Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Mind Games

I’m safely back at home. I’d forgotten to bring my needlepoint with me on my trip to Wisconsin – had it packed up and everything, then walked out without it. I have a very real talent for doing that. In fact, on my way home, driving up I-94, I stopped in Toma, Wisconsin, for supper. Had a delicious club sandwich on toast at the Perkins restaurant, went to pay my bill only to pause by the glass case of pies. There were some beautiful pies on display and I wanted one – but I couldn’t decide which one. Some were not labeled and I soon had several employees trying to find out if one was a peach pie (I LOVE peach pie!), but they’d sold their last peach pie earlier in the day. I finally settled on a pumpkin pie. Somehow, in the tangle of a restroom visit (can anyone eat a club sandwich without getting mayonaise on every finger?), and paying by credit card, I managed to walk out without the pie. I was miles down the road before I realized it and called myself names for another ten miles. Then I saw that Black River Falls was coming up. I knew there was a Perkins there, having stopped there many times. So I pulled in. I didn’t think they could do anything, but maybe . . . Well, maybe they could contact the Toma restaurant and let me instruct them to give the pie away to a customer who wanted a pie – I didn’t want it thrown away. At the very outside I thought maybe I could get the card charge for it taken off. Well, the manager in Black River Falls is a friend of the manager in Toma (who remembered me because of all the dithering I did over selecting a pie) – and she gave me a replacement pie! “I’ll take it out of his hide,” she promised with a smile, pretending to be annoyed that they let me walk out without it. Now THAT’S customer service!

Knitting isn’t all that hard – I say that now, having found knitting to be easy once you learn it (it’s purling that is harder) – but there are people who just aren’t satisfied learning a craft. They have to find ways of making it extremely difficult. I am not just speaking of people who knit Aran sweaters. (Go to for a look at some.) I am speaking of this woman: Itty, bitty sweaters. No, littler than than itsy bitsy. I mean, sweaters the size of a dime! There is not a reason in the world for this woman to knit something that small. Is this just sour grapes? Well . . . yes, because I can’t do it and therefore say they are ridiculous. On the other hand, why do people do these ridiculously difficult things? God knows.

I thought Thai Die was going to come in short. Maybe as much as ten thousand words short. I called my agent, who said not to start padding but to go ahead and finish it and we’d worry about it later. So, thinking I had the end in sight, I set off toward the it – and the problem seems to have gone away. There are so many tangled strands to this thing that it is taking me longer than I thought to sort them out. I am no longer worried about it being too short. Funny how these things happen. People who don’t write ask us how we can write so many words. That’s easy to answer. We don’t think about writing 60,000 words at the start. That would scare anyone. We just start telling the story and pretty soon there is a great heap of words. Mine usually take between 55,000 and 65,000 words. I was afraid Thai Die was going to come in at 50,000. I have one published novel that is closer to 90,000. The problem for some of us is making it short enough to fit in just one volume. I sometimes think of the first four Betsy Devonshire novels as a single story in four volumes. It took that long for Betsy to discover her wild card talent for sleuthing and accept that her fate was to get mixed up in mysteries ever after. The first one was relatively easy – first ones often are. But I remember writing that fourth one, in which she declares she is through with sleuthing, it’s too scary and too difficult, and she’s not going to do it ever again. That was a great idea, and I thought it was realistic. I mean, what would you do if all of a sudden everywhere you go there’s a dead body? And people expecting you to find out why and who dunnit? I wouldn’t like that. The problem was, as I neared the end of the novel. Betsy, though sleuthing like mad, still didn’t want to sleuth. How to change her mind? I had to call in the big gun – Jill Cross Larson, who can talk sense into anyone. She and Betsy have a conversation, and Betsy gives in.

Does this sound like I’m talking about real people? They are real to me. That’s part of the fun – and insanity – of being a writer. To make it work, you have to think of them as real. What’s really interesting is when a fan takes them for real, too. We can sit and gossip about these people just as if we live in the same neighborhood. Are they insane, too?


Sheila Connolly said...

"what would you do if all of a sudden everywhere you go there’s a dead body?"

That's the problem cozy writers face. We create likeable, "normal" people, and then they keep tripping over bodies all the time. Do we let them ignore that fact? Do they comment on it? ("I liked my life before all the bodies showed up.") But as long as your protagonist is reluctant to get involved, readers can identify with her.

And I'm having the darndest time getting started on my second reversible Aran blanket... Maybe there's a message in there: it looks the same from both sides. Not complex enough for a mystery writer?

Dee Winter said...

That's why we read series like Betsy, and Mrs Murphy and Sister and Patty Ann, they are real. It's an escape to a world of friends who do things we wouldn't/couldn't. One of my friends husbands is a peace officer, he doesn't want or need my help. And that's just fine. But we all hold our breath when the bad guys think they have the upper hand. But good always wins out. Thank heavens.

Camille Minichino said...

Love the pie/customer service story, Monica. There are too few of those around!

And the pieces I knit aren't dime size, but pretty small ... size 000 needles and embroidery thread.

Why? to go into ridiculously small doll houses.

Lynn in Texas said...

I love the tiny knitware but wow, must be tedious! Here's more cute craziness I found & thought of Monica, cupcakes decorated with marzipan knitting! Enjoy.

Lynn in Texas said...

Sorry, that didn't paste to the correct page. Try this: