Read my latest short story, “Anomalies,” in the inaugural issue of Black Works, an online journal by Underwood Press. “Anomalies” is the most recent installment of my series re-imagining H. H. Holmes’ childhood. If you like it, check out the others!
As most teachers will tell you, August tends to be our version of the new year. Everything starts fresh again: new students, new notebooks, new pens that I don’t need…The summer tends to be a recharging time for me, and while I really thought I’d knock out all of my edits for The Devil Inside Me, I did not. Not even close. But with the beginning of the “new” year, I have reset the clock and calendar, and the edits are calling. It’s interesting how, when you let your work sit for awhile, it often comes calling for you. In my case, it’s getting back into a regular schedule of things, which means regularly scheduled writing time. I’m changing up my schedule though: When actively writing, I try to write as close to daily as possible. However, I’ve discovered that this revision process requires more of my time in one sitting–so rather than block an hour out daily, I’m finding ways to chunk my time a few days a week, such as moving weekly chores onto one night so I have three straight hours to work the next. Knowing that I have a block of time, well, I can’t even tell you how much I looked forward to my dates with my manuscript this week!
When I asked a few weeks back what YOU would like to see on this blog, some kind souls requested more from my work-in-progress, The Devil Inside Me. Allow me to introduce you to one of my favorite suspects, Elyse Baxter. Enjoy!
“And your name?” Davis, lost in thought, had barely looked up when the next person walked up to him.
He looked more closely once the silky voice hit his ears and saw a young woman with long, dark chestnut hair and fair skin, devoid of make-up, sitting down across from him. In Davis’ mind, she didn’t need the make-up. She didn’t need much of anything.
“And Ms. Baxter, what is it you do at the museum?”
“I’m a preparator. I’m the preparator for the Holmes’ exhibit.” Davis raised his head again when Ms. Baxter emphasized her “the.”
“What does that entail?”
“I handle and prepare all manner of artifacts for our exhibits. I coordinate with others to ensure proper and timely installation of our exhibits. And I was the lead preparator and project manager for this exhibit.”
“So you’re responsible for this display?”
“This exhibit,” she corrected. “Yes.”
“Uh huh.” Davis made a few scratches on his notepad. The preparator smoothed her knee-length skirt and uncrossed, then re-crossed, her legs.
“How long have you been working here?”
“I’ve been with the museum for three years now. Prior to that I worked at the Boston Museum of Science.”
“Are you from Boston?”
“Not too far from it.”
Davis looked up from his notes, waiting for her to explain. She didn’t.
Again, Davis paused, scratching at his two day scruff, allowing for further detail. She said nothing.
“Can you be more specific?”
Elyse Baxter sighed. “Philadelphia.”
“So you’re responsible for this display–how so? Start to finish?”
“While it is unusual, yes–I was responsible for the design and implementation for this–exhibit–from start to finish. I presented my concept drawing to Mr. Panetti two years ago, before the television hype and the movie deal. He sat on it for a year until he realized there was more than just a cult following.”
“There’s a movie deal?”
“Yes. Leonardo DiCaprio will be playing H. H. Holmes?” she asked with the same incredulity of Chapman.
Davis continued scratching down notes.
“So then what? He agreed?”
“Yes. I had two other designers who worked with me to build the concept model, and–” She waved her hand with a flourish. “This is the result.”
“And when did you last see the disp–exhibit?”
“About thirty minutes ago, when the docent explained what was going on.”
“Where were you prior to that?”
“I was working in our creative space–it’s on the lower level, where my office is.”
“And prior to that, when was the last time you saw the exhibit?”
“This morning, at 6am. I was giving everything one more look.”
“One more look?”
“Today was the opening day for this exhibit. Surely you heard it advertised, Detective. It’s on the side of eight CTA buses. This is a central piece to our museum, to Chicago.”
He nodded. She continued.
“It’s also our first PG-13 rated exhibit. That generated even more of an interest from the public.”
“So you were giving everything a once-over before it opened up?”
“Yes. I was responsible for its execution, so I had to ensure everything was perfect.”
Interesting choice of words, thought Davis.
“I don’t mean to be cold and unfeeling, Detective, but do you have any idea how long this…scene…will keep my exhibit closed? So many people were looking forward to it.”
The first thing I learned from that half-done, now-shelved novel I mentioned earlier this week?
WRITE WHAT YOU LOVE–and don’t be afraid to do it. Stop asking yourself “am I good enough to be a writer?” You’ll never know until you try, and, chances are, you’re already exhibiting signs. Not sure? Scott Kuttner discusses 12 of them.
Everyone has probably heard the write-what-you-know mantra, but I’m talking about what books you love. Not just the relatable characters or the author’s unique voice, but the genre. From my ancient, well-loved Dictionary of Literary Terms and Literary Theory by J.A. Cuddon, genre is “a kind, a literary type, or class. The major classical genres were epic, tragedy, lyric, comedy and satire, to which would now be added novel and short story.”
