Friday, June 22, 2018

How It All Started: My First Writing Effort

by Maggie King

As a devotee of Nancy Drew, I wrote mysteries in grade school. In high school I poured my considerable adolescent angst into bad poetry. After that, the only writing I did for many years was journaling. During the last year I lived in Los Angeles, three of my co-workers took creative writing and screenwriting courses at UCLA Extension. I read their work and was impressed by their talent. I also thought “I could do this.” I was a member of a mystery book group (it was the model for the Murder on Tour group in Murder at the Book Group) and felt confident that I could turn out a mystery. When I moved to Virginia in 1996 the first thing I did was to register for a writing course at the University of Virginia. Two women, Margaret and Tristan, taught the course and were extremely encouraging and supportive of their students.

Despite the title of this post, “My First Writing Effort,” I don’t have my first writing efforts, the ones inspired by Nancy Drew in grade school. They seem to have vanished—probably a good thing. But in that class at UVA I started the story that would evolve countless times until its birth as Murder at the Book Group, my debut. 

I called it Death Comes Knocking and intended for it to be a prologue. On October 14, 1996 I submitted a shorter version and got a lot of helpful feedback from the teachers. I added to it and came up with the following a week later (I haven’t changed a word. Honest!):

Deanna unlocked the door of the motel room, flipping the light switch as she entered. She threw her purse down on the chair, sat on the edge of the lumpy bed, stood up, started pacing. Waiting. Clearly agitated. She no longer noticed the holes in the carpet, the cigarette burns on the formica nightstands as well as on the foam-filled vinyl chair cushions, or the steady drip of the shower.

She had been meeting her lover in the sleazy rooms of Marty’s Hideaway many times over the past year, but this time was different. This time they would talk about the future of their relationship, if indeed there was one.

The last time they met, Deanna had hit him with the news that she was pregnant. He didn’t have much to say, in fact he had lapsed into silence for an hour, a silence she wasn’t able to break. Then he said he needed time to think, that he would call her. He was distant.

He didn’t call for several days. Deanna was sure he was going to bolt, that this was the end for them. After a period of fretting, obsessing, and barely functioning, she started to accept his desertion. But then he did call, said he wanted to see her, he’d done a lot of reflecting, “agonizing” was how he put it, about their situation. He had seemed rather excited on the phone, not like his usual subdued self. They arranged a time to meet at “their” place.

So here she was, at Marty’s Hideaway, waiting for him, for his decision. She vaguely resented that he controlled the relationship, but didn’t feel up to addressing that issue now. She knew she couldn’t express her needs, like marriage, family, living happily ever after, etc. she paced some more, drank water from a plastic cup, felt almost desperate enough to peruse the inevitable Gideon bible, a blasphemous joke in this place where the clientele paid by the hour.

She jumped when she heard the knock. As she ran to open the door, she put on a big smile, and tried to pretend that she wasn’t nervous. She was greeted by an enormous bouquet of red roses, so enormous that it totally obscured the face of its presenter. What a nice surprise!—he wasn’t given to relationship niceties like flowers, and this arrangement must have cost him a fortune. So maybe he had decided to take the plunge, and make a commitment to her after all—maybe things were looking up.

Then the bouquet fell to the floor, the beautiful floral arrangement strewn over the ugly, threadbare carpet. Deanna bent down to pick them up, but stopped, startled, uncomprehending at what she saw before her. And she would never be able to reveal what she did see in that moment just before her world went black.

I wish I still had the critique comments from the teachers and the students. It’s not great writing but I don’t think it’s horrible, especially for my first effort. And that’s coming from someone who’s highly self-critical. What do you think? It won’t bother me if you think it’s unpublishable—I’ve typed too many words since this first effort. But I’m toying with the idea of doing something with it, perhaps a short story.

The important lesson for me and one I can pass on to other aspiring writers: look at the first paragraph of this post where I told myself “I could do this.” Well, I am doing this.

This is my last post on Novelspaces for a while, as we’re taking a hiatus for a year. But we’ll periodically select the best posts from the past nine years.

