Keeping Mum

By Louise Ure

Two weeks ago, at a signing at Denver’s Murder By the Book, I was blabbing about this new idea for my fourth novel. Verbal diarrhea, you know. The kind of totally obsessive rant that can only be brought on by a new book idea or a new love.

I felt that way about Kevin back in high school. No one else could have been as perfect. I thought about him all the time and saw signs and omens about “us” everywhere, from the name of his dog to the song playing on the radio. I drove by his house twenty times a day. I wondered what he’d had for dinner. He must have thought I was a stalker.

That’s the state I’m in now with this new idea, ready to shove away all other distractions and wallow — doe-eyed – in this new attraction. Snuggle up against its legs and practice writing our names together in a heart.

“We’re a greedy lot, here,” my signing partner Peter May said that night. “I’d keep that idea to myself unless you want it pinched.”

I shut up.

Ideas, like infatuations, don’t come to me easily.

I don’t have a shoebox full of index cards with pithy short story ideas on them. No file folder of convoluted plot twists guaranteed to get an editor’s pulse racing.

For me, ideas are a once-a-year phenomenon. But when I fall for one, I fall hard.

It was all I could do this morning to remember the protagonist’s name in my current work in progress, Liars Anonymous. Good Lord, I’ve got to turn in the book in two weeks; you’d think I’d know her name by now. (Dancing. Jessie Dancing.) I like her, I really do. But just like that perfectly good wool coat you’ve worn all winter, I can’t wait to shuck her off and stick my arms through the sleeves of that tough looking black leather jacket over there.

Is this part of the old adage about the grass being greener somewhere I’m not standing? Or is it, like love, the flush of first infatuation? That idyllic moment before you realize he has love handles and a two-digit credit rating.

I went to a debut author’s signing once, and at the end asked her about what she was working on now. “I don’t want to jinx it,” she said, then took another question. I might have been a little more gracious in my reply – saying something about the next one being a stand alone, or “I have an idea but it’s not fleshed out yet” – but I sure understand her rationale.

My mother has always said “It’s not real unless you say it out loud.” But if I listen to Peter May, if I keep talking it’s likely to become real for somebody else and not me. I may have to keep quiet for the better part of a year.

I’ll give you this: the title is Doing Hadley Time.

And now that I have a title, I’m anchored. I can open that New Blank Document and have at least three words ready to type. Doing Hadley Time. So it begins.

Lagniappe of the day: The Vernal Equinox is this Thursday, March 20, at 5:48 a.m. Among other festivities, it has been named World Storytelling Day, celebrated every year on the spring equinox all over the northern hemisphere. (The southern hemisphere celebrates it during the autumnal equinox.) Here’s to great storytelling, not just on Thursday, but all year long.

And Happy Easter to you all! Are there any special vernal equinox or Easter rituals you’ll be doing this year?


29 thoughts on “Keeping Mum

  1. Ken Bruen

    LouiseDoing Hadley Time, great title.I’m always afraid I’ll talk my book away if I discuss it too much before I finish itThe few times I came up with what I believed were wondrous ideas and titles and mentioned them and got the ‘uh-huh’ response, I went right off the ideasThe perch I cling to is so precarious that one blast of cold water and I’m goneEvery pub in Galway is full of would be writers and a few pints in, they talk away the whole would be book, talk is indeed not so much cheap as downright deadly to a fragile theme that is barely taking shapeAs soon as I start talking about my characters, they stop talking to meloveken

  2. J.D. Rhoades

    What Ken said about the “uh-huh” response. My “projects” file on the computer is a veritable ossuary full of the bones of ideas that were strangled in their cribs by either that lack of enthusiasm, or worse, a quick and embarrassed changing of the subject by the person I’m talking to. One of these days I’ll learn to keep my mouth shut.

    I cast another vote in favor of DOING HADLEY TIME. Great title.

    As for rituals: I’ll probably get drunk.

  3. Louise Ure

    Morning, Gentlemen.

    Ah, that dash of cold water can come in a thousand forms, can’t it? The changed subject, the movie it reminds the listener of, the suggested improvements to the plot or the character or the ending. But the worst for me is the dreaded synopsis … That soul-killing flat recitation of what should have been a dream.

  4. Alexandra Sokoloff

    It drives my family and friends crazy that I clam up when they ask me about what I’m writing, but I just don’t talk about it. It’s too hard to put the day’s work into words.

    It makes authors seem mysterious when really we’re just neurotic! 😉

  5. billie

    I agree with the folks who feel the early ideas and beginnings of a book are fragile and easily ruined with talk. I’ve learned that I need to get an entire draft in place before I do too much talking about the characters. Once I’ve got the whole thing in some form, I can talk more about it. Even then, I tend to keep it to writing group or partner.

    Re: spring and the equinox and rituals – I like to spend some time outside really noticing the trees and flowers and actively looking for the signs of the change in season. We also have a 4-year old horse who was born on the vernal equinox, so that gives us something to celebrate too. 🙂 He’s 5 this week and such a joy.

  6. Naomi

    Kept completely quiet about the first book–for years. It wasn’t that I feared someone would “pinch” my idea–it was because 1) I thought that the magic involving the book’s reality would dissipate and 2) the lukewarm expression on people’s faces (“oh yeah sounds interesting”) would impact my enthusiasm for the project (in other words, just what Ken and JD said). I’ve become much chattier now and I know that I should keep more things hidden. Because the books always seem to change before they’re finished, you know. And now with the Internet and various writeups, incorrect stuff is floating around and I only have myself to blame. In our tight-knit mystery world, I think it’s better to say less than to say too much.