Today, we can further break “novel” down: horror, upmarket women’s fiction, dystopian, steampunk, psychological thriller, historical fiction, urban fantasy, mystery, cozy mystery…I could go on and on and on…
I was terrified to start writing in the genre that has always fascinated me: mystery. Why? I didn’t think I’d be good enough. I mean, when your favorite authors are P.D. James, Dennis Lehane, and Agatha Christie–those are some serious, red-herring-throwing heavy hitters. I’m lucky if I can beat my husband at a game of Clue. I love Sherlock Holmes, but could I even begin to think like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?
And then it happened. The stars aligned and the concept for my current project nestled in my brain. I couldn’t dislodge it. I wished that Dennis Lehane would cross my path, so I could pitch him the idea and beg him to run with it.
Alas, Mr. Lehane never showed up in my rural Midwestern town. So I gave myself permission. Permission to try. Permission to acknowledge that while I may never be Agatha Christie, what harm could there by in trying to write a mystery?
What happened next was mind-blowing. I was much more invested in this idea than I ever was with my last project. I started plotting and researching and pantsing (more on this later) on some days. I was excited to write or research in some fashion every single day, despite having a demanding full-time job. It inspired me to finish my author website, to begin this blog, to reach out to others who are not yet published so that we can share our successes and our challenges, to reach out to future readers who would (gulp!) give me feedback.
Essentially, I gave myself permission to believe in myself.
Incredibly successful blogger and writer Jeff Goins pointed out that our hesitations may actually be because “we’re insecure, we don’t believe we have anything to offer, we think we’ll fail.” He also added that “no one’s going to give you permission to be yourself.”
And that’s the point: Give yourself permission. Permission to try. Permission to fail. Permission to succeed. (Need an extra kick in the pants? Read Elissa Altman’s guest post at Krista Tippett’s site, On Being.)
Readers AND writers, have you ever had to go through this permission-giving process with yourselves, whether about writing or general life-events? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments!
Sign up HERE to get my blog posts delivered to your mailbox. You can always read them here, but email subscribers will receive extras along the way! Sign up today and receive a snippet of my current project: The Devil Inside Me.
As my grandma used to say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, so, since I’m certain no one has experienced death-by-blogging, here goes.
Like many of you, I’ve been an avid reader for as long as I can recall. When I was a child, my punishment was to go in my room to think upon my misdeeds. I loved my punishment–because it meant I could read! I’d lie down on my floor turning pages until my mom came in with her have-you-thought-about-what-you’ve-done look.
A love of reading is often a companion to writing. Story ideas have always popped up in my head, even in grade school, when a ballerina-turned-astronaut who gave dance recitals for space aliens was a concept I thought would be fascinating (I had a lot of career ideas tumbling in my third-grade head). I was applying the concept of asking “what if” before I even knew it was a thing. (Ever wonder where authors get their ideas? Here’s what Stephen King had to say about it.)
My problem was I never went much beyond the initial ideas in my head. Sometimes I would start writing, but I most certainly never finished. Finally, many years removed from those dancing space explorers, I had what I thought was a compelling-enough idea to sit down and write. And write I did–60,000 words’ worth, until I finally admitted I didn’t know where it was headed. I couldn’t believe that I was going to do what I had scoffed at others for doing: I was shelving that novel. (AvaJae, author of the young adult series Beyond the Red, discusses this very concept on her writability blog.) It wasn’t me. It wasn’t right.
But it wasn’t a waste.
I learned so much from that writing experience, and that is just part of what I intend to share here with you, dear readers. Along with dishing about my quest for publication (and all the wicked and wonderful rejections), my goal is two-fold: to provide something for both avid readers and aspiring writers.
Readers, I can’t wait to share with you the backstory and sneak-peeks of my current project: The Devil Inside Me. I would be thrilled and honored to have you all along for this ride. If you are a lover of mysteries and crime novels, if you are a lover of fiction that has some historical basis or connection, then subscribe today to have my blog posts delivered to your inbox!
For writers, I hope to give you some of the inspiration and encouragement we can all use along this path, especially if you, like me, are an as-of-yet unpublished writer who has a hard time saying you’re a writer. Give yourself permission. My first piece of advice I want to share comes from writing/editing/publishing guru Jane Friedman’s blog post “What It Means to Be a Writer–and to Emerge as a Writer.” She says, “I like to define writer as someone who writes, not someone who is published for their writing per se. Let me qualify that a little: A writer is someone who writes regularly and consistently, someone who engages in the process. If you give yourself to that process, if you do the work, if you write regularly and consistently, then you are not emerging as a writer—you are already engaged, you are already a practicing writer.” Brilliance.
So, welcome. I’d love to have you along for the ride, this journey of reading and writing and publication.
Follow my blog online, or sign up for my email list to get free snippets of my current novel, backstory on characters and setting, and writing guides!
Please comment and introduce yourselves! Are you a reader? What are your favorite genres and authors? What do you love in a book?
Are you a writer? What have your personal experiences been with writing and publishing? What struggles have you experienced along the way?