Prose and process

The first writer whose biography I remember reading was Louisa May Alcott. That makes sense. Little Women was one of my favorite childhood books, along with the poems of Edgar Allan Poe, the stories of Sherlock Holmes, The Three Musketeers, The Last of the Mohicans, and the plays of Oscar Wilde. Was I going to be a weird kid, do you think?

What I remember most about Louisa’s life was how often she wrote sick, laughing at herself as–with hurting head and hands–she scratched out page after page of longhand words. No typewriters in her era, just endless longhand. The more popular her work became, the more she paid in pain for her efforts and profits. A recent PBS biography suggested that she suffered from lupus, which can cause¬† bitterly painful joints.

The lesson I learned from Louisa May Alcott was that laughter flowed from those weary hands, and that the most magical aspect of writing is that it takes the writer away from the mundane as much as it can transport the reader. Deep in the heart of writing, I’ll realize a crick in my neck has escalated into a full-blown migraine, or that a foot has fallen asleep (hopefully not the intended readers), or that my husband has become a wizard while I wasn’t looking, because he announced he was going to the grocery store just two minutes ago and he’s already back with an unseemly number of full bags.

Sports people call it “playing hurt.” The adrenaline of the game dulls pain. The mind can “play hurt” too, which I was reminded of this fall and winter when a series of wicked monthly colds punctuated my writing schedule. Still, I made my deadlines. And my travails reminded me of readers who write to tell me that my books “take them away” from the chronic pain or troubles in their lives.

A story is its own magical form of transport and it will accept aboard as many weary, tired, or hurting passengers as care to book passage.

10 Responses to “Prose and process”

  • Hi, Rita! Great to hear from you. Yes, you encouraged me to hire some part-time student
    assistants after I’d seen the help you could give me. Congrats on the mystery novel! My
    first student assistant has her first thriller out, Diane Castle’s Black Oil, Red Blood.

    Good luck to you with your book!

  • Carole,

    Many years ago, I was your first “file clerk” while I was on the journalism department faculty at Texas Christian University. You were kind enough to critique my writing in exchange for my clerical assistance. Now that life has taken me to a place where I can write fiction full-time, I have completed a mystery novel. In the intervening years, I have enjoyed keeping up with Midnight Louie and seriously miss Irene. Rita

  • That’s great. Thank you, Kai.

    Cheers, Carole

  • Someone I work with visits your blog frequently and recommended it to me to read as well. The writing style is great and the content is relevant. Thanks for the insight you provide the readers!

  • The process of copy and proof-editing a book is not perfect. I know the difference between “principal” and “principle” and so
    do most proof readers (I hope), but when reading 100,000 words for issues large and small, the eyes may hallucinate what they expect to see, not what is. I catch typos even in the galley stage when the MS has been read by many. Perhaps e-books will someday allow the users to correct typos they catch.

  • Conchita Ramos:

    Watch your spelling, especially words ending in “al” and “le” such as principal and principle.
    It is a pity the editor has not caught the mistakes.

  • Carolyn, I was out of town when you posted, attending Malice Domestic mystery convention in Arlington, VA, where it was announced I’ll be Guest of Honor next year!

    I’m sorry the publisher didn’t respond, but am impressed you mailed them! With hundreds of authors and thousands of books, mail on specific books could easily, and does, get lost. Circumstances years ago kept postponing my getting to write the third Taliswoman book. I don’t like unfinished trilogies or series any more than readers do, but in writing more than fifty books, it’s been beyond my power to change a couple of times. The “Probe” series was four books in my mind, not two. I’ve heard from other readers waiting so long for the third Taliswoman, as you have. It doesn’t help that online book sites have listed it for years!! I’m thinking I’ll have to finish it on my own at some point. Meanwhile, I now have an urban fantasy series going, and,if that continues to be successful it might lead to finishing the Taliswoman series. Carole, glad

  • Carolyn:

    I have been waiting for years for the 3rd book in the taliswoman series. Will it ever be published. I have written the publisher with no response. I so wish to know the ending of this adventure.

  • Hi, Cynthia,

    I like your words “force and dedication.” More true than I knew when I started. Fiction writing is more like a vocation in the religious sense of the word than a profession. It comes to take over your whole being, and time, much of the time being consumed by the art of being and staying published, especially these Internet days. As Billy Joel writes, “surviving is a noble art.”

    I love the intricate work of making a past time come alive, and there is no more intricate past time than the Victorian Age, I find. Younger readers may not have the attention span for highly described worlds, I’m afraid. I’ve had several Irene Adler short stories published I’d like to put out in print or e-book form myself, when I have time. The most recent is in the current anthology, Sex, Lies and Private Eyes.” Not a title you’d associate with Victorian times. The Robert Downey, Jr., Sherlock Holmes film has stirred interest in Irene Adler, and I have eight titles about her out there. Not in Barnes & Noble so much these days. I haven’t stopped writing or publishing, but the chain bookstores have stopped carrying many authors in sufficient numbers to notice. I’m so involved in working I hadn’t thought readers might think I had vanished too.

    Not the case. Glad you visited the web site. Check the online B&N site for what’s new. Almost all of my mysteries are available in print paperback.

    This April 13-26 my three-book Delilah Street noir urban fantasy series (Dancing with Werewolves, Brimstone Kiss, and Vampire Sunrise) will be featured at Barnes and Noble stores during a chain werewolf and vampire promotion. Maybe not your cup of tea, but Delilah’s Silver Zombie is coming out next November in paperback, Midnight Louie will have Cat in a Topaz Tango out in paper June 30 and Cat in an Ultramarine Scheme Aug. 2, and, who knows, the new action-oriented Sherlock film might spur a return of Irene Adler to novel length again. She already went on hiatus once. PBS is reported to be doing more Sherlock Holmes stories in the new Downey, Jr. action vein. Perhaps they’ll do better by Irene Adler than the entertaining movie, which had reinventing Sherlock as an agenda, not taking a deeper look at Irene Adler.

    Midnight Louie has three more lives coming up with books V,W, and X under contract. .

    Check the newsletter page on this site and, if you don’t get it, sign up for the annual newsletter in print or e-scribe PDF form to keep up with the long and short of my fiction output. And I should be adding content to this site as time permits, which is sure to be piece-meal. Thanks for posting. Cheers! Carole et. al.

  • Cynthia:

    The force and dedication you put into your work comes through in your books. I especially enjoy your attention to detail in the ‘Irene’ series – like a colorful tapestry that engages the senses of the observer. However, in this case, like many of your readers I become transported into another world where the worries of this one disappear.
    Sooo, When will we see the next installment of her story? It has been a very long time. I am disturbed by the fact that my local Barnes & Noble have not had more than one of any of your mystery books (I love Louie too) on their shelves this past year. I was concerned you had stopped publishing.
    Thanks for years of reading enjoyment. I am glad we are getting a new Louie book and look forward to reading it.

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