Friday, August 29, 2014

Happy Labor Day!


Did you know that Labor Day does indeed celebrate each and every one of our contributions to the work force?

From Wikipedia:

Labor Day in the United States is a holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It is a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.



I will be on my way out of town by the time you're reading this post. I wish each and every one of many restful hours after your labor-- wherever you live and whatever you labor at.

Here in California, we're reaching the end of summer. I hope yours was filled with many happy moments -- moments that will bring good memories this winter.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Boy With the Painful Tattoo SNEAK PEEK

Writing fiction is a strange and mysterious thing -- even to those of us who earn our living from it. With non-fiction there are always facts. Facts are your starting point. They are your flimsy raft in the dark and rolling seas. In the mountains of Peru... X.  Or I did not like this book because... X. The non-fiction writer grabs onto X and rides out the tide.

The fiction writer has no such life preserver. It begins with a blank page. BLANK. Nothing. And from this nothingness we must somehow create believable characters living out a story readers -- a goodly number -- care about.

You have to be a writer of fiction to truly understand how very difficult this is. In fact, there are times it seems impossible. (Which is why, when some dumbass says, Oh, you got Street X in town X wrong we should all be thankful writers do not have lightning bolts at their disposal. REALLY? Street X in town X was the focus of the fucking -- er, darned -- book for you???!!!)

But I digress.

I am especially conscious of both the delicacy and sheer power of this creative act -- the ability to write fiction -- as I work on The Boy With the Painful Tattoo. Because however long you stall, however much you prepare, ultimately it comes down to you and a blank page.

You search for the first line. What will it be? How does this journey begin?


“Come with me, Kit,” J.X. urged.
 
That's how this particular journey begins, but no two journeys are the same.

So today, as you may have gathered, I am sharing a snippet of The Boy With the Painful Tattoo. The release date is October 5th, and ready or not, that's what's happening. The truth is, I am never ready to write anything. How can you prepare for that terrifying blankness when you let go and let yourself fall?

It doesn't work like that. Oh, I prepare, yes. I research, I study, I do my prep. Ultimately the writer has to let go and trust to whatever it is that makes stories happen. The subconscious? No, writing is definitely a conscious and fully informed process. And yet it is also being spirited away by the momentum of the story. Letting the story unfold, letting the characters speak -- and act.

Anyway, because this particular story begins with -- Whaaaaa???? -- sex, we must skip ahead for our excerpt.

 
I heard it then too. A businesslike rapping on the picture windows a few feet from us. A female voice yoo-hooing.

“Yoo-hoo! YOO-HOO!”

Knock. Knock. Knock.

The knocking was coming from one of the large bay windows along the side of the house. I could see a small person of indeterminate sex dressed in baggy clothes and one of those broad, straw coolie hats some elderly folks -- and outright eccentrics -- use for gardening. At first glance it appeared that one of the garden gnomes from next door had come to life. And had something to say about it.

Mid-scramble for our clothes, J.X. and I exchanged horrified glances. He looked so stricken that I started to laugh, even as I dragged my jeans on.

“Who the hell is that?” J.X. protested again, which struck me as still funnier.

“Welcome Wagon?”

“No way.” He said doubtfully, “You think?”

“Well…no.” I climbed awkwardly -- it’s not easy to go from pleasurable arousal to alarmed action in thirty seconds flat -- over one of the many crates marked books. I half tripped over a rolled Persian carpet, clattered into a set of fireplace rack and accessories, and finally stumbled over to the window seat. I struggled with the catch on the window and managed to raise the sash a foot or so.

The spring morning scents of honeysuckle and freshly mown grass wafted in.

“Good morning!” the gnome greeted me. She had one of those fluting, high voices that brought to mind Sunday school teachers and curators at the most macabre exhibits at the Tower of London. A voice like an ice pick through your left eye socket. “Welcome to the neighborhood. So sorry to disturb you on your first morning, but the movers must have broken one of the sprinkler heads along your front walk.”

“Oh. Uh…okay.”

As I seemed to be missing the point, she said kindly, “Water is shooting up like a geyser out there.”

She was probably in her sixties, but unlike my former mentor Anna Hitchcock, no effort here had been made to stave off the ravages of time. Not that she looked ravaged. Beneath the wide brim of her hat I could just make out twinkling blue eyes in a round and rosy face.

