Writing with joy

When I saw that Canadian author Louise Penny, author of the Three Pines mystery series, would be in North Carolina to kick off her book tour, I knew that I would go, no matter what. I immediately signed up for tickets, thinking the venue would be crowded. (It was.)

I, along with some friends who are also big fans, drove the two-and-a-half hours to Fearrington Village, where Penny was to speak. The  event was held in a building aptly called The Barn which can hold 500 people. We went in early to get good seats. So did 500 other people.

The wait was worth it. Penny is delightfully candid, humorous, and forthcoming. But there was one thing she said that drove everything else from my mind.

She had suffered from writer’s block after the publication of her first book. She eventually sought help from a therapist who told her she should not worry about editors, publishers, reviews, her family, or anything else, but write simply for the joy of writing.

Louise Penny

I haven’t got writer’s block — or do I? I dutifully put words on the page, but all the time I am thinking, why bother?

I haven’t got a nibble on the book that precedes the one I am writing. If it doesn’t get  published, the sequel is useless.

I could self-publish, which I have done, but I am of two minds about this. If it isn’t good enough for an agent to jump on, maybe it isn’t good enough to self-publish.

Then I read about authors who only self-publish and are doing very well, thank you.

So I got to thinking about why I am writing in the first place. To be rich and famous? Maybe, when I was younger, but it doesn’t appeal to me now. I have a good life and I’m content.

I have fans, and I cherish them. But I’m not writing just for them, either.

I think back to my first books, and how much fun it was to create my stories. Of course it was validation to get a contract from a publisher, or a good review from a reader. But the real joy was in the writing.

I need to get back to that and finish my book because it brings me joy to see it grow and develop. And yes, I want to share it once it is finished, not for praise or money, but because a story isn’t really complete until it is read. So I will look at other options for publication while knowing that this isn’t the reason for writing, but the final step on the creative journey.

So now that Louise Penny has, by a few words, changed my entire outlook, I say thank you. Thank you for seeing clearly what I failed to see: that you aren’t going to want to write if your writing fails to bring you joy.

 

 

 

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Presto! Presto?

I’m a novelist, but on occasion I am inspired to write a short story. I was looking though my files recently and found this one.  Unlike my novels, my short stories tend to be dark. I don’t know why this is … maybe another part of my sub-conscience wanting its turn?

Presto! Presto?

By Sandra Bruney

Heeding the advice of her mother, Helen had followed the same format for Timmy’s birthdays ever since she had invited Fat Margaret to his first.  One child for each year, Mrs. Owens had said, and so far it had worked like a charm. On his second birthday, she invited Fat Margaret and Benny next door, and on his third she had added Leroy Strunk from nursery school. From then on, Timmy had chosen his own guests and, without her urging, always invited those who had attended the year before.

On this birthday, nine children eagerly awaited the promised festivities. Fat Margaret, who had been so chubby even her dimples had dimples, was now as slender as a reed and a head taller than Timmy.  Susan Givens’ parents had moved away six months ago, allowing Timmy to invite the twins, Alex and Andy, from his Cub Scout den.

Helen had hired a magician, only later wondering if the entertainment would be too tame for children recently introduced to electronic adventures of Mario and Donkey Kong.  She had more second thoughts when he arrived, clearly past retirement age, his costume faded and shabby.

She needn’t have worried: he took control immediately, corralling the guests in a circle and leaning over Timmy to exchange a few words to the birthday boy. Timmy beamed and nodded to whatever the magician had said, and then they settled down.

Magus the Magnificent took a Kennedy half dollar from Leroy Strunk’s ear and pulled yards of gaudy silk ribbon from Fat Margaret’s pocket. He even produced a docile Belgian rabbit from his top hat. He handed it to Helen, who stroked the soft fur.

“Now,” he said at last, “for my grand finale and most famous trick. I need a volunteer.” He looked about with an inquiring expression.

“Me! Me!” the children cried but, not surprisingly, he pointed to Timmy, who jumped up as if on springs.

“I will hold out my cape,” Magus the Magnificent declared in his deep voice, “and when I refold it, Timmy will have disappeared into another realm.”

Leroy Strunk looked frankly disbelieving and one of the twins snorted.

The magician held out his cloak, effectively hiding the guest of honor.  “Abracadabra! Presto!” he said, and pulled the cloak back to his body.

Timmy, as promised, had disappeared.

“Now bring him back so we can have cake,” Fat Margaret commanded.

Magus smiled and held out his cloak again. “Abracadabra! Presto!” he said triumphantly. He whirled the cloak about his body with a flourish.

Timmy was not there.

Two or three of the children giggled uncertainly. Magus looked vexed and said in a loud voice, “We will try one more time.” Again, the cloak was extended, the words intoned.

No Timmy.

Helen stood up, dumped the rabbit from her lap. “Timmy? Come on out. This isn’t funny,” she ordered.

Magus muttered, “He was supposed to hide behind the drapes and then come out when I held out the cloak the second time. I’m certain he understood how the trick worked.”

But Timmy was not behind the billowing drapes Helen had so proudly installed only a few months ago, nor was he behind the wing chair or the dining room doors. He was nowhere to be found, in the house or outside.

Helen called Roger and told him to come home from his office, where he had decided to wait out the party. She then called the children’s parents to come and collect them. And then, she called the police.

The children were questioned together and separately, but none of them could provide a clue. Magus, who in reality was Dominic Vasco, was questioned at length at police headquarters, but in the end they had to let him go. He had violated no law except, perhaps, one of metaphysics and they did not know how to charge him with that.

Volunteers spent a week searching the house and grounds, then the neighborhood and its perimeter. No trace of Timmy was ever found.

During the first year after his disappearance, calls came from all over the country. Timmy had been sighted at Disney World, at a shopping mall in Erie, Pennsylvania, at the top of the Empire State building. None of the boys was Timmy.

Unable to stand the look of puzzled grief in Helen’s eyes, Roger asked for a divorce and a transfer to his company’s west coast office. Helen never saw or heard from him again.

Fat Margaret got married and Leroy Strunk was killed in Desert Storm. The twins created a dotcom company and were almost as rich as Bill Gates.

Helen kept their letters, always sent around the date of Timmy’s birthday, in a special drawer in the rosewood desk in her bedroom. And on his birthday, she sat in her empty living room and whispered to herself, “Abacadraba! Presto!” hoping that this time when she opened her eyes her son would be standing, grinning at his cleverness, in front of her.

Ah, Sweet Mystery…

The writers I admire most are those who write mysteries. Cozy mysteries,  thrillers, historical — you name it.

I guess it’s because I am a pantser.  I create a character and send her in search of a plot.  Only when I am halfway into the story do I sit down and try to figure out where I’m going with it.

You are correct in that it doesn’t always work.  In the best case scenario, it takes a lot of rewriting and revision to end up with a story that flows from beginning to end.

But that’s how I do it. If I sat down and plotted the entire novel before I began writing, I would lose interest and it would never get written.

A writer of mysteries has to be a big-time plotter. She needs to know who the killer is before she starts, and then work in clues throughout the story that lead to the climax.  It’s like working backward.

If she does it right, the reader can say at the end, “Aha! I should have seen that coming.” Because you don’t want the killer to come out of nowhere like the Greek deus ex machina. There has to be a logical solution.

The mystery that did this the best was “The Sixth Sense.” My husband and I went back to see it a second time just so we could pick out the clues we missed the first time.

So a big hand to all the mystery writers who keep us guessing — and keep us reading.

Good job!

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