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Whispering Statue

To Outline or Not to Outline

When I finished my third novel, I swore that I would first outline then work from the outline to write my fourth novel.

An outline, I thought, would help me write a book more efficiently, without the need to reorganize chapters, backtrack to check plot points, or rewrite to sort out confusion and repetition. An outline would propel me forward each day, since I would know what needed to happen next. With an outline, I could probably finish a novel in just a couple of months.

Excellent plan, I thought. How naive could I be?

Very. I simply can’t write that way. I don’t know what’s going to happen to my characters until I get immersed in their lives and dilemmas. I don’t think of all the interweaving plot points and digressions at first. The ideas simmer and froth in the back of my mind until I pull them forth as my characters and the plot dynamics need them.

Now that I’m halfway through my fourth novel, a sequel to Shadow of the Rock entitled Return of the Rembrandt, I realize that my first draft has to be considered my “outline.” It still needs much filling in. Character development, relationships, motivations, and plot points have to be refined and strengthened. But I’m on the way.

Years ago, I gave a workshop on setting goals. I discovered that most of the people in the workshop resisted goal-setting. I was shocked. I had thought goal-setting was a no-brainer. Like writing an outline. The most common reason the naysayers gave was that single-minded working to reach a set goal got in the way of serendipitous possibilities along the way. They made an impression, because that’s the way I’ve come to feel about outlining a novel.

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More for the 90s Club

For those who arch eyebrows at my 90s Club mystery series, I add three more examples of 90-year-olds still active, still alert, still contributing.

Featured in Parade Magazine, Dec. 29, 2013 issue, was 94-year-old Olga Kotelko, West Vancouver, Canada, who still competes at long-jumping and high-jumping.

When Marta Eggerth, operetta singer and international film star, was 92, she performed for an hour and a half at a cafe in New York, then went on to perform in other solo shows at the Viennese-style cabaret. She recently died at age 101.

Homer LaBorwit, from Baltimore, MD, was a practicing optician into his 102nd year.

The 90s Club cozy mystery series features Nancy Dickenson and the 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement VIllage who meddle in murder and mayhem and almost lose their lives.
The 90s Club & the Hidden Staircase
The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue

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More About Old Dogs: Will Do is Better Than Can’t Do

My 90s Club cozy mystery series continues to raise eyebrows. Some readers tell me of the 90- and 100-year-olds they know who do remarkable things like drive long distances, win tennis matches, canoe across lakes, etc.; other readers shake their heads and say they find it hard to believe that anyone in their 90s or 100s is up for anything but a rocking chair or the Alzheimer’s unit.

The 90s Club series concept came from watching a slim attractive, fit woman swim laps at a pool party. Then I learned she was 91 years old. So for the nonbelievers, I add another person to my list of very senior but functioning citizens: Helen Crossley, a former school nurse, who turned 105 in August 2013. She held her nursing license until age 96 and, although legally blind since age 99, she still gets around with and without a walker. (Washington Post, 8-24-2013).

The older I get, the more I hear people fall into line and repeat that sad refrain, “I’m too old.” I’ve heard people in their twenties say, “I’m too old for…” In fact, it seems to me that most popular aphorisms that pass for “wisdom,” are intended to limit and control rather than encourage and support. So I say phooey to all that stuff about what a person can and can’t do at any age.

Just saw a wonderful movie called Quartet, about a group of elderly musicians at the Musicians Retirement Home in England. It’s directed by Dustin Hoffman, stars Maggie Smith and Tom Courtenay and includes cameo appearances by many formerly well-known now retired musicians. A love story develops as these musicians put together a gala to save their home and try to persuade Smith as a troubled opera diva to join three other singers in the Rigoletto quartet. Highly recommended.

Available Dec. 1: The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue, second in this cozy mystery series. This time, Nancy Dickenson and the 90s Club at Whisperwood Retirement Village head south to Fort Lauderdale to rescue one friend and find another. Four attempts to murder Nancy’s long-time confidant Peter Stamboul have failed, but in the placid lifestyle of his retirement condo, who would want to kill Peter and why? Adventurous young Jessica Cantwell took a job as crew on a boat, but when the captain is murdered, she disappears and becomes a “person of interest.” Once again, murder and mayhem stalk Nancy and fellow 90s Club members Louise and George as they race to save Peter and Jessica’s lives and, ultimately, their own.

The Sapper’s Plot, a tough, action-filled mystery-thriller, is the latest book by M.L. Doyle, author of books about “women in combat boots.” Army Master Sergeant Harper is assigned to accompany a TV news team to a remote construction camp in Honduras where U.S. troops are providing engineering support for the project. The TV team is supposedly following one of the construction units on the mission, but Army public affairs suspects the team has another agenda. When the group arrives at the camp, they discover the body of one of the workers buried alive in concrete. Harper takes command of the investigation and fights her way through the cover-up attempts, rigors of rough jungle living, army protocol, and male chauvinism. The descriptive details add much to the realism and mood of the story. This is a fast-paced, gripping read that builds to a thrilling climax and final unmasking of the killer.

Ever Upward

The commencement speaker at our grandson’s graduation from MIT in June was MIT alumnus Drew Houston, class of 2006 and CEO and co-founder of Dropbox, a service now used by millions around the world. Dropbox grew from the simple idea that people should have a way to access their files anywhere without relying on e-mail attachments or thumb drives.

His talk was unassuming, personal, and inspiring, which was a surprise to me since Houston is so young, granted that he is a millionaire many times over.  I scribbled a few notes to share with you, but essentially, his talk was about plunging forward, not worrying about making things perfect but about having an adventure. Life has no warm-up, he said, no practice buttons and failure doesn’t matter. “You only have to succeed once.”  

You can read his commencement address online at http://www.networkworld.com.

 When my husband and I started our publishing business, we had no idea what we were getting into or what a complex and frustrating business it is. But it has been an adventure and many times it has been fun.  As I’ve talked to other small business owners, I’ve found that for most of us, we had to take the leap and just begin and plunge forward. No warm-up, no practice button. You tackle things as you come to them.

 And now as I prepare to launch my third novel, The 90s Club & the Whispering Statue, I realize the same goes for this publishing venture as well. I have had two critique groups, two editors, and three beta readers peruse the book and comment on characters, plot, writing, and other aspects of a mystery novel. I could do this indefinitely in an effort to achieve perfection.

But at some point, the author has to say “I’m finished with this book and I’m ready to move on.” On the other hand, continuing to tinker with the manuscript delays the scary risk of sending it out to meet the critics.

Better to think of it all as an adventure, a learning experience, and a step forward in my own development as a writer. What I’ve written so far is the best I could do at the time, but what will I do next time? Where will I go next? How will I improve?

 At the conclusion of his talk, Houston said that his grandmother always ended their telephone calls with the word, “Excelsior,” which means “ever upward.”

I’ll end this blog the same way. Excelsior!

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