It’s not easy selling a house or finishing another murder mystery. I find myself combing the fringe on the downstairs rug and setting up a search in Word for every time I’ve over-used the word “grin.” In short, polishing to perfection.
I’m not having much fun. My house in the mountains is up for sale because I can’t endure the cold of another winter, even though I know that we only have baby cold in California. I grew up in Northern Ontario. I know what cold is.
At the same time I’m just about ready to turn over my sixth crime fiction novel to my editor and aiming to carve out each unnecessary word. I looked at every sentence in which I used “was” or “were.” Why? These sentences often reveal the passive voice, anathema in crime fiction. For example, “She was driven by jealousy to stab him in the heart.” Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
It should read: “Jealousy drove her to stab him in the heart.” I know. It’s subtle but when these passive voice sentences pile up they can deaden the pace of a story.
I also pulled out every “going to” and “trying to”. Just say it straight out what they’re doing and trying. Make your characters sound decisive. It’s amazing the number of times you use “that.” Think about it. It’s often not necessary. Very early in the process I pulled out “very” and “just.”
Looking at a 300 page manuscript with a magnifying glass makes you very aware of the peculiarities of the English language. No wonder it’s so difficult for non-native speakers to master.
Just as difficult for me is making my house perfect every morning, or every time I leave it. A realtor can bring by a potential buyer at any point in the day. No more leaving dishes in the sink or my bed unmade, a cupboard door ajar, the cat boxes untended. Shriek. Horror. My realtor and potential buyers expect an inhuman state of perfection. I draw the line at the front door however. I live in the forest and anything that happens to grow outside is on its own.
I know that there are women—and I suppose men as well—who maintain their house at a perfection standard every day, and have done so every day of their lives. I have never been one of them I confess. Before this house selling business began, I always had an excuse to leave dishes in the sink and the bed unmade. The house got cleaned when I couldn’t stand myself any longer and dashed through it in a mad frenzy. Or I hired someone to do it for me. Or on those occasions I invited people over for dinner and couldn’t bear the thought of them seeing how I really lived.
Now it’s up to me and I’ve discovered something. It really doesn’t take that long—maybe 20 minutes a day—when you do it every day. I do it in fits and starts when I need to take a break away from my novel.
Didn’t my mother tell me this long ago? I hear her voice ringing in my ears as I write this. Her words are so familiar.
Dammit, I learn these lessons so late in life.
Think you might like escaping to Santa Monica?
Santa Monica, California, is home to the homeless, a city of haves and have nots, ripe for dirty politicians, psychopathic homeowners, car thieves, and celebrity troublemakers.
Check out A Very Private High School, my recent crime novel