Thursday, November 10, 2011

Radical Departure: Mazes and Evening at the Improv

© 2011 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

In case you’re wondering what on Earth is going on here, see No Small Change on The Radical Virgo. During October and November, I’ll be doing short posts to take you along for the wild ride of rewriting and getting my humorous, metaphysical mystery book ready for submission to the St. Martin’s Press annual First Mystery Novel Contest

The only other time I have written a full, book-length manuscript was in 1990 when I wrote The Crystal Ball’s predecessor, Life’s Companions. That was too long ago for me to remember much about my process, so everything I’m discovering about writing a mystery now feels brand new. I’ve actually had considerable mystery writing education since my first foray. My first book suffered from genre confusion. It wasn’t sure if it was a mystery, a romance, a self-help book, or some a New Age version of the Jehovah’s Witness Watchtower publication—actually a bit of all of those. It was way too autobiographical. My life is stranger than fiction, and when I write it too literally on paper, it comes out just plain strange.

Writing a mystery—even a cozy humorous one like The Crystal Ball— is akin to doing a three dimensional jigsaw puzzle in motion. The puzzle is a maze, and sometimes I hit dead ends and don’t know how to get myself out of the messes I’ve gotten myself into. This reminds me of one of my favorite sayings:

Things are always easier to get into than to get out of. 
~ Corollary to Murphy’s Law

When I get stuck, in order to move out of the latest corner I have written myself into: I pace, I do other things, I distract myself until my subconscious can resolve it. I learned from the book Higher Creativity: Liberating the Unconscious for Breakthrough Insightsthat this is how problems are best solved—not by direct brain power but by tapping the unlimited creativity of our psycho-spiritual selves.

My psyche sure surprises me at times. I knew certain plot points in the book going into it, but I find it mandatory to develop others “on the fly.” Writing a long story is all about visualization. I see characters get into situations, and I have to envision in real time how they’ll resolve each crisis or tension point. I can’t freeze-frame the action; it’s like a movie that has to keep going on paper. I can pause in the writing to figure it out, but it has to flow in the reading. My characters have to think on their feet. No rehearsal.

In this intricate puzzle, change one thing and there’s a multi-level domino effect. Many other things must change as revisions ping off the sides of my mental pinball machine. I laughed yesterday when I had one couple seated in two different places in the audience, listening to my protagonist give a speech. Talk about attention to details. No wonder Virgos make good writers.

I’m bringing more astrology into The Crystal Ball than I originally planned but less than in Life’s Companions. It’s quality over quantity, and my friend Chiron plays a special role. Is anyone surprised? (I thought you’d like the skeleton key in the maze, what Chiron’s symbol represents.)

After much angst about making my deadline, getting waylaid for a few days by the flu, and several other distractions, I now sit at approximately 75 percent done, confident I can make it.

But that last quarter is also the most challenging to write—the denouement, the resolution. I have a lot of loose ends to tie up, and I don’t know, quite yet, how that’s going to happen. I’m very excited to find out! One of the biggest problems resolved itself tonight, better than I thought I ever thought it would. These are the times I know I channel. Even the Radical Virgo can’t come up with solutions that tidy without divine intervention.

I wrote something today to the effect that the members of the longevity organization in my novel live their lives like Evening at the Improv. These folks are so full of vitality and being who they are without fear or hesitation, they are just “on.” They problem solve and create scenarios in the moment and are effective, funny and endlessly entertaining.

I realized that’s how I have to write. This is also how I want to be. Seeing the differences between the 1990 and the 2011 versions of this material, I’m gratified to see how far I’ve come in the pursuit of Improv.

Most importantly, today I realized how much fun I’m having. This is what I have always wanted to do, my entire life, but all those Chironic wounds, insecurities, and lack of maturity were in the way. The wisdom years, in many ways, are even more than they’re cracked up to be.

I was born to do this, and wherever it goes, I’ll be there doing comedy sketches.


Photo Credit: © koya79 -


Mads Elung-Jensen said...

hello joyce, carry on having fun and you'll succeed! i've noticed that most thrillers are packed with factual knowledge, not always totally related to the action, so throw in a couple of astrology sessions:-) fingers crossed, mads

Joyce Mason said...

Mads, thanks for stopping by and for the good luck wishes! There's a unique opportunity to present an astrology lesson in the book that's a natural part of the story. I'd cross my own fingers, but it would be impossible to type--LOL! So thanks for doing it for me. Always great to hear from you! --Joyce