Stepping on the Banana Peel

First off, I did not do a face plant. We’re not talking real banana peels here—we’re talking about the literary variety.

I believe I’ve mentioned the banana peel part of my writing process before, but in case there are readers who have only recently tuned in, I’m going to repeat that story.

There comes a point in the writing of every book when all the loose puzzle pieces of the story finally begin to click into place. This usually happens somewhere between sixty to seventy percent. Each book is supposed to contain in the neighborhood of 95,000 words. With that in mind, I count the words every single day. Since I’m my own boss, that’s the only way I’m able to measure my forward progress. On some days, that might amount to only part of a percentage point forward, but it’s still progress.

Once I pass the point of no return in a book, that sweet spot where it’s all downhill from there, I consider myself to be on the banana peel, and there’s some family history here. Forty years ago, when I started writing, my kids were in grade school. They understood that once I finished writing a book, we’d all go out for a celebratory dinner. Whenever they asked if I was getting close to the end, I’d tell them that I was on the banana peel or that I wasn’t. I knew what I meant, and they finally figured it out, but at the time I was essentially speaking to them in a foreign language.

Years later, when my daughter was a senior in high school, she came home one day and reported that there had been a huge food fight in the cafeteria. Later on, she saw a student step on a stray banana that had landed on a tile floor. Down he went, and suddenly what I’d been telling her about banana peels all along finally made sense.

At the time I’m writing this, I’m officially on the banana peel of Blessings of the Lost Girls. The official count on August 17 comes to 87%. Why is this worthy of mentioning in my blog? Because I officially started writing this book a mere two months and one day ago on June 16, 2022. Considering I spent a whole year—an entire 365 days—writing the last book, I think that’s pretty remarkable.

The seeds for the plot for Blessings came into my head while I was working on the other one. I did my best to let them be and allow them time to germinate. I knew this would be a Walker Family book. I knew it would deal with murdered and missing indigenous women. As for the title? I had no idea. And that’s exactly where things stood on June 16th.

I met Bill just before the first Beaumont book was published in 1985, and he’s been my “beta reader” ever since. He’s a retired electronics engineer, but he’s currently serving as my literary engineer. Engineers fix things that don’t work. Their job is to get them working. Through the years he’s helped me sort out the sticky details on one book after another. He’s given me lessons on the physics of car wrecks and force-fed me scientific material on artificial intelligence. I was struggling with the ending of an Ali book, Deadly Stakes, I believe. No matter how much I worried the problem, I just couldn’t sort it. Finally, I asked him to read the manuscript up to the point where it had run aground and tell me how to fix it. When he finished his read through, he turned to me and said, “Why don’t you do it the easy way?” And that little push is all it took. I followed his sage advice and hit the easy button. That was a number of years and a number of books ago.

Now back to June 16, 2022. I had spent several days and an equal number of sleepless nights trying to come up with a suitable title. On Walker Family books, the titles have a particular cadence. And they tend to be slightly contradictory. Bees don’t generally kiss anything, but the title Kiss of the Bees works. Bones are scary, especially when they’re dead, but Dance of the Bones works, too.

Bill thought about the problem for a good five minutes and then he said, “How about Blessings of the Lost Girls? Bingo! So let’s hear it for literary engineers—especially one literary engineer in particular. I think I actually started writing the prologue of the book later on the night he named the new baby.

The crashing climax of Blessings will occur in the next chapter, and it was challenging to step away from the story today long enough to write my blog. But tomorrow’s another day, and my personal banana peel awaits, but whatever goes into that chapter will no doubt be better than it would be had I written it today because I’ve had an extra set of 10,000 walking steps in which to think about it.

25 thoughts on “Stepping on the Banana Peel

  1. I love your books and I love your blogs. It is always interesting to read about the various steps you take in your writing process leading up to the banana peel. I believe the first blog I read was the one you are referring to today. I found it most interesting that 400 pages made the thickness of a book so they would fit into a box with four across,
    Something I wonder about is how you name the characters in your books. And does the name have to fit a particular person. I am sometimes bothered when two names are nearly alike. One of the authors I read has a Casandra and a Camille in the series. I mix them up.
    Do you have a system for naming your characters?

