WIPs: Too Much of a Good Thing.

& A Sneak Preview

Writing doldrums can show up for any number of reasons. Sometimes because I have no idea what to write next. Sometimes because I have too many ideas and it’s hard to decide which one to work on next. Sometimes because I can’t imagine anyone wanting to read anything I write, not even the people who follow my blog.

Sometimes the ideas pop up like popcorn. Too many at once. Tasty tidbits along with some old maids.

My current issue that’s stymying me is having too many works in progress (WIPs) I have a magpie mind. I like the next shiny new thing. The next story or essay idea that I want to work on at the cost of other projects that are waiting to be completed. Too often I love my stories too much to want to let them go. I get persnickety and no matter how many times I’ve been over a manuscript, I keep finding new errors. I could go on editing forever.

I have a lot in common with this bird.

My three weightiest WIPs are my novel, A Home for an Exile’s Heart; a collection of essays from Come, Follow My Blog, titled, Latvian Lore, and a second collection of blog essays titled, Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

Even though none of these books is finished, a friend, who is also my writing mentor, has been helping me design covers for them. Colleen loves designing covers and has experience creating designs for many of her own traditionally published books. She loves helping people. She hasn’t said so but perhaps she also eagerly helps design covers for my self-published books in hopes of inspiring me to finish the darn things.

A Home for an Exile’s Heart. An earlier version that needs a bit of editing.

I thought A Home for an Exile’s Heart, my novel about Līvija Galiņa, a Latvian refugee who, with her family, flees her homeland when the Soviet army invades in 1944 and finds a new home and a new love-interest, former fighter pilot, Cameron Quinn in Seattle in 1952 was finished. I re-read the last chapter and decided that I don’t like it. Re-writing it has proven to be more of a hassle than I expected. Too sweet. It needed a touch of tartness. Just because it’s Christmas Eve doesn’t mean characters can put aside such strong emotions as jealousy and resentment. Yet, I don’t want to be heavy-handed. It’s a sticky wicket.

Latvian Lore is a collection of Latvian myths and traditions. The problem with that one is not having enough essays published in my blog to make a decent-sized book. I need to write and research more. There’s so much information to include that it’s hard to know what to include and what to leave out. I might even include family recipes. All that is to be decided later.

This is the photo I picked for the cover of Latvia, Despite the Soviets.

After A Home for an Exile’s Heart, the project that’s closest to completion is Latvia, Despite the Soviets, a memoir about a trip I took to Latvia for a Song and Dance Festival when it was still part of the Soviet Union. Some of the chapters are essays from Come, Follow My Blog, the rest is new material. I’ve also included chapters

to give my memoir historical context that some people may not be familiar with. I need to read my manuscript from start to finish to decide what needs rewriting, revising, and if I need to add new material. It is emotionally difficult material to write about. I need a break from it before continuing. 

So what did I do? I started a new story. Flash fiction that I want to submit to a literary magazine. Caw! Caw! Shiny new object! Let me add it to my collection of WIPs.

Throw in a Little Murder.

Comments about The Giver of Stars, part 2

After months out in the weather, in the forest where wild animals roam, the body is still recognizable.

When I wrote my previous post about Jojo Moyes’s book, I hadn’t finished reading it. Now I have. I enjoyed her book very much until I got to the murder, then my eyes started rolling so much that it was hard to finish reading.

People who are not mystery writers should not write mystery novels. If they want to change genres, fine, just learn something about the genre first. It seems to me that Moyes wrote herself into a corner and did not know how to finish The Giver of Stars, so she threw in a murder. A totally preposterous murder.

Spoiler alert.

A book as a murder weapon supposedly used to bash in the back of a man’s head. Little Women, wielded by a woman. I supposed it could happen with a 759-page hardback book. And then this smart woman goes off and leaves the book behind to incriminate herself. Uh-huh.

We’re supposed to believe that a backwoods hillbilly wanted to read Little Women and when he finished it, conscientiously set off on foot, on a snowy, icy day, set off to return the book to the library. Never mind that the story is about packhorse librarians who not only deliver books to people living in the hills of Kentucky but also pick them up a week or two later and return them to the library. Then this dedicated reader slipped on ice, fell over backward, and cracked his skull on a rock, the book flew into the air and landed on his face leaving bruises.

A murder weapon. Really?

