Monday, September 30, 2019

Finding the Sweet Spot

Q: How do you know when you’re finished and it’s time to submit? Do you take a break or start right on the next one?

- from Susan

For me, it’s writing the sweet spot at the end. I write mysteries and I want something that moves me and makes me happy to conclude the tale. I sense it coming as I get to the penultimate scene, which is tense and risky for me and the protagonist. It’s like skiing – the long ride up the gondola, the moment of getting off and seeing that downslope, and then letting gravity take you down the hill. Breathless, and then you pull up and have that moment of real satisfaction. (And it energizes you to get back on the gondola and do it again, a good thing for a writer).

In all of my five published novels, I’ve written a coda that brings a lump in my throat or a grin to my face. When I can do that, I know I’ve finished the story I aimed to write.

My first agent is an estimable woman who told me that she wanted to see my manuscripts when they were as perfect as I could make them. No first or second drafts, but the very best I could produce. It’s a habit I embrace, even if it does make me wonder how “perfect” is perfect? But I understand what she meant. It’s disrespectful to send something that isn’t your best to an agent or publisher and expect them to fight their way through the underbrush and see through what you’re too lazy to clear away. Sure, you can fiddle with word choices forever, but the difference between red and blue is not about “best,” so if you get to that point and that’s all you’re fretting about, let the anxiety go and hit Send.

If it’s the same series, I have always begun a new manuscript while waiting for the publisher’s editorial staff to do their copy editing and then, after I review that, to do the proofreading. Why? Honestly, it’s because I like my characters and want to stay in touch with them, to steer – or follow – them in their lives and into their new problems. 
Where Dani O'Rourke first comes onto the scene, caught in the act of putting lipstick on while the sounds of chaos outside the museum ladies' room begin to make her nervous

The saddest thing for me has been setting aside the characters who live in a series. I miss them. I’ve been advised to write short stories including them, a challenge for me since most potential readers wouldn’t know them already. I’m thinking about that. Would I be able to telegraph what makes Katherine and Michael Goff such a strong married couple while she sleuths and he does his rock and roll thing? Would Dani O’Rourke’s professional interest in art and philanthropy translate without dropping her fully into her museum world, much less her relationship with her charming but flaky ex-husband? Stay tuned.
Katherine Goff, her music-making husband, their  French neighbors, and a young English would-be crime writer all amble, gallop, strut, or stumble into my life for the first time 


Paul D. Marks said...

Lots of great points here, Susan. But I especially like your opening: "For me, it’s writing the sweet spot at the end."

Dietrich Kalteis said...

I like the way you describe the process, Susan.