Geri-Antics: How to write a modern novel with an antique brain

Published 5:15 pm Thursday, February 29, 2024

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When my first book in “The Magoo Who Series” was released in 2013, I was 63 years old. I relied heavily on my publisher’s knowledge and sought the advice of younger, more prolific writers. 

The key pieces of advice I have gleaned are, “Write what you know” and “Write in a genre that your life experience and personal knowledge make plausible to your reader.”

I have 11 books published, and while I still need to make the coveted New York Times bestseller list, I’ve enjoyed a modicum of success and garnered readers in many countries. 

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Throughout my journey, I have continued to grow my skill level. From those first warm and fuzzy “critter books” about cats, polar bears and horses to my first foray into full-length novels of the mystery, paranormal, and romance genres and a soul-wrenchingly therapeutic memoir about my life as an adoptee, I strive to continually improve in ways that will be more pleasing to my readership.

In 2020, the world around us was in the throes of a pandemic the likes of which today’s inhabitants of planet Earth had never known. We were quarantined in our homes and separated from our families, friends, and colleagues. As both a confirmed introvert and a writer, I welcomed the isolation.

I’ve always enjoyed solving mysteries, so during the confinement, I found myself binge-watching crime shows on TV. I enjoyed programs like “Blue Bloods” which centers around the Reagans, a career police family in New York City. The Reagan family unit consists of career law enforcement professionals from a husband and wife team of cops on the beat, a sister in the New York City District Attorney’s office, a detective, the retired Police Commissioner grandfather, and the current Police Commissioner father. 

The crimes the Reagan family faces each week are often horrendous, but the wholesome fictional family itself allowed me to sleep at night after watching each episode.

Before the pandemic, shows such as “Criminal Minds” that explore the minds of the criminally insane (in particular serial killers and mass murderers) were too horrific for me to wrap my mind around. 

Surprisingly, during the pandemic, I became mesmerized by just such grisly material. When I asked myself why, during a time in life when the world around me was also frightening and ghastly, I would turn to just such entertainment, I determined that perhaps it was for that very reason that I allowed myself to absorb such shocking and repulsive material. It somehow made the world in which I was living a little less scary. And that was when I began to write my first thriller. 

At first, I wrote with avidity, but as the pandemic’s days, weeks, and months drained on and on with no ending in sight, my tenacity and motivation waned.

I regret to tell you that the project has remained woefully neglected since its inception and brief but passionate early chapters. For three years now, the novel has languished, that is until I ran out of excuses for not completing this novel; and yet, I continue to drag my feet and stare with vast intimidation into the unknown.

What could be stalling the conclusion of a project that might very well be the one that could propel me onto that coveted best-seller list? I speculated that perhaps it was a subconscious fear that success would require that I leave my cocoon, which makes this confirmed introvert extremely anxious.

Recently, I discovered that a voracious friend has begun to do beta reading for several authors. 

Beta reading is when someone voluntarily offers to read and give feedback on a written work that still needs to be published. Typically, a beta reader(s) will be brought into a project during the editing phase to offer feedback on the perception of specific passages of a book. 

I noticed that my friend has also been helping to promote the books she has reviewed by posting them on social media, and I eagerly read each of her reviews.

That’s when I realized the likely cause of my failure to complete and launch my project is not fear of success but rather fear of abject inability to appeal to a modern audience within the limits of my antique brain.  

As I sit down to begin re-reading my manuscript and hopefully reawaken my enthusiasm for the project, I realize that while it is a definite departure from any of my previous work, it certainly does not fall within the realm of so-called ‘thriller’ novels by today’s standards. To quote my middle-aged son, ‘You need to gore it up more, Mom.’

And so tomorrow, should you look out your window and see what you perceive as a haboob (sand or dust storm), rest assured that you have not been transported to the Middle East or even joined Dorothy Gale in Kansas. It’s simply me and my 73-year-old brain, blowing the dust off a three-year-old project that sat idol on the shelf long past its sell-by-date. 

I remind myself that growth seldom occurs within one’s comfort zone. Instead, it lies in the heart of difficulties, challenges, and adversities.

Armed only with determination and an antique brain, I now set forth toward my goal.