Months later, when the body is found, the now pregnant horseback librarian is arrested and held in jail for months where she eventually gives birth and months after that is put on trial. The motive for the murder is supposedly a blood feud that has lasted for generations and was started by the victim’s “descendants” (you read that right) that’s lasted for generations.

Wouldn’t the crunch of hoofs on an icy trail have alerted the victim? A question never asked.

I hate it when writers, for the sake of not spoiling their story, make smart characters behave stupidly. I’m a layman but I could have presented a better case for the defense than the lawyer in the book. Anyone could have been out in the woods. Anyone could have wielded the blunt instrument. The woods are full of rocks. But does the lawyer make that argument? Of course not. The book would have ended a hundred pages sooner if he had. No dramatic childbirth in the county jail. No heroic librarians striving to save their friend. No self-sacrificing suspect sending away her baby and child so they won’t be tainted by association with her.

 I won’t reveal the outcome of the trial, but you can probably guess.

There’s a very broad hint that the murder victim committed incest and impregnated his own daughter. Talk about a motive for murder, but that’s glossed over. Both his daughters are too mousy to commit homicide.

Will I be reading any of Moyes’s other books? I’m not sure but probably not. There are real mystery writers out there whose books I enjoy.

Moyes isn’t the only author who’s fallen into the trap of thinking that including a mysterious death in her story is a breeze. Elin Hilderbrand fell into the same trap in two of her books, The Castaways and The Perfect Couple.

The Castaways is the most annoying of the two. A married couple drowns under mysterious circumstances. They are part of a group of friends who are so irritating that I figured that they must have drowned themselves just to get away from these people. In between long, overly-detailed narratives about the history of these relationships, the local Nantucket cops investigate the deaths. The case comes to nothing.

The same cops investigate the drowning in The Perfect Couple. Once again, the case comes to nothing but the reader has wasted hours trying to figure out which of the annoying cast of characters “done it.”

Not that talented mystery writers don’t mess up. They do, especially if they’ve been writing best-selling books for years, have run out of ideas, and are now too big to edit.

It pays to read the blurb. Read reviews, not just newspaper reviews. As far as I know, there are no more Dorothy Parkers, who wrote things like, “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” Read reviews by fellow readers. Don’t read just the five-star reviews. Read the one and two-star reviews. They can save you time and money.

Writer’s Hope

My Hero Saves Me

Not Cameron’s Plane

Today I was going to write another post about food. My little essays about food get me the most attention and followers. With my post about baking Latvian black rye bread, I had more than one hundred hits in one day. Most of my posts get me views counted in one digits. I even got a pretty decent, one hundred word start on my next post about food, but I couldn’t do it. Depression struck. Hard. A food post does not have the power to keep me at the keyboard. Or off my balcony railing.

I’m lucky if I can write at all when I’m depressed because I can’t even go out my front door when I’m depressed. I greet mornings with words that no new day should hear, but at least I get out of bed. So, I abandoned my food post for another day.

What keeps me going when I don’t want to keep going is my novel-in-progress. I am in love with my own words. I am in love with my story. I am in love with my protagonists, especially my hero.

Cameron Quinn, one of the protagonists in Bittersweet Christmas (a.k.a. A Daddy for Christmas), which is set in 1952, is a former flying ace, who flew Mustang P51 fighter planes during World War II. During the timeline of my story he’s a carefree (more-or-less) bachelor, working as an aeronautical engineer and test pilot at Boeing. He’s also a private pilot who owns a two-seater plane. He has a nice house in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood where he hopes to raise a family someday.

Cameron falls in love with Līvija Galiņa, a Latvian refugee who fled her country when the Red Army invaded in 1944. She’s the widow of a Latvian soldier and the mother of a seven year-old daughter, who was born months after her father was reported killed in action. In Latvia Līvija was a lawyer. In Seattle, she cleans other women’s houses. Līvija also lives on Capitol Hill, in a big house whose nine Latvian refugee residents include her daughter, mother, mother-in-law, sister-in-law and a single father who wold like to marry Līvija. However, she’s not attracted to him. She’s attracted to Cameron who saved her life. She feels a bit like the rope in a tug of war. Her mother wants her to marry a Latvian. Any Latvian, but preferably the housemate. Līvija’s daughter, and her own heart, tug her toward Cameron. Love of her lost country and her heritage also have a strong hold on her heart.

Latvian Cinderella meets American Prince.

Writing this story gives me joy. It gives me hope. It gives me purpose. There is no high like a creator’s high. No low like the low of those who fear they can no longer create.