Writer Worry; Tone; Breathing

“Writer worry” is something many of us deal with. I have in the past, and switching genres from science fiction and fantasy recently created new writer worries.  I dove into the KZB archives and again found gold. Today’s first Words of Wisdom excerpt is from a 2009 post. James Scott Bell lays out his approach to dealing with writer worry.

Getting the tone of a novel right is an issue I have spent a lot time thinking about, since I went from writing the thriller-esque urban fantasy Empowered series to the lighter Meg Booker mysteries. Especially since I am aiming to hit the right notes in a specific sub-genre. An excerpt from a P.J. Parrish 2014 post tackles this challenge.

The last selection is from December 2019. Sue Coletta discusses the calming power of breath to help with body and mind. “Belly breathing” is something I learned while practicing yoga. Sue dives into how it works and how it can benefit us.

As always, full posts are linked from the date provided at the bottom of each excerpt. It is worth reading the full posts. Please let us know what you think about any or all of these topics

Call this my own, personal modus operandi for dealing with writer worry. It will work for you if you follow these steps:

  1. Take a moment to note the benefits of your worry. You are engaged. You are alive. You have blood coursing through your veins. You are not a chair.
  2. Remind yourself of the truth handed down by a wise Jewish carpenter, who once said, “Who by worrying can add one cubit to his span of life?” IOW, worry does absolutely no good regarding future outcomes and you know that.Tell yourself over and over until it sinks in.
  3. Now, figure out what’s the worst thing that can happen if you don’t get your desired result. Let’s say you’re waiting to hear about a submission to Penguin. What’s the worst? You get rejected by Penguin. That’s it. (Do not let your imagination run away with you. The very worstthing that can happen is that the acquisitions editor is so angry at your abuse of literature she hires a hit man to take you out. I mean, be reasonable).
  4. Next, write down all the ways you can come back strong if the worst thing happens. You got rejected by Penguin. How do you come back from that? You can a) submit elsewhere; b) prepare another project; c) rework the current project according to feedback; d) schedule a talk with your agent; e) study some aspect of the craft you’re weak on. And so forth.
  5. After going through steps 3 and 4, tell yourself that you can live with the worst thing.If it happens, it’s not going to debilitate you. It’s not going to stop you. Determine to accept the worst if it happens.

James Scott Bell–December 6, 2009

 

Tone is so important. And it’s not really the same as mood. Tone is the narrator’s attitude toward the subject — be it playful, ironic, dark, hardboiled, romantic — whereas the mood is what the reader feels by virtue of the setting, theme and voice. And I think tone is something often overlooked by some beginning writers. You, the writer, have to know in your heart what kind of book you are setting out to write. And then you should bend all the powers of your craft to that end. Poe called it Unity of Effect and wrote about it in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition.” He believed that a work of fiction should be written only after the author has decided which emotional response, or “effect,” he wishes to create. And once that was decided, everything else — theme, setting, characters, conflict, and plot — should serve the effect.

We do this via the countless choices we make as writers. What words we use, what imagery is in play, what the sentence structure is, what details we put in (as well as those we leave out). Here’s a visual.:

Both are photos of the Everglades. I’m choosing them because I also went on a “swamp walk” hike in the Corkscrew Swamp this week. The first photograph is by Susan Schermer. The second is by Clyde Butcher. Schermer’s is lush and color-saturated, with emphasis on the birds and setting sun. Butcher’s is desolate, empty of all apparent life and in stark black and white. The first is somewhat sentimental; the second almost existential. Both artists made choices about what details they wanted to include — or leave out — in their work, how they lit their landscapes, the types of trees, the quality of the water.

Same subject, different tones. Each is successful in its own way. But you can’t mistake one for the other.

So what’s my point? I’m not asking anyone to buttonhole their work. It isn’t necessary to try to psyche out editors and the folks who shelve the books at Barnes and Noble. (Is this neo-noir? Is it chick lit? Is it teen dystopia? Do we even care anymore?) I’m not even talking about all the sub-genres we tend to impose upon crime fiction. Some of the best stuff being written in crime fiction right now crosses so-called divides and genres.

