There’s more than one way to write a book

This is my first post as part of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group blog hop. You can check it out (and join!) here: https://www.insecurewriterssupportgroup.com/p/iwsg-sign-up.html.

I’ve been checking out the IWSG blogs for a while, but have never felt confident enough to sign up. But this month’s prompt is about reading preferences and writing, and guess what? I have reading preferences and I like to write. I might be able to do this!

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I have always loved reading mysteries. Encyclopedia Brown was fun. I read my Trixie Belden books so much I wore out the covers. But as much as I enjoyed them, neither of those affected me the way Agatha Christie books did. Once I discovered her my whole worldview changed. I couldn’t wait to grow up and have a house in the English countryside. I’d have friends that entered the house through the windows just like the characters in Ms. Christie’s books did. I didn’t realize that when Ms. Christie said someone came in at the window, she was actually referring to patio doors. I really thought the characters climbed up into the windows, and I could not wait to have friends like that. We’d have weekend parties and only use doors when we were dressed for our formal dinners every night.

I didn’t imagine solving murders though. No one ever died when I imagined my country house. No one even sprained an ankle exiting via the window. Sometimes I thought there might be some amnesia type mystery, but never a murder.

I eventually quit thinking that people climbed in windows, but I never did get inspired to write a murder mystery. I get a vicarious thrill when I see how an author handled a clue – “Ooooh, it must have felt good when you put that subtle mayonnaise reference back in chapter three. Excellent.”- but I have no idea how to go about doing that myself.

I am currently working on an epistolary novel, so these days the closest my brain would get to a murder mystery would be along the lines of, “Dear Maude. The vicar was shot. There is a person here investigating it.” I could probably keep up the suspense for three pages if I threw in a description of the ha-ha. (I’m still dreaming about that house in the countryside). The big reveal would probably be, “So it turned out the gardener killed the vicar because of the tea set. Oh right. Just realized I forgot to tell you that the vicar had a tea set that belonged to the Romanovs. Sorry about that. Anyway, they arrested the gardener. Please give the puppy a kiss for me. Love, Victoria.” Not Hercule Poirot-esque at all.

That’s not to say that my reading hasn’t influenced my writing. “Up the Down Staircase” by Bel Kaufman was the first epistolary(ish) book I ever read. It was the first time I noticed “how” a book was written. I remember thinking, “An entire book in letters/memos/etc? Is that even allowed?”

It also seemed like it must have been fun to write. I know now that might not have been entirely the case. Writing is not always fun. But the idea that writing could be fun was an exciting idea I had not considered up to that point. That one fun book in an unusual format captured my imagination in a way that all those murder mysteries had not.

Hang on-a fun book in whatever format I want? Sounds great. I will definitely finish writing that soon.

~

I’m always interested in an epistolary book, so If you have any recommendations please let me know. Murder mystery recommendations are also always welcome.

Keeping the Clichés at Bay

The clichés are out to get me.

Not that I’m special or anything. Clichés stalk everyone, trying to wedge themselves into people’s lives. The more people they can convince to write/do/be clichés, the happier the cliché powers-that-be are. “Do what you want,” says the cliché, “I can’t stop you. But don’t you want to just try this other thing? Or maybe just describe it this other way? See? I knew you’d like it. All’s well that ends well.”

I don’t know why the clichés were even putting effort into my life. It was practically a cliché already when all of this started. I’d been married to my high school sweetheart almost thirty years. We had kids, dogs, a mortgage, etc. The only thing even a bit unusual about us was that we were a military family, living on bases and moving frequently. Maybe the cliché committee wasn’t meeting its quota or something. Who knows. But for whatever reason they sent one of their oldest, most reliable, cliché inducing situations: the mid-life crisis. My husband, about to turn 50, left to start a new life.

For weeks, I was a total break up cliché — crying, binge watching TV, grief eating. Going to work and keeping the dogs fed were about the only two things that I could accomplish. Somewhere, an entry-level cliché handler was awarded an “Employee of the Month” parking spot for provoking my oh-so-typical response.

But soon, it occurred to me that the situation was not as common as it seemed. My Marine husband hadn’t left me for a woman he met on a deployment. He left to pursue a relationship with a woman from his Bible study group. Not ultra-common.

I was in the midst of preparing to be a bridesmaid as well. The wedding was in a different part of the country, so all the preparations were being handled long distance. Literally two weeks after husband left, I had to drag myself out of the house and go to the bridal store alone to try on bridesmaid dresses. I did manage to not roll my eyes or cry when random brides-to-be picked out their dresses. Bonus non-cliché points for that.

I had also recently been placed in the Jeopardy contestant pool. I was excited to get that far into the Jeopardy process, but I didn’t really expect to get on the show. But after my husband left, I just knew the next catastrophe would be Jeopardy calling me while I could barely function. There’d be a laryngitis epidemic, and I’d be one of the only people in the contestant pool that could still speak loudly. Jeopardy would be forced to call me as a last resort. Then, I’d get to have a nervous breakdown on TV when Alex revealed the category “Happily Ever After.” Surely that hasn’t happened often.

So, to review: Husband left me for Bible study woman; I was preparing to be a bridesmaid; and I was waiting for Jeopardy to call me out to Hollywood.

