CANTON, OH – To help raise awareness of Peace Officers Memorial Day (May 15) and National Police Week (May 12-16), author Joe Clifford Faust is giving away copies of his dark-humored police novel, The Mushroom Shift through the Amazon Kindle and Goodreads.com. Between May 12th and 16th, Amazon Kindle owners may download a free copy directly through their device or order it through the Amazon.com website. In addition, 10 autographed copies of the trade paperback version of the book will be given away through Goodreads.com. A Goodreads account is required to sign up for the drawing.
“This novel is based on things I saw during 4 1/2 years of working as a Sheriff’s dispatcher,” Faust said. “I saw quite a bit during my time there, from the hilarious to the utterly terrifying, including the loss of officers. Nothing I can do can make up for the sacrifice these men make, but I hope that this effort makes people more aware of the importance of May 15th.”
The Mushroom Shift tells the story of Clarence Raymond Monmouth, a deputy in a small town in Wyoming, who is finishing his third year on the despised Mushroom Shift – midnight to eight a.m. – in the final weeks of 1985. As the year draws to a close, Monmouth comes to realize that the county’s aging Sheriff will soon be succeeded by the political enemy who marooned him on that shift. Survival mode kicks in and he begins to consider his options, interrupted by his crumbling marriage, his drinking, and the never-ending parade of drunk drivers, family fights and perverts that make up small town police work.
The novel is a snapshot of a different world that is not that far in the past, in a time before political correctness. Its theme of men struggling to hang on to their jobs is universal.
Joe Clifford Faust was born in North Dakota, raised in Alberta and Wyoming, went to college in Oklahoma, and now lives in Ohio. He has been married for more than thirty years, has two adult children, and has worked at a local advertising agency since 1997. Besides The Mushroom Shift, he is also reissuing his critically acclaimed science fiction novels under his own imprint, Thief Media.
Faust may be contacted at thiefmedia at gmail dot com for interviews and guest blog posts, and is available to speak to writer’s groups or other organizations live or via Skype.
Sometime in 1989, Kurt Busiek, who had up until recently been my agent, called me from his new position at Marvel Comics. They were planning on taking another crack at a Science Fiction comic book, and they were going to put two twists on the genre. First, it was going to be written by real, professional, established Science Fiction writers. Second, it was going to be a shared universe – where all of the writers got to basically play in the same sandbox.
And he wanted me to write the opening story for the series.
Why me?“Because you’re extraordinarily good at near futures,” he told me. And the near future is where Open Space, as the comic would come to be known, began.
By that point in my career I had published A Death of Honor and The Company Man, both of which posited rather gloomy near futures and skated near the thin ice that could plunge one into cyberpunk (although I never considered them that, many readers did – after I thought about it, I suppose they were pre-cyberpunk in a way).
So over the ensuing years, you might wonder how some of my near-future predictions came out, seeing as how we just passed the 25th anniversary of the publication of Honor. Answer is, there were some things here and there in both books that kind of hit near some marks if you stretched it a bit.
But nothing like what has been happening in the past few months with the Pembroke Hall novels.
It all started in December, when an article appeared in Forbes online, accompanied by a couple of remarkable videos. The title was “Nanotechnology May Lead To The End Of Laundry“, and I’m certain that a lot of people thought it was gosh-wow — except for the people who had read Ferman’s Devils and/or Boddekker’s Demons during the fifteen minutes they were in print.
One of the conceits in those novels was a laundry soap that used nanotechnology to not just ultra-clean clothing, but actually repaired it as well. It seems that by the time the author was writing those novels in the mid-1990s, he had seen a lot of preachifying about how nanotech was going to save the world by disassembling toxic chemicals at the molecular level and save lives by repairing heart valves without surgery, and so on. He realized these things were noble indeed, but that somebody was going to figure out how to make big bucks with the technology by making it do something mundane. And here we are:
Now I had a friend who really needed a new heart valve a couple of years ago, and when local hospitals gave him the kiss off because he was self-insured, he went to India to have the retread work done. And I was left wondering, where was his nano-laced pill that would take care of that? Hmmm, seems the nano folks got to the making a buck part of the program before nobility could rear its head.
But I digress.
Back to the point. That was pretty strange, to see something like that happen, nearly a dozen years after the book came out. But then something else caught my eye yesterday – a story from the London Telegraph saying that Paul McCartney’s son James is mulling over putting a band together with the sons of the other Beatles. Hey, I can’t make this stuff up.Except that I did. It was kind of a running joke in the Pembroke Hall novels, a band constantly referred to as “The SOB’s” – and then you find out halfway through that it stands for “Sons of Beatles”, and that the band is made up of… yeah, you got it.
Was I trying to wishfully think when I wrote that into the novel? No. I was making fun of our popular culture. It was, after all, the beginning of an era when artists began keeping their moribund careers alive by releasing sequels to hit albums of the past (the latest? Ian Anderson’s Thick as a Brick 2. Seriously.). Maybe in retrospect I shouldn’t have done it. Pop culture is just too easy of a target. I don’t know.
