Ouch! Being Critiqued Hurts.

That thudding you hear is me banging my head against my desk. A few weeks ago, I sent the first six chapters of Miss Dee Ann Meets Murder to three critiquers.  Now I know their job was not to sprinkle fairy dust and blow sunshine.  I paid these people to tell me the unvarnished truth about this novel I’ve been working on for OVER FIVE YEARS.

20170812_081618Well, in spurts, I admit. But still….  I’ve sacrificed a lot of HGTV time trying to pen my great American novel.

Which, I’ve been told, isn’t so great. Not in its current form, anyway.  Here are a couple of direct quotes from Critiquer #1:

“You write well, and there’s a lot here that rings true. But there are other things I think you could sharpen….Make it a real mystery right from the beginning….Make Dee Ann more sympathetic….Speed up the beginning…”

She ends with “There’s a lot of promise here. I wish you the best.”

And I thought I was closing in on my final draft.

Critiquer #2 was even harsher. Among other things, she didn’t like Baby Heather.  “…the truth is, Heather doesn’t seem entirely credible.  All the reader hears about is Heather going down for a nap or wailing, getting strapped in a car seat, etc.  We need details about Dee Ann’s life as a mother, if that’s her shtick.  I had a question, in fact, whether you have a child or children….”

IMG_0513What??? I had three baby girls once upon a time and when they were Heather’s age (three months old), I really don’t remember a lot of action other than napping, wailing, and my strapping them into infant seats.

Okay, okay, I know I don’t need to get all defensive here. If I’m honest with myself, I should include more description.  The critiquer did suggest I could have Dee Ann “cursing the batteries in the baby swing that aren’t working anymore, eyeballing the mashed beef like it’s dog food, taking out the diaper pail, or throwing something away in it.”

Good ideas, I grudgingly have to admit.

So, it’s back to the drawing board for me, to use a cliché, which I was also warned against. I’ll incorporate what I think works and disregard the rest.

I will survive, and so will Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder.

 

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Fiction Mirrors Reality–Sort Of

At the beginning of “Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder,” my protagonist, her husband, and their baby daughter are on the way to Narrow Creek where they will live in an upstairs apartment in the backyard of their landlords, the Vaughans.

Although I cannot stress enough the fact that I am not Dee Ann Bulluck, the main character in my novel, I did use an upstairs apartment my husband and I lived in during the first years of our marriage as a model for my description of the Bulluck’s home.

At least, I thought I was describing the place I lived in close to forty years ago. Recently I happened upon a photo of this apartment in our first daughter’s baby book.  (Note: She is not Baby Heather either.)

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Dee Ann describes her new home as being a two-story brick building  She mentions an “ordinary front door and a tiny, unadorned stoop.”  The structure has simple four-pane windows, “two on the second floor aligned over two on the first.”  The Bulluck’s apartment is upstairs.

I got part of the description right. In the photo, I do see an ordinary front door and a tiny stoop.  I didn’t remember the large, multi-paned downstairs window on the right, however, but then we lived upstairs (like the Bullucks), so I never looked out this window.

Funny how fuzzy our memories can become. I honestly don’t recall that covered walkway leading from the apartment building all the way (maybe ?) to our landlords’ house.

The landlords’ house—in reality a spacious brick ranch—becomes in my novel a “stately red-brick colonial-style house complete with third-floor dormers.” Something like this.

Image result for brick colonial williamsburg with third floor dormers

Awed by her first glimpse of the Vaughan’s residence, Dee Ann comments, “I have always loved anything Williamsburg.”

 

 

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Taking a Break? Not Really

This week, I’m taking a break from blogging about my revision of “Ms. Dee Ann” (possibly to be renamed “Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder”). I’ve recently come off a ten-day vacation with grandchildren and am still reeling from all the fun I had.

I use the word “reeling” here because hanging out with my grandchildren is not for the faint of heart. They’re good little people for the most part—a few karate chops and kicks at siblings aside—but they are active with a capital A.

Most kids are, but when you’re a 60-something grandma who is used to a quiet life with plenty of downtime, the activities these grandchildren drag their grandma into (I’m talking about me here!) are sometimes out of her comfort zone.

