New Year’s Eve

I usually write this blog on Wednesdays. This week that would be New Year’s Day, so I’m writing in on New Year’s Eve instead. Now that the fog has lifted it’s a bright and sunny day outside. In fact, there’s a ray of sunshine zeroing in on me through the clerestory window, and the glare is about to send me in search of my long unused golf visor. But there’s a reason I’m writing this today. Tomorrow I have to go back to Beaumont.

Let’s just say that my great start on Sins of the Fathers has turned into an interrupted melody. A serious health issue on Bill’s part meant that the very best Christmas present of all was having him by my side on Christmas morning. Due to HIPAA protections and good taste, I’ll spare my readers (and Bill) the gory details, but let’s be clear. It was a serious, life threatening situation, and I could very well have lost him. So hat’s off to an excellent doctor—Thank you, Dr. Garrison Bliss! (Did I ever mention that when I first came to Seattle in the early eighties, Garrison who has been our personal physician for a quarter of a century was one of my first insurance clients? What goes around, comes around and, in this case, in a very good way!)

So I, for one, am very glad to see the end of December and the end of 2018. The kids all came for Christmas, and that was fun. And this year, instead of having our decorator do the decorations, the kids showed up the Saturday after Thanksgiving and did the job in a single day. Fortunately they’ve learned at Jim Hunt’s knee and when he came to check out their work, his comment was that we’d done was fine, and the house wasn’t nearly as “forlorn” as he’d hoped it would be without him.

Bill is the one who usually handles all the wrapping. This time it was on me. (Do I ever love gift bags!) And the meal planning for our family gathering Lil Jul Aften, was on me as well. (Did I mention that when Bill isn’t ailing, he’s the one who usually handles the cooking? And if he had corked off, I never would have been able to figure out how to get back to Netflix or Amazon Prime. I may write fiction that verges on SciFi, but believe me, but in my natural state, I’m barely clicker literate.)

Yesterday, finally, we finished the rest of the leftovers. The last of the batches of company have come and gone. (Yes, we’re delighted they all came, but there’s a lot of laundry still lurking in the upstairs bedrooms.)

This past year, with my shoulder ailing, I discovered that being creative while dealing with chronic pain is just not doable. I think I struggled with writing The A List more than any book I’ve ever written. Most of the time, once a book hits 60%, I’m on what I call the “banana peel” and the book practically finishes itself. This time, the book came to a screeching halt at 70% and wouldn’t move forward.

One of the things Bill and I could do together this holiday season was watch TV, and one of my favorites was watching The Man Who Invented Christmas on Amazon Prime. It’s the story of Charles Dickens who, when faced with financial ruin, sat down and wrote A Christmas Carol in six short weeks, starting in October. What I loved about the movie is that it’s a lesson in writing—it’s all about Charles Dickens going about his life and picking up little bits and pieces of character and experience that go into the book. That’s how it works, and it’s how I do it, too. The customer I saw having a real estate appointment in a Denny’s years ago with an agent and a newly acquired wife. She was there to find a new house—a high-priced spread in every way. He knew how much money he made and how much he owed in child support and alimony. There was no way the proposed mortgage was going to fly. As I watched the story unfolding from two booths away, he had no idea that his whole dilemma was there for all to see. I immediately went home and turned him into a cop in Eastern Washington, and he had no idea about that, either.

When I’m deeply engrossed in a book, the characters start interacting with me and adding their two cents’ worth of opinion into the creation of the story. The Man Who Invented Christmas suggested that Charles Dickens’s characters did the same thing to him. In the movies his collection of characters form themselves into a kind of Greek chorus, appearing in unexpected places and ganging up on him, telling him in no uncertain terms that Tiny Tim shouldn’t die. If you’ve read the story or seen the movie or play, you know who comes out on top on that score!

The thing is, that depiction of the process of writing was an all too real representation of what had just happened to me in writing The A List. I hit the 70% mark with a horrific automobile wreck in which one of the characters died, and as soon as that happened, the book stopped cold—dead in the water! I went back to the beginning of the story and worked my way back to that same critical point in the plot. As soon as I got there, the same thing happened again. No go. So I went through the manuscript yet a third time, only this time—after three months of physical struggle—my frozen shoulder had finally thawed. This time once I reached the car wreck, I was able to make the most difficult correction a writer ever has to make—I CHANGED MY MIND! As I write these words, I’m hearing my mother’s voice saying, “A wise man changes his mind. A fool never does.”

I won’t mention the character’s name, but I’m here to tell you, her time wasn’t up and she just flat wasn’t ready to cork off. I went back through the jaws of life scene. Instead of being loaded into a coroner’s van, the victim was hustled into a waiting ambulance which hauled her off to the nearest emergency room. Within a matter of days, the book was finished and off to the publisher. And spoiler alert or no, I’m here to tell you that in the final pages of the book, that stubborn character who refused to die ends up having the last laugh.

So why am I writing this today? I’m someone who’s finally managed the art of learning from my mistakes. When Sins of the Fathers stopped cold at 15% I tried to convince myself that it was all because of the disruptions that were going on in the world around me—Bill’s health crisis; getting ready for the holidays; having a houseful of company. But the truth is, it was really a matter of what was happening in the book. What I had written in that last scene was, to quote one of my book titles, DEAD WRONG!