“Hell,” I said. “Okay. Thanks for letting us know.” Not twenty-four hours in the new place and it was already falling down around our ears. I hate to say I told you so --well, no. Actually, I kind of like to say I told you so. I couldn’t wait to tell J.X. I told you so!

She offered a small but capable hand. “Emmaline Bloodworth. I’m on your left.”

 Proof of my distraction, I actually glanced to my left. “You are? Are you?”

“I live in the house to your left.” She was still offering a doll-sized hand, and I leaned down to take it. She shook hands firmly.

“Christopher Holmes.” I released her, started to retreat, but by then J.X. was behind me so I backed my ass firmly into his crotch, which pretty much illustrated the current state of affairs in #321 Chestnut Lane.

“Ooof,” J.X. steadied us both with his hands on my hips.

The most alarming part was my body’s instinctive reaction to the feel of his still-partial erection through both his jeans and my own. That level of awareness, of desire, of -- oh God -- of need was not normal, not natural. Not for me.

“Hello there,” Emmaline greeted him. “We keep missing each other, but I’ve seen you coming and going this past week.”

More going than coming. I didn’t say that, obviously.

J.X. joined me in the open window and shook hands with Emmaline. “J.X. Moriarity. Kit and I are --”

“We’ve got a broken sprinkler,” I interrupted.

“I heard. I’ll take a look.”

“No. You’ve got a plane to catch. I’ll deal with it. But before I turn off the water, were you going to take a shower?”

J.X. looked over his shoulder for a clock that was not there. He felt around his jeans pockets for his phone. Also not there.

Emmaline checked her wristwatch. “It’s nine forty-five.”

J.X. sucked in a breath. “I guess I’m not showering. Good thing it’s a short flight.”

“I can show you where to turn off the water,” Emmaline told me.

“Thanks. I’ll meet you out front.”

J.X. caught my arm as I moved away from the open window. “What if I throw some things in a bag for you? It’s just for the weekend. We can deal with this crap when we get back.”

“Now you’re talking crazy,” I scoffed. “If anything, this should indicate why we can’t both take off in the middle of moving in together.” I was smiling because he had to know I was right. I now had an excellent, irrefutable reason for not going with him. I pushed him toward the doorway and the curving, walnut staircase beyond. “Don’t miss that plane.”

He didn’t like it, but he didn’t have a choice. The clock was ticking. Somewhere. In a box we couldn’t find.

J.X. pounded up the stairs and I veered left and went out the carved walnut and glass double doors to the Corinthian porch.

The beauty of the front yard caught me by surprise. I’d been too tired to notice more than shadows and shapes when I’d arrived late the night before. Red brick walkways and short walls -- not counting the twelve foot vine-covered structure dividing our property from the house on the right -- coiled their way through low hedges and sculptured ornamental trees. The weathered stone and elegant greenery created a lush and pristine setting for the Victorian-Italianate house, set discreetly back from the street.

A nice neighborhood to have bad habits in, as Chandler would have said.

Emmaline unlatched the ornate iron gate and came through. “The main water shutoff valve is in the right over here, by the little cherry tree.”

“Hell. Heck. I don’t have a wat--” I broke off as she held up a long, steel valve control key. “Oh. Great.”

“This way. Come along, Christopher.” She bustled away down the brick path. I obediently followed in her wake. A butterfly swooped languidly past my nose, as though hired by the homeowner association to add ambiance. Did we have a homeowner association? I didn’t know. J.X. had pretty much been the driving force behind all this.

We found the water main, I pried the metal lid up, and Emmaline handed me the key like a good scrub nurse delivering the scalpel to the surgeon. I turned the meter valve counterclockwise. “I’ll pick up a couple of replacement sprinkler heads this morning.” 

“It’s going to be nice having young people in the neighborhood again,” Emmaline said as I finished turning off the water.

At forty, I didn’t exactly think of myself as “young people,” but everything is relative I guess. I handed Emmaline the valve key back, and replaced the metal plate. I wiped my hands on my jeans and stood up.

Emmaline was filling me in on the other residents of Chestnut Lane. The Tunnys -- “twin brothers and old codgers,” according to our neighbor lady -- lived to the right of us behind that formidable wall. Codgers they might be, but the wall almost certainly predated them. The Salvatierras lived across the street to the left of the walk-down parking lot. The house to their left was currently empty but not for sale. The house to the right of the parking level was owned by Mr. Lemon. Mr. Lemon was a retired history professor.