What I am asking for, I think, is consistency. And honesty. Be honest with your readers. I don’t mean be predictable. Being honest means finding a tone for your work and sticking with it so that the reality you create on your pages is believable and satisfying. If you want to write romance or romance suspense, go for it and do it well.

P.J. Parrish—March 25, 2014

When chaos starts shaking the to-do list in my face, I close my eyes, lean back, and breathe… It’s amazing what a few deep breaths can do. There’s a running joke in my family that I’m so chill, I’m practically a corpse. It’s true! My blood pressure rarely, if ever, rises above 110/60, even under stressful conditions. And you know why? Because I take advantage of the most powerful and the most basic gift we have — the ability to breathe.

It may not sound like much of a superpower, but controlled breathing improves overall health. Controlled breaths can calm the brain, regulate blood pressure, improve memory, feed the emotional region of the brain, boost the immune system, and increase energy and metabolism levels.

The Brain’s Breathing Pacemaker

A 2016 study accidently discovered a neural circuit in the brainstem that plays a pivotal role in the breathing-brain control connection. This circuit is called “the brain’s breathing pacemaker,” because it can be adjusted by alternating breathing rhythm, which influences our emotional state. Slow, controlled breathing decreases activity in the circuit while fast, erratic breathing increases activity. Why this occurs is still largely unknown, but knowing this circuit exists is a huge step closer to figuring it out.

Breathing Decreases Pain 

Specifically, diaphragmatic breathing exercises. Ever watch an infant sleep? Their little tummy expands on the inhale and depletes on the exhale. They’re breathing through their diaphragm. We’re born breathing this way. It’s only as we grow older that we start depending on our lungs to do all the work.

Singers and athletes take advantage of diaphragmatic breathing techniques. Why not writers? If you find yourself hunched over the keyboard for too long, take a few moments to lay flat and concentrate on inflating your belly as you inhale through your nostrils. Then exhale while pulling your belly button toward your core. It takes a little practice to master the technique. Once you do, you can diaphragmatically breathe in any position. The best part is, it works!

Count Breaths for Emotional Well-Being

In 2018, another scientific study found that the mere act of counting breaths influenced “neuronal oscillations throughout the brain” in regions related to emotion. When participants counted correctly, brain activity showed a more organized pattern in the regions related to emotion, memory, and awareness, verse participants who breathed normally (without counting).

Sue Coletta—December 16, 2019

***

There you have it: steps to deal with writer worry, tips on getting your book’s tone right, and diaphragmic breathing to help with your body and mind.

  1. Do you have any writer worries? How do you deal with them?
  2. Have you ever struggled with a novel’s tone while writing? Have you ever stopped reading a book that was “tone-deaf?”
  3. Have you tried breathing to help with focus while writing, managing stress, discomfort, etc.?

You Are a Winner!

Congratulations! You have won the Publishers Give-a-House Christmas Extravaganza for Readers and Writers, a free, all expenses paid, life-time use of a Reader/Writer Dream Hideaway. And…you get to choose the location, contents, and amenities of that fully-equipped library/office, WITH NO LIMITS. Yes, a dream come true!

So, when you stop dancing with joy, tell us how you will choose and equip your dream site (and remember, your imagination is your only limitation):

  • Location – country, region, city, town
  • Setting – castle in the mountains, cabin in the forest, sea-side bungalow, castle in the Scottish Highlands, English country manor, yacht in the Caribbean, anything you can imagine
  • Library – size, description, book collection, and view from the window(s)
  • Computer/electronic gear
  • Software
  • Amenities – coffee pot, maid service, room service, masseuse

When you have experienced “the high life” long enough to want to revisit your current home, I will be happy to occupy and protect your hide-away for you while you are gone, with no charge for my services.

Hint: If you choose a large enough venue, you could invite all of the TKZ community to come and visit you.

What Day Is It Again?

By John Gilstrap

As I woke up this morning, and my wife and I were planning the events of the day, I told her that I needed a couple of hours to write my Killzone Blog post.

“I thought they went up on Wednesdays,” she said.

“That’s right.”

“Today is Wednesday.”

“No, it’s not. Today is Tuesday.”

“Wednesday.”

