By Sherry who is so happy to see blooms on the hydrangeas this year!

I confess, writing book three in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries was more like wrestling a greased pig, than writing a novel. I’ve tried to figure out why and boiled it down to three things.

1. Major change in the plot. When I wrote the proposal for the series the synopsis for book three was this:

Winter in New England means no more yard sales and Sarah Winston had to find a way to keep her fledgling business afloat. Sarah decides to expand her business to include estate sales but her lack of experience makes finding jobs tough. Sarah has to team up with Lexington antique dealer Barney Hightown because competition is stiff. But not as stiff as Barney Hightown’s body when Sarah stumbles over it in a remote barn when she’s bidding on a project. Sarah must find the killer before he finds her.

IMG_3569When it came time to start writing All Murders Final last fall, I felt like there were other books out there about estate sales and wanted to try something different. Two years ago my friend’s daughter, Amanda, told me about a virtual garage sale in her town. It was a site for re-selling high-end clothing that was in good condition. Amanda told me when people posted clothes that weren’t nice enough, comments got catty. That intrigued me. Around the same time a new neighbor, Ashley, moved in across the street from me. She is the administrator of a local virtual garage sale site that has 6,000 members. Her stories went beyond catty to actual threats. Be still my fiction writing heart.

So I wrote a new synopsis. Sarah still has the same problem with what to do in a New England winter but this time her solution is a virtual garage sale site. Problem solved, right? No, of course not (otherwise there wouldn’t be three things on the list.)

2. Book launch. Several authors, including Jan Burke and Ellen Crosby, told me: You are only a new author once. I pondered what they meant but didn’t really understand until recently. The weeks leading up to a launch are filled with emotional ups and downs. I couldn’t wait to see Tagged for Death on the shelves, but I also dreaded being reviewed. In a panicked moment I wondered if it was possible for me to buy every copy and keep them for myself. It almost felt like I was taking my beautiful baby out in public for the first time and complete strangers could come up and criticize her: that nose is really big, why doesn’t she have more hair, that outfit is awful. You get the picture.

Tagged for Death book launch.

And in the midst of all that anxiety and joy, you have blog posts to write, appearances, and books to sale. Fortunately, all the good things: the book is on shelves across the country! People showed up to the launch party! Strangers bought my books at signings! Tagged was nominated for an Agatha! outweighed the stupid anxieties. But all of it takes time away from writing especially if you are a pantster with procrastination tendencies like I am. (I don’t know what I’d do if I had a day job like Liz and Julie do!)

3. Is this it? syndrome. My contract is for three books. Of course I hope my contract will be extended but I won’t know until after book three is done and turned in. So just in case the contract isn’t extended, this book, book three, has to be the best book I’ve ever written (not that I wouldn’t want it to be even if I knew I was writing ten more). It has to wrap up the story arc but at the same time it has to leave room for future stories. There are relationship decisions to be made. There are people to kill and mysteries to solve. There’s the launch of the second book and the continuing promotion of the first. No pressure. (Wickeds and other authors out there with more than one series, I don’t know how you do it.)

Before and after  Barb Goffman's editing!
Before and after Barb Goffman’s editing!

Last Friday morning around 11:02 the wrestling match with book three was over and I won — with a ton of help from freelance editor Barb Goffman. Oh, it still needs to be read through by my beta readers and polished so Sarah isn’t shuddering or shivering every other sentence. But I finally felt like I wrapped my arms around that greased pig and lifted her triumphantly into the air. I spent Friday afternoon reading for pleasure. I had dinner with a couple of friends, went to a book signing for Kathryn O’Sullivan, and did a Skype meeting with a book club in Illinois. And all I can think today is I am one lucky lady!

Readers: Have you ever had a hard time with a project that you thought might be easier the third time around?

31 Thoughts

  1. Oh Sherry… hydrangeas. I miss my great-grandmother’s blue hydrangeas. She planted them beside the camp beside Web Brook in Billerica. Shaded by tall white pines but with enough sun to live and be beautiful.

