"Make a rule for yourself that the only way anyone will see your stories is by you writing them."
~ ANDY WEIR, author of The MartianNew Tricks is a British procedural comedy-drama that follows the work of the fictional Unsolved Crime and Open Case Squad (UCOS) of the Metropolitan Police Service. Led by Detective Superintendent Sandra Pullman, it is made up of retired police officers recruited to reinvestigate unsolved crimes. Here in the States, these often autonomous units are generally known as "Cold-Case" squads, but I like the British version just fine.
New Tricks is new to me, but in my research I find that there have been twelve seasons of this show on the BBC, so it appears that we have a lot of wonderful viewing to come! I received Series 1 on DVD as a gift several months ago, and have just gotten around to slipping it in for some quality viewing. In the first episode, Detective Superintendent Pullman (Amanda Redman), having landed on a certain pompous desk-riding boss's "list," is given the assignment of putting together a team of retired detectives to reinvestigate a botched case the particulars of which are about to allow a psychopathic killer to walk free. The final form of the team she assembles consists of ex-cops Brian Lane (Alun Armstrong), a recovering alcoholic with an instant memory for obscure details of long-forgotten cases, John Halford (James Bolam), Sandra's former boss on the homicide detail who discusses cases with his dead wife, and Gerry Standing (Dennis Waterman), a former cop almost too honest for his own good who hangs out with his three ex-wives (simultaneously!) and the daughters they all had together. The "tricks" these old dinosaurs get up to under the nose of their modern, rules-following boss drive much of the comedy, but these are marvelously-written, convoluted stories of brilliant police work in which the good guys come through in the end. The first episode hooked us hard, and we've since watched three, so we have a lot more to enjoy. As you might imagine, when a show runs for twelve seasons, there are going to be personnel changes, but the format is always three retired detectives led by an active female officer. I guess their motto is "If it works, don't fix it!"
New Tricks may be an old show, but if you haven't had the pleasure yet, you are really missing out. Think Law and Order with heart and humor, then drop in to amazon.com for your copy, and let the entertainment begin!
* * *
And then there are the new tricks I'm still wrestling with. I'm not used to being home full-time yet. Sure, with the goofy schedule I used to have, I had plenty of stretches of days off, but there was always a need to organize that time off because I could always see a date on the calendar when I had to be back in the office, and I knew I needed to accomplish A, B, and C before that date came around. Now there is no pressure, and my constant mantra is "I'll do it tomorrow." Only, I never do. I'm thinking that I might have to establish days on the calendar when I do certain things, housework, home repairs, playing games, going out, writing...
Oh, yeah, about that writing: Writing is the one thing that I have done without a break since late elementary school. It has been my constant companion through my abusive childhood, my naval service, my long period of unemployment spent taking care of my invalid great-grandmother, and on throughout my storybook marriage, and the raising of my sometimes difficult children. I have written my feelings, good and bad, I have escaped into fantasy worlds, I have created adventures in places that never existed. I love writing, and I very much don't want to abandon it, but it seems like it's in the process of abandoning me. It's like that cherished girlfriend you think you're going to be with forever, and one morning she comes out of the bedroom and says, "It's over." You never thought it would happen, but it has, and anything you try to do to convince her to stay just makes you look creepy.
I don't care. I'm going to fight for my title of Author. I spent a long time achieving it, and I'm not going to let it drift away without making every effort to recapture it. I'm not sure that any technique will actually work, but I'm going to try some. The hiatus that Bonnie suggested may not be a good idea, not that I won't try it. But, rather than setting a time, a year without writing in this case, I think I can say that I won't attempt to put words on paper until I'm feeling the burning need to let the story out, that it could be somehow dangerous to try to contain it. Of course, I need a story to be working on, laying down riffs, weaving plot lines, creating the most compelling characters and situations. Let me tell you what I had envisioned, and what I'm still going to attempt to make happen.
I am currently in post-production of Beyond the Rails III: Slayer of Darkness. Post-production for a writer involves rereading your work until you're sick of your own prose. You have to do the most mundane things, making sure that every set of quotation marks matches up, every dash and em-dash is used properly, every character is where he or she needs to be when he needs to be there, and that no one has teleported from Germany to Bolivia in the space of two minutes. Spelling? Oh, hell yeah! Then with the mechanics seen to, you get out all the notes that your wonderful volunteer alpha-readers provided during the creative process, and evaluate their suggestions for improvement. You decide which of these unpaid assistants you're going to offend by not using their suggestions, make changes to descriptions, find the right adjective for every occasion, write the blurb and the author bio, photograph the cover... Well, you see what an indie is up against, and none of this comes under the heading of his or her primary skill or interest, which is writing a book. If you're like me, and don't have the extra arm-and-a-leg lying around that an editor charges for their invaluable service, then you go it alone. You squint at the page, tracking down errant commas and dangling participles until you're bleeding from the eyeballs, and when you think you've caught them all, you start over, because that's your name on the cover, not your alpha-readers', not your writing group's, yours, and if your book is a bust, yours is the name everyone will add to their "Never Buy Again" list.
So maybe that's the burnout I'm feeling right now. I hope and pray that it is. I think I need to "steep" myself in The Craft, and hope, like a dying fire, it rekindles with some fresh logs.
It was always my intention to step back from Beyond the Rails after the third book, and take on a different project entirely, and I have already done some work on it. It's called Stingaree, and the first three chapters can be read by clicking on the title in the History and Samples tab at the top of the sidebar. They are very much drafts, and could change drastically when I begin work in earnest, but the story is largely set. It is my experiment with a story constructed around a historical personage, but as a minor character whose presence affects the main characters, who are entirely fictional. In this case, the name Stingaree is taken from San Diego's Victorian waterfront district, as rough a port as you could find on the Pacific Rim. The historic personage is Wyatt Earp, who owned one of the most famous bawdy establishments in Stingaree following his adventures in and around Tombstone. I plan to be poking around in this fascinating world, and hoping it drags me in and leaves me unable to not write the story. Time will tell, as will I, every Thursday on these very pages. Consider this your invitation to be here for the ride. It promises to be an interesting study in forced creativity.
* * *
Finally, allow me to close with a bit of old business. Last Friday, I posted an "Off-Spec," meaning Unscheduled post, early on my birthday with a few pictures of the early loot, because that was the time I had before things really got rolling. Later that evening, my son Brian showed up with his gift, a lamp of exquisite design which I present both on and off for your edification.
With inspiration like this literally lighting my way as I work at my desk, I can't possibly fail to recapture the magic... At least, that's what I'm going to keep telling myself! My religion teaches that if there's something you want to be, act as if you already are, and wait for the reality to catch up. With plenty of support from those closest to me, I'm well on the way!
You've probably noticed by now that one of my New Tricks has been to abandon the Every Thursday format; I'll be posting when I have something to say, so until next time, play nice, look out for one another, and get out there and live life like you mean it!