“Crap. It’s Wednesday.”

Normally, I’m not an in-my-jammies kind of worker. While my office is just down the hall, it’s still my office, and if I’m at my desk, I’m dressed for the day. Except this morning. As I write this, the clock on the wall tells me that it’s 8:35 a.m. That tells me that I’ve already missed the eyes of commuting readers. And I’m bearing the burden of Reavis Wortham’s post from a few days ago, where he talks about the moral betrayal that is the missing of a deadline.

I choose to blame Thanksgiving. That Thursday holiday makes the days that follow all feel like Saturday or Sunday. Throw in the fact that we’ve been decorating the new abode for Christmas and I haven’t been near a calendar, and here we are. I’m writing, but let’s be honest. I’m not saying very much. Bottom line: I dropped the ball.

Just wait till next time, though. Maybe I’ll be brilliant.

Here are the discussion questions, now that Thanksgiving is in the rearview mirror and Christmas is fast approaching:

  1. Does your favorite whipped cream come out of an aerosol can or a tub?
  2. Do you agree that a satisfying Thanksgiving dinner must include jellied cranberry sauce?

Misjudging A Book By Its Cover,
Getting Back In The Saddle,
And In Praise of Bad Writing

By PJ Parrish

We should all have such problems…

I read a story in the New York Times this week about a debut author whose novel became an international bestseller with rights sold in 40 countries, was named Barnes & Noble’s book of the year, and is on track to be the bestselling debut novel of 2022. Oh yeah, an Apple TV+ adaption is in the works.

But she’s getting a lot of hate mail because of her….cover.

The book, Lessons In Chemistry, is about a woman scientist in the 1960s who is opinionated, funny and intelligent, but she’s cheated out of her doctorate and brutally sidelined by male colleagues who, as one reviewer put it, make Don Draper look like a SNAG (Sensitive New Age Guy). Think of The Queen’s Gambit set in the macho labs of abiogenesis. The heroine wears a sharp No. 2 pencil in her chignon not for style but as a weapon against sexual advances.

 

But then there’s that cover.  Bubble-gum pink, with a cartoonish woman’s face peering over a pair of cat-eye sunglasses. Some readers picked it up as a quick beach read, expecting — I hate this phrase — “women’s fiction.” What they got was a serious look at the frustrations of a generation of women, who were relegated to the corners, ignored, or worse.

Garmus is able to laugh about the hate mail from some readers, saying, “They were like, ‘You’re the worst romance novelist ever!’”  She says the cover has turned off a few men, admitting that during an talk to an all-male book club, members were dissuaded by the cover’s Necco Wafer shell. “But as I’m fond of saying,” Garmus said, “the book isn’t anti-men, it’s anti-sexism.”

It’s also, by all accounts, a fun read. There’s a mystery, mixed in with a shrewd  look at politics, and a dysfunctional bad local TV station. The heroine has an addiction to her rowing machine, loves her daughter and her dog Six-Thirty.

James Daunt, chief executive of B&N, admits that aiming the novel at a female readership is “a bit pigeonholing….but the book has dominated the cover.”

Love that phrase — dominated its cover. As a writer who has had her share of bad covers, I sympathize. It’s an eye-catching cover, to be sure. But the dissonance between it and its message is jarring. I’m glad Garmus can joke about it. She had more than 100 rejections of other manuscripts before Lessons In Chemistry. Nice to break through — at the ripe young age of 65.

How To Get Back To Writing

Back from a long and lazy vacation where eating, drinking and reading were the only things on my brain, I’m having a devil of a time opening the file of the WIP. So when Jane Friedman’s latest blog popped up in the mailbox the other day, I clicked.  It was by an author who, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, found a way to grease the wheels again.

Matthew Duffus writes: “When I finished my MFA in 2005, I didn’t write for a year. Between exhaustion from completing a readable draft of a novel on deadline and the confusion caused by having too many critical voices in my head (thanks, workshop), I didn’t know where to begin, let alone how to get to The End of something. I’d burned out on my thesis, realizing it would be my “novel in the drawer,” and had no idea what to do next. After the first few maddening weeks, I tried embracing Richard Ford’s concept of ‘refilling the well.’ When this stopped working, I knew I needed to try something new.”

