The Truth About Working at Home... With Your Husband

A while back I wrote about the ugly Truth About Working at Home. Since Mark's joined me at home while he works on a programming project of his own, I thought it was time for an update about life in a home office for two.

1. You will spend more time making food.

I'm perfectly willing to make a lunch out of string cheese for myself. But if Mark's around, well, it's at least gonna be string cheese and a veggie.

2. You will feed off each other's moods.

You know how hard it is to maintain a cherry attitude when your office mate is grim and grumpy and monosyllabic? Well, now imagine he's your office mate AND your husband.

3. You will uncover previously unknown flaws in your beloved.

I just have to ask: how can a man fill up his office trash can every day? Every blessed day? I know for a fact that his work is mostly on the computer. So how does this happen?

For Mark's part, I'm sure he is just now realizing how many stashes of unmated socks I have in various corners of the closets. And how bad I am at disciplining the cats.

4. You will lose all sense of time.

When Mark was working, it was fairly easy for me to stay anchored in the real world. I nearly always knew what day of the week it was. Now I work on Sunday, relax on Tuesday, and stay up 'til 4 a.m. on a regular basis. When neither of us have any time-specific commitments, it's just all too easy to lose track of the clock.

5. At some point, the honeymoon will be over.

You will realize that this is not in fact some wonderful working vacation -- a rare chance to spend more time with your man. Instead, this is your new life. It's no longer romantic, and thrilling, and blissful. It's just real, and present, and, from a financial perspective, a little bit scary.

When this realization hits you, it's not a bad thing. It's a chance to come down to earth and appreciate your situation with new, more grown up eyes. After all, when the honeymoon's over, that's when the real marriage begins.

Me, Myself, and Kitty

As I'm editing my book, there are a lot of tasks on my plate: smoothing plot, seeding suspicions. But one of the most important things I'm doing is crystallizing the character of my protagonist, Kitty.

It's a lot of work. When I started out I had a vague idea of who she was: sort of a template to get me started, to give me a name to put on the page. But as I worked my way through each of the scenes, I gained a much stronger knowledge of who she was and what she wanted. Now it's my job to make sure that all that I've learned is there from the start: that on page one, Kitty is the whole person I know her to be, complete with flaws, quirks, and everything.

The truth of it is, she's a lot like me.

Not in any of the actual details, the things I'd list if I was describing her. I'm not a mystery-solving farm girl in the big city. I'm no master manipulator. And I'm not (at least I hope I'm not) wildly self-involved.

No, Kitty isn't what I am at all. But underneath all those details, Kitty is very much who I am. Her turn of phrase, the way she looks at the world, the things she observes about other people: these are all me. Starkly, obviously me, to anyone who knows me well enough to see.

I used to think that this was lazy, that as a writer I was supposed to be able to craft characters from the ground up, to give them unique voices that had nothing to do with mine. Now I think that was just naive. The fact is, lending Kitty my voice, my outlook -- my me-ness -- layers a lot of reality upon the fictional skeleton of her character. It makes her feel solid to me, tangible, true.

It's strange but true: Kitty isn't me. But she is.

World Building 101

Fantasy writers know what world building is. It's where you flesh out all the details of your story's strange milieu. How does magic work? What do they eat for breakfast in Upper Malefickia? And what is the name of those pirhanna-like fish you put in the river your heroes have to cross?

But my book is set in the 1920's. The real 1920's. No need for world building, right?


One of the most important parts of sci fi and fantasy world building is deciding on "the rules of the world." If you decide that wizards and witches generate their power by chowing down on the legs of spiders dipped in tabasco sauce... well, weird, but ok. It's a rule. You establish it early, and you're expected to stick to it for the remainder of the story.

In more reality-based genres, a lot of the technical rules have already been established (the sun rises in the east and sets in the west). But I still have to answer some metaphysical questions about the way my world operates. Such as:
  • Do bad things happen to good people?
And if so, how bad? Is my world one in which an innocent woman could be kidnapped? In which she could be raped and killed? In which a child could be raped and killed? Or is it a world in which, in general, if something awful happens to you, you deserved it?
  • Does true love conquer all?
Most romances would answer this question in the affirmative; so many that I'd say it's an underlying rule of the genre. For other genres, it's not always such a clear answer.
  • Does everyone get their just desserts?
Is justice a sort of force in my world, one which just can't be denied (no matter how much it seems like it can deep in the middle of Act II)? Or is justice only for a certain part of society, those that can afford it? What about injustice? Are there forms of it that are rampant, expected, part of the cost of living in this world?
  • What are the roles of various groups?
Are the cops generally the good guys or the bad guys? Are politicians crooked or honest? Are women independant or helpless? Are children innocent or cruel?
  • What is the role of accident and coincidence?
Is it acceptable to have the plot turn on an accident? Or is everything the result of carefully orchestrated events?
  • What kind of humor exists in my world?
Is it at all possible that my protagonist will slip on a banana peel? Can her character be wildly over the top? Or is my world a grittier, realer place where humor consists mostly of bitingly clever dialogue?

No matter how factual the setting, I have a lot of leeway to play with all of these things. And I have an obligation to keep all of them consistent. Otherwise, I'll get the same reaction as the fantasy writer who suddenly has her wizard draw power from eating butterfly legs dipped in ketchup:


No One Cares Whodunit

I recently finished reading Save the Cat, by Blake Snyder. (Loved it!)

Although it was chock full of useful info, the one piece of wisdom that really resonated with me was a single word: Whydunit.

That's the term the author uses for the mystery genre. When I read it, it was like one of those lightning bulb moments. Because, of course, duh! No one cares whodunit.

The most disappointing mysteries are the ones in which everyone has an obvious motive, and at the end of the book... well, it turns out one of them did it. For exactly the reason you thought they might. Boooo-rrrring!

Much more interesting are the ones in which the motive is obfuscated in some way, and comes clear just before the end. There are a ton of ways to do this... including the one I've chosen for my book, which I hope people will find interesting and surprising.

I wonder: are there other questions that can provide a really satisfying end to a mystery? Maybe "Howdunit," for a locked room mystery. Or "Howcatch'em," for a Columbo-style story, in which you know the guilty party from the start.

But I think it's the Why that really gets to the heart of mysteries... maybe to the heart of stories in general.