    Do-overs? Not easier. No. But nothing more satisfying than fixing and building on what I already have. Until it gets boring. If it gets boring on the second run through? Round-filing is a dangerous possibility.

    1. I love hydrangeas too, Reine. Mine are blue and I was so disappointed when they didn’t bloom last year — I think a late cold snap did them in. I hate it when I find boring bits — they have to go.

  2. Boy does this sound familiar! At a guess, I’d say half of my books are wrestling matches–usually the ones I think are going to be easiest to write because I had more ideas for them early on. Like you, I’m a pantster, and sometimes that means that it takes me way too long to figure out that I’m on the wrong track. I recently spent a frustrating couple of weeks trying to write the first chapters of the third book in my historical series, having sent a proposal for books three and four to my publisher. I was sure I knew where it was going . . . only it wasn’t. Then word came down through my agent that they’d really like the story I suggested as book four first. I was never so relieved in my life! I expect I’ll still write the original book three someday, but right now being able to start a new story from scratch–I don’t even know yet who gets murdered–is deliciously freeing.


    1. Whenever you talk about your process, Kathy, you always make me feel like–I can do this! Thank you for your generosity.

      1. Sherry and Barb, it is encouraging, and I wish I said it above. It is very helpful to have that affirmation. I helps me to keep going to hear about others’ wrestling and fortitude. xo

  3. Hi, Sherry — I’ve often wondered how my life might change when my manuscript is finally published. Reading about your juggling act going on to books two and three, I’m now wondering if one published book might be enough. LOL.

    1. I hope I didn’t sound whiny! It’s a joy 95% of the time. And the down parts are usually of my own making! I hope you have many, many books published!

  4. I sure know the feeling of juggling and wrestling at the same time. Right now I’m mixed up in FOUR books. Editorial comments on Local Foods book 4. Page proofs for Country Store book 1. First draft of Quaker Midwife book 2. And about to launch Local Foods book 3! Yes, the head spins and the greased pig squirts out of reach. So pleased you finally got a good grip on book 3 – for selfish reasons. I can’t wait to read it!

  5. Can you hear my hysterical panicked laughter as I try to finish writing book 2? And I haven’t even hit the book 1 launch part yet…

    1. You will be fine, Joyce! Put on the Agent Carter red lipstick and keep going. Try to put all the crazy anxieties like I have aside. And the day you walk into the bookstore and see your first book on the shelf — there’s nothing like it! My family went with me — there was a lot of screaming and people came over. One lady bought the book, the other decided they didn’t need to call 911 or store security.

  6. Oh, I recognize those no-nonsense circles and slashes on the manuscript.
    So glad you wrestled that pig to the ground because I can’t wait for book three. “There are people to kill and mysteries to solve” – that’s why we love you! Tell John there had better be books four, five, and six!

  7. “Her stories went beyond catty to actual threats. Be still my fiction writing heart.” Oh, you make me laugh. As Shari said, may there be books four, five, and six, as well as books seven, eight, nine, ten. … You get the idea.

  8. Wrestling with the greased pig of book 3 myself, I really appreciate your insights, Sherry. Congratulations on winning the match and typing the author’s sweetest words–The End.

    1. Good luck — I know you’ll win the wrestling match too! I never type The End — I’m not sure why — another of my many idiosyncrasies!

  9. Yes to having a problem with the third project. Like you, my first book, “Three May Keep a Secret,” was a nail-biting experience and then it turned out just fine. Good reviews, lots of sales. Everyone said the second in the series would be really hard, but, frankly, I enjoyed it immensely because I was able to add some history, my first love. So now I’m in the middle of the muddle that is book three in the series. No history. Lots of mystery, but I’m struggling a bit. Nevertheless, like you, I carry on, and I know it will turn out just fine. One of my children who is in sales tells me that my job is like his…lots of ups and downs. Unfortunately, I’m an “all things in balance” kind of person. So I will be thinking about you as you move into the end of book three. Good luck.

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