Duffus has three easy steps. And yeah, I’ve tried all three.

  1. Set a challenge. Forget stuff like NaNoWriMo. He says, “had I known about that event in 2005, I would have crawled into bed and not come out until December 1st.” Instead, he read like a maniac — English classics mainly. It made him eager to write again. I get that. After my vaca, I was sated on reading. My fingers longed for the keyboard again.
  2. Start small. Says Duffus, “Instead of aiming for 1,000 words per day, as I’d done in grad school, I bought a pack of three-by-five index cards and numbered the first thirty. I filled the lined side of one index card per day for the next month. By the end of that period, I had the beginnings of a longer piece that I was already dedicated to pursuing further.” For me, my small stuff was returning to a short story I had been stalled on, and sweating the deadline for an anthology.
  3. Try a new style. Focusing on his notecards forced Duffus to go slower rather than obsess about hitting a daily word count. He also switched a stalled novel from third to first person and it gave him momentum. That led him to finally set aside a novel he had worked on for 15 years and begin a new one. He finished it. I had a similar experience with my short story. It wasn’t working. I switched it from third to first and reset the time from the present to the 1960s, using John D. MacDonald’s style as my inspiration. I finished it this weekend. It was fun.

You’ve Gotta Be Good To Write This Badly

Finally, I give you the year’s best in really bad writing. No, no…not the Literary Review’s Bad Sex in Fiction Awards. They’ve cancelled them because as the judges wrote: “The public has been subjected to too many bad things this year to justify exposing it to bad sex as well.” Well, we’ll just have to go back and re-read our John Updike, right?

That leaves us with the Bulwer-Lytton Dark and Stormy Night contest. Since 1982 the Bulwer Lytton Fiction Contest has challenged participants to write an atrocious opening sentence to the worst novel never written. The contest honors Sir Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel Paul Clifford begins with “It was a dark and stormy night.”

I forgot to report these earlier this year, but attention must be paid. Especially since the grand prize winner this year is a fellow crime dog.

GRAND PRIZE WINNER by John Farmer Aurora Col.

I knew she was trouble the second she walked into my 24-hour deli, laundromat, and detective agency, and after dropping a load of unmentionables in one of the heavy-duty machines (a mistake that would soon turn deadly) she turned to me, asking for two things: find her missing husband and make her a salami on rye with spicy mustard, breaking into tears when I told her I couldn’t help—I was fresh out of salami.

CRIME AND DETECTIVE FIRST PLACE by Jim Anderson, Flushing, Mich.

The detectives wore booties, body suits, hair nets, masks and gloves and longed for the good old days when they could poke a corpse with the toes of their wingtips if they damn well felt like it.

Dishonorable Mentions 

They called Rock Mahon the original hard-boiled detective, and it wasn’t because of his gravelly voice, or his crusty manner, or his chiseled jaw, or his cement-like abs, or his feldspar fists, or his iron incorruptibility, or his calcite cynicism, or his uzonite unsentimentality, but because of his goddamned, geezly, infuriating habit of polluting every crime scene with shells dropped from the hard-boiled eggs he munched without surcease.– Barbara Stevenson, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

As detective Harry Bolton knelt down looking at the fifth murdered prostitute in as many weeks, he thought his was a cold cruel city and that maybe he should have taken that job in rural North Carolina but he didn’t think he could be like sheriff Andy Taylor all in black and white, plus he couldn’t stand Aunt Bea’s falsetto voice, and who names their kid Opie anyway, he had to know it rhymed with dopey, you might as well just call him dipstick, that doesn’t rhyme with much. — Doug Self, Brunswick, ME

The heat blanketed the small village in much the same way a body bag blankets a murder victim, except that a body bag is usually black, which the heat wasn’t, as heat is colorless, and the village wasn’t dead, which a murder victim usually is. — Eric Rice, Madison, WI

In honor of all the winners, I leave you with the queen of real talent laboring in the pursuit of artful awfulness — Lucille Ball. She made an enduring and endearing shtick about her caterwauling attempts to get on the stage. In real life, she was a pretty okay singer. Hit it, Lucy.

