For most of my life, from fourth grade on, I’ve been a two-newspaper-a-day girl, morning and afternoon. In Bisbee it was the Bisbee Daily Review and the Douglas Dispatch. In Tucson it was the Arizona Daily Star and theTucson Citizen. In Phoenix it was the Arizona Republic and the Phoenix Gazette. In Seattle it was the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and the The Seattle Times.
And through all those years, my must reads were always the ‘agony aunts,’ Dear Abby and Ann Landers. Ann Landers and Abigail van Buren were twin sisters whose sparring advice columns battled it out in newspaper all over the country for decades. For some reason Dear Abby always appeared in the morning papers and Ann Landers in the afternoon.
My newspaper reading gradually went away over the past several years as the Seattle P-I vanished and The Seattle Times became a shadow of its former self. I scroll through it now on line, but there’s not much there and the same articles seem to appear over and over.
As for my collection of current advice columns? I read those on line too, but here’s the problem, in order to read through them, I have to close a minimum of two and maybe three or four ads in order to arrive at the content I want to read.
You may have noticed that, when you come to my website, there aren’t ANY ads. Ditto for my blog. No advertisements for dental implants pop up in the middle of what you’re reading. I’ve made no effort to monetize those, because writing the blog is a labor of love.
I write the blog on Tuesday or Wednesday. Then, when it comes out on Friday, I read the comments, both on the website edition and on Facebook. I may not reply to the comments, but I read them all. During the Pandemic lockdown, reading those comments was a lifeline for me, a weekly validation that my work as a writer still mattered. And those comments are what my husband calls my “psychological income.”
Last week’s blog was all about the importance of keeping track of my progress while writing a book. Last week I was at 57%. Right now I’m at 65%. (By the inch it’s a cinch. By the yard it’s hard.) I know who the killer is, but at this point I still don’t know exactly how Beau will bring that individual to justice.
But last week one of my regular blog correspondents asked if I ever had reached a certain point in a book and then been forced to throw it away? The answer to that question is yes, but first allow me to introduce you to someone who has been an integral part of my writing career, Bill Schilb, my literary engineer.
Bill’s a retired double E—an Electronics Engineer. In 1968, while he was working for Motorola in Chicago, they brought him a brick-sized piece of balsa wood, told him that would be the shape of the first cell phone, and to build the radio equipment necessary for it to work inside that size and shape. Bill and his team did exactly that—without benefit of integrated circuits, and Motorola’s brick-shaped phone finally went on sale to the public in 1986.
The thing about engineers is this: THEY FIX THINGS THAT ARE BROKEN! I was working on the banana peel of Beaumont # 5, Improbable Cause, when the ending stalled out on me. That’s when I ran up the flag to my personal LE, my Literary Engineer. He read what I had written, handed it back to me and said, “This reads like a Seattle P-I news article. You need to put the characters back into it.” I wasn’t happy about that verdict, but I read back through the manuscript and realized he was right. As soon as I noticed that Big Al Lindstrom’s feet hurt as he walked around the Woodland Park Zoo, I was back in the saddle again.
Years later, while working on an Ali book, Moving Target, the story once again stalled out about the time the crashing climax should have started. Once again I asked Bill for help. After reading the story, he said, “Why don’t you do it the easy way?” That’s it—that’s all he said, and so I did. I finished the book the easy way, and if you want to know what that is, you’ll just have to reread it.
But now we come to Collateral Damage, and that was a whole other kettle of fish. That book, which took a whole year to write, stalled out from the get-go. It crawled along, inched along, oozed along, driving me nuts in the process. At last, when I had written what should have been a third of the book, I handed it over to Bill and asked him to tell me what was wrong. He had it for what seemed like a very long time before he finally gave it back to me saying, “This is a mess. I can’t read it.”
Not only is he a smart man. He’s a brave one!
So I reread what I had given him, and soon realized that he was right. The manuscript was a mess. The wise man builds his house upon a rock, but that story was built on sand. I had to go back to the beginning and introduce the bad guy so we all knew what we were up against. Because the book takes place in multiple jurisdictions, I did as Bill suggested and time-stamped each chapter so readers knew not only where they were but on which day and at what time. (That ended up being good advice not only for readers but also for the writer!)
So no, Dr. Catherine. I didn’t have to throw away everything. I was able reuse many of the scenes, but I did have to go back to the beginning and rearrange their order and sometimes even their point of view in order to make the story work.
And now that I’ve responded to Catherine’s question ATL (At Tedious Length), I’m going to go back to Beau and find out how he deals with taking down that bad guy.