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.