 

Redux: Does Creativity Pass Through Generations via DNA?

With a deadline nipping at my heels, and losing two days to the holiday, I’m sharing a post I wrote in 2018. Still as fascinating today, IMO. Enjoy!

This video sent me down a rabbit hole of research.

As you can imagine, my writer brain lit up. Turns out, the research was even more fascinating than the video. A scientific study showed that a traumatic event could affect the DNA in sperm or eggs and alter the brains and behavior of subsequent generations. This breakthrough is an important discovery in the fight to treat phobias and anxiety.

Do you fear spiders, heights, or small spaces for no apparent reason? This may explain why.

Neuroscientists trained mice to fear a cherry blossom scent prior to copulation. While breeding these mice, the team at the Emory University School of Medicine looked at what was happening inside the sperm. Incredibly, the sperm showed a section of DNA, responsible for sensitivity to the cherry blossom scent, was indeed more active.

The mice’s offspring, and their offspring — the grand-mice, if you will — were all extremely sensitive to cherry blossom and avoided the scent at all costs, despite never experiencing a problem with it in their lives. They also found changes in brain structure.

In the smell-aversion study, scientists believe either some of the odor ended up in the bloodstream, which affected sperm production, or the brain sent a signal to the sperm to alter the DNA.

The report states, “Our findings provide a framework for addressing how environmental information may be inherited transgenerationally at behavioral, neuroanatomical and epigenetic levels.”

Environmental change can also critically affect the lifestyle, reproductive success, and lifespan of adult animals for generations. Exposure to high temperatures led to the expression of endogenously repressed copies of genes — sometimes referred to as “junk” DNA. The changes in chromatin occurred in the early embryo before the onset of transcription and were inherited through eggs and sperm. In mealworms, they traced the DNA changes through 14 generations.

Why mealworms? It’s quicker to test generation after generation on an animal with a short lifespan.

Another study showed that a mouse’s ability to remember can be affected by the presence of immune system factors in their mother’s milk. Chemokines — signaling proteins secreted by cells — carried in a mother’s milk caused changes in the brains of their offspring, affecting their memory later in life.

Memories are passed down through generations via genetic switches that allow offspring to inherit the experience of their ancestors. These switches, however, can be turned on and off, according to Science Daily. Scientists have long assumed that memories and learned experiences must be passed to future generations through personal interactions. However, this research shows that it’s possible for some information to be inherited biologically through chemical changes that occur in DNA.

Creativity counts as a learned behavior, but I also believe it goes deeper than that. Think about how deeply you feel about your writing. For most writers I know, when we’re “in the zone” our soul does the writing. One could argue we’re merely vessels who type. Have you ever read a passage that you don’t remember writing? Our ability to create burrows into the core of who we are, and thus, leaves an indelible mark. How, then, can we not pass that part of ourselves to future generations?

How many of you have creative folks in your family tree, be it writers, artists, musicians, singers, or other forms of creativity?

To test my theory, I asked the same question to my fellow TKZ members. Please note: this revelation occurred to me yesterday, so I’ve only included the members who saw the email in time. Hopefully, the others will add their responses in the comments.

For those I did catch on a Sunday, check out what they said …

Elaine Viets said, “My late cousin Kurt was a talented wood carver, and my grandfather was known as a great story teller in the local saloons.”

I love wood-carved pieces. The smell, the texture, the swirl to the grain. It’s not an easy creative outlet to master.

Jordan Dane comes from a long line of creative people. Here’s her answer: “My paternal grandfather was a writer for a Hispanic newspaper. My dad was an architect and artist (painter), my older brother went into architecture too, specializing in hospital design. My dad is a real renaissance guy. He could sculpt, paint, draw and he has a passion for cooking. My older brother Ed and I share a love for singing. I sang in competitive ensemble groups. He played in a popular area band and has sung in barbershop quartets. My mom was the original singer in our family. She has a great voice.”

Joe Hartlaub has two talented children. Here’s what he said, “Annalisa Hartlaub, my youngest daughter, is a photographer. My oldest son Joe is also a highly regarded bass guitar player locally.”