    • I’ve always wondered about Marliss. Savannah, your post inspired me to google that name and discover that it is not unique, just very rare. I suspect there was an annoying Marliss in Judy Jance’s past somewhere.

  2. Been saying for some time we needed a new Walker Family book and look how easy it has been to write. Bill is right easy is the way to go.

    • I know one, but she spells her name Marlys. But yes, there is a model for that character in my distant past, but she has a different name.

      • So, good people get their real, or similar names, like Jeff and MaryAnn, but the troublesome ones get pseudonyms. Probably a very good idea!

  3. Blessings to Bill for the title, and blessings to you for your talent…looking forward to the next Walker book!

  4. Just finished Nothing To Lose in the wee small hours of the morning. It was just like getting to reconnect with an old friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Thank you.

  5. I can’t wait to read Blessings!

    I’m curious to see how you handle your storyline as it compares to the recent headlines on how law enforcement has been putting missing indigenous women as far back on back burners as they can put them.

    Sorry for the cynicism, but isn’t that the sorry truth for women in general?

    • Yes, the horrid numbers for missing women is a sorry truth. But the numbers in ALL the indigenous peoples is sky high.. Since most victims are of childbearing age, a whole generation is being lost in many areas.

  6. Two books to look forward to! I was going to say can’t wait but I guess I’ll have too.

  7. I simply love you! I love trivia and even tho the banana peel is not trivial – quite the opposite – it is a fascinating bit of literary trivia. Thank you.

  8. Judy,
    I read a sentence in your blog and I think to myself that I must comment on that. Then I read another sentence or two and I know I must comment on that. So, just to summarize, I love that you let us know some books are written much quicker than others and Bill is always right there to get you on track or to help you finish. What a team you two are!
    Janice Molina

  9. I am so excited that there is a new Walker Family book coming! I have always felt that there is more for this series. I love all of your books, but I have my favorites, for different reasons. Am really looking forward to the release of this new book. great name by the way, Good job Bill

    • At some point Judy explained this. In order to fit correctly in boxes to ship to book stores without getting damaged, books need to be about that many words. I hope my memory is somewhat near correct.

      • Yes–fitting inside the standard shipping box is what dictates the length. The actual number is 100,000. By aiming for 95,000 I keep inside the 100,000 mark.

        • One author I read must never fit those shipping boxes. His books are between 500-600 pages, or more. Interesting to know the length vs. shipping….
          Do you ever feel your stories should continue longer than that length? And if so, do you just write a follow up book? Or Novella? Or?

          I do so love every series you’ve written, and have been especially delighted when the characters cross over into other storylines. I dread the day when JP Beaumont is no more. And enjoy reflecting back on the early books, pre-cell hones, when he’d run into this place or that to use the phone. Or have to flag a taxi down to follow someone. Most amusing in a post analog world. I’ve read most of his series twice through.
          Please keep writing as long as you can. I am always inspired.

  10. There goes my idea that engineers cannot be creative! You started out both as an
    excellent insurance Sales- person, along with a Masters in Library Science!
    You and Bill are both multi-talented-
    Having just read both Cruel Intent and Fatal Error, I wonder where all your Internet knowledge comes from! Could it be partially derived From Bill?
    In any case, you haves shown us readers that the book required that old saying, “Two heads are better than one!”

  11. Currently reading book my 31st book by you. Im finding the others are hard to come by. Ive enjoyed them all.

    • All of my books are still in print in paperback and ebook form. You should be able to order them through your local bookstore.

  12. I can’t wait for the new Walker book. Big thanks to Bill for being the behind the scene very important part of your creative genius.

  13. I love your writing J.A. it leaves me wanting more and more. Thank you for being the writer that you are.

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