My column this week in the Rocky Mount Telegram details some of what I’m talking about.  (Click on the tab above marked Patsy’s Columns or the link below.) What I couldn’t put in the Telegram are the photos:

Dancing with Miss North Carolina

Yes, that’s me, the only other adult on the dance floor with the very glamorous current Miss North Carolina. I’m holding hands with my five-year-old grandson as we’re trying to do the Electric Slide.  That’s his big sister, my oldest grandchild who’s eleven, to his left.  Read this week’s column to learn how I found myself on a parquet dance floor at the Wrightsville Beach Holiday Inn with a beauty pageant winner and a bunch of kids. www.rockymounttelegram.com/Patsy-Pridgen

IMG_0489 patsy in the poolThis photo shows me going down the pool slide at a resort in Myrtle Beach. Actually someone snapped this picture a couple of summers ago, but again, I was under the influence of grandchildren, who had wheedled me into such a stunt.  Nothing, I repeat NOTHING, I would ever have done had I been at this hotel without them.

My grandchildren trigger my usually dormant sense of adventure. They pull me into places and situations where I wouldn’t go by myself.  So what if they leave me reeling?  I go home to rest up for the next adventure.

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A Sheet Cake Eases Grief

Ms. Dee Ann, currently being revised as Murder in Narrow Creek or Ms. Dee Ann Meets Murder (maybe I should take a vote for which title to choose) uses Southern life in a small town in 1979 as its setting.

And what could be more Southern than “funeral food”? In one chapter, an elderly member of Dee Ann’s church, Miss Annabelle Jenkins, has died and Elizabeth, Dee Ann’s friend and fellow church member, calls to ask for Dee Ann’s help with the meal to be served to the family in the fellowship hall.  Here’s how the conversation goes:

“Listen,” Elizabeth announced, “I’m in charge of the bereavement meal that will be served before the funeral.  We’ll do the cool weather menu, although at the first of October there are still some warm days and who knows whether people will want green bean casserole or marinated vegetable salad.”

Image result for picture of green bean casserole

I [Dee Ann] knew enough about funeral food to recognize that green bean casserole was cool weather food and marinated vegetable salad was warm weather….

“Can you make a nine by thirteen sheet cake?” Elizabeth asked. “You know, just get a box of Betty Crocker yellow cake mix and a can of chocolate frosting.  You don’t have to make a cake from scratch—we working women don’t have time for that anymore—but at least mix up and bake a boxed batter.  

“We don’t want to buy a Pepperidge Farm cake Image result for picture of yellow sheet cake with chocolate icingto use for a bereavement meal.  That would seem uncaring.  Although I do love that chocolate layered cake they make.”

“I’ll be glad to make a sheet cake, Elizabeth,” I interjected before she went off on a tangent about all the different varieties of frozen desserts.

Southern funeral food has always eased the pain of death.

BEREAVEMENT MEALS (List Used by West Haven Presbyterian Church, Rocky Mount, NC)

Cool Weather Menu                                     Warm Weather Menu

Fried Chicken or Ham                                  Fried Chicken or Ham

Potato Casserole                                             Potato Casserole

Green Bean Casserole                                   Marinated Vegetable Salad

Cranberry Salad                                             Deviled Eggs

Rolls                                                                   Rolls

Sheet Cake                                                        Sheet Cake

 

“These are basic menus to use but do not have to be followed exactly. Butter beans are a nice addition to either menu.”

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The Plot Thickens at the NOW Meeting

How to tie in a meeting about the Equal Rights Amendment (see previous post for more details) to my cozy mystery plot?

One of the four young women in attendance is a “person of interest” in the murder that Dee Ann is trying to solve. This woman’s outburst during the question and answer portion of the program adds to the whodunit plot.  Here’s part of what happens:

“My name is Lisa Strayhorn, and I’m married to the music minister at First Baptist Church here in town.”

I [Dee Ann] knew that voice from somewhere. Lisa Strayhorn, married to a music minister.  This was the Lisa I had overheard confronting Cynthia that Saturday at the Junior Woman’s Club Arts and Craft Show.  I was all ears.

“The information you two ladies presented here tonight has made me realize just how oppressed I am in my marriage. For the last ten years, since the day I said ‘I do,’ I’ve built my entire world around my husband.”

Not entirely, I wanted to interject. [Dee Ann knows of the affair Lisa had with the murder victim.]