Nice try, forces of cliché! Instead of adding up to the biggest divorce cliché ever, my life had become the premise of a sitcom.

Sitcom me would be angry, not sad. She’d say things like, “Which Bible verse made him think this is ok? ‘Rationalizations, Chapter 2018’?” or “What, he’s a pirate now? Vows are more like guidelines?”

Sitcom me would lose weight and look fabulous in her bridesmaid dress. So fabulous that she’d convince a sexy groomsman to accompany her to the Jeopardy taping. In a brilliant, season-ending plot twist, she’d win big in Final Jeopardy by being the only contestant who knew that John A Lejeune was the 13th Commandant of the Marine Corps. Sitcom me and sexy groomsman would use the winnings to get surfing lessons in Hawaii.

Of course it’s not how my life went. I didn’t think up those snarky comments until I started writing this blog. I had a great time at the wedding, but the only thing I picked up was a hangover. Jeopardy never called. But even though my life didn’t become a sitcom, thinking that it could be one cheered me up. For a while, I even quit thinking my life was a cliché.

Of course the cliché committee couldn’t let that continue, so they sent online dating.

I had not been thinking about dating at all. When you’re dealing with a divorce, you’re not really thinking “Can’t wait to have another guy break up with me.” But people talked to me about dating all the time, especially online dating. Some of them even sang dating app jingles at me.

Since I’d been married so long, my only experience with online dating was from years before when someone used my debit card number to sign up for a dating app. So aggravating. Not only did I have to block my card and reset all my automatic payments, I also had to convince my financial institution that I did not sign up for that dating site. “No, I did not sign up for that app, I’m married. No, really. Look at my birth date, I don’t even technically qualify to use that app yet. Trust me, if I were to ever use a dating app, it would be something more along the lines of “cougarsrus.com.”

(Ok, I never said that last one to my financial institution. I said it at a party when the idea of being single seemed impossible. Sometimes the clichés team up with irony. Jerks.)

But now I was a prime candidate for a dating app. Why not?

Not sure what I was expecting. I guess some grand algorithm that paired me up with my ideal mate. He’d probably live in Buenos Aires and I’d never get to meet him, but at least I’d know a match was out there. We could at least be pen pals.

I’d forgotten that some apps are based on location instead of algorithms. I was shocked when I hit “enter” and men immediately appeared on the screen. I hadn’t even answered any questions about my favorite books yet! Was it swipe right or left if you liked someone?

On the first day I noticed a lot of guys from a city about 75 miles away. I’d never heard of the place, which was weird since the number of possible matches seemed to indicate it was a decent sized city. An internet search revealed that it’s a truck stop. Guys were stopping for gas, checking the app, and then driving away! Seemed weird and counter-productive, but then again, I had just learned which way to swipe. For all I knew, gas station likes earned extra star power or something.

On day three I finally got brave enough to send messages to some of the men. First guy responded with one word. ONE WORD. I gave him a day to add more information before giving him the left swipe heave ho. “No thank you,” I said to the app. “I do not have the mental energy to pry conversations out of a man.”

Another guy suggested we go for a long car ride on our first date. Oh sure, that’s not creepy.

After a few more frustrating interactions I took a break from messaging, but I kept stalking the app. I quickly developed some auto-rejection criteria:

Guys at the truck stop

Guys pictured holding a fish

Guys that didn’t smile in their pictures

Guys wearing a hat in every picture

Guys posing at the gym

Guys whose beards weigh more than my dog

Except for the not smiling one, there is nothing wrong with any of those things. They were just reasons to not have to pick anyone.

Rejecting every man no matter what? Afraid to open myself up to a new relationship? Ugh. You could practically feel the clichés in the room.

I kept scrolling and swiping, but with no real purpose. Two profiles finally convinced me that I probably wasn’t ready to date.

First guy said he was in the Air Force. “Give me a break, Air Force. Get back to me if you join the Marines Corps.”

Very next guy was a Marine. “NO MARINES! SWIPE LEFT! SWIPE LEFT!”

I laughed at myself and gave up. Probably just in time. Cliché-wise, I was probably only a day away from taking a chance on a giant-bearded, body-building, hat-modeling fisherman.

The only thing I got out of the app was stories. The truck stop thing made people laugh, as did my ridiculousness about Marines. I started thinking that the whole thing would be fun to write about.

BAM! Sneak attack! Big cliché had obviously found out I’d avoided the “I’d given up on love when I met him” trap, and they’d leveled up! Of course they’d suggest writing about online dating! Writing about online dating is practically the cliché-est of clichés!

I fought the urge to write. I told people that I’d really like to write about it, but it had already been done. I pretended I didn’t have a blog, or even a journal. But come on! I’m supposed to resist writing about people checking their dating apps at truck stops? Can’t be done!

So, I gave in and wrote this blog post. But that doesn’t mean the clichés are the boss of me! Sure, I wrote about online dating even though it had been done a million times before, but if I saw a cliché heading my way, I grabbed that cliché and used it as a weapon! I invoked clichés to beat other clichés at their own game!

Yes, I achieved Meta-Cliché! Victory! Bow to Your Queen, clichés! I own you.

Probably not interesting enough for a TV show, but it might make a good t-shirt.

Anyone else out there beating clichés into submission?