“Ah,” I said. I knew I should probably be paying closer attention to the Who’s Who. These people were going to be my neighbors for the next however long I -- we -- lived here, but somehow I felt more like a house-sitter than a new homeowner. 

“Now don’t hesitate to call on me, if you need anything,” Emmaline said. “I hope you’ll be very happy here.”

I bade her adieu and headed for the black front steps of the stately porch. Sunlight gilded the sage-green balustrade and pillars, tipped the leaves of the hedges and flowering vines in gold. Honeysuckle grew in profusion everywhere, the sweet scent perfuming the warm morning.

Emmaline called something I couldn’t make out. I smiled, waved, and went through my new front doors.

Strangely, the house smelled both new and empty. Strangely because the place had been built in 1904 and was currently stacked to its skylight in boxes and two households’ worth of furnishings. From upstairs, I could hear footsteps walking back and forth. I listened for a moment then crossed the dark hardwood floor of the foyer and poked my head in the living room.

 This was a large room painted a satiny, cheerful yellow with creamy decorative crown molding and corner pieces. The marble fireplace, one of four, was original to the house, as were the intricate etched glass and brass chandeliers. The house had lots of these beautiful little touches, from the tall pocket doors to the hand painted tiles in the bath and kitchen. And for three million dollars, there ought to be some beautiful little touches. I studied the stacks of boxes and furniture that had yet to be assigned their place in the new world order. I stared at the mattress before the fireplace. It was a mess of blankets and sheets. The blankets and blue and white sheets were J.X.’s. The mattress was mine. It was destined for the guest room upstairs. We had agreed -- or rather, I had agreed to J.X.’s suggestion that we start off fresh with a new bed and new mattress. They were supposed to be delivered that afternoon -- another reason why someone had to stay here.  We couldn’t both go gallivanting off to parts unknown.

Or even parts known.

I found my way to the kitchen--remodeled but still retaining vintage charm with the black and white parquet floors, beadboard cabinets, and hand painted ceramic tile backsplash. I saw that J.X. had found and plugged in his coffee maker. I made coffee and idly opened a few boxes, looked inside, and let the flaps fall closed again. Between the two of us there was a hell of a lot of junk here. And somehow when viewed inside a cardboard box, all my worldly possessions did look like junk.

More heavy footsteps overhead. What the hell was he doing up there? Pacing the floor?

I went over to the fridge -- J.X.’s was newer and bigger (some things never changed) so mine had been relegated to the basement -- and I wasn’t sure if I was relieved or not to see he hadn’t had time to do much more than pick up a carton of milk and a container of eggs.

He’d ordered Chinese takeout the night before, but I’d arrived too late and too tired for food. I was hungry now, but there wasn’t time to fix something before J.X. left, and somehow it seemed rude to start cooking breakfast he couldn’t eat.

How long before I stopped second-guessing my every impulse? Before I stopped feeling like a guest? Before I stopped --

No. Don’t go there.

I wasn’t regretting anything.

Anyway, it was too soon to know if I had anything to regret.

J.X. pounded down the staircase and breezed into the kitchen. He wore jeans and one of his ubiquitous white tailored shirts. Spotting the percolating coffee, he fell upon it like the wolf upon the fold. Or the wolf upon the barista. “Thank. God.” He found his mug in the sink, turned on the taps to rinse it, and of course there was a choking sound from the faucet which spit out a trickle of water. 

“Here.” I unwrapped a mug from the half-unpacked box on the counter and handed it across.

“Thanks.” He poured in coffee, and glanced at me. “It doesn’t feel right leaving you to deal with all this.”

“It’s not a problem. I’m looking forward to exploring everything on m--”

“On your own?” he asked wryly.

I laughed. “It would be more fun with you.”

“It’s just a couple of days. I’ll be home Monday night.”

The phone rang forestalling my reply.

“Well, something works anyway,” J.X. said as I went to answer it.

“You want me to drive you to the airport?”

He shook his head. “I’ll take my car.”

I picked the phone up. “Hello?”

“Christopher,” came the not-so-dulcet, semi-British tones of my agent, Rachel. “You made it!”

