Well, this is weird. It’s Monday morning, and I’m not in my usual place, writing my blog on my laptop in the dining room, Skip curled up against the door, Maggie out of sight in the living room sprawled on the couch. No, I’m writing to you on the huge iMac in my study, the one I don’t let myself use unless I’m writing a “big book.” No internet unless for book research, no email, no nothing but working on the book. It’s the room where I wrote The Other End of the Leash, For the Love of a Dog, and The Education of Will. I conditioned myself to use it, and only it, for serious writing, as a way of fighting off the lure of endless distractions. Classical conditioning isn’t just for dogs.

I’m here in my study because I’m going to start working on my mystery novel again. I haven’t touched it since the Before Times. Do you remember the cartoon, early in the pandemic, in which a man desperately rows in a tiny boat amidst massive 100 foot waves and lightening strikes? The caption says “This is a great time to work on your novel!”

No, it wasn’t, not for many of us. Like the guy in the cartoon, we were just trying to stay alive, which is not conducive to creativity. But now I want to go back to the novel. I find myself thinking of plot lines while Jim drives us to a sheepdog trial. I jot down a line here, a line there, knowing that I’ll forget it if I don’t.

I’m ready. I have about 80-90 pages written, some are pretty good, some aren’t. I have a protagonist I like and supporting characters I can imagine being around for an entire series. I struggle mostly with structure and some of the details of the plot.

I‘m also scared silly. I love to write and I hate to write and it’s fun and it’s hard and writing fiction is really, really challenging and why in hell did I choose to start writing a mystery, which requires fantastic organization and plot structure, all of which I’m not good at? I like to write scenes. It turns out you can’t write a good mystery by just linking a bunch of scenes together. Who knew.

Here’s the thing. In order to do this, I need to pull back a little from the blog and social media. I’m not going away; selfishly I enjoy connecting with you all too much to do that. I consider some of you good friends, truly, even though I’ve never met you and have no idea what you look like. I tell my friends that you are like a village to me. I’m afraid of losing touch with you. But I need to start Monday morning here, in the study, spending my writing energy on the book.

I’m going to start posting every other week. Sometimes it might just be a photograph. Sometimes it might be about the process of writing itself. Sometimes I might ask your advice–what should I name the protagonist? I can tell you now that she is–wait for it–an applied animal behaviorist. Write what you know, right? I decided that leaping into fiction, with a mystery at that, was challenge enough without going too far out of my comfort zone. So I’m indeed writing what I know. There are dogs. Farms. Sheep. And a murder. (Okay, that part is new to me.)

I’m going to work hard on the novel until mid January, and see where I am. I might toss the entire thing. I might spend the next two years editing it. No guarantees of anything. But I want to try and see what happens. It’d be especially fun if you go on the journey with me, but no worries if you need to move on.

Here’s the study yesterday before I spruced it up:

Here it is now, ready or not:

After I post this, I’ll dig out what I’d written in the past and read it through. I’ll call my agent. I’ll start fleshing out the plot. I’ll drink too much tea and have to pee a lot. I’ll reread parts of How To Write a Damn Good Mystery. I’ll stop myself from checking email and Facebook over and over again. And hopefully, one word, one paragraph, one page at a time, as the days and weeks and months go on, I’ll be writing a novel. Will I finish it? Will it be any good? I don’t know; it’s a mystery. And I do love mysteries.


MEANWHILE, back on the farm: You might have noticed that Glinda, the Good Witch from the Wizard of Oz, is on my desk in the study. She is one of my talismans (objects with magical powers to protect you). There’s also a second Glinda on the farm, a massive oak tree I pass every day on our woods walk. I think of her as the Mother Tree of the forest–you can see how huge she is by noticing the dogs at her base.

And yeah, I really do hug her. I am a tree hugger, yup, and proud of it. She is awesome.

Maggie and Skip are playing tug as hard as ever. It took Maggie a while to take it up again after her leg injury, and I see this as a sign she’s truly, fully recovered. Love watching them . . .

I’ll end on some fading flowers, such a perfect symbol of the change of seasons, and perhaps, a new season for a mystery novel?

See you in two weeks!

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