The premature aging is a direct result of trying to get this “cursed” book (that’s what we are now calling it) completed in time for its launch party. I may add, we’ve changed the date of this celebration three times. Luckily, no publicity was sent out initially so, although it’s been very stressful, little harm was done.
This saga all began two years ago when I was doing signings for my children’s’ book, A Berkshire Tale. It’s set in the Berkshire Hills of Massachusetts, about three hours from Rhode Island. Not very far away. But here in RI, we are sometimes quite parochial and driving twenty minutes to work can be a monumental feat to some. Invariably, when I would be peddling my ZuZu Series of ten tales here in RI, people would say, “So, you’ve written a book set in the Berkshires. Have you written anything set here in Rhode Island?”
After hearing this on numerous occasions, I began to actually feel disloyal to my home state. On one of those days I returned home and announced to Charley that I had given up and was going to write a book set not only in RI but right here in Kingston, my home town.
I must have been dealing with some inner demons because I chose to write a murder mystery which can be quite cathartic if you are harboring thoughts of killing someone, but don’t want to do the jail time. I had read Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman and it had given me an idea – an inspiration. I can’t tell you what it is, because I’ll give away the plot and I have some potential fans of my work (you know who you are) who are extremely averse to knowing who dunnit before actually reading the mystery.
I’d decided what my settings would be but it took me a while to create the characters. Developing the plot around the initial idea entailed a detailed time-line. As in any good mystery, it was crucial to play fair, giving ample clues and adding in red herrings as the plot unfolded. This became complicated at times and right up until the very last proof edit, changes were needed.
And then there was the research. As I was dealing with local historical settings, I needed to get the facts straight. The South County History Center housed in the old jail was a wonderful resource.
In addition, I had to become educated on the correct police procedures used in a small town. The detective in my series, is a woman and we only have two women on our police force. One of them graciously offered help answer all of my questions.
Then, there was the drug problem. I needed to gain some understanding of certain types of medicines, but I won’t go into much more here because of those aforementioned fans. I had some good sources for this because our university has a great pharmacy program which I’m sure I will continue to use as a resource in the future. Did I mention that this is the first in a series?
I also had to learn a bit about forensics and the university has classes open to the public on these topics. Charley and I decided to attend the one scheduled on crime scene trace evidence. Unfortunately, there’d been a change in the syllabus and we ended up at a two-hour class on incendiaries bombs. If I decide to blow someone up in one of my next books, I still have the notes.
As the year moved on, I finished taking photos for illustrations as I continued to create this new world with interesting, developing characters . I found a young artist to design the cover and after much blood, sweat and tears the book was completed.
I sent it to my publisher and that is when the cold, hard reality hit – it wasn’t anywhere near completed. The blood, sweat and especially the tears recommenced.
Editing and formatting are a crucial part of preparing a book for print. It came to a point where I never wanted to read the words, I had so caringly placed on those cursed pages, ever again. I knew the book by heart. Over fifty thousand words, punctuation, spelling and consistency issues rose up to torment me into the early morning hours until finally it was ready to request a proof.
It was at this point I realized I do not edit well from a computer screen. I couldn’t believe the number of errors glaring out at me in the first hard copy.
Roxie felt the only plausible solution was to trash the whole project and write a book about her.
But the corrected proof was eventually submitted and a computer copy sent. I sat up in the early morning hours perusing it on my laptop and at about 2:45 AM I realized something strange had occurred. Two scenes which should have been in the Thursday chapter showed up in the Friday chapter. Now, in a mystery, this can prove to be a plot killer. Because if someone dies on one day and then wakes up two days later, readers are going to, at the very least, scratch their heads. I sent out a frantic email to my publisher: Stop the presses! (I had the presence of mind not to call him at 3 AM.)
The error was corrected but formatting had to be redone. The third proof was ready to be sent. And it arrived – with the wrong cover. The inside text was fine, although I found a few more errors which will have to be corrected on a second printing. Anyone buying the first printing is welcome to send me the list of mistakes: the quotation marks going the wrong way; the Mrs instead of Ms; the needless “to”; the indent error. I have them all circled in my latest proof, the one with the correct cover.
But today it is time for the “cursed” book to “Get out of this house” (Charley’s words) and be printed so I’ll have copies in time for people who come to the Book Launch Party in two weeks. The publisher agrees and has sent it on its way to press.
I’ve already begun the next mystery in the series, Last Rose on the Vine. It’s set at the university and will have some of the same characters and the settings will be historic buildings and places on campus. The murder takes place in the rose garden where I’ve worked as a master gardener volunteer. It seems like this book is much easier to write than the first one. The characters are created; I know the settings well; I’ve made most of the mistakes already on the previous book. What could possibly go wrong?
Post Script: I pushed “Publish” and the first draft of this post was sent. I thought I corrected it, but I didn’t. So, this is the finished post. And that is the answer to my question: What else could possibly go wrong?
Have a peaceful weekend.