“Don’t sound so surprised.”

“I didn’t think you’d go through with it.”

“Ha.” I winked at J.X.  I’m not really much of a winker, so it had the reverse intended effect of making him pay closer attention. He sipped his coffee, watching me over the rim of the earthenware mug.

“Have you changed your mind about the conference?”

“What in our previous acquaintanceship would lead you to believe I’d change my mind about that?”

“The fact that you’re speaking to me from San Francisco.”

“Aside from that.”

“Christopher, your career is in a delicately balanced position right now.”

I couldn’t hide my weariness. It leaked out in a long sigh. “When is it not?”

“You can’t afford to go off the grid again. We have to talk, really talk about your future, and it makes sense to do it at the conference.”

“Probably not. Since I won’t be there.”

She made an exasperated sound. I get that a lot from the women in my life. Not that there are a lot of women in my life.

“This is no time for a midlife crisis.”

“I agree. That was so last year.”

“Christopher! I’ve had an idea…” she burbled on, but half my attention was on J.X. who set his coffee cup in the sink and came over to me.

He said quietly, “Honey, I’ve got to go.”

I nodded politely, which was not the right response, as I could tell from the way his brows drew together. He leaned in, and I leaned in, and somehow the phone was in the way -- where did all that cord come from? -- our mouths latched on -- mostly. It was a fleeting kiss, tasting of coffee and toothpaste on his end, and coffee and exasperation on mine.

“I’ll call you when I get to the hotel,” he whispered.

“…dragon tattoo,” Rachel said.

“I am not getting a tattoo,” I said. “I’m still paying for that damn wardrobe you made me buy.” I nodded enthusiastically to J.X. so he could see I was listening to him.

“Have you heard a word I said?” Rachel demanded.

“I love you,” J.X. said.

“I heard you,” I said shortly.

Rachel’s silence and J.X.’s expression seemed equally taken aback.

“Love you too,” I said hastily to J.X.  

He smiled uncertainly. My smile was equally doubtful.

“Christopher?” Rachel inquired. “Are you still there? Christopher?”

“I’m here,” I said automatically, as J.X. raised his hand in a final farewell and disappeared into the hall.

A few moments later, and from what felt like a long way away, I heard the front door close. This was followed by the distinct sound of a key turning in the lock.

So much for milestones and relationship markers. Love you too.

Love. You. Too.

Somehow I had intended the first time I managed to say the words to J.X. to be a little more… meaningful.

 


You can preorder from this page. And I hope you will do so.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Just a creative exercise

As you all have heard at length, I get a little obsessive when I'm writing, and it's difficult for me to make contact with my fellow Earthlings. ;-D  Meaning, even something as simple as writing a coherent blog feels difficult. I was going to try and put something together regarding translation, because I am having such interesting experiences going global. But... it just wouldn't come, and then this morning I had another of my crazy ideas.


What if I pulled out some random bits of story from a very old, unfinished manuscript and we did one of those exercises where everyone builds on what the previous person has written?


You can go serious or funny or whatever, but you write a paragraph or two and leave it to the next person. I wonder what we would come up with?


Let me say up front that this was written back in the day when I used to write and THEN research, which...I don't need to tell you how much of a mistake that can be if you know absolutely nothing about your topic. Which...I did not. I wasn't even sure what nationality my characters were going to be, that is clear. :-D




So here we go. Bits of an unnamed and unfinished story:


 
“Aren’t you Nate Martyn?  I just love your show!”


“Oh, uh…thanks.”


God.  I hated when this happened around the team.  People always thought it was my show because I was the face the public saw.  I was never so conscious of how little I really contributed until moments like these.


“It’s so smart, so well-written, so original.


“Oh, yeah, it’s a great show, Nate,” teased Charlize, elbowing me in the ribs.  I could see Bill and Travis shaking their heads with friendly mockery.  


I said, “I’m just the guy on camera.  These are the people who actually put the show together.”


But she wasn’t having any of it.  She handed out her tour book and said, “Could I have your autograph?  It would be such an honor.”


As I reluctantly took the book, I caught Johnny’s eyes.  I felt myself flushing, although he looked amused.


 


Bill was grinning.  “When did I ever lie to you?”


“The bay of Naples thing for one.  That bloody pack of sharks.”


