russian.  About what her life is like, with a hostile husband, his distraught mother, and their four children, in a foreign country, where she is under investigation as a spy (which she isn’t).  My hope is that through her blog, I can get inside her husband’s head, and be able to write convincingly about his reactions to all of this.

(Oh, side benefit:  maybe I’ll finally learn how to type on a Russian keyboard.  It’s slow going, so far.)

Sheesh, the things we do for our characters…

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I have mentioned in a number of places that my current favorite TV show is NCIS, which is on on Tuesday evenings. The medical details of autopsy gross me out, but I absolutely love the interplay among all the characters, especially the Mark Harmon and David McCallum characters (i.e., my generation) with their four much younger colleagues.

Last night’s episode was about one of the younger characters who leads a shadow life as a writer. He has already published one novel, and is working on a second; and someone was going around bumping off real-life people who were the models for characters in his second book. What was unnerving to him was that no one, he thought, had yet seen any drafts for the second book — it turned out he had an obsessed fan who was going through his trash and reading his typewriter ribbons to get an idea of what the second book would be about, and was trying to “protect” the main character, based on Agent McGee, from anyone he thought was trying to “off” him. (Slight anomaly here: The character, McGee, creates his books on a manual typewriter. Anyone who has used manual typewriters, which is what I learned on, knows that those ribbons were used over and over and over — there’s no way you could read anything off those puppies. Apparently the scriptwriters were thinking of old electric typewriters that used to have single-use ribbons!)

Anyway, what was so interesting to me was listening to McGee describe his creative process, the way the characters took over his life, the way he couldn’t predict the end of his novel because he didn’t know what it was yet, the way the characters tell their own story, and he just writes it down. Then there were the little quirks, the manual typewriter, the jazz he uses to jump-start his writing (I have to write by hand in a certain size notebook, for crying out loud). I found myself nodding like a bobble-head at everything McGee was saying, and I thought: Yes, that’s exactly what happens to me! I guess I am a writer, after all! 😀

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