He’s being modest. When I checked out Annalisa’s photographs on Facebook and Instagram they blew me away. A photography project she created at 15 years old also went viral.

When I prodded further, Joe added, “My maternal grandfather played guitar, but we never knew it until we came across a picture of him taken at a large Italian social club gathering where he was strumming away. He was in his twenties at the time. As far as the source of Annalisa’s talent goes…her mother is a terrific photographer. The conclusion is that Annalisa gets the form of the art from her mother and her creativeness from me.”

Laura Benedict stunned me with her answer. “Someone doing genealogy linked my maternal grandfather’s family to Johann Sebastian Bach.”

Talk about a creative genius!

Laura added, “I remember a few very small watercolors that I believe my maternal grandmother painted. Trees and houses. But while we were close, we never talked about art. My aunt also did some drawing.”

John Gilstrap also came from a long line of creative people. Here’s his answer…

“My paternal extended family has always been fairly artistic.  My grandfather, I am told–he died long before I was born–had a beautiful singing voice, and for a period of time worked whatever the Midwest version of the Vaudeville circuit was.  My father, a career Naval aviator, wrote the Navy’s textbook, The Principles of Helicopter Flight, and had two patents on helicopter cargo handling operations.  He passed away in 2006.

My brother, four years older than I, plays a number of instruments, but his primary proficiency is the piano.  His daughter is a very accomplished cellist who makes her living as the director of a high school orchestra that consistently kills at competitions.
Closer to home, my only musical talent is to be a passable tenor in the choir.  For years, I sang with a choral group that performed all over the DC area, including a number of gigs at The Kennedy Center.  As a high schooler, our son was a pretty good cellist, but he walked away from it in college and never really looked back.”

Although I wasn’t able to catch her in time, PJ Parrish is the sister team of Kris Montee and Kelly Nichols.

As for me, my maternal grandfather was a highly regarded artist (painter) in his time. My mother was a beautiful writer, even though I never knew it while she was alive. After she passed, I discovered notebooks full of her writing. UPDATE: In 2020, two years after I wrote this post, I found out she worked as an editor for many years.

So, can creativity be passed through our DNA? Judging by this small pool of writers, I find it hard not to entertain the possibility.

I’m betting the same holds true if I expand the test subjects to include you, my beloved TKZers. How many of you have creative folks in your family tree?

Wings of Mayhem by Sue Coletta

FREE on Amazon.

When the cat burglar and the serial killer collide, HE looks forward to breaking her will, but SHE never gives up. Not ever. And especially not for him.

Writing to Save Your Life

by James Scott Bell
@jamesscottbell

We had a good discussion recently about writer obituaries, and what you might want yours to say. Several comments talked about writing for other than professional reasons. I liked what BK Jackson offered:

Above all, writing is my enjoyable escape and I want it to stay that way, regardless of volume. When I’m old, I want to be as excited about writing as I was in first or second grade when I was taught how to write my first sentence and that huge lightbulb went off in my head as I began to think about the power I would have of stringing sentences together to form stories.

Sure, most writers write in the hopes of bringing in some dough. They believe, as I do, that if you love your job you won’t work a day in your life.

Of course, by work I don’t mean the effort and toil that is required for success at anything. I mean in that colloquial sense of hating what you do. (Drew Carey: “Hate your job? There’s a group for that. It’s called everybody, and we meet at the bar.”)

I have a good friend who worked 20 years for a company where every day was a slog, and the culture chaotic. Being classically educated, he had his license plate changed to SISYPHS, a contraction of the mythological figure doomed for eternity to push a boulder up a hill, only to have it roll to the bottom again.

Not so with writers who work for love and loot.

But that’s not the only reason to write, as BK noted. Indeed, there may be a reason even more important: to save us from a nasty, brutish, and dismal existence.

We all know our culture right now is a roiling sea of hate, anger, vitriol, scorn, and mendacity—and that’s just on Twitter.

So it is a noble task, in my view, for writers to provide a few hours of entertaining escapism. Indeed, the best thrillers and mysteries offer readers a form of “fear management.” They extend the hope that things like justice and love are still possible in a dark world. Time spent in a book like that is infinitely superior to hours ranting on social media, kicking the dog, or opening a new bottle of Beam.

