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.

26 thoughts on “Paddling Like Crazy

  1. I am now exhausted just reading everything you do. How you manage it all I can’t even imagine. But, thank you from yout faithful readers for managing .

  2. Thank you for your detailed description of your editing process.
    I am in the process of editing my memoir before sending it to the publisher and find it tedious – albeit critical.

    In fact, I find it so tedious, I can only work on it so much each day. Unlike you, I do not have a deadline to meet, and also unlike you, I do not have all the other interruptions.

    I was grumping to myself on how boring this stage in writing is and how fiction writers have it much better, until I read your post.

  3. Now after reading today’s blog, I truly understand how complicated a writer’s life can be! You are very much appreciated!

  4. Thank you sincerely for sharing your wonderful skill of writing! Loved Ali’s new book, and the suspense of Cami…whew, that was a very late night of reading.
    The schedule you share sounds exhausting, and it does help us all understand the time consuming steps to completion. As we say I Tennessee, “ Bless your Heart!”
    Keep up the fantastic work for all of we dedicated readers. Thank you again.

  5. As a prescriptivist (one who has a preference for the use of good, proper grammar in all forms), I was really pleased by your detailed description of the editing process. Having your books well-edited is a blessing to your readers. Other books have a built-in “gotcha” but never with yours.

  6. Whenever I see you have a new blog, I’m always amazed that ANOTHER week has passed and I’ve accomplished nothing compared to YOU! Thank you for explaining all the work that goes into each book. I will doubly appreciate what I’m reading next book!

  7. I just finished unfinished Business Really good!!!!! Looking forward to your Next Book starring J.P. Beaumont..

  8. Thank you for letting us know what all is involved after writing a book. It sounds like an exhausting process. I agree that Autocorrect is a female—a crabby one at that.

    Thanks for posting the name of the artist of the painting that shows in your video. I was going to write you about it.

    Has the heron returned?

  9. I agree, autocorrect is a PIA!
    If every author would do such due diligence there would be a lot fewer complaints in reviews.

  10. I think it is time for you and Bill, and maybe the rest of your family, to take another trip/cruise together. Take care of yourself.

  11. Just want to thank you for putting in all that work into your books for all to enjoy.

    I always don’t want to stop reading when I’ve an appointment or bedtime, but some times it’s better to take a break let it all soak in. This helps you remember what has happened & not have to look back for an answer when you begin again.

    I recommend all your books to my friends.

  12. I live by a lot of water, so hence a lot of ducks! I do like to watch them swim around and never really thought about how much they must be paddling! I am so lazy, compared to you and the ducks as well. I find every one of your blogs inspiring. I’m retired and have very little on my agenda. However, today I will go walk along the river and see how many steps I can manage while I watch the ducks paddle by! ?

  13. From one who benefits from all your paddling.

    Thanks for all the entertainment

  14. One of the (many) great pleasures of a new JA Jance is the lovely lucid writing – I was pointing out to a fellow mystery fan who has never read one of your books (how does this even happen?) that there is never that grating feeling of hitting a mis-used word or phrase that happens too frequently with some authors. I also appreciate the way you use chapters narrated by different characters speaking in their own “voice” to develop their personalities and move the story along. “Missing and Endangered” seems like an especially good example of that technique.

    Your paddling is appreciate!


  15. I just finished “Unfinished Business” and thoroughly enjoyed all the excitement.
    I was a bit apprehensive when you mentioned Ali’s father having Dementia because my husband also has it and was hoping for not too much detail to the illness and
    it was ok. It effects everyone different and I have to remember to take it a day at a time..
    Looking forward to your next book with J. P. Beaumont.
    I always enjoy your blog and amazed how you can do so many tasks and still write books.

  16. Appreciate the duck paddle! Just started your new Ali book last night. Already I am 1/3 through. Just so you know, there are not many authors that I will stay up until midnight reading. Really liking Mateo so far, not a slacker! Oh poor me is not his mindset.

  17. Echoes — who knew there was a term for it?!! Before I retired I worked for an insurance agent and many of our dictated letters were form letters: eg. a personalized paragraph or two and include paragraphs 3,5, 7. 9 and 11. Some of those paragraphs started the same way, for instance: Please note… You will notice… etc. Always had to check for the “echoes” (lovely word!!) and change one of them. Saved me having to retype the letters when the agent read over the letters.

  18. Yes, my spell check is helpful too. Always changes covid to either civic or vivid. It takes turns. Also changes my dog’s name from Rosco to Disco. Lots of other examples. Some amusing. I’ve read all your published books. I’ve recently started listening to audio books while knitting. So I’ve decided to start at the beginning of the Ali Reynolds books and listen to them. Just finished #3. Listening to a book is a different experience than reading it.

  19. Just picked up Unfinished Business and can’t wait to get started on it. After today’s blog, I know why I am a reader and not the writer, among other reasons.
    Know you and your work are appreciated.

  20. I look forward to attending your event at the Everett Library in Everett, WA. I will be thinking of this blog as I watch you. Looking forward to it.

  21. I read a book recently where a Honda auto turned into a Mazda halfway through the book. I wrote to the author and she said it was always a Mazda. I sent her pages numbers where it was a Honda. She never replied.

    Thanks Judy, for not being like her. I appreciate your editing!

  22. Judy,
    All of the other remarks are exactly what I am thinking. I am exhausted just reading about a day in your life! I want you to keep paddling, yet the suggestion that you & Bill take a vacation/cruise sounds like a great idea. Do take care of yourself. We all want to be reading your works for a long time ahead.

  23. I just finished UNFINISHED BUSINESS with Ali Reynolds. I loved it and halfway through I was already somewhat dreading that I would finish it within a few days and once again have to search for something good to read that would be at least close to as good as all your books, as I’ve actually read them ALL. I’d say it was one of your best so far but they all measure up to THE BEST of most books I’ve read, and I’ve read hundreds. Thanks again for yet another edge of your seat, outstanding story.

  24. Wow! I had no idea all that was involved in being an author. You are very inspiring! I can understand some days you may feel you aren’t accomplishing anything, but you truly are! Your readers greatly appreciate all you efforts.
    I have been reading your books for some time now and they are still as good as ever.
    Thank you for sharing and allowing your readers a glimpse into your life.

  25. Can’t wait to read the new book placed in Alaska as that is where I’m from. Not only do alaskans refer to other states as outside, they are also refer to them as the lower 48.

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