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“People don’t realize how confining it is to be married to someone in the church. You ladies talk about a woman being paid less than a man.  When you’re the wife of a clergyman—even a music minister—you’re expected to work for nothing.  Parishioners seem to think there’s a buy one, get one free deal.”

How about marry one, have a fling with another? I almost said.

“…Nursery duty, visiting the shut-ins, heading up Vacation Bible School, organizing the Wednesday night suppers. It’s been a full-time, unpaid job, and I’m sick of it.  And I’m sick of my husband for signing me up for all the church grunt work just to impress his boss, the preacher.  Tonight’s meeting has given me the courage to leave the church and my husband.”

Betty and Gloria were talking over each other as they insisted the ERA wasn’t about leaving husbands and forsaking churches. Lisa was too busy planning her future to listen to their disclaimers…”

Image result for question marks

 

There’s more as Dee Ann wonders whether Lisa is really leaving town because of her unhappy marriage … or because of her involvement in her lover’s murder.

 

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Scenes from the Seventies Add to the Setting

Remember the ERA? The Equal Rights Amendment was a 1970s piece of legislation that proponents said would help to guarantee equality for American women, especially in the workplace.  By 1979, this controversial, much-debated amendment needed only three more states to vote yes for ratification.

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In one chapter of Murder in Narrow Creek, set in 1979, Dee Ann, mostly out of curiosity, attends a meeting conducted by representatives from the Raleigh chapter of NOW (the National Organization for Women).  The NOW ladies have come to Narrow Creek to drum up support for the passage of the ERA in North Carolina, one of 15 states that had not yet approved the amendment.

Only Dee Ann and three other women are in attendance as the meeting begins. This soon changes as Mrs. Tippy Gaylord—wife of the president of Narrow Creek Community Bank, Joe’s place of employment—crashes the meeting.  Here’s a snippet.

Suddenly a voice came from the back row of seats, “Who wants to be equal to men? Most women enjoy being put on a pedestal.  I know I do.”  I [Dee Ann] turned in my seat to see who had slipped into the room to interrupt the speaker before she had hardly begun and found myself locking eyes with none other than Tippy Gaylord.

“I would appreciate the chance to speak before fielding comments from the audience,” Betty [the NOW representative] replied, unruffled.

“Personally, I’m not going to sit through whatever communist propaganda you intend to spout off. I came only to warn these impressionable young women here tonight not to believe anything they hear from you liberal feminists.”  Tippy Gaylord made the word feminists sound like a profanity while glaring at us “impressionable young women” in the room.  I felt her disapproving stare lingering on me.  I was hoping she didn’t recognize me from her Fourth of July party.  Maybe all the wives of the men who worked for her husband looked alike to the wealthy Mrs. Gaylord.

Incidentally, North Carolina never voted yes on the ERA, and the amendment fell three states short of ratification by an extended 1982 deadline.

In my next blog, I’ll let you in on how this meeting concerning the ERA advanced the novel’s cozy mystery plot.

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Writing Squeezed into Life

Recently a writer friend asked me whether I had set a deadline for my revision/conversion of Ms. Dee Ann into Murder in Narrow Creek.  “Do you plan to be finished by fall?” she inquired.

The question caught me a little off guard. “No, I don’t really have a schedule,” I replied.  “I just write like crazy every chance I get.”

I could have gone on to explain that it’s summertime and my grandchildren are out of school and I want to hang out with them at the pool. And it’s summertime and I plan to go to the beach as much as possible.  And it’s summertime and there’s a member-guest golf tournament that my husband plays in that involves weekend guests and parties for the spouses.  I could go on, but you get the idea.

I don’t want to live a life of seclusion. I don’t want to give up the fun.  And I especially don’t want to miss the magical moments in my grandchildren’s lives. As I learned with my own, kids aren’t kids very long.

So on good days I squeeze in two to three hours of writing, usually in the morning when my mind is clearer and not yet fried by all the small aggravations and responsibilities of the day.

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And when I don’t have time to sit at my desktop, I improvise. I’ve revised while riding in the car on the way to the beach or sitting by the pool while a grandchild is involved in swim team practice.

Eventually, Ms. Dee Ann will become Murder in Narrow Creek.  A sentence here, a sentence there, every chance I get.

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