But the act of writing itself, for yourself, is also balm for the spirit. We all know what it’s like to write in “flow,” to get lost in a world we create and the lives of characters who begin to live and breathe on the page. We know the feeling—rare though it may be—of sitting back and thinking, “Wow, that’s a great line” or “This scene really cooks.”

When a writer experiences the joy of creation, it’s good for the spleen.

Ishmael, when he felt a “drizzly November in my soul” and the desire to go around “knocking people’s hats off,” went to sea.

Writers go to the keyboard.

Maybe you don’t have a contract with a publisher, or a huge footprint in the digital space. Write anyway. Write because it’s good for you. Write novels, short stories, flash fiction. Write essays and poetry. Write whatever strikes your fancy. Then show this work to the people you love. Share it with friends. Write for your kids and grandkids (see Hooley, Steve). Write because for a few hours every day you can escape a drizzly November of the soul.

Commenter Barry Knister put it this way recently:

I am grateful for the unignorable impulse to write. Most people never have this impulse. If they write at all, it’s forced on them by the demands of work. When I stop to think of how much writing has meant to me, what life would be like without having long ago tested positive for the writing virus, I am hugely thankful for the disease.

A lawyer named George Bernau, in the hospital after a near-fatal car accident, had a revelation. “I decided that I would continue to write as long as I lived, even if I never sold one thing, because that was what I wanted out of my life.”

So he wrote a novel, Promises to Keep, an alternative history of the JFK assassination. It got a $750,000 advance from Warner Books, a record at the time for a debut novel.

That’s not going to happen for the overwhelming majority writers, of course, especially in these risk-averse economic times.

But you can still write if that’s what you want out of your life.

Is it?

Due Dates

Leaning back in my recliner, I’m typing this post on November 25, the day after Thanksgiving 2022, as the world spins like the blurry view from a municipal park merry-go-round every time I move my head. I’m suffering another bout of vertigo.

Adding insult to injury, I ache all over with a flu virus the Bride contracted from one of the grand-critters a few days ago, before passing it on to me.

Each time I get up, I stagger like a college freshman on spring break, but thanks to the benefits of modern chemistry, I’m now able to keep my stomach from turning wrong-side out.

It’s not a great day to write, but here I am, because I have a deadline for this blog on Saturday, November 26.

I first started showing symptoms of this most recent bout of vertigo three days ago and as luck would have it, I had a newspaper column deadline to meet. Propped up in the bed up at our Lamar County cabin in Northeast Texas (five miles from the Red River and Oklahoma), I kept my eyes closed and pecked out a nine hundred-word Thanksgiving recollection from fifty years ago.

Finished, I hit send after a cursory scan and faded into a deep sleep. Far from recovered the next day, the Bride drove us home. That’s when everything in my body started aching.

Vertigo isn’t something new for me. The first time it attacked was maybe five years ago in Key West, while we were on vacation with the Gilstraps. John and I have a tendency to wreck our livers when we’re together, and early one morning I rose to find myself on the deck of a ship in high seas. Bouncing like a pinball from a wall, to a chair, and finally the bathroom, I upended the contents of my stomach and wondered how much I really drank.

Wait, I’m not in college anymore.

Flipping through mental files with one cheek on the cool toilet seat, I counted up the number of drinks I’d consumed the night before and realized the symptoms weren’t alcohol related. The Bride located a Doc-in-the-Box a mile away and I soon joined the flow of a dozen college kids reeking of booze and heading for the front door. As one, we staggered into the waiting room and the participants collapsed on the nearest horizontal surface.

In once instance, a young lady curled up in the fetal position on the floor and wept.

The tired doctor surveyed the room, took note of my age, and after a flurry of questions, escorted me into an examination room.

“Lay back on this table and turn your head to the right.”

Urk!!!”

“I thought so. You have vertigo.”

He was glad to see something besides alcohol poisoning and sever dehydration which seemed to be going around that January. After poking a handful of pills down my goozle, he gave me a prescription for dizziness and nausea and launched me back into the world where I managed to function with respectable fortitude for the remainder of our trip.

