Paddling Like Crazy

I don’t remember the first time I saw ducks gliding along on the water. It was probably at the family farm in South Dakota when I was a girl. What I do remember how calm and serene they seemed, and boy did I envy them. What I did know then and what I do know now is that underneath the surface of the water, they’re paddling like crazy.

I think it’s safe to say that I’m going a bit nuts this week. People often ask if I work on more than one book at a time. I’m sure they imagine me with three computers lined up in a row with an in-process, partially completed book on each one and with me dashing madly from one keyboard to another. Believe me, that’s not how it works, and that really would drive me crazy.

I do work on more than one book at a time, but they’re usually at different points in production, as in writing one, editing another, and promoting a third. This time around, thanks to pandemic-caused changes in publication dates, I finished writing the next Beaumont book, Nothing to Lose, the day before the latest Ali Reynolds, Unfinished Business, went on sale.

When I say the words “finished the book,” that means I’ve finished telling the story. I now know who did it, how come, and whether the bad guy is going to get what he deserves, but trust me, that’s only the beginning. That very day the manuscript went to my three Beta readers. Because much of the book takes place in wintertime Alaska, one of those readers was a long time Alaskan judge who read specifically for Alaska missteps. For instance the University of Alaska at Anchorage is referred to as UAA not U of AA. And someone brand new to Alaska is referred to as a Cheechako. And if you’re from Alaska, anything outside Alaska is called Outside. I really appreciated having someone set me straight on those issues and others as well.

The other two readers, my intrepid agent and my long-suffering husband, checked the manuscript for grammar, misspelled words, (Yes, Siri is spelled with two I’s not an E and an I as in Seri.) and words I meant to use which my autocorrect helpfully substituted words I didn’t mean to use. She (Yes, I’m convinced Autocorrect is FEMALE!) helpfully changed DOZE for DOSE and RACHEL for SATCHEL. Bill is always on the lookout for technological and continuity issues. Alice is on guard (Auto correct just changed ON GUARD to ON BOARD. See what I mean about her?) for misused idioms, errors in grammar, and garbled constructions.

So this week, while I’ve been doing one virtual event after another, I’ve also been working on those final edits. The Alaska-specific ones went into the manuscript first. Now I’m doing the others, and here’s how that happens. I read through each chapter, word for word. Then I go through that chapter installing Alice’s edits. Next I go through the same chapter installing Bill’s. Sometimes we all hit on the same error, but most of the time we each land on different ones. It is a slow, detailed process that requires absolute concentration.

While do that, I have to stay inside the story as well. I have to remember what conversations went before to make sure I haven’t written something into the book that the character doesn’t actually learn until later. I have to make sure all the birthdates and personal histories add up. I also have to be consistent and not say something at the end of the book that contradicts something said earlier. Oh, and I have to watch out for the bane of my existence—echoes. In the publishing worlds that means using the same word or phrase too many times in close proximity. Sometimes I go off on an actually binge or maybe unfortunately. In other words, editing means paying attention to all kinds of details.

In the meantime I’ve been doing one virtual event after another while the rest of my life goes on—like cooking dinner, for instance. Last weekend two days that I originally thought would be devoted to editing, ended up being taken up with a family wedding, and happily so. After the year we’ve all had, being able to celebrate an occasion when we could all gather as a family was a real blessing. But the whole time, the unedited manuscript was sitting here ticking away like a time bomb. It was supposed to be in my editor’s hands today, Wednesday. It’s not. I’m working on Chapter 27. There are forty chapters all told. I did five chapters today and one virtual event. I have another virtual event tomorrow and one the next day. I may be able to finish the editing by Friday, end of day, but then again, maybe not.

In the meantime, (See what I mean about echoes? I’m leaving that as a visible example!) while I’m totally immersed in editing the next Beau book, I’m supposed to be TALKING about the new Ali. The problem is, at times I worry that people if I even wrote the new book when I have to think for a very long time before I can answer a question about Unfinished Business. This week, a fan wrote to say she had really enjoyed the new book and was glad “those little kids are in a happy safe environment.” That one stopped me cold. I was mystified. What little kids? I wondered. Then I realized, she was talking about my OTHER new book, Missing and Endangered which came out in March.

Even so I’ve still been getting my steps. I have the first hundred thousand on my next million, so there’s that.

All right, my friends, next March, when Nothing to Lose goes on sale, if you happen to be one of my SERs—a sharp-eyed reader, one of those people who are compelled to report typos, please—should you happen to come across one of those while reading the book, believe me, it’s not for lack of trying.

And the next time you see me doing a virtual event, seated in front of Sedona landscape artist M.L Coleman’s lovely oil painting of Tuscany, I may look calm and serene as all get out, but believe me, on the far side of that painting, I’m paddling as fast as I can.