A Lifetime of Writing

Last week a fan/friend in Grand Junction, Colorado, sent me the obituary of and a sample column from a long time writer for the city’s Daily Sentinel. Henrietta Hay died this past July at age 106. What struck me about that is that she and my mother, Evie, were born in the same year—1914.

My mother never went beyond seventh grade in school. Henrietta was a college graduate. My mother was strictly a spectator when it came to sports. Henrietta was a championship tennis player in college but wasn’t awarded her sports letter from the University of Colorado until some sixty years after graduation. My mother was a stay at home wife and mother. Henrietta was a writer, a broadcaster, a librarian, and a mother. What the two of them clearly had in common, however, was incredible amounts of common sense.

So I enjoyed reading Henrietta’s obituary and learning about her life, but I enjoyed the accompanying article even more because it was all about writing. She tells how, in writing a weekly column for more than forty years, she learned that it takes a lifetime’s worth of living to write each and every one, and it occurs to me that it takes the same thing to write a book.

In the column, Henrietta mentioned that one of her favorite writers was Sue Grafton, and she imagined that every night when Sue Grafton went to sleep, she shared her bed with Kinsey Milhone and her many fellow characters.

Boy did that one hit home! Because it happened to me just last night as a matter of fact. I’m currently at work on the next Ali book, Unfinished Business, and am, as of today, 37.9% done. (How do I know that? I keep track of the word count every day. Each book is supposed to be at least 95,000 words long, so that’s my goal. In the end, I may be slightly over, but by keeping track on a daily basis, I always know where I am in the process.)

Last night, when I went to bed, Bill was there and so were our two dachshunds, JoJo and Mary. (Do you have any idea how much space a pair doxies can take up in a king-sized bed?) But it turns out, I brought two characters from Unfinished Business to bed with me as well, and the pair of them managed to keep me awake for hours on end. One is a guy who just spent sixteen years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit, while the other is walking around free as a bird forty years after getting away with murder.

And where are these two characters going to intersect? At High Noon Enterprises in Cottonwood, Arizona, of course. How exactly will they interact with Ali Reynolds? Beats me. What’s going to happen? I have no idea. By now you’re probably scratching your heads and wondering, “If she’s more than a third of the way through writing a book, how’s it possible that she doesn’t know what’s going to happen?”

The answer to that is easy. In a lifetime’s worth of writing, I have ALWAYS HATED OUTLINING!! If I knew what was going to happen in any given book, why in the world would I ever finish writing it? I write for the same reason people read—to find out what happens.

It’s the same way with this blog—I write to find out where it’s going. If these essays were published in a newspaper, I suppose they would qualify as columns, but a rose by any other name is still a rose. Blog or column, the end result is the same.

When I sat down to write this an hour or so ago, I had no idea about where the piece was going to go, but in the course of writing it, I found my way. In doing so, I also made use of my own lifetime’s worth of experience and of Henrietta Hay’s as well.

I think she’d be proud of me.

And my mother, Evie, would be, too.