My second round of vertigo happened again nearly two years later when I was the master of ceremonies at one of the world’s largest book club conferences held by the Pulpwood Queens in Jefferson, Texas. Again, I slept flat on my back the night I arrived and the next day stumbled into the enormous hall containing 500 attendees to take the stage.

I told them up front I wasn’t drunk, though I wished I was. I played off the symptoms, and many thought the organizer, Kathy Murphy, brought in Foster Brooks’ son as the MC. I introduced a panel every hour on the hour beginning at nine that morning, then wove my way outside to sit behind the wheel of my truck and doze for fifty minutes until time for the next panel to begin.

Some of the ladies took pity on me after the second hour and poured copious amounts of coffee into this bod so I could hold up my end of the bargain over a three day period. If memory serves, and recollections are somewhat fuzzy, I ended the conference to a standing ovation.

But that might have been a hallucination.

Today I told you that, to emphasize this. If you’re going to be a writer, or become involved in any aspect thereof, you have to meet deadlines. Whether it’s a weekly newspaper column, a magazine article, a personal appearance, a Zoom panel, a conference, or the delivery date for a book, you must meet that deadline.

Show up for work. Play hurt, or don’t play at all.

Again with John Gilstrap, I wrote a newspaper column at four in the morning, riding in the backseat of an SUV, on the way to join up with a Florida SWAT team and participate in the arrest of an accused purveyor of kiddie porn. We were there to train with those fine men in blue, I had to get it written, because I was on deadline.

I’m close friends with a well-respected, successful novelist and he managed to bring in a novel after building a house, moving twice, attracting Covid, and surviving a disastrous injury to a family member. Because of his track record, his publisher granted a small deadline extension which he met, and he survived with his reputation intact.

I suspect that because that request was granted because he’s been meeting other deadlines for about twenty-five years, or more.

Writing is a business, and we can’t let the public or publishers down because of a few unanticipated obstacles.

And with that, I’m going through the required steps to post this blog, and leaving this stable chair for the rolling deck of my living room. If I make it far enough, I’m crashing again until the crystals stabilize inside my skull.

Even if I’m not completely up to snuff, I’ll write tomorrow, propped up in bed like Mark Twain with his newfangled typewriter, because I have a March 1 deadline for the second Tucker Snow novel.

That’s what I do.

Oh, and Happy Holidays to you all!

 

Reader Friday – Black Friday

Black Friday

You’ve survived Thanksgiving by kicking back in your recliner to watch the football game while you enjoyed the tryptophan-induced coma, but today it’s Friday and you have to face the mob. It’s time to battle the traffic, find a parking spot at Wally World, and push your way through the masses to get that gizmo for your child or grandchild, the one that is discounted 30%, the one everyone is fighting for, and the one you won’t be able to find for this price after today.

So…you flip on your flashing light-siren (the one Cousin Larry built for you) and race down the street as everyone pulls to the curb to get out of your way.

In the parking lot, you turn on the loud speaker in your Larry device and announce a bomb threat. “Everyone, please leave the parking lot, and remain calm.”

Inside the store, you pull out your phone and hack into the Wally World PA system to announce a special offer on aisle 13.

When you reach the gizmo, there are still three determined mamas fighting over the last one. You wouldn’t dare take them on, so you don your gas mask and deodorize the area with tear gas.

As you head for the checkout with the precious gizmo, you keep your bear spray unholstered for anyone who is foolish enough to try to jump you.

And as you drive out of Wally World’s parking lot, merrily whistling, you dream of new ideas for your next book.

So, TKZers, how do you fight the Black Friday battle? Or give us some creative ideas for surviving the war for the gizmo. After all, you write fiction.

True Crime Thursday – Thanksgiving Pie Survey

By

Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Dennis Wilkinson on Flickr

Happy Thanksgiving! 

Thanksgiving dinner without pie would be a True Crime.

So let’s take a pie poll. Which is the best: pumpkin, apple, pecan, sweet potato, mince, or something different? 

Please vote for your favorite pie and feel free to include the recipe, too! 

One of the many blessings I give thanks for is being part of the terrific Kill Zone community. 

Wishing you and yours a day filled with love, fellowship, and good food.