The Problem with Being Prolific

Once upon a time, a new comer to Bisbee, a recently appointed minister’s wife, said to one of my six sibling—a teenager a the time, “Your mother is so prolific. Doesn’t she know anything about birth control?” If the woman had had nerve enough to address that question to Evie Busk herself, she would have heard—directly from the horse’s mouth—exactly which failed form of birth control each of us was. So whenever I’m being introduced in public and someone says, I’m prolific, I know what they mean—they’re saying that I write a lot of books. They don’t mean any disrespect, and they’re not necessarily implying that I pop books out in a hasty, indiscriminate fashion. I’m sure they don’t mean to sound insulting when they say that, but I have to unload a whole bunch of emotional baggage before I can recover from the introduction enough to go on with whatever I intended to say in the first place.

But the truth is, I do write a lot of books—sixty something so far, (But who’s counting?) and all of them still in print! If you think about every book containing approximately 100,000 words, give or take, plus the ones I threw away in process, that’s a whole big bunch of words—60,000,000, and that’s not including emails or blog updates. No wonder I’ve worn the tread off all my fingers and have fingerprints that no longer scan properly as far as CLEAR fingerprint readers at airports are concerned. And sixty books means not only a lot of words but but also a vast number of characters and storylines.

Occasionally I drop a stitch. For instance, in Beaumont number 9, Payment in Kind, there’s a moment when J.P., without a word of dialogue, has a three-paragraph long thought in which he mentions not having served in Vietnam. Then Second Watch came out which is totally based on … well … the fact that he DID serve in Vietnam. It took very little time for sharp-eyed readers to begin pointing out that discrepancy. Eventually my publisher allowed me to go back and revise the offending paragraphs in Payment in Kind. In other words, in later editions of the book, that correction has been made, but in earlier copies, it’s still there—and I STILL hear about it.

In the Brady books, Marianne Maculyea and Jeff Daniels have had three kids—two adopted daughters and a son who was born after the twins arrived. For a book or so I completely forgot about poor little Jeffy, and readers brought the problem of his absence to my attention. Rest assured, he turns up in Missing and Endangered. And for a time I forgot one of Jennifer Brady’s dogs—Tigger—and had to explain later, that he had passed away off screen during one of the pauses between books. (Yes, characters do continue to grow and change between books. After all, it was between Dead to Rights and Skeleton Canyon when Joanna Brady’s widowed mother hauled off and eloped with the medical examiner!)

And for a time, in at least one book, Beau’s son-in-law, Jeremy, inexplicably morphed into Jeffrey. So yes, these problems happen, and I’m happy when readers point them out to me. I do my best not to make mistakes like that to begin with, but they do occur. One of the things that keeps me from losing heart when those errors are pointed out to me is something I learned almost fifty years ago from a friend on the reservation. Loretta Ramon Garcia Hawk was a Quinault who ended up on the Tohono O’odham, and yes—a character by that name, Loretta Hawk, did indeed appear in the most recent Beaumont book— Sins of the Fathers. Some of the character’s dialogue bits are direct quotes from the real Loretta. But on the reservation, where most artisans were focused on basketry, Loretta did beadwork. One of her beaded necklaces is on the credenza next to our front door. She told me once, “Every piece of artwork—bead work, basketry, pottery making—has to have at least one mistake in it because only the Great Spirit is perfect.” Thank you, Loretta. Those words have buoyed me up many times over the years.

So now I’m busy starting the next Ali book which has been named Unfinished Business. That means I’m having to mentally sort back through the previous fifteen Ali books as I’m constructing this story in order to keep this book consistent with previous ones. How old is everyone now. Who exactly are they? Very early on, I encountered a stumbling block. Ali is B. Simpson’s second wife, and I needed to have some information concerning his previous one, but could I find it? Nope. I remembered that at some point in their early relationship, B. and Ali had been discussing previous spouses, but where that conversation occurred and in which book eluded me. I have PDF versions of all my books on my computer, but searches for the words former wife, ex-wife, and previous wife, all came up empty. Finally I went with what I thought that missing conversation contained and moved on.

I believe most of you know that my first task assignment each morning is to answer my e-mails. I disregard the fifteen or twenty “paid advertising” offers that show up each day. Those are all no-goes. I also toss out the ones from people who want me to pay them to write blog entries for me. (That’s not going to happen, either!). But emails from my readers—those I read through and answer—every single time.

On the sixteenth of July, I received an e-mail from a relatively new reader named Donna Tipton. She said that shortly before the Covid lockdown, she had been gifted with a box containing most of my books. She’s evidently an IOR (In Order Reader). She reported that she’d had to purchase a couple missing volumes along the way but that she had read all the Beaumonts and Bradys and was now working her way through the Ali Reynolds books. And what thought went through my head right about then? “Maybe she can help me find that missing conversation.” And she did!!! Only a few hours later, Donna sent me a screen shot of a page in question. It was in Chapter Ten of Cruel Intent, and it gave me exactly the information I needed. (Thanks for the help, Donna!) My remembrance of what I’d written wasn’t exactly on the money, but I was able to build on what was said and go on with the story I’m writing now.

So I’m sitting here today with the next of my “prolific” books sitting at the twenty-percent mark. That’s critical, by the way, because the first twenty-percent of a book is always … well almost always … the most difficult part to write. But I’m very grateful that I have devoted readers. (Dare I say prolific readers?) who help keep me on the straight and narrow.

As for the Great Spirit? I don’t think He’s going to be offended, because I’m pretty sure an error or two will slip into the finished book no matter what I do.