“Sharks don’t travel in packs!”


“They looked like a pack to me. Or maybe a  street gang.”  I could laugh about it now, but that had been a terrifying experience.  I’d only been with the team a short while, and I really had believed I might be killed out there through someone’s carelessness or incompetence.


They all laughed at my tone.  Even Johnny’s mouth pulled into a sardonic little grin as he reached for his drink.  Todd looked mystified, and I tried to explain about the sharks that had turned up while I was supposed to be diving around some old ruins in the bay of Naples.


“But Nate was a pro,” Charlize informed Todd, her eyes dancing.  “You’ve never seen anyone so wet and scared and articulate.  And of course he always photographs like a dream.”


I grimaced at her.  “You can tell I’m shaking on camera,” I told Todd.  Then I turned to Bill.  “And how about your gentle old priest in Peru?”


Bill roared with laughter, his face taking on an apoplectic flush.  “That’s right!  That’s right.  The old boy leads Nate up to this secret temple in the hills and cold cocks him!”


Laughing with the others, I glanced Johnny’s way and caught his eyes for a split second.  Out of the blue I remembered sitting there in the twilight with the scent of sage and dust in my nostrils, and Johnny kneeling next to me, repeating, “How many fingers am I holding up, Nate?”


I grinned wryly.  That had been the first and only time I could ever remember having Johnny’s complete and undivided attention.  It had almost been worth the murderous headache I’d had for two days afterwards.


 


 


Typical of how it had always been with myself and Johnny.  He’d never taken me seriously, and no wonder.  I was always making a fool of myself in one way or another—even when it wasn’t actually my fault.  Now he was looking towards Bill who was embellishing the story—complete bullshit—but it did make for a pretty funny story.


 


 


 
When I’d joined the team six years ago I suppose I’d had rather a thing for Johnny.  He’d never been anything but distantly friendly to me, and I’d got over it eventually, but it took me aback to realize my feelings had been so transparent.


 
---------------------------------------

 
So there you go. The basic dynamic was that Nate was the star/host of some kind of travel show (this was back before reality shows! But I guess that's what it would be) and he was in love with his producer, Johnny.


Write us a scene and whoever gets in first, kicks off the story, and everyone embellishes from there. This is strictly for fun. Stretch your creative muscles.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

We've Got Winnahs!

Kitten has nothing to do with anything
 
The M-sterious Hand of Fate has chosen. Thirty times, in fact, because these comments were so inspiring, both en masse and individually, that I decided to throw in a few extra codes.


So will the following folks drop me a line through one of those contact points, and we can get your codes out to you over the next week.


Bronwyn
Antonella
JennysMum2000
Helena
Susinok
Kim Williams
KC
JordanLombard
Lilian Francis
T.T. Kove
Rodeoroughstock
Denise
Mtsnow13
Pilgrim
Thelastaerie
2shay
Sylvia
Maria Noriega
Haldis
Beverly
booksandmore
ardent.ereader
Ame
lp37
CA Glesener
Alison
Tanzmaeusi
Ruby2
Darkvamp1
Jimbo#


And thank you all for commenting. There was some really wonderful encouragement there -- and some very sensible advice as well.

Friday, August 8, 2014

I. Got. Nothing.

Deep into Boy With the Painful Tattoo right now and you have heard how I feel about rough drafts, so trying to come up with a blog right now is like being asked to explain the last three days through interpretative dance.


Anyway I thought I would cover this lapse by giving away some audio books. It's been a while, right? So let's give away 25 audio books from my backlist.


Comment on this blog -- I could use some words of encouragement right about now -- Friday through Sunday night and you'll be entered in a random draw for a download code -- good for any of my audio books.






Friday, August 1, 2014

The Way it Was


What a great -- if weird -- week.

 

I finished off Fair Play last Thursday, and then I had about a week to catch up pretty much everything before I dive back into Boy With the Painful Tattoo this Monday. I am very eager to get back to Kit. When I left him, life was falling down around his ears as usual.

 

J.X. phoned.

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“It’s good. The sprinkler is repaired and I’m unpacking…everything. How was your flight?”

“I spent longer getting through security than in the air. Did you have trouble…” His voice seemed to dip and then I heard female laughter and noise in the background. J.X. said distantly, “Very funny, give me my phone, Samantha.”