So I’m changing my mind early this time out. The character I had just written will probably be moved to a different part of the book. I thought she was a good guy. Maybe she’s not. I’ll figure that out later. But for right now, another character, one that showed up in my head when I opened my eyes this morning, is hanging around and giving me HER version of events, and it’s time for me to pay attention.

Yes, tomorrow is New Year’s Day. It’s a holiday. There’ll be a Rose Bowl Parade and the Huskies will be playing, but I’m guessing I’ll be working instead of watching because, as a writer, you don’t get paid holidays off—not when the damned characters are keeping you awake at night.

Happy New Year, everybody, and Happy Reading, too.

28 thoughts on “New Year’s Eve

  1. Interesting read. A bit confused, though. Wednesday, January 2nd, was the day after New Year’s, not New Years.

    Wishing the best for 2019 to both you and Bill!

  2. I’m so glad to hear Bill is recovering. Good luck with your new book, all of your readers will be looking forward to it. Happy New Year from a long-time reader.

  3. Love your blog, and love your books! Thank you for the entertainment and the inspiration! So thankful your hubby’s better now and prayers for his continued recovery!

  4. So really happy that Bill is well now. Sounds like you had a horrible scare. Hope you can feel big hugs from me & Frank. Looking forward to seeing you & Bill at the next Tucson signing. Happy New Year!

  5. Thank you for this blog. I’ve had a “STOP” moment on the book I am writing and it’s been killing me that I can’t get past my block. I normally write suspense, but had a moment of reel-to-reel that has me writing a love story…so out of my wheelhouse. I’m going to let the ball fall where it does and see how my amnesia patient starts remembering…we shall see. Regardless, thanks for always providing the words of encouragement, wisdom, experience, and true life…you are my inspiration.

  6. Yea! for good doctors. Bill being in better shape since walking and losing weight probably factored in to him beating this health crisis or at least delaying its onset. Doing the happy dance for both of you. Keep those wrist bracelets deflecting those bullets!

  7. Thanks be to God for Bill’s recovery! Went through something similar with my husband where I thought for sure he was going to die…we are both blessed.
    Love and prayers to you and Bill.
    Ted & Valerie

  8. Happy your husband is ok, and its hard on you too, I’ve been there.
    I’m looking forward to a new book too so let us know when we can expect it.
    Thanks for your entertaining blog.

  9. I can say that all your friends and fans are so great full that Bill has come thru his health issues with flying colors and lots of love.
    I remember after our auto accident and not knowing if my love has lived or died was the most life changing moment .Our whole attitude toward life has changed along with out physical conditions. We now know what the ADA is all about.
    Have a wonderful Week take good. Are of yourselves. See you next week

  10. So very glad that Bill is getting better and that you are okay too. Love to read how your books write themselves, sort of, and must say that you are indeed a “wise person, not a fool” like your mother said.

  11. Hi J.A. WendyK here ,{former University Bookstore Tacoma Employee}
    A.k.a. your event coordinator for said location & my gosh I miss those signings.
    I love your updates. The last year (2018) well so glad it’s over. I look foward to your new book (s).
    I wish great health for you & Bill this year. 2019 for sure is your new blank page waiting.

  12. Bill, PLEASE stay well and strong. We readers need you to continue writing the checks while JA writes the books we love to read. (PS our local Los Angeles station stopped televising the Rose Parade just about the time that the heavy-duty tow truck was able to hook up to the smoking float–an unusual and quite abrupt end to our traditional viewing!) Welcome to 2019!

  13. I sincerely hope Bill is well on his way to the mend by the time you read this.
    Happiest and Healthiest of New Years to You & Yours

  14. I am so glad that Bill is o.k. and you were able to enjoy Christmas which BTW was on a Tuesday. Can not wait for another Beau story!

  15. I love that term “calendar challenged”. Grandchildren say the greatest things.

    I’m sorry that Bill gave you a scare, but am glad he is doing ok now. I guess it is part of life.

    I hope to see Beau out soon. My daughter brought me 12 Ruth Rendell paperbacks from the library which are not really Christmas reading, but they are good examples of paperbacks. Easy to read in bed.

  16. I love your blog! I always look forward to it! L Glad to hear that your husband is on the road of recovery! Sounds like it was pretty scarey. I can’t wait for your next book on Beaumont. I have read all your books on him and I am starting to re-read them. Since I am from the Seattle area all my life I sure can relate from your books. You are an amazing author!

  17. So happy Bill recovered and continues the journey of life with you. Thank you for the newsy blog and for the books that provide hours of entertainment and new “friends”. We have been blessed by your talent. I look forward to many more Beaumont experiences.

  18. I just finished the A List and GoodReads directed me to your blog. I love both the book and the blog! I was also surprised when that character survived the car accident but I see where it helped the story. Health scares like the one Bil had are definitely reminders to “count your blessings”. I hope 2019 is a wonderful year for you borth.

  19. My characters always end up having a say in the story. It’s frustrating at times, but also fun!

    Was that Denny’s in Spokane? LOL

    Glad you husband is feeling better! Hope 2019 is a good year for all of us. 🙂

  20. I just finished reading “Hand of Evil”. Loved it! So glad I am retired as I could not put it down. I don’t usually afford myself the luxury of doing this -but why not? I also graduated high school in 1962, married a man who drank, divorced and sold life insurance. My husband of 21 years, discovered 20 years ago that he has only one working kidney, but he is doing fine with the other one. We, however, have 2 cats.
    I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series.

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