April Journal

Tuesday, March 30

Here we are, not entirely starting over on the book, but kind of. Keeping fav characters and their lives. Saying bye to less fav characters. Totally reworking plot and structure. One day I will reread the first months of this journal and think, “Oh, poor writer, if you only knew how many of these chapters you’re so proud of now will be ditched.” Will you believe me if I say this makes me happy? Writers R Weird.

Wednesday, March 31

New improved plot coming along nicely. I suppose there is still that small business about writing it all down in book form.

Thursday, April 1

I’m committing an unnatural act: outlining.

Friday, April 2

It’’s amazing to watch the same major characters and plot points drop into different, more natural places in the story. I’m glad I’ll maybe get to keep them. It’s good to find silver linings–since I’m throwing away the 50,000 words I wrote in the past few months. The next 50,000 will be better. One hopes. One does.

Monday, April 5

I came home from Costco with a white dry erase board and four colors of markers! NOW I can plot. Or plotz. One or the other.

Tuesday, April 6

Thinking out loud: So far, I have four points of view in this novel, two men, one woman, one child. I confess that I play fast and loose with pov, and break the “rules.” Sometimes I drop in extra povs and hope nobody will notice. Do not try this at home, children.

But here’s the thing–if a Big Event happens, and if what makes it big is its rippling/widening effect on a lot of people*, then those people may have to be heard up close and personal. So I like to look at it through their eyes. One thing I try never to do, however, is mix povs in a single scene. Other authors get away with even that, though.

Don Maass talks about this in his book, Fire in Fiction, in which he explains how it’s not the size of the storm, it’s the number of people affected by the storm that make it a big event, which in turn can turn it into a Big Book.

Wednesday, April 7

I don’t think I can do it. Outline from beginning to end, that is. The urge to just write is too strong. The outlining thing is beginning to feel as if I’m trying to outline my own life when the truth is I don’t even know what might happen tomorrow. You know that old saying, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans?” That. “Story is what happens when I’m busy making other plot.”

Monday, April 12

I’ve been writing. The first chapter is now a hundred times stronger than the original, and this is a result of a.) writing the original version; b.) throwing away the original version; c.) doing some “outlining,” which consisted mainly of reworking the plot and characters, but not all the way through to the end; and d.) writing a new first chapter. So far, the new second chapter is looking better, too. I’m hopeful. Such is the process. Such is the pain and the relief form the pain. Which is not to say I’ll end up being able to keep everything I’m doing this time. But gradually, I’m getting there.

Week 17 Journal

Monday, March 22

After work: Semi-hard to get going again after stopping for research and life. Now I’m doing what’s necessary–taking the time to get to know a crucial character better. I had thought she was saintly, but it turns out she’s just a very good-hearted human who stands up for herself and for people who need her help. She does it once too often.

Hindsight: I’m pretty sure she’s the real heroine. A much more interesting young woman with a core of strong character, mischief, courage, and decency.

Thursday, March 25
Researching, not writing. Too much fun.

Hindsight: ha.

Friday, March 26
My editor and I agree the book in progress needs BIG changes. Sometimes i hate my process. No, really, sometimes I hate it. I love my editor, though. She won’t let me settle for less than I can do, tells me when I hit false notes, makes me dig deeper, but doesn’t ask me to do what I can’t. I’m sighing, but also kind of excited about the new possibilities. Not that I know what they are, yet.

HIndsight: So here we are, not quite starting over, but not nearly as far along as I thought. I had misgivings; my editor confirmed them.

Sunday, March 28
There’s a recurring way that Linda, my editor, helps me. She almost always has to tell me at around this point that my heroine needs to get stronger and more (I hate this word) proactive. She wouldn’t say this if she didn’t believe that’s who my heroine really is. I don’t know why I can’t get this right the first time. I may have done it with Jenny Cain from the start, but I’ve struggled with it ever since, though eventually it comes out okay.
After writing an entire draft of the first half of the book,I had no idea of where the story was going. I need at least a rough draft of where the plot is headed now. As usual, the fuzzy ideas I had at the start evaported toward the middle and now need new attention.

Week 16 Journal

Monday, March 15
During work: Didn’t feel like writing. Wrote anyway. So glad I did. My poor heroine. She’s in for it, and she doesn’t know it yet.

Hindsight says: should have paid attention to “didn’t feel like writing.” My poor heroine is going to vanish from the book, because it turns out she’s not the real heroine.

