Saturday, April 28, 2012

What, finish a novel? How can I focus with Facebook, YouTube and the guy with the exploding meth lab in his pants?

When I was a newspaper reporter, I wrote very fast. I didn't have a choice. As one of my cranky editors used to tell me, "This page is going out at 8, and it can't go out blank."

(He also had a habit of coming up behind me every 10 minutes, rubbing his hands together and saying in a fake-happy voice, "How's it coming, Majeske??" It was very motivating.)

So you would think that writing fast would be drilled into my DNA. But for some reason, I'm down for the word count - quite literally.

It feels like it's taking me a long time to move forward on my current work-in-progress. Every week, it seems, it's two steps forward and one step back. Oh sure, I've changed the plotline a couple of times and replaced some good ideas with what I think are better ones. I've even added a few red herrings.

But the real slowdown?  I think I have to blame that on my friends and family. Yes, that's right. They're just too interesting - far too distracting. And Facebook? It's deadly. I mean, I have friends who post news articles about criminals who have portable meth labs blowing up in their pants, and a few who send me multiple photos from their latest shopping excursions. Others send me comics, clips from YouTube, new sites to check out and new titles I should be reading. Somebody signed me up for Pinterest.

Seriously? My concentration level can't compete with that. I'm doomed. I obviously need to go away for a week (or two) in a remote cabin with no WiFi.

Or maybe I'll just call my old editor and have him yell at me for awhile. It might be good for both of us.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

If you don't use the correct words, no one will take you seriously ... for all "intensive purposes," at least

A long time ago, at a newspaper far, far away, a manager decided to try an experiment.

When my section editor left for another job, the boss decided to hire someone from a non-traditional field to fill her spot. You know - not a journalist, not a word person.

"Let's get someone who thinks differently," he said to the other managers. "Let's shake things up."

He found someone with an advanced degree from a top film school with a lot of interesting ideas. His idea could have been a good one. Only the new editor didn't quite have a keen grasp of the English language.

For example:

"We just need to conversate (converse) and we'll get along, " the new guy told the team.

"Good idea," he told me one day. "It's passed mustard (passed muster) with the boss."

And my favorite: ..."For all intensive purposes, (intents and purposes) this project is done."

I guess I'd never realized before how incredibly important the right words can be. But now I'm hyper-vigilant. I know the mayor is "eager" to return to his job - not "anxious." I know there's been a "slaying" downtown - not a "murder" (at least not yet).

I also know now there are experiments, procedures and um, failed attempts. And I've realized that if you're not using the correct words, it doesn't matter how many degrees you have. No one will listen to anything you say - or write.

Monday, April 2, 2012

You have the right to remain silent ... don't you?

I thought writing mysteries would be a piece of cake. I mean, all you need is a good guy, a bad guy and an intriguing puzzle, right? Oh, and a motive and a few red herrings. And of course, some basic knowledge of the criminal justice system.

Wait, wait, wait - what was that last one? Yep, that's right. I mean, when exactly should that villain be arrested? Or that good guy who's being framed -  how long, exactly, can you keep him at home before he should logically be sitting in the county jail?

Those are just a few of the unexpected questions I've run up against writing my latest mystery. Because - confession time - I'm not a criminal. I've never even gotten a parking ticket. Well, one time, I parallel parked really badly and someone left a note on my windshield that showed a cartoon Mickey Mouse flipping me off, but I don't think that counts. So when it came to writing about arraignments and bail and murder charges, I was a little lost.

I wanted a main character to have evidence against him, but not too much evidence. I wanted things to look bad - but not too bad. I was wading in pretty deep.

Luckily, I have friends and relatives who are attorneys. I have an author friend who took pity on me and sent me a Police Enforcement Code book. And I've been reading articles like "How the Wheels of Justice Turn" and doing lots of research.

It's been slowing things down a bit, but I don't mind. It's helping the plot immensely, and besides, I feel like Columbo. But you know, there's just one more thing . . .