Thursday, November 27, 2008

It's a Good Life, Charlie Brown

By Beth Terrell

It's that time of year. Friends and family gather for good food and good conversation, the Charlie Brown holiday specials begin (my favorites), and we take stock of those things for which we are grateful.

At the top of my list are the usual things: God's love, a practically perfect husband, a loving and supportive mother, a little brother who is extremely cute and usually sweet, good friends, a job and co-workers I like, and the basic necessities of life. I'm also grateful for our African Grey parrots, Corky and Kesha, our cat, Edgar, and our two precious little dogs, Karma (Princess of Everything Sweet) and Luca (His Lordship of Eternal Cuteness). These are the things I'm grateful for as a person.

But I am also grateful for a number of things as a writer. Here are some of them:

1. Office Supplies. Is it just me, or is there something thrilling about wandering among aisles and aisles of ballpoint pens, spiral notebooks, little gold paper clips, and Post-it notes in every color of the spectrum? Prismacolor colored pencils, the big set, 128 colors! So much blank paper, so many possibilities.

2. My computer. When Mike bought me my first laptop, I had serious misgivings. My idea of a first draft was a something written in longhand, in black ink, with single words and whole sections scribbled out and re-written, sometimes multiple times. I never moved on to a new paragraph until the one before it was perfect--or as perfect as I could get it. I also never finished anything. My laptop changed all that. I love the way the words appear on the screen as if by magic, looking professional and polished, even when I know they are in desperate need of editing. Somehow seeing those crisp letters helps me push on through a first draft, knowing how easily I can trim and flesh out and polish once the initial draft is done.

3. NaNoWriMo. It sounds like madness and it is. Write a 50,000-word first draft in one frenzied, frantic month. Pack off your inner editor for a little well-desereved R&R and play with something new, maybe a genre you've never tried before, maybe a work of silliness that will never see the light of day, maybe the first draft of the next Pulitzer Prize winning novel. The "I Hate NaNoWriMo Because Volumes of Dreck Are Released Into the Unsuspecting Publishing World" faction is missing the point. NaNo is a month-long writing exercise, a month-long, worldwide celebration of the joy of writing. What could be better than that?

4. An excuse to surf the web and to buy and read an embarrassingly indulgent number of books. Books on medieval cooking, books on forensic anthropology, books on Roman mythology and books on herbal medicines. All valuable additions to an author's research library. Even the novels I love to read are research: How does James Lee Burke craft those vivid descriptive passages? How does Terry McGarry breathe life into a world that never existed? How does Robert Crais make me love Joe Pike?

5. Murderous Musings. What an honor it is to be included in this group of talented and generous writers. Each contributor brings something different and wonderful to the mix; I only aspire to be worthy. And to those of you who read our posts )and those who comment on them), thank you.

6. The opportunity to learn from and rub shoulders with other writers. This includes a number of mentors, such as Mary Saums, J.T. Ellison, and our own Chester Campbell. Is there a more generous or gracious group than mystery/thriller writers? Sisters in Crime and SEMWA members have welcomed me with open arms and made me feel like a "real writer."

7. Don Maass's writing workshops. I went to the "Writing the Breakout Novel" workshop" with a manuscript I thought needed a nose-job and found out it needed a heart-lung transplant. Many months and an overhauled manuscript later, I attended the "High Tension Workshop." The heart and lungs were just fine, but extensive plastic surgery, implants, and liposuction were in order. Thanks to Don, I have a much wider collection of tools in my writer's toolbox. Looking to take your writing to a new level? Don will take you there. (I recommend starting with "The Breakout Novel." It lays the foundation for the "High Tension Workshop.")

8. Killer Nashville. I am forever indebted to Killer Nashville producers Clay Stafford and Phillip Lacy for letting me be a part of this incredible little conference. Killer Nashville has given me a chance to meet and/or correspond with hundreds of writers and readers of crime fiction. And no one could be better to work with than Clay and Phillip.

9. The Quill and Dagger Writers' Guild. This is the critique group Chester and I belong to. Each of the members is a wonderful writer and a supportive friend. They have offered me advice, support, reassurance, and encouragement. They tell me what works and offer suggestions for fixing what doesn't. We meet in the cafe of a local Barnes & Noble, and have polished many a page over Chai tea lattes and pumpkin cheesecake. So to Chester Campbell, Nancy Sartor, Richard Emerson, Nikki Nelson-Hicks, Cathy Randall, Nina Fortmeyer, Hardy Saliba, and even those who have wandered far afield from us (Robert, Larry, Jeannie, Jeff), a million thank yous for all you've done for my life and my writing.

10. The movies in my mind. They entertain, enlighten, and inspire me. I would be lost without them.

In these uncertain times, its nice to stop and remember the things that make life good. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!


Jean Henry Mead said...

Great post, Beth. Happy Thanksgiving!

Mark W. Danielson said...

Happy Thnaksgiving, Beth. I'd be LOST without my computer:)

For some reason, Thanksgiving isn't very popular here in Japan, but my ramp agent did ask about it upon my arrival this morning.

I was grateful for this job, and even though I'm a half a world away, I join you with your holiday thoughts, and wish mine and everyone else's a peaceful, joyous celebration.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Okay, so I can't spell, and since I'm still employed, I AM grateful for my job:) Happy Thanksgiving!

Chester Campbell said...

Thanksgiving is almost over now, but it has been a great day. We had a couple of dozen folks for turkey and lots of other good stuff. That included three of my four offspring and most of their families, plus Sarah's two and their families, including three great-grandkids. Beth, you did a great job of enumerating many of the things us mystery writers are thankful for. Except for NANOWRIMO. That's a bit more ambitious than I'm prepared for. But I'm thankful I have the opportunity to write what I please, and that people seem to enjoy reading it.

Beth Terrell said...

Thanks to all of you. Chester, sounds like a great day spent with family. Mark, I'll bet you come across a lot of interesting holidays during your travels.

Mark W. Danielson said...

Well, let’s see. I’ll be spending Christmas in Dubai and take off at 3 AM on New Year’s day to fly to China and on to Kazakhstan. Neither place celebrates the way we do, but it’s always interesting . . .

Logan Lamech said...

The really inventive stories and movies always inspire me as well, creativity begets creativity, I guess in that we we are all connected.

Logan Lamech