Tuesday, March 16
During work: Still don’t feel like writing. Still writing anyway. It’s going to be okay. Not one of those times when I throw everything away and think, “Why did I force myself?” Something not forced about this, even in the mood I’m in. Something wants to be written, despite me, and all I can say is, “Okay, whatever,” and type.

Hindsight: Whatever it was that wanted to keep writing was doing so only to show me it wasn’t going to work, apparently. None of this writing this week will survive.

Wednesday, March 17
Last book, I hit three dry wells before hitting the word-gusher. This time, I hit the word-gusher right off the bat, which felt great. Last week it stopped gushing. Today I know why: I need to go back in time and find out what happened there, before I can go forward again. Whew. ::Puts down dynamite.::

Hindsight: Need the dynamite after all. Going back in time is giving me a different novel. I’m keeping only the small town parts, and throwing Kansas City away.

Friday, March 19
Forgot my writing journal entry yesterday: Doing research, as part of the back-hoeing into the past to be able to move forward into the story. Discovered something so interesting, and important, and am struggling to *really* understand it.

Hindsight: No wonder I “forgot” it, since there wasn’t writing to report.

Week 15 Journal

Saturday, March 6

Taking the weekend to work on stuff I need to write/rewrite for my website. Plus, I’m thinking of sleep.

Monday, March 8
Just got a call from my editor: starred review from Publisher’s Weekly for The Scent of Rain and Lightning. So relieved and happy. You tell your self this stuff doesn’t matter, but that’s a joke. First sentence: “With exquisite sensitivity, Edgar-finalist Pickard. . . probes a smoldering cold case involving the Linders, a cattle-ranching family that’s ruled the smalll, tight-knit …community of Rose, Kans., for generations.”

Wednesday, March 10
Still working on website. Just wrote a piece about my driving trips for the “Kansas Reads” program last year, and I’m feeling grateful and nostalgic. Over three months I drove to 50 libraries in 50 towns! It was wonderful. I met readers, librarians, b&B owners, people of all sorts in libraries as small as 1, 2, or 3 rooms.

Looking back over this later, at the end of this month, and with the benefit of hindsight, I see this is about the time my writing began to stall out. The obvious clue? There’s no novel writing going on, and no urge to get back to it. I was beginning to distract myself with other things, all of which needed doing, but none of which added a page to a book.

Week 14 Journal

Saturday, Feb. 27 No writing, but a bit of scribbling of notes & ideas, plus a little research, on the next book. (Poets’ advice)

Sunday, Feb. 28
After work: I’ll be darned. Now I know why Wayne married his third wife. I really couldn’t figure out what he’d have seen in her, and turns out it was hidden in an early chapter, all along. Really, how does it happen that the author can be the last to know?

Monday, March 1
Before work: Cool dream last night, about my book, I think. Imagine this: Approaching *my* house at evening, I see a magnificent buck standing in the street. I go inside, where my (late) father is repairing something, oblivious to all else A doe and two youg fawns run into the house. Then, oh no! One of the fawns escapes into the back yard. . .
I watch from the porch as the fawn is ringed on three sides by a bobcat, a wild dog, a fox, and a grizzly bear. (They’re standing at a little distance, not much but some, and watching it, as if they are stalking, but not ready to pounce yet. A polar bear appears from the left and rushes toward the fawn, looking as if he will attack it. Instead, they touch noses. The p.b. rises up and makes sweeping motions with its arms, as if to say, “Go! Go, get away from here!”
Note: the grizzly is frightening to the other predators.
On the porch, I am concerned for the fawn, astonished at the p.b, but not that upset about what may happen.
Note: I often write on a similar screened-in porch.
Either it’s my book, or it’s an episode of LOST, lol.

I’m getting the most amazing book epiphanies from the dream. Each of the characters in the dream corresponds to a character in the novel. Also, the dream reveals certain things to me that I hadn’t realized–such as how many double sibling groups I have in this book and how in each instance, one sib goes forth into danger and the other one stays home. So strange. Thanks you, subconscious.

For the next book, I’ve discovered why I’ve had several years worth of fascination with the supposed sightings of black panthers/cougars in Kansas. In looking them up again, I came across a sentence that gave me chills, because of how it may work into the next book. Note: That’s one animal that wasn’t in my dream, but then it also has no place in the current work in progress.

Tuesday, Feb. 2
Middle of work: In writing, is there anything that feels any better than rewriting a scene and having it turn into something much more textured and “right” and satisfying? (p.s. I had another book-dream last night, only this time for the next book. Dream advised against letting book get quirky; need it to stay grounded in real life.)
After work: It’s coming together so nicely in rewrites. ::looks nervously over shoulder::

Wednesday, March 3
After work: Took a scene from one chapter, put it at the front of another chapter, cut most of that existing chapter except for some dialogue, and rewrote the rest. (Baxter Springs scene.) Better now.

