Tuesday, April 26, 2011

When Is a Book ‘Done’?


I’ve spent the past month on the changes my editor suggested for When Maidens Mourn.

Her suggestions were not massive or even extensive, but I'm not one of those authors who can dash off revisions in a day or two. In fact, I probably spend more time revising my books than certain prolific authors spend writing their books. It takes a lot of thought, some quiet back-burner mulling time, lots of agonizing and thrashing and snarling, and slowly, bit-by-bit, I feel my way to a revised manuscript.

Am I ever satisfied? No. I sent the revised manuscript for When Maidens Mourn to my editor last Thursday night, because I was determined to get it over and done with before the holiday. Steve and I spent a blissful three days up at the lake, during which I spent some time thinking about my next books and second-guessing some of the changes I’d made on Maidens. As a result, when I got home Sunday night I sat down to write my editor a quick email: “I know I sent you the revisions for Maidens before I went away for the weekend, but while I was gone I did some thinking and want to go back and tweak a few things. So delete the chapters I sent on Thursday, and hopefully I'll get a new, improved version to you by the end of the week.”

My editor—a lovely woman, by the way—just said, basically, Fine. I’m eagerly awaiting the new version. (My agent, admittedly, kinda freaked.) So I’ve spent the last couple of days doing that “tweaking.” Am I satisfied now? No. But then, I’m never satisfied. The truth is, every time I read a manuscript, I see things that can be changed. Sometimes it’s little things—a word, a sentence, a scene that could have been better. But eventually a writer just needs to say, Enough already! and move on.

So that’s where I am, today. I just fired off the new revised revision to my editor. I still have a niggling feeling I could have done better, but I'm so sick of the thing that I know "better" is impossible at this point. Because to answer my question, a book is never "done." Alfred, Lord Tennyson first published The Lady of Shalott in 1833; he then substantially rewrote it and republished it in 1842. Obviously that niggling "it could have been better" is an occupational hazard.

On a related note, I can tell you we now have a cover and cover copy, so it’s starting to feel like a “real” book even though the release date is almost ten months away. I’m just waiting for the nod from my editor, and I’ll be able to post the cover. Personally, I think it’s quite stunning. But more on that, later.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Katrina Klunkers

It's a common problem faced by those of us who rebuilt in the months after Katrina: the demand for appliances at the time was so high that companies shifted into high gear their manufacture of everything from washing machines and stoves to hot water heaters and refrigerators; production went way up and quality control went out the window. As a result, most of the appliances purchased after Katrina are pieces of #@$%.

In the last five years, my fancy, bells-and-whistles post-Katrina LG washing machine has broken down six times (can you say, "bitter"?). The dryer once. The refrigerator twice. The stove twice (it still doesn't work right). The dishwasher once (it still doesn't work right). The downstairs central air conditioning broke down just a couple of weeks ago. This week, it's the hot water heater's turn.

Of course it went out on a Saturday. (Why do these things always happen on a weekend?) No one would even come look at it until Monday. Then they needed to order the parts. I said, "Why don't you just replace it?" They said, "That'll run you about $900." I said, "Okay; order the parts." At least it's still under warranty, so the parts are free even if the labor isn't.

The repair men are here now. That's right, I've been without a hot water heater for five days. Yes, it's been relatively warm here, but even in the summer an icy shower right before you go to bed does not help a writer's chronic insomnia.

I've decided hot water heaters are mankind's greatest invention. Now pardon me why I go pay my plumber $175 for fifteen minutes' work. I'm in the wrong business.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Chicks Gone Wild

New Orleans has a fowl problem. It seems that when Katrina wrecked the city, some lucky surviving chickens literally flew the coop. Now their wild descendants are populating the city's streets and parks.

It's reached the point that our local paper even ran a feature on it, which you can read here. I snapped the pictures above a couple of weeks ago, and Danielle took the ones below last summer.

They say animal control officers have been attempting to round up to the chickens, which they then deliver to a local farmer known as "the Chicken Man". Unfortunately, chickens are notoriously hard to catch, and of course the roosters have nasty sharp spurs. Frankly, I wouldn't want to tangle with this guy.

Caffeine update: I'm still sticking to my resolution and the blistering headache is finally gone, but man would I like a latte right now...

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Masochism, Caffeine, and Sympathy for Addicts Everywhere

I'm giving up caffeine for health reasons, and today is my second day. The blinding headache hit around noon yesterday, so I fired up Le Google and went to type in "caffeine withdrawal headache treatment." I got as far as the word "withdrawal" before Le Google in its infinite wisdom completed the phrase for me. Obviously a common problem. Can't you just see millions of agonizing, coffee-deprived people around the world hunching over their computers and frantically typing in caffeine withdrawal headache treatment?

The funny thing is, I never even drank coffee until recently; I simply didn't like the taste of it. Thanks to all those years in England and Australia, I was however seriously addicted to black tea until I broke that habit about five years ago. Then I discovered lattes. Mmm. But I was still careful not to drink it often until my mother went in the hospital last year and I was staying awake 36 and 48 hours at a stretch. After that I got in the habit of having a (giant) latte every Saturday and Sunday morning as a treat (although if the opportunity offered at any other time, I usually grabbed it. My favorite coffee shop, pictured above, is just down the street.) As my caffein addiction mounted, I slid back into the habit of drinking English breakfast tea all day long. Now I'm going cold turkey again. Aren't you glad you're no where near me?

I know it will all pass. Perhaps someday I will even be able to have a latte without suffering the same disastrous results as an alcoholic who falls off the wagon. But oh, the pain. Oh, the longing. What I wouldn't do for just one sniff...

Pardon me while I go make a cup of herbal tea.

Monday, April 04, 2011

What You Don't Want to See When Taking Your Daughter to the Airport

My daughter and a friend have been spending the past week with us, home from school for spring break. They were supposed to fly out Sunday evening, but their flight back to Florida was canceled thanks to the hole that recently ripped open in one of Southwest's 373s. Then, this morning, New Orleans's airport had some excitement of its own.


Fortunately, my daughter was able to get out with only a brief (second) delay. But this sort of thing is seriously not good for my nerves. Funny, I'm not a nervous flyer myself, but when it comes to my dears, that's another story altogether...

AP Photo/Eric Long

Friday, April 01, 2011

The Poisoned Pen Conference

I will be speaking at The Poisoned Pen's Writers Conference in Phoenix, Arizona, this June 24th and 25th. On Friday afternoon, I'll be on a "History and Mystery Tea" from 3-5 p.m. with Laurie R. King, Peter Lovesay, Lauren Willg, Jaqueline Winspear, and Patricia Wynn. Then I'll be doing another session Saturday morning. Other authors participating include Alafair Burke, Jan Burke, Michael Koryta, Sophia Littlefield, and many more. (You can click on the above flyer to see it larger.)

The conference will be held at the Arizona Biltmore Resort and Spa. Accomodation is only $89/night (plus taxes); the registration fee for the conference is $50. As most of you know, The Poisoned Pen is one of the country's top independent mystery bookstores. They do a wonderful job of supporting up and coming authors, sell signed first editions on line, and have even started their own press to keep favorite series in print when their authors are dropped by New York publishers.

Registration is limited to 125, so if you're interested, you'd better hurry!