  7. Louise Ure

    I can’t promise to do it right on the dot of 5:48 a.m., but I like that idea of looking for signs and changes on the equinox, Billie.

    And there’s something positively orderly about an equine born on the equinox, no?

  8. Bill Cameron

    My ritual: experience a strange sense of relief in the background as it slowly settles into my bones that, finally and for the next six months, we’ll have more sun than not.

    I’m like you, Louise, in that I’m far from a font of ideas. One a year? Sounds about right.

    I don’t make a point of talking about them, and when I’m asked (rarely), I usually keep it general. But on those occasions when the conversation kinda roamed to the point where actual story was being discussed, I haven’t necessarily held back. My ideas are never “ideas” when I have them anyway. They’re more like starting points, usually small, rarely impactful in their first form. They just happen to interest me for some unfathomable reason.

    But after a year or so of writing, after I layer added elements and premises and build character around them, then they start to seem like actual ideas for actual novels. Since I’m used to them not being much in their nascent form, I don’t have to worry about talking them away.

  9. pari noskin taichert

    Louise,Wonderful title! Great post!

    I’m in love with a project right now and have to remind myself not to talk about it too much.

    One thing I’ve found is that I’m less willing to share my work with a critique group when it’s in progress than I used to be. I don’t really want the input at this stage.

    There are also some projects that are less loaded than others — those are the ones I can share . . .

    Is any of this making sense?

  10. Louise Ure

    Naomi and Pari, there’s some common ground in your comments: an unwillingness to speak it aloud because it’s still in a state of flux and likely to change.

    Let me add another reason for keeping our own counsel: the Vietnamese woman at the nail salon who asks, yet again, “You’re still working on that same book?”

  11. Louise Ure

    Bill, those are not simply ideas, they’re pearls in the making. And all the character embellishment and plot twists and word choice that goes into it is nacre being added to that pearl.

    And yes, every extra minute of sunlight makes me happy.

  12. j.t. ellison

    I’m actually very careful who I tell what about my books simply because until I’m pretty far into them, I don’t have any real elevator pitch that I can give that doesn’t give the story away.

    Though I did lay out an idea on a panel at a conference, and two hours later someone told me an idea they had, and it was a variation of what I’d talked about two hours before.

    What I take from that is even if we were all given an idea and told to write it, the end results would differ wildly because of our voice and perspectives.

    LOVE your new title, Louise. Very cool!

  13. toni

    I tend to not talk about the work in progress or the new idea except to a couple of brainstorming buddies. Sometimes I need to talk the story progression out to see if the logic works or to see if I’m making sense on where I want the characters to go. But for the most part, I can’t talk about it with anyone else, for. Especially for the reasons Naomi listed — other people’s lack of enthusiasm will taint it.

  14. Will Bereswill

    I have a few, close, non-writers I confide in with ideas. These are people who read a lot. It’s nice to kick around ideas over beer and I’m often surprised at some of the great twists that get thrown in.

    Just the other day I explained a new idea that I just came up with to my wife. The concept is pretty edgy and she didn’t seem nearly as excited as I am about it.

    She’ll come around though.

  15. Louise Ure

    JT, I would have been quietly fuming if I’d heard a variation on an idea quoted back to me that quickly. (I at least expect to be given credit for the first 24 hours of an idea!)

    But you’re right … it’s the voice and the way the story is told that will make the difference.

    Toni, the only ones whose lack of enthusiasm scares me are my agent and editor. Yikes!

  16. Louise Ure

    Hi Will, talking to non-writers can be of huge help. I’ve got one close friend — a test pilot for United — who loves to kick around ideas, and usually has something that I could never in a million years have thought of.

    I hold out hope for your wife. She just needs to read that first page and it will all come to life.

  17. j.t. ellison

    Louise, I wasn’t thrilled, I’ll give you that… but I know no one can do this story justice the way I want to do it. And now I’m never going to discuss unsold plots on a panel again.

  18. Elaine Flinn

    And then there are those who will say, “Oh, hell – that been done already.” So what’s the title on my WIP? “Done to Death.”

    But when it comes to titles – “Nobody Does It Better” than you, Louise. 🙂

    Uh, including the characters and story too… 🙂

  19. Louise Ure

    “Done to Death” has incredible potential, Elaine! I love it.

    And Santa, you’ve got me thinking about that song by Meatloaf, “Paradise by the Dashboard Lights.” In your case, Christmas lights.

  20. Fran

    What a glorious title, Doing Hadley Time! I can’t wait, but then I’m anxious for Liar’s Anonymous so you can see I’m absolutely fickle.

    Vernal equinox celebrations? Well, the biggest one for me is celebrating my sweet Lillian’s birthday, which is actually on the 21st, but close enough.

    Don’t overtalk your new ideas, let them catch us readers unawares. As much as we love being “in the know” about upcoming stuff, the joyous thrill of the excellent and unexpected wonder of a great author’s writing is really more than enough.

  21. Zoe Sharp

    Great title, Louise. And what interesting variations in process everyone has. For me, it keeps coming back to one thing, though:

    There are as many different ways of writing a book as there are books written.

    Whatever works, people 😉

  22. patty smiley

    Louise, that debut author could have just said, “It’s the story of a dog and a boy who loved him.” If somebody wanted to steal an idea that general, let um have at it.

    Love the new title.


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