Beating Myself Up for No Good Reason

AKA Some New Year’s Resolutions

When I retired in May 2004, I immediately got cracking on my long-time dream of becoming a full-time writer. I started with an ambitious project: a dozen historical mystery novels set in Kansas City beginning in 1899 with January Jinx and ending with Deadly December in 1910, the year my mother was born. This project went great guns. And by spring 2007, I’d outlined the whole series, brainstormed thirty-six possible titles with my daughter’s help, researched and put the first book through seven drafts, and researched and drafted the second, Fatal February.

But a weird thing happened in April 2007 when I went to a book signing with a writer whose work I’ve come to admire. At that time, this author was well along in her contemporary mystery series, which still continues. With her husband she’d written most of a historical series set in Victorian and Edwardian England. On her own, she’d started another historical mystery series featuring a well-known, beloved children’s author.

Thinking that she’d be encouraging to another historical mystery novelist, I went up to her with one of her books in hand for her to sign. But when I told her I was writing a series of mysteries set in Kansas City around 1900, far from being encouraging, she dumped all the bad things about writing historical mysteries on me. People will criticize your research, she said, and the market for these books is small.

And I bought it. I accepted her wisdom as gospel. I decided that my hard work wasn’t good enough and that I might as well quit before I wasted any more time on it. I didn’t tell her about my Ph. D. in English literature, which says more than a little something about my research skills. I didn’t mention my experience teaching hundreds of college students how to do research and put their information together in readable papers. I didn’t tell her about the dozens of stories and nine novels I’d already completed.

Basically, I assumed that given the poor market for historical fiction, the project was worthless. So I abandoned it. Not only that, but I went into a funk and didn’t write fiction at all for two years. A long time for a fiction addict like I am. This and some other set-backs caused me to fall into a depression that I didn’t come out of until I got excited about writing fiction again in May 2009, a full five years after I retired.

But a funny thing happened this past autumn while I was busily self-publishing Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel and Cinderella, P. I. and other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories. I started thinking about how January was coming around again and wouldn’t it be great if I could bring January Jinx out in January 2014? If it was any good, of course.

So I pulled up the file and started reading. And you know what? I’d forgotten how much fun that book was and what a good job I’d done in incorporating the research without letting it bog the story down. Not just taking my own assessment for its merits, I asked my dear friend and art teacher, Barbara O’Leary to look at it again. She too found it to be lots of fun.

And so I’ve resolved to quit making the same old mistakes about my writing that I’ve made over the last twenty-five years.

Here are some of my specific resolutions for 2014.

1) I resolve to quit beating myself up for no good reason and equating a project’s potential low sales to its merit. After all, selling is hard for everyone these days. Consider, for example, the way Charlie Lovett’s agent couldn’t get an American publisher interested in The Bookman’s Tale until the agent had already sold Charlie’s excellent first mystery novel in eight foreign markets.

2) I resolve to have more confidence in my abilities. By the way, I’m not alone in being dogged by a lack of confidence. Recently, I found out from one of Louise Penny’s Facebook posts that she suffers from the same thing in spite of the way her Inspector Gamache novels keep racking up awards. She gets out of her funks and gets going again. So should I.

3) I resolve not to abandon any more projects until I’m sure they’re not worthwhile. This resolution includes work I’ve already published that I’m not marketing assertively enough.

4) I resolve to go back to projects that I abandoned. These include a big epic novel set in Ancient China around 200 B.C. It features. . . . I’m considering giving it a fantasy twist like George R. R. Martin has done to British history in. . . . Well, I’m getting ahead of myself. First I need to finish Wings, the sequel to Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel.

This all means I’d better get cracking, especially since I need to clean and reorganize my study, so I can find the hard copies of my orphans and the research materials that went into them.

In the meantime, you can read Walls as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00FQLQ2WI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-1-1) and Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories as an eBook (www.amazon.com/dp/B00GMMUSTI) or as a trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0-9899504-4-2).

And after resolving my issues with the cover, I’m pleased to announce that January Jinx, the first Calendar Mystery, set in Kansas City about a hundred years ago when living could get deadly, is now available for Kindle. (www.amazon.com/dp/B00HSSSBE4).

Best, Juliet

(This isn’t the final version of the cover.)

JJcov

Juliet’s Favorite Reads for 2013

Becoming a publisher in addition to being a writer has cut into my reading time quite a bit this year, so instead of my usual rate of four books a month, I read fewer than three a month in 2013. But the five I’ve chosen would stand out in any year. (Please note that not all were first published in 2013 because sometimes it takes me a while to discover the book everyone else read the year or so before.)

# 5 – Marie Brennan’s A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent (2013)

When I spotted this novel on the new and current shelf at my local library, its intriguing title and cover drew me to it. I picked it up, scanned the cover with the picture of a dragon shown partly in anatomical detail, and read the back cover. I put it back since mostly I read mysteries. But the clever concept of a fictional memoir of a lady scientist writing about her lifelong study of dragons drew me back. I checked it out and read it with great pleasure. This story of a bookish young girl drawn to dragons from an early age and determined to find out more about them in a somewhat Victorian setting did not disappoint. The Tropic of Serpents, the second in the series, comes out in March 2014 and I’ll buy it in hardcover, along with the trade paperback of the first.

# 4 – Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette (2012)

When I found out how this book was written, it intrigued me for a rather specialized reason. It’s a fictionalized compilation of emails, articles from scholarly magazines, school documents, letters, etc. As such it goes back to two early traditions in English literature: the epistolary novel, that is, written in the form of letters, like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, and fiction written in diary form, like Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year. (I have a vested interest in the latter style since I wrote my dissertation about thirty-plus pieces of fiction written entirely or partly in the form of journals. And actually, A Natural History of Dragons fits into the third tradition for the novel in English: the fictional memoir like Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe.) But no matter why I picked Semple’s novel up, I read it because it’s a touching story of a loving daughter trying to find where her eccentric mom has gone.

#3 – Colin Cotterill’s Killed at the Whim of the Hat (2011)

I’d been a fan of the Dr. Siri Paiboun mysteries for their humor and exotic setting in Communist Laos for some time before I discovered Cotterill’s new series with Jimm Juree, a young woman journalist who lives with her eccentric family in a southern Thailand resort town. Just thinking about the title and other quotations from George W. Bush that start the chapters makes me laugh out loud. This is a very enjoyable, lively read.

#2 – Charlie Lovett’s The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession (2013)

I’m putting this first novel near the top of the list not because one of my former students wrote it or even because it’s beautifully constructed of three different plot lines skillfully interwoven, but because at its heart it contains a touching and timeless story of a young man who finds the love of his life through books, loses her, and finds her again, also through books. It is not my top pick only because of my pick is

#1 – Louise Penny’s How the Light Gets In (2013)

When my friend Sally Ooms gave me this book for my birthday this year, I hugged it to my heart and beamed. (You can see my joy in my picture on my Facebook profile page.) The ninth in Penny’s Chief Inspector Gamache series demonstrates this masterful writer at the top of her game. The bad news for those of you who haven’t read these books is I can’t recommend this book to you. The good news is you get to read Still Life, the first in the series, and the other seven wonderful books that precede How the Light Gets In.