Writing a Sequel

Katie Lennox, the teen star of my first book has been very busy. The problem is, I’m the only one who knows this. She’s back to the future. Well, back to the present time that is. Before I even finished RIPPED, I knew where Katie was headed. Of course her love of history and literature, and curiosity of the world in general, would lead her to University. Oxford most likely.

She and Toby made a connection in RIPPED, or at least she felt they did. Does Toby feel something for Katie too? I am working this all out as I write the sequel. In many ways this book is going more quickly than RIPPED did, but still I’m cutting and moving things around and rewriting again and again. I love to write, but it is never fast for me.

I am still doing author events for RIPPED. We launched the book in London at the end of September with a wonderful gala at the Tower of London. And some enterprising schools in the greater Boston area are holding fundraisers at Barnes and Noble stores in November and December. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of RIPPED will go to their school. I’m excited to meet these students and answer questions. This is always the fun part, interacting with people who love books. Wonder how other writers work on their new books, while still promoting their previous ones. I know I am lucky to have such problems.

Will try and jot a note more often. AND will push to finish this next book.

-Shelly

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Playing Fair with the Reader

I’ve been an avid reader of murder mysteries since I was ten. That’s when I first read He Wouldn’t Kill Patience by my grandfather John Dickson Carr.  I was hooked. I’ve read so many mystery novels that it’s a rare one indeed that stumps me. I once watched my grandfather, Daddy John,  throw a book across the room because the author had not played fair with the reader. There were not enough clues for an astute reader to figure out who the murderer was.

Playing fair with the reader is just as important to me. Of course, a good mystery writer uses obfuscation to send the reader off into different deductive directions. But by the end of the book, the reader must never feel cheated. The clues pointing to the killer need to be planted in such a way that the reader thinks, “Of course that character was the villain!” By novel’s end, the clues were all there—pointing to the murderer. But the reader didn’t notice them all.

When I was about fourteen, Daddy John taught me how to plant clues so that the reader will pass right over them. When he gave up a clue, he would put something graphic immediately after it. He called it “blood on a white bandage.” Both he and Dorothy Sayers believed that the eye sees the image that follows the clue—and the mind forgets the clue. Even today when I’m reading mysteries, if I come across a very vivid scene, I’ll go back to discover the clue that comes right before it!

—Shelly

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How Does a Busy Person Write?

Many writers say they need a place apart: an office, a room, a café . . . somewhere away from the bustle of daily life. I’m no exception. I briefly mentioned the Writers’ Room of Boston and the Boston Athenæum in an earlier post, two wonderful spaces where I’ve worked.

It didn’t take me long to learn that when I have my head in the nineteenth century, even the tiniest interruption—someone asking a question, say—pulls me back into the twenty-first. And then it’s close to impossible to go back to the nineteenth. (Unlike Katie Lennox, I have no London Stone to transport me to a different era.)

When I work at home, in my top-floor aerie, I’ve been known to have a sign on the door—aimed at my family—that says

DO NOT DISTURB UNLESS YOU’VE BROKEN YOUR ARM

Sometimes it works, and then there are the other times. Often, I’ve packed up my notes and laptop, and decamped for one of two places: the Writers’ Room, which features camaraderie, members’ books, and a bulletin board in the anteroom, and the Boston Athenæum. But once you’re in the writing room itself, no one talks. No one. Ever. Blessed peace and quiet. Both the Writers’ Room and the Athenæum have served as my sancta sanctorum. In the latter, however, even tea is not allowed in the library.

Getting into the habit of writing is crucial, of course. Even when I didn’t feel like it, I knew I’d have to sequester myself and keep writing. If we’re not present at our desks (or at Starbucks with a laptop), the words are not going to come.

To see what treasures these two sanity-saving places are, click on the links to visit them in cyberspace:

http://www.writersroomofboston.org/

http://www.bostonathenaeum.org/

—Shelly

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O! The Editing Process!

Amid all the excitement surrounding the Independent Book Publishers Association award, I haven’t yet fulfilled my promise of discussing what it’s like to edit a book and then have it edited.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned along the way to seeing Ripped: A Jack the Ripper Time-Travel Thriller published, it’s that second-guessing yourself is the enemy. I wrote. I rewrote. I rewrote again. And again. After the eleventh (twelfth? But who’s counting?) draft, I checked it against my very first draft and found they were amazingly similar.

My initial reaction was often the correct reaction. And so, going with my gut, I changed the first chapter yet again at the eleventh hour (with the publisher’s staff waiting for me to finish . . .).

I also discovered that writers probably shouldn’t give their books to too many people to read. The book gets torn to pieces (in the nicest terms and with the best of intentions), and the writer becomes insecure. I found it’s not a good idea to drive a book in directions that follow other people’s maps!

Writers’ groups are different. They don’t try to steer you to a place you don’t want to go. While they provide helpful advice, they respect you as the author.

During the last phase, you need a professional editor. You need to trust the editor and trust the process. The editor is not the enemy. The editor wants what you want—a good book—so there’s no need for an adversarial relationship. I counted on my editor, Nan Fornal, to catch grammatical mistakes, factual errors, and more.

And in the final moments of the project, I found that I had to let go as the author, and just let Nan do her job.

—Shelly

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Who’s Katie in Real Life?

“How did you create the main character of Ripped?”

“Is Katie based on someone you know?”

“Are you Katie?”

These are just a few of the questions readers have asked me about the real-life identity of the fictional heroine of my first published book, RIPPED: A Jack the Ripper, Time-Travel Thriller.  The short answer is that Katie’s not based on just one person.

Although I love books and history, as do Katie and countless others, I’m definitely not Katie. But I’ll tell you that living with three daughters has given me a ready-made focus group for learning what teenagers are like, and especially teen girls.

­Our household never lacked for drama or changeability: One minute, one of my daughters would be feeling feisty or adventurous; the next, insecure. Katie also runs the gamut of these emotional states since she’s becoming very much her own person while living in the shadow of a sister who’s a rock star.

Katie’s largely an amalgamation of my three daughters. Any trait Katie has, you’ll find in one of my girls. Every emotion Katie shows, I’ve observed in one of them. Of course, a teenage girl’s characteristics and emotions are not necessarily permanent. Teenagers grow and change as they approach adulthood—whether in the real world or in the pages of a book. And I found that the more I wrote about Katie, the more real she became to me, and the more she became her own self.

—Shelly

 

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Three Benjamin Franklins!

 

Well, I’m posting again so soon because I got more good news. In addition to being a Silver Finalist in the mystery/suspense category, I am in the running for Best New Voice (Children/YA) as well as Best First Book. (Fiction)

What a thrill to be a finalist at all, but a finalist for three awards? I’m still pinching myself. That’s my whole post…. just a happy, happy update :)

-Shelly

 

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Finalist for IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award

I just got some wonderful news. RIPPED is a finalist for a national book award, in the mystery/suspense category. This is the 25th anniversary of the Benjamin Franklin Awards, which was created by the Independent Book Publishers Association. The awards ceremony is in New York City on May 29th. Exciting!

Many thanks to Nan Fornal, Jon Albertson and Annie Card at New Book Partners, for nominating my book for this honor. I had nearly completed the first draft of the sequel to RIPPED when I got the news. The timing couldn’t have been better. Do you ever have days when you wonder why you are doing what you are doing?

Well, to have a committee of publishing professionals say my book is good, in fact among the top three of up to 100 entries–that helps carry me through some of the self-doubt that creeps in occasionally.

Maybe now my family will understand why it took me so long to finish the book, why I kept climbing the stairs to the peak of the house to lock myself in my study to rewrite again and again. Sometimes it just takes as long as it takes. I couldn’t have done it any other way. I have so much to be thankful for– my family and friends and mentors… thank you all.
-Shelly

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What’s Next

After I had written a healthy chunk of my first draft of Ripped, it was time to steel myself for getting other people’s opinions. My three daughters are my first readers; they made lots of helpful suggestions, especially when they thought my teen slang didn’t ring true. They also questioned me about the characters and actions (“Would Katie do that?”), which led me to sharpen my view of the plot, the dialog, and the structure of the book.

While my husband is my biggest supporter, he tells me everything I write is wonderful . . . and I think the long process of rewriting is harder on him than it is on me!

I depend on my writers’ groups to give me helpful feedback on my work. Writers’ groups are so valuable. Members are all very supportive of one another’s work. They provide critiques without being judgmental. If you aspire to the writing life, I can’t recommend highly enough that you find yourself a group of peers to meet with. Everyone’s work benefits!

I also ask friends—very good friends—to read the manuscript. This sometimes leads to conflicting opinions, and I keep reminding myself that it’s my book, after all. I get excellent suggestions from friends, many of which I incorporate in the next draft.

And then, of course, it’s off to my editor. More on that process next time.

—Shelly

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Getting Down to It

Now that we’ve gotten the research out of the way, I promised a word—or maybe a few hundred—on my writing process.

I began working on Ripped at the Writer’s Room of Boston and at the Athenaeum Library, both havens for writers who require a quiet atmosphere to concentrate on their work. If you can’t write there, you can’t write anywhere: No talking allowed!

When I’m outlining a book, I sit up on the top floor of my house, away from the bustle down below. I outline in longhand. Once I begin writing, though, the process and I move to my computer. I’m not one to, as Jo March called it, “scribble” on paper. Not for me the handwritten novel that must be entered into a word-processing file. Writing it once is enough!

I write in the morning. In an ideal world, I’d get up, get the kids off, and write for a couple of hours. I begin by reading a page or two of what I wrote the day before to get into the voice and the story. I ignore the phone and can tolerate no distractions once I begin to write. The afternoon doesn’t work for me. Once lunchtime hits, my writing brain shuts down for the day. I can read and/or do research in the afternoon, but I can’t write a word.

When I was writing Ripped and would get stuck on a London scene, I’d go out for a walk around my neighborhood. With its stone walkways and gas lamps, it helps me get into a London frame of mind. The neighborhood also provides inspiration by being home to literary greats. From my office I can see Robin Cook’s studio, and Louisa May Alcott lived across the street. They’re members of my imaginary writers’ group. I depend on their presence.

—Shelly

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The Devil Is in the Details

Before I share details of my writing—and rewriting!–process, I want to tell you a bit about the research I did for Ripped: A Jack the Ripper Time-Travel Thriller. After the trip during which I decided to write this young-adult novel, London kept calling to me. And I was only too happy to respond! I went to London four times to research Victorian London and her infamous son. Authenticity is so important to me. I wanted to get all the details right.

Spending a week to ten days there on each visit, I learned that while many of 1888’s streets are gone, some are intact. And the Ten Bells Pub, which was likely associated with two of the Ripper’s victims, still does a brisk business at 84 Commercial Street in the Spitalfields neighborhood in the East End.

I spent days at the Black Museum, home to Scotland Yard’s documents relating to Jack the Ripper and many books on the subject. The study of Jack the Ripper and his crimes is known, appropriately enough, as “ripperology.” I also visited some old libraries in London and read a lot about pawn shops so the scene in the book that takes place in one would accurately reflect the actual shops of the day.

A little aside: Almost every time I talk to people about Ripped, someone will ask me about the Boston Strangler, assuming I must know him and his murders. But I don’t!

—Shelly

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