Whether Beatles 2.0 comes off or not remains to be seen, but these things have made for a weird couple of months for me. Before you go calling me Nostradamus or anything like that, remember that there’s lots of other stuff in those two novels that hasn’t happened, like thugs becoming media stars. Everyone knows that commercial actors aren’t thugs. Those are all found in the NFL and NBA.
Seriously again, I don’t know what to make of this. They say things happen in threes, so maybe I will ignore this trend until one more thing like this pops up – when and if. So I guess I’ll try not to be too unnerved until the other other shoe drops.
Meantime, if you want to catch up on this tale, I’m scheduled to have the Author’s Intended Version of Ferman’s Devils – ready for release just over a year from now. Maybe sooner if I can get those pesky Angel’s Luck books out of the way. If you want to check them out sooner, check the used section of Amazon or on eBay.
And for you few who read the book, here’s something that may keep you up at night: According to my calculations, Boddekker is now an eight year-old.
The Mushroom Shift, the police novel I wrote way back when during the mists of 1985, is officially available for you to read. You can get the Amazon Kindle version here, or for those of you who still love the feel, smell, and tactile experience of a real paper book, you can get the trade paperback version from Amazon here or from me through Amazon here.
(A Trade Paper version of A Death of Honor is also available here, but is not yet available on Amazon for some reason. Call it delay by dinosaur?)
The Kindle version went online in the middle of December, but I wanted to wait to make the official announcement until the paper version was available. Of course, if you’d liked my Facebook Fan Page, then you already knew about all of this stuff weeks ago.
If you’re interested in the book, make sure you read the propaganda I wrote about it before buying it. The book is not at all politically correct (but since when are cops PC?) and is rather profane (but since when do cops talk like choirboys?). If you decide to take the plunge, I think you’ll be rewarded with a novel that contains some of my best writing – not bad since it was only the second novel I wrote (I have a theory on why it turned out that way, but that’s a topic for a future post).
There you have it. The chronicle of Clarence Raymond Monmouth, Badlands County Sheriff’s Department, ready to come to your home and entertain you in whatever format you choose.
So buy early and often. And remember… I get paid whether you read the book or not!
Where to come down on the idea of cussin’ in one’s books? I’ve gotten away from it for the most part, mostly because I’m a Christian and try hard not to use it myself. But I’ve also sat through enough TV versions of films where the language is softened, and for the most part the writing works without it (except for the moment in Heartbreak Ridge where Clint Eastwood refers to a compromised operation as a “cluster flop”).
If the profanity is taken out and not given a ridiculous substitute, most writing functions surprisingly well. I’ve gotten along without it nicely for a couple of novels now, although in Drawing Down the Moon I resorted to some comparatively minor epithets during a couple of moments when the emotional tension was ratcheted up so high that it seemed the scene couldn’t exist without the kind of expression that exists when you call someone a son-of-a-bitch.
One thing I don’t think most writers consider when using profanity is how it is perceived by the reader. Folks, most readers ain’t looking at it the way that a lot of us do. For example, John Grisham has been praised for years for “not using profanity” – but he does. The thing is, he uses it ever-so-sparingly.
This tells me that in minuscule amounts profanity becomes overlooked as part of the story and doesn’t even enter the reader’s consciousness. There’s not enough to alert the reader’s radar, so it flies under it naturally.
Unlike when I went to see Dog Day Afternoon once upon a time a long time ago. A bunch of us from college went, and one girl who was unenlightened about “cinema” (as opposed to “movies”) became bored with the plot early on and began to count out loud the number of F Bombs dropped by Al Pacino. And you know what? Thinking back on it, it was distracting. Not the girl’s count, but the fact that there were so many that it demanded counting. How else do you account for people tallying the number of F words in films like The Big Lebowski, or pretty much any movie in which Joe Pesci or Robert DeNiro are allowed to do some ad-libbing? It’s like there’s a saturation point for this particular epithet, and once you pass a certain number of uses, it pushes the meter from “Useful” to “Tolerable” to “Offensive” and into “Self Parody.”
Oddly enough, this didn’t seem to happen in The Commitments, but then the word wasn’t flowing exclusively from the mouth of one particular character – it same from everyone, as if it was a part of the street argot. And it worked that way.
My take is to use profanity infrequently and only when emphasis is needed somewhere. I’m not so sure I buy into the whole “it’s part of the character” thing anymore because it has become so over-used (see below for an exception).
While there was profanity in A Death of Honor, there were only two F-bombs – one in a confrontation with a jackbooted version of that universe’s police, and an expression of disgust and dismay near the book’s end. My editor called me up to talk about this since Del Rey wasn’t known for that kind of language, but what’s interesting is that she was concerned with the second instance of the word – almost as if the first hadn’t existed. I guessed that was a sign that it felt natural in the first application, and seemed gratuitous in the second – although I would have traded the first to keep the second, which is where I really felt it belonged.