Thursday, March 4
Work: Ack. The first 100 pp are now in pretty good shape, and I’m proud of them, but now I’m reading the second 100 and my eyes are spinning. Who wrote this mishmash, and why didn’t somebody stop her? I deleted two boring & unnecessary chapters today (Brooke going to his sister’s house, Terry meeting their family, Kristin meeting his). But I can only rewrite part of these next 100 pages, because before I rewrite the rest of them I’ll need to know what happens further ahead in the story, and I haven’t written that yet. (I’m wanting a chapter from Marcie’s POV, but that seems like too many POV’s, and she hasn’t had one up to now. What to do, what to do? Write it anyway, I think, just to get to know her better, if nothing else. Good enough reason to do it, even if I end up tossing it or giving the pov to another character.)
At least now I can tighten up some things. Lost a bunch of pages, but who cares if the story & writing are better because of it? I was a little worried anyway that I was taking too many pages/words to get to the next section of the book.

Friday, March 5
Sent 99 pp. to brilliant, charming, funny, really really nice editor. Need coffee.
Got coffee. Then wrote 1,000+ words, thought I was finished, then wrote another 1,000.
Satisfied sigh.

Week 13 Journal

Saturday, Feb. 20
Not capable of writing today, so I’m doing internet research. I’ve learned a lot of facts I hope I have enough sense not to put in the book. But they’re so interesting! Like, the word “galena” comes from Pliny. And only 12.8 miles of old Route 66 is in Kansas. Okay, I’m using that one. Dibs.

Sunday, Feb. 21
It’s been 21 days since I took a break. I’m down to the bottom of the well. Taking today and tomorrow off.

Tuesday, Feb. 23
Before work: I did it. I didn’t write, or think about writing for two days. Now to see if that was a good idea, or a bad idea. :) Bites nails.
After work: So the result of taking two days off is. . .drum roll. . .1,000 words on the chapter that was stuck, and 600 words on the (maybe) next book. I may have to do this again some time. ::Ironic smile::

Wednesday, Feb. 24
Before work: Too late, it’s already after work. Did a bit on the *next* book. Now off to work on the current one. I’m so relieved to know (kind of) how to handle this next scene. The characters are going to surprise each other and me, I think.
After work: They did surprise one another. Did they surprise me? No, I can’t say they did. I’d like it better if they did, but there’s still time. These difficult scenes are taking shape, even without that, however.

I wonder how long I’ll work on the *next* book, which would be my 4th “Kansas novel.” I seem to be getting to know a protagonist who is the most interesting (to me) and complex woman I’ve ever written. We’ll see. As long as the words come, I’ll write them down. The working title is Guardian of Ghosts.

Thursday, Feb. 25
After work: Trying something new. In between writing scenes, I’m writing small things to expand them. “Filler,” I suppose, but I’m concentrating on the writing, aiming for vivid bits that add texture & bring scenes to life. Not writing them in any order, just as I think of them; then plug them into ms. Increases daily output, extends workday, may mean less work later. Real purpose: make small stuff count more.

An example–a little bit of detail about the way a guitar player’s fingers/nails look and feel. It got playful and was fun (and funny) to write. I hope it’ll be good to read.

For some reason, it comes easier when I write these little bits away from the manuscript. first. I can relax with them, and let them play out, instead of feeling the pressure to make them fit in.

Meanwhile, the next book keeps offering up new bits and I keep writing them down. I’m almost afraid to think how wonderful it would be to have a big head start on the next one by the time I finish this one. Whispering. Emily Dickinson showed up today, in the form of my two favorite lines of her poetry: After great loss a formal feeling comes; the nerves sit ceremonial, like tombs. I have an idea for using it that I love so much I almost have to be suspicious of it, lol.

Friday, Feb. 26
Nancy Pickard After work: Wow. Another 900 words on the next one. But the big news is, I am officially at the halfway point of the current wip. 50,000+ words and 200+ pages. Now to get all this in as good shape as I can get it, and then move on to the next 50,000. Some of it’s still pretty rough. Very rough. Okay, crappy. I’m happy with crappy for now.

Week Twelve Journal

Saturday, Feb. 13
Work: mostly thinking about the organization of my chapters in the first half.

Monday, Feb. 15
At work: Ugh. Plotting. Who knew, how did they know, when did they know, what did they do when they found out? Sounds like politics.
After work: had an idea for a plot twist, did some research on churches in Galena, Ks., wrote another 1,000 words. Boring to read this description of my workday, and not all that much fun to do, either. I’m irritable and restless. Considering chocolate.

