Writing and Renovation

by | Jun 3, 2018 | Lisa Black, The Writer's Life, On writing | 6 comments

Writing and Renovation
       My summer plans? Changing the look of my kitchen. It will be a process, and that made me realize how many similarities steps there are in both a home reno project and writing a novel.

1. The sudden idea. The impetus for my first published book sprang to my mind after reading two particularly gruesome murder mysteries. Lying in bed on my day off as my husband got ready for work, I found myself saying: “I’m going to write a book in which the killer doesn’t harm a hair on the victim’s head, barely even touches them…until he encases their legs in cement and drops them in the river.” The kitchen cabinets had a less positive beginning—one day I walked in and decided that 18 years with the builder’s minimum was enough. Hey, I wrote my first screenplay simply because after watching yet another ill-advised remake of a 70’s TV show, decided I could do better. (Not naming any names, Dark Shadows.)

2. Research. In Trail of Blood, a good chunk of the book occurred in 1935. How did cops investigate crimes without DNA, videotapes, and Google? Who knew that spaghetti was the hip thing to eat, like kale or power grains today? Who knew that there was paint made just for laminate? 

3. Planning decisions. What is going to happen, and in what order? This is of vital importance in mysteries as the protagonist discovers clues, suspects try to hide the clues, and the writer drops clues designed to go unnoticed because their importance is not yet apparent. In That Darkness, as seemingly unrelated deaths occur, each one brings Maggie a clue as to their connection to homicide detective Jack Renner. In my kitchen I could—provided I could afford it—replace the cabinets, or change the doors. Paint, or re-laminate?   

4. Juggling. How many subplots are too many? When does the perky comic relief seem forced? Jack has a partner, Riley, who always has a snappy comment and a lunch menu on hand. But have I handcuffed this perfectly intelligent character into a role of sidekick? (Though where would a cop story be without the trusty sidekick?) And can I trust any contractor to show up on time for the long process of sand, prime, paint and paint again?

5. Stretch, but don’t bite off more than you can chew. In Perish I really wanted to write about the 2008 financial crash, but there was no way to transport 2008 Wall Street to 2018 Cleveland, or to convincingly recreate the same events in present day Ohio. Instead I focused on one aspect (predatory lending) and the role it played in the 2008 crisis. I’m pretty sure I can handle painting the laminate boxes. But installing hinges and handles on the doors and the doors on the cabinets, and getting them all straight, even, and properly opening and closing…yeah, I think I’m going to hire someone for that.

6.  Enjoy. My sister’s favorite part of redecorating is when the dropcloths are all folded away and the helpers have all left and she is left with nothing more to do than decide where to put this vase—or would a framed photo reinforce the square motif? Does this wall need another touch of the accent color? She will spend hours doing this. Me, I love the feeling of not having to write for a while, of being able to tell myself the book, for better or worse, is at my agent’s and there’s nothing I can do about that now and let’s get to all those little jobs that piled up while I was writing every day. Let’s plan some trips and get a massage and look at the volumes on my shelf that have my name on the spine and walk into the kitchen and think how much better it looks now. Because, before I know it, I’ll get an idea. Then it’s back to #1.

      What would you rather tackle? A home improvement project, or a novel?

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  1. Karna Bodman

    Oh Lisa, I had to laugh – thinking about how you juggle writing research with renovation research – and follow-up to both. I recall going through some of the same challenges when re-doing and furnishing a summer home while under deadline for another thriller – you brought it all back. Actually, as you said at the end — it's a great feeling to finish a manuscript, let your agent handle the rest, sit back and simply enjoy your (updated) surroundings. Thanks for a great post.

  2. Lisa Black

    I'm looking forward to the sitting back and resting stage–for both projects!

  3. Robin Burcell

    We just moved into a new house, and the parallels between unpacking, organizing, etc., are also there. Can't wait to see what the new kitchen looks like. And, of course, the new book!

  4. Jamie Freveletti

    I'm currently tackling both. Planning a kitchen renovation and writing a novel. Since this is my eighth novel I've got that down, but any advice on kitchen renovation would be greatly appreciated!

  5. S. Lee Manning

    The parallels between writing a novel and renovating a kitchen from personal experience: 1. both take a lot longer than you think it will. 2. somewhere in the middle, you look at the God awful mess and wonder – what was I thinking? 3. you get to the end and it's wow – this is good. Enjoy!

  6. Lisa Black

    Thanks, Lee, that’s perfect advice!! Because I am definitely wondering what I was thinking . This is my 14th published (like, 22nd written) novel, but so many times it still doesn’t feel like I know what I’m doing.