Ah yes. Conferences. Networking. Socializing. Shenanigans. And more shenanigans. Shenanigans were how J.X. and I had met.

His voice came back on, loud and clear. “Sorry about that. Kit, I got a call from Nina. She sounded upset but I couldn’t understand what the problem was. I was thinking maybe if you went over there?”

“If I went over there…where? What? Where there are you talking about?”

“To Nina’s house. To see her. To see her and Gage.”

Nina was J.X.’s ex-wife. Gage was his nephew. J.X. had married Nina, his younger brother’s pregnant girlfriend, after Alex died in Iraq. He had done this for the sake of his very conservative family and her equally conservative family and the unborn kid. It was noble in a soap-opera-ish way, but it wasn’t the kind of nobility that I understood or approved of.

Also, though the gesture had been quixotic and J.X.’s feelings for Nina were platonic, the one time I’d met her -- over Christmas turkey -- had convinced me that Nina’s feelings were not so clear cut. Maybe not clear cut at all. She didn’t like me. J.X.’s parents didn’t like me either. Possibly for the same reason. And the kid, Gage, disliked me with all his little heart.

“And I would do that…why?”

“Because I can’t and you’re family. And…”

“And what?”

“And this would be a good chance for you to get to know them.”

I laughed though it came out sounding more winded than amused. “I hope you’re kidding because there is no way in hell I’m going over there. They can’t stand me. None of your family can stand me, and the last thing Nina wants is your gay boyfriend showing up.”

J.X. made an exasperated sound. “Kit, you’re family now. That’s important. A lot more important than whatever it is you’re thinking at this moment. I know it’s inconvenient and maybe a little awkward, but it’s also a perfect opportunity.”

I cannot pretend this little speech of J.X.’s did not irk the living hell out of me. So much so that I actually couldn’t speak for a few seconds.

“Kit?”

I managed to swallow my anger before I choked to death. “Putting aside my thoughts -- and feelings -- for a second, I am up to my ears in boxes. Yours included. We’ve got the furniture company delivering the bed this afternoon. We’ve got the satellite dish people arriving any minute. There is no food in this fucking house. So whatever this unspecified emergency is with your ex --”

“She’s not my ex.”

“Yeah, actually she is. And if she can’t spell out what the problem is for you, it’s a good bet I can’t solve it for her. Even if I had the time -- or inclination -- which I don’t.”

There was a pause before J.X. said grimly, “That’s pretty blunt.”

“Not really. Blunt would be to point out that we’re not family. We’re living together. And it may or may not work out.”

I’m not sure what his response was -- I’m sure he had one. I’d never known him to let me have the last word. But I got it by default that time. I hung up.

Then I tottered over to the nearest stool -- J.X.’s contribution to our kitchen furnishings were tall bachelor pad bar stools of leather and steel -- before my knees gave out. I was shaking with a crazy rush of anger and adrenaline and alarm.

Also shame. I was too old to be hanging up on people like an angry and inarticulate teenager.

Not my finest hour. Or even my finest one and a half minutes. But this was what I had been afraid of from the first. That we were going to commit to this madness and it wasn’t going to work out.

 

 

So that’s right where I left Kit about eight weeks ago.

 

I wanted, needed to make every minute of this break count because when I am writing everything else falls by the wayside: email, promotion, laundry, groceries…showering. Okay, I probably should not have admitted that last one.

 

It turned out to be a hugely productive break. I think I got more done in six days than I’d managed in six months. Anyway, I forget why, but I started sorting through boxes of old floppy disks. Originally I used to handwrite everything, and then when I learned to write directly to a PC, I used to print everything out (there went a forest or two), but eventually I got to the point when I used to write and save files on floppy disks alone. So boxes of disks -- apparently every revision got its own disk. There were all kinds of stories I’d forgotten about: the ubiquitous 3 - 7 chapters of various abandoned projects. I used to “get bored” with a story (meaning I’d hit the part where actual work was required) and drop it for the next brilliant idea. Even after I was a successfully published writer I still used to do that, which is so bizarre to me now. That lack of discipline.

 

But then I wasn’t trying to earn a living at writing. I could afford to abandon six out of every seven projects.