Tuesday, Feb. 16
After work: Necessary, productive, tedious, COMPLETELY annoying afternoon of moving clues around. Me, cranky? ::Bites heads off bats:: Why do you ask?

Wednesday, Feb. l7
After work: Today was fun. At my library, I took two free hours in a room with a long table. Laid out 20 chapters on the table & walked around them, getting a feel for the movement of the story. Switched a few around. Sensed what was missing in a few others. Stuck notes to some. When I was done, everything felt a whole lot better. Afterward, I researched goats on the web, yes I did, and then went to Starbucks and wrote a scene with four goats in it.
Bats got off lucky today.

Thursday, Feb. 18
After work: Ups and downs. Good morning at the Library Table. Good afternoon of writing and fixing things. Enjoyed researching the trailer Jimmy and Wayne live in, and then describing it on the page. Found I had Rex revealing something in Chapter 2 that he contradicted later. Changed the physical description of a deputy. Got started inserting new tension in Chapter 7. But I got too tired and plunged into doom and gloom. It took Boston Rob on Survivor to tell me I had a case of crybabyitis. Oh god, too true, lol.

Friday, Feb. 19
After work: Finally! I know what goes in that one chapter with the empty pages. Getting these first 200 pp. ready to go to my editor is taking a lot of thought and work. It’s going to feel good to finish them and feel ready to move on to the second half of the book.

Week Eleven Journal

Saturday, Feb. 6
Middle of work: rewriting the rewriten scene from yesterday. It’s getting there, but I peeked at the pages that come next. Shouldn’t have done that. I had myself fooled into thinking they weren’t the usual crappy first draft pages. hahahahah
After work: I will never stop being impressed and mystified at how something in one part of a novel can mysteriously solve a problem or answer a question in another part, without the writer consciously figuring it out.

Sunday, Feb. 7
After work: I started this rewrite with 150 pp., and I’m hoping to get to 200 pp. by the end of it. So far, after a week, I have a net gain of. . .two pages. The challenge right now is to be patient, let scenes shrink/grow as needed without worrying about the end result. Everything’s improving, but slowly. Things are. . .as they are.

Monday, Feb. 8
After work: I’m such a conflict avoider, both in RL and it fiction. Thank goodness I don’t feel the need to add it to the scenes of my life the way I add it to my chapters.

Tuesday, Feb. 9
At work: sometimes when I get fuzzy on my plot, I skip forward and write several scenes of the ending to clear things up. I can’t do that this time. Pouts.
After work: Thank you, writers who do things better than I do. I’m reading Marilyn Robinson’s novel, Housekeeping, for the first time. She inspired me to be a better writer this afternoon. I’m very grateful. Brought the joy back. No more pouting.

Wednesday, Feb. 10
After work: Today a character finally talked about two things that haunt him, which just happen to be two things that made me write this book. I don’t know why the feelings are so strong; he doesn’t know, either. Maybe between us, we’ll find out.

Thursday, Feb. 11
Wallowing in good writing. Finished Housekeeping, now rereading John Gardner’s Grendel. It’s even better than I remembered. I’m devouring–monster-like–his spot-on descriptions of things. Not figures of speech, but outright descriptions that awe me, because he gets it So Right. Like, this one: “. . .lean wolves rise, glance at me awkwardly, and, neat of step as a lizard, sneak away.” I can see that. That’s what they do. Well, okay, there was one simile, and it was perfect: “neat of step as a lizard.”
After work: happy.

Friday, Feb. 12
After work: Wrote a thousand brand new, crappy words. Hugs them. Assures them they don’t have to remain crappy forever. Advises them to be patient.

Week Ten Journal

Saturday, Jan. 30
Before work: the middle muddle just broke through into sunshine. I figured it out by thinking about what Don Maass wrote about my own book, The Virgin of Small Plains, in his book Fire in Fiction. It’s not the size of the storm–weather or otherwise– it’s the breadth & depth of its impact. It’s funny when you learn from somebody else’s analysis of your own work.

Sunday, Jan. 31
Day off. Sneaked away to do one of my favorite things–see a matinee movie alone, just me and my diet coke and my slightly buttered popcorn. A movie is one of the few things that can get me out of my own head when my mind is deep in a book.

