In 2013, when the wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan was President of Sisters in Crime, she decided her legacy would be a book of essays. The idea was that writers would share their experiences, reach out and support one another like a warm and comforting embrace.
Working with co-editor Elaine Will Sparber, Hank reached out to members of Sisters in Crime all over the country, from every corner of the genre and at all phases of their careers. The result is a little book called Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, that contains sixty essays (#60secrets) where writers tell it like it is. The central message of the book is, “You are not alone.”
Writes of Passage is now available from Henery Press in paper and ebook form, at all the usual outlets.
Several of the Wicked Cozies have essays in the book. We thought today we’d each pick an essay that spoke to us from the collection.
Barb: I laughed out when I read Lori Roy’s essay, “Hard Work and Working Hard.” In it, she talks about how the hyper-organized style she learned as a CPA has never worked in her fiction writing. She can’t write from an outline and research is piled haphazardly around her office. The essay reminded me of the book Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks, by John Curran. (I write about it here.) You’d think Dame Agatha, Queen of Plot, would have been strictly organized, but Curran writes that Christie “thrived mentally on chaos, it stimulated her more than neat order; rigidity stifled her creative process.” But Lori’s essay made me laugh out loud because I had just said to my husband that my former profession as a Chief Operating Officer was the worst possible preparation for mystery writing. As COO, my job was usually to unkink the kinks and find the straightest line between two points, to take the obscure and make it transparent. Applied to mystery writing, the result would be a one chapter book. “A guy was killed. It was obviously so and so. He was swiftly arrested. The End.” I struggle against that impulse every day.
Liz: So many of these wonderful essays resonated with me, but as many of you know, I have procrastination issues. So Clea Simon’s “The Zen of Procrastination” spoke to me loud and clear. Her simple truth is also mine: “Somehow, as the deadline for each new book approaches, I find myself caught up on the most mundane of household chores – and then belatedly bashing out the prose at eight, nine or ten o’clock at night.” I struggle with this too, although I can – and often do – excuse my procrastination by citing the demands of my day job, but it’s the same difference. What I liked about this essay is Clea’s attempts for a Zen acceptance of her methods, such as the working out of the plot hole during the laundry cycles. I, too, am trying to be kinder to myself if I feel I have to do something instead of write at that exact moment, and channel the time more productively at least in my mind. So while I often say I’m working hard at being a reformed procrastinator, perhaps I should embrace that part of me and use it to my advantage, as Clea seems to!
Barb: I liked that one, too, Liz. I often say I am an overachiever trapped in a procrastinator’s body. But a little perspective is good. Clea publishes two books a year and you have a big day job..and…and…and. So kindness is called for.
Edith: It’s absolutely a book full of valuable advice and experience. Susan Oleksiw’s essay tells how she helped found two small presses. With the Larcom Press, which published the Larcom Review (and gave me my first full-length short story publication credit for “The Taste of Winter“) as well as several mystery novels, Susan says she and her co-editor didn’t know how to run a press, and she describes how they learned. She then went on to co-found Level Best Books, which is going strong even today, although under new management (including Barb!). Her essay ends with a paragraph that very much resonates with me: “My philosophy was, and still is, that if there’s something you want to do, just throw yourself at it. Whatever happens, you’ll know more than when you started, you’ll be closer to your goal, and your discoveries will open unexpected doors.” I agree, and have done this myself a number of times in my life.
Sherry: How could I not pick Hallie Ephron’s essay “I Get My Best Ideas at Yard Sales”? Sure I wanted to read it because I’m writing the Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery series but I loved Hallie’s novel Never Tell A Lie. The idea for the story came to her at a yard sale. I’ve also been in a number of classes taught by Hallie so I knew I’d find some good advice in her essay. Reading that a writer like Hallie gets stuck makes me feel better when I get stuck. Getting stuck happens it’s what you do about it that matters. Hallie says this: I’ve now written nine novels. My best ideas for getting unstuck seem to come to me when I’m frying chicken, or taking a shower, or driving, or going to a yard sale. In other words when I can’t write. So my advice for thinking your way out of a plot hole is this: After you’ve tried every technique in the book for writing your way out of one, step away from the keyboard.
Jessie: I really liked the essay Wabi-Sabi Writing by Kylie Logan. Basically, it spoke about mindfulness and the appreciation of things that are fleeting and imperfect. Everything about that idea spoke to me as a writer and as a person who tries to find joy in the little things that make up a life. This attitude of acceptance and pleasure in the unfolding of what is, into what will be, is extraordinarily freeing on so many levels. It is exactly how I keep my inner editor at bay and how I convince myself to take risks of all kinds. I was delighted to find there was actually a name for that approach and that it wasn’t just a form of sloth. Ever since I read Kylie’s essay I have been chanting wabi-sabi to myself as I sit down to write, to cook or even to tidying the house. Thanks, Kylie!
Julie: I love this book. I am thrilled to be part of it, but would love it no matter what. I think there is an essay for every mood, and every writer’s need. It is really hard to pick one, but that is the task. I’m going to chose Diane Vallere‘s “What Are You Looking For?” It is about searching, and exploring the unexpected paths. Terrific essay. Great book. And fabulous legacy project for the wonderful Hank Phillippi Ryan.
Readers, have you read any of the essays? Do you have a favorite?