 

There was some very interesting stuff there, though I don’t know whether I’ll do anything with it. Then yesterday, someone was asking whether I’d ever blogged on Show vs. Tell. I was sure I had, but I went skimming through my old LiveJournal posts, and I didn’t spot anything. What I did notice was how much more time I used to have to blog and chat.

 

Those were enjoyable days -- chatting with readers and other writers about writing and books and publishing -- and whatever else caught my attention. It wasn’t merely the amount of free time I had to visit, it was also the amount of time I had to write thoughtful and reflective posts. I still blog and I still spend a lot of time interacting and chatting with readers, but I could see the difference.

 

This isn’t a bemoaning of the good old days. Everything changes and this seems to be a common pattern for writers. We extensively journal our initial experiences and our first literary forays -- look, I just invented the wheel!!! --  but then, if our careers take off, we get too busy writing to manage much more than brief but regular check-ins.

 

I don’t read the same way I used to either. It’s much harder for me to get through a book now days. It’s very hard to turn my writer brain off, so while I am trying to sink into the story, I am also considering how the writer is handling various elements -- versus how I would handle these elements. It’s easier with vintage stories for some reason, easier to turn off my analytical brain and just read like I used to.

 

Anyway, I have no idea what all this is in aid of. It’s not just me changing, LiveJournal has changed too. It’s not the vibrant, active community it once was. It’s interesting because we tend to believe that however things are at any given moment, is how they will always be. And yet we have plenty of evidence to the contrary. So often change is incremental, so we don't notice until we look back.

 

 

 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Those Mid-way Mid-draft Blues


Writing is such a weird business. You go days, weeks, months (sometimes years) thinking of nothing but the story you are working. Everything you read, watch, think is basically related to these characters and their world – even when it isn’t.

 

You crawl through the muck of that first draft. Dragging every godawful little word out one by one. Then finally you’ve got something coherent enough to be called “a first draft,” and off it goes to your editor. Who swallows bravely and tries to make sense of it before she bounces it back.

 

There is incredible jubilation after that first draft. Partly because nothing is more difficult than carving that “think” out of the concrete block your brain turns into. But then comes the second draft. That is when you feel the power and the glory (such as it is) of what it is to know your craft. The second draft is the fun draft. It is really, in my opinion, the only joyful part of the writing process. When you take that raw material, look at it with fresh eyes, and you suddenly understand what you were struggling to say.

 

The more time between drafts, the better, in my opinion, but modern publishing doesn’t really allow for this. If you steal yourself an extra week somewhere you are doing great (and giving production teams nightmares).

 

The first draft is just about…getting there. Arriving muddied and bloodied on the doorstep. The second draft is about writing. It’s about how you will shower, dress, and seduce the reader into losing her or himself in the story. It is about clarifying theme and refining characterization, it is about nitpicking every adjective (Dear God, how many times have I said dryly this time? – PLEASE tell me no one “swallowed hard,” etc.) It is the one stage in a long process where you feel like you maybe know what the hell you’re doing.

 

But then you hand that second draft off, and there is a real sense of letdown. Almost depression. Because no matter how hard you tried, the infinite possibilities for this story are gone. The story is what it is. It is now limited in what it can be and what it can achieve. And from this point on the changes are minor ones – you did not explain how Character A knew Character B was stealing eggs from the Farm at C. You repeated a phrase too many times. That kind of thing. The fate of the story is now determined. It is the kind of story it is, and you can already hear both the praise and the criticism.  

 

There is definitely relief – great relief. The book is done. If you were to die at this point, the book could still go forward. It no longer really even needs you. Anyone can do these edits.

 

And so there is a kind of letdown. We start every story with a sense of excitement and endless possibility. Whether you outline or not, every story begins with endless possibility. But by the end of the second draft, this story has narrowed to a particular set of events with a determined outcome. You know how it ends.

 

And that’s where I am this morning. I sent Fair Play off yesterday afternoon and today I feel…meh. I loved writing it. I loved researching Washington and the Puget Sound and the anti-war movement of the 1960s. I learned about Black Bull whisky and Montreal and organic farming. But now it is done and there is a definite letdown.

 

We talk about reader addiction, but I think there is writer addiction too. And that is never more clear than when the rewrite is handed off and that particular high is finished. Done. No amount of accepting commas and removing echoes can bring it back.

 

But there is always the next story…

 

And in the meantime, I thought you might enjoy seeing the cover reveal for Fair Play!