Tuesday, Feb. 2
Before work: Back into it for realz today. It’s going so eerily fast that I’ve promised my editor half of it by the end of March. Everything between now and then will consist of polishing and filling in the first 50,000 words. I don’t dare think how unusual it is for me to be this far along this soon. Mumbling to self: Printed out 150 pp., got my post-its ready to go, starting thinking about all the things I need to check for, already have some ideas about how to tighten a couple of scenes, expand others. I may go hide in a private room in my library to do this intense work. I suspect I’ll emerge with around… 200 pp. which I’ll turn over to my editor while I start rough draft scenes for next 200.

Wednesday, Feb. 3
Before work: At library, itchin’ to edit.
After work: Sixty-two pages later. . .Geez, I wonder who slipped all of those clunky sentences into my manuscript? The same one who left out the conflict in two pivotal scenes, I suspect. If I ever find out who did it, she’s in big trouble!

Thursday, Feb. 4
Before work: There’s a romantic scene I loved writing. Now, I’m distressed to find it’s boring. Lacks dramatic tension. I need to tear it open (ala Maass’ Fire in Fiction) and find the tension. As I write this I suddenly realize exactly where it is. *He* says something that my original version has *her* accepting too easily. She should feel surprised and uneasy.
After work. Well, the first 62 pages are now 59 pages. Not a bad net loss, really. I’m pleased. Didn’t get to the romantic scene today. Oh, boy, they’re in for it tomorrow.

Friday, Feb. 5
Snow, but not enough of it to use as an excuse for anything.
After work: Deleted about a thousand words, substituted about a thousand better ones. So much of writing a novel feels like running on a treadmill moving backward, just trying to stay standing and not fall behind too much. This is not a complaint, believe it, or not, it’s just life in the novel lane. I’ll be on this backward moving treadmill for a while before it reverses direction and shoots me forward again.

Week Nine Journal

Sunday, Jan. 24
Mid-work: More filling in, rearranging, moving scenes around, tying them together, thinking about timelines, paying attention to first lines and last lines of scenes, making sure settings feel real, double-checking emotional responses of characters, stuff like that. Suddenly I have 32,000 words. Virtue rewarded.
After work: After work: Okay, back up past 32,000 words the honest way. I want to make another trip to Cherokee County to see the area I’m writing about, but I thnk it can wait for spring.

Monday, Jan. 25
Driving to Lyons, Ks. for a speaking gig. Back tomorrow. Long drive, lots of yummy book-thinking, mmmmmm. And the wheels go ’round’n’round. Later: On the drive, I thought out two family trees and saw how they relate. Interesting. Then, scribbling at dinner tonight, I *met* some bad guys for the first time on the page. Scary dudes. I’m glad they’re imaginary. You should be glad, too. :) Then a lovely time with local peeps. Now my Mizzou is not beating my son’s Jayhawks. Decisively not beating them.

Tuesday, Jan. 26
This morning, I’m writing about the bad characters I met last night in my head during supper. They are so bad I feel nervous committing them to paper. This is probably good, right? I can always back off later if I’ve gone too far. They feel believable, though. Sorry to say they do. Okay, now to check out of motel and go search for a big breakfast in this town or another one.

Wednesday, Jan. 27
Before work: The scenes are backed up again. I love this. It hasn’t happened quite like this with any other book I’ve written. Can’t wait to get at them before the queue gets too long.
After work: Why am I so tired after so few hours of writing?

Thursday, Jan. 28
J.D. Salinger died?? I loved Nine Stories and Franny & Zooy so much. So much. I’m afraid to go back and reread them. I want to still love them forever, and maybe I won’t. He influenced me, though you’d never know it from my writing. RIP, strange storyteller.
After work: somehow managed 1,000 words in an hour, in between life stuff. New character who feels very unreal in those 1,000 words. I wonder what she’s really like? I’m leaving her as is for now, though. More will be revealed, I hope.

Re-reading Kate Atkinson’s Case Histories. Oh, man, she is so good I’m in awe. Her flashbacks don’t even read like flashbacks. That’s one fine quality, but there are so many.

Friday, Jan. 29
During work: The last few days have felt as if I’m writing weak, drifty scenes, without being sure where they go. Words, but words without focus. It just now occurred to me the heart of the problem is that I’m avoiding a pivotal, difficult scene that needs to be faced. Okay, I’m glad to know that, and I’ll get on it. After lunch.

Curses. Halfway to a book and I’ve hit the middle mud right on schedule. At least I can see the way out, for once. But getting there feels like dragging my boots through sludge. ::Picks up foot, knocks mud off boot, steps forward into the squish, picks up other foot.:: Bird by bird, step by muddy bloody step:: If anybody says anything cheerful, I’ll have to kill them.