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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Widdowson

Author Anthropology: Part 4

old bookshelf by window

This is the last of my four-part blog series titled “Author Anthropology.” Read “Part 1”, “Part 2”, and “Part 3” to find out how I got to this stage in my life.

The third part of this blog left off at me completing NaNoWriMo in 2018, converting my sci-fi screenplay, RJ436, into a book—well, the first, ugly draft of it, anyway. In 2019, I didn’t take part in the contest. Instead, I took the month off from writing. I'd been doing a lot of painting, and I was really enjoying it. When I first started painting, years ago, I used oils. But they are a lot of trouble to clean up. You need turpentine and other solvents to clean up your brushes.

When I learned about water-based oil paints, I thought someone was pulling my leg. How can oils be water based? But they exist! And you can clean your tools with simple soap and water. But oils, water based or not, take a long time to dry, and after moving to Washington, where it rains a lot, they took even longer to dry than in sunny California. So, I switched to acrylics, which dry in no time at all.

Painting with acrylics is a different experience, and it took a bit of time for me to learn how to work with them. I have an artist website which I set up when I submitted one of my pieces, Homage to Van Gogh: Wheatfield with Crows, last year to The Crow Show at the Tsuga Fine Art gallery in Bothell. If you’ve read my book, MYND Control, that location may sound familiar, as it’s the location for a scene in one of the chapters.

I also spent a lot of time sewing. If I desperately need something for my home, I may break down and sew home decor like curtains or cushion covers. But clothes are what I like sewing the most. If you’re really curious, you can see a few things I’ve sewn by visiting my pattern reviews. This is a website where people share reviews of items they’ve made so that others, who may be considering sewing something using the same pattern, will know what a finished garment (or whatever the pattern is for) looks like after it’s made. They can also read about any quirks, or problems, (or joys) people had when making them.

This takes me to 2020, and I’m itching to write again. When NaNoWriMo came along that November, we were in the middle of the COVID pandemic, and a lot of people took the writing challenge. It was a perfect activity to do while being isolated at home. Remember in “Part 3” of this “Author Anthology” when I shared the rules of NaNoWriMo—that it was acceptable to write an outline of your book before the contest began? Well, when I first had the idea for The RH Factor and was working it out before November, it wasn’t going to be a murder mystery. It was going to be a fantasy. The RH Serum was going to give powers to people. I would share what those powers were, but I may use that idea in another book eventually. So I’ll keep it a secret for now.

I did a ton of research on the science of gene manipulation. I’m sure most of you have heard about the new CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) technology. It is remarkable, But I didn’t want to use that technology in my book. I wanted to create something unique that would allow me to do something similar, but in a different way. The RH Serum was going to be coveted. It would be sold on the black market and the dark web, and it would be powerful enough to kill for.

There was still going to be murder in the book, but the main story was about the serum, what it did, how it changed people, and how the world was affected because of it. I had nick-names for the types of people that were created by using the serum, and I really liked the story. But the more of the outline I wrote, the more it sounded too much like a Marvel movie. It needed some tweaking. And I found that the more I tweaked, the more it morphed. And finally, it turned into what it is today—a murder mystery with only a tiny bit of futuristic genetics weaved into it.

Maybe you’re thinking, but you spent all that time researching genetics and only used a portion of it in your book. Wasn’t that a waste of time? All I can say is, research is never a waste of time. First of all, I hope to write that fantasy one day and use some of those ideas, and if I do, I will need a lot of that technical info. Plus, when I explore subjects I know very little about, it almost always sparks other ideas. 

So, now that I knew the book was going to be a normal murder mystery, what was my next step? I had never written one before and murder mysteries are complicated. They need red herrings, real clues, evidence, suspects, and a reveal that is surprising. And I was on a timeline. November had arrived, and I was already writing. I had to learn the right way to write a mystery while I was in the middle of writing it. I had my work cut out for me!

I switched my research time from genetics to best tips for writing a murder mystery. My first thought was to check out a few books from the library to help me. One of the best books I found was How to Write a Damn Good Mystery by James N. Frey. It discussed how to use red herrings, how to make your readers relate to your villain’s reason for killing and how to make the detective likable but believable. Heroes must be flawed for us to relate to them. No one’s perfect, and if you write them that way, no one will care about them. Flaws make us human.

So I researched while I wrote, and by the time NaNoWriMo was over, I had written 61,263 words, and I had my first draft done! It was ugly, but not as ugly as I was afraid it might be. There was hope!

Usually, this is the point in my writing where I put the book back on the shelf and let the dust settle over it. But we were in isolation in the middle of a pandemic. What else was I going to do? So in January, instead of sticking my draft in a file on my computer and forgetting about it, I kept writing. In January, NaNoWriMo has a contest called Now What? The goal is to keep you working on the book you started in November. They don’t hold a contest in December because, let’s be honest, everyone is swamped that month with holiday activities and events. November is hard enough!

There isn’t a word-count goal—you set your own goal. It may be to finish the book you started in November, it may be to write a completely new one, or it might be to proof-read or revise something you’ve already finished. The NaNoWriMo website provides resources, motivation from other authors, and in-person or video meetings to help keep you writing. I signed up with a goal to hit 80,000 words. I had no idea how many words I would need to finish the book, but I just knew it wasn’t done. So, I picked a number and went for it!

At the end of January, The RH Factor was now 82,346 words long, and the second draft was finished! I was beyond excited and proud of myself. If I was being honest, I was never sure if I had it in me. Little did I know how much work was still left before I could publish it. My journey had really only just begun!

Check out next week's blog to read about the trials and tribulations of self-publishing!

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Fun hearing about your RH Factor journey. And I absolutely loved your artwork! Thanks for sharing!

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