Olive, my muse since 2012

Maggie King is the author of the Hazel Rose Book Group mysteries, including Murder at the Book Group and Murder at the Moonshine Inn. She has contributed stories to the Virginia is for Mysteries anthologies and to the 50 Shades of Cabernet anthology.
Maggie is a member of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and the American Association of University Women. She has worked as a software developer, retail sales manager, and customer service supervisor. Maggie graduated from Elizabeth Seton College and earned a B.S. degree in Business Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology. She has called New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California home. These days she lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband, Glen, and cats, Morris and Olive. She enjoys reading, walking, movies, traveling, theatre, and museums.
Instagram: authormaggieking
Amazon author page:

Thursday, June 14, 2018

The Three "R"s

No, I'm not talking about the school curriculum. This month I thought I would share three "R"s - a Recommendation, a Reservation and a Remarkable.
It's not all about writing, but this is a bit of me as a woman, wife and mother. Oh, and an author.

Recommendation - Get a dog

I had always been a cat lover, and I still love the sleek, independent, furry creatures. When I met my now-husband, my home was shared with a female, feisty, demanding Siamese seal point and a loving, put-up-with-anything ginger tom. The other love of my life shared his home with a four-legged tortie and white, and a three-legged tortie and white. With these two irresistible females in his life, I had to fight for his attention.

Twenty-six years, and a wedding and a son later, I received the nag nag nag for a dog. My response was automatic, having been rehearsed for about three years, during which time everyone in our village got a dog.
“I don’t want a dog. I haven’t got time to walk a dog, I'm a busy writer. I don’t want claws on my wooden floor. I don’t want dog hairs on my clothes…” There were a lot of “I”s, I know.
Then I stopped to think. I had given up work to raise our little boy. My choice to be an author was a by-product of that decision. So why was I saying “no” to our only son.

Needless to say, six months later eight-week-old Pepper came to live with us. For the first few weeks I asked myself, “What the hell have you done?”

In the decision-making progress to have a dog, I evaluated being an author working in the kitchen would fit right in with keeping an eye on a puppy. I was wrong. I could only have eyes for the puppy. The times she slept were not long enough for me to get into the zone for my writing. There was no continuity, which is so important to make scenes work. And I felt quite low at times, as a prisoner of my own house, mostly the kitchen. On top of that my hands were scarred with bite marks from scissor like baby teeth, and sore from being in and out of water to clean up numerous poohs and wees—rubber gloves were not an option and hand cream became my new best friend. Although Pepper was a very good sleeper at night—we have not had one bad night with her—we couldn’t put her to bed until about 10.30 and had to be up with her before 6.30 in the morning. That left me and my husband exhausted.

BUT I absolutely love her. Pepper is ten months old now. She slobbers. She loves mud. She’s happy going out in any weather. She is a leaf and twig magnet, and she adores shredding cardboard and paper.

And guess what one of my favourite things is? Taking our gorgeous, strong (!) Newfoundland for a walk.

All the hard work in those early months has paid off. Now she is well behaved, clean in the house, has a loving temperament, and I can write again. So go on, get a dog.

Reservations – Something referred to as smart

Today we have smart cars, smart phones, smart TV, smart meters…
I don’t want “smart” things taking over the world. Or at least not mine.
Yes, I am all for making  life easier – I wouldn’t want to be without a dishwasher and I value the parking sensors on my car.

But I hate it when the likes of Google, or Facebook, or Amazon make assumptions about me. If I put in a search for something—which as an author I frequently do—I will find the information or product I need and use it for research, buy it or ignore it – my choice. That’s it. Done. Time to move on. I don’t want to be inundated with alternatives, duplicates or, even worse, tenuous substitutes for the next few weeks.
My reservation is that we will stop thinking for ourselves. We won’t look beyond a screen that has been programmed to give us what IT wants. Our views will become narrow, our diversity will become uniform, our creativity cramped. We mustn’t lose our humanity – it’s what makes us.
Gripe over.

Remarkables – Having your story published.

It is every author's dream to have their work in "print," be it electronic or paper. To start with an idea in your head, and then create a world of fictitious people doing made-up things, requires imagination  and hard work. Skills in language, grammar, word count, characterisation and continuity, are all necessary to complete your manuscript. Then there are the cover and the blurb, and at last you have your book. That is remarkable. Of course the next step is selling your story. But as they say, that in itself is another story!

What would your three "R"s be?