Interestingly enough, there was almost no profanity in Honor – at least not in the traditional sense. When I initially wrote the first chapter, one of the things I postulated was that language would change in the future, so I used a different, odd word as a profane expression. However, since Honor was only the second novel I’d written, I lost my courage to see that part of the book through and used common contemporary cussin’ instead. But I kept the idea in the back of my mind… and when the time came to write Ferman’s Devils I had a lot more confidence… and that’s why the characters there say “ranking” all the ranking time. It’s up to readers to figure out why it’s a cussword (and no, I don’t give any clues – but it was accepted).
Incidentally, “ranking” is almost the only cussword in Ferman. There are two others, used only once each – “bastard” and “ass”. The only reason I used them is because I heard them used in actual TV commercials while I was writing the book, and put them into the advertising universe to make a point.
For the most part I think profanity is a spice where you err on the side of less is more. That said, there are exceptions. Right now I’m in the process of coding my unpublished police novel for the Kindle. It’s based on what I observed when I worked as a Sheriff’s Dispatcher, back during the Ice Age. It’s thick with creative profanity because that’s what I heard. Some time after I wrote it, in a moment of idealism I decided to rewrite it without the profanity. But when I started doing that it just wasn’t the same book. Taking the profanity out ruined the whole tone of things. So I decided to leave it in.
Ultimately, it’s the decision of each individual writer to make. Just keep in mind that your readers are more involved with the story than you think, and if you’re gratuitous with the language, it may push the aforementioned Profane-O-Meter into Self Parody faster than you think.
And be cautious when I finally release The Mushroom Shift for the Kindle. The language really is terrible, and some folks don’t ranking like that.
After thirty years of my wife insisting, I am now reading Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel. And it’s a wondrous thing. For a first novel, Auel created a rich world based on sound (at the time) scientific speculation, bent the rules within acceptable parameters, expertly manipulated plot twists and turns for maximum effect, and created a modern classic that can be read as a great adventure or as something much deeper (I could make a great argument for its being the ultimate feminist novel). It’s a Great American Novel.
I only have a few minor quibbles with what she’s done with the book. I’m wondering if the dialogue is a little too rich for being sign language. She ends one chapter too many with antagonist Broud plotting to get even with heroine Ayla (as my wife puts it, it’s almost like he’s twirling a mustache while he thinks these things). And Auel uses exclamation points in action scenes on occasion.
My policy on exclamation points is that I never use them in narrative:
The cars collided.
– not -
The cars collided!
There are a couple of reasons for this. First, when you put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, it adds an enormous amount of emphasis on what is being said. It had better be darn important if you’re going to do it!
Second, when you put an exclamation point at the end of narrative, it feels final. Like there’s nothing else that needs to be said beyond that point. You’ve made the ultimate statement on the subject!
Back to our car accident description above. If I dared to write The cars collided! I would not follow it up with anything else. The emphasis would all be right there in one sentence, which, like haiku, had better say exactly what you wanted to say on the subject since you punctuated it thusly.
However, without the exclamation point, I would go on, perhaps turning the accident into a ballet of broken glass and bending metal:
The cars collided. The grille of her car went first, shattering, blowing back against the wall of the radiator, which bent and burst, hemorrhaging sticky green fluid across the asphalt road. The hood crumpled up, bending into a tent as it was pushed up over the engine. Then the windshield webbed and gave way into thousands of jagged pieces, spraying in on her as momentum carried the car forward. By this point the airbag on the steering wheel was just a memory, having caught her head as it whipped forward, collapsing as the seat belt caught her and threw her back.
Now go back and imagine that with an exclamation point after the first sentence. It breaks breaks up the rhythm of the words, too much of a full stop to allow anything else to proceed.
I should note here that if you’re writing a novel for young readers, all bets are off. Exclamation points in narrative bring a different tone and add a sense of excitement to the proceedings. That’s probably why, when I see exclamation points in narrative, it comes across as having a juvenile feel.
On the other hand, I have no problem using them in dialogue – just not all the time. Again, it has to do with the rhythm of the words. There are times when I might want to write:
“Get out of my house,” screamed Kate.
and there might be times when I want to express it this way:
“Get out of my house!”
To me, either is acceptable. It just depends on how you want the dialogue to flow.
So my advice is don’t use exclamation points too often!
You can get it for the Amazon Kindle, and if you don’t have one, you can read it on a PC, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Blackberry, Android or Windows Phone 7 with Amazon’s free Kindle Application.
And it’s only $0.99, for a limited time.*
And remember: You folks are my 401(k)!
* That is, until Desperate Measures is released.
A lot of my posts come from questions I get from aspiring writers struggling with some part of the writing process or another. The other day I got an email peppered with questions I had mostly already answered. However, it occurred to me that there might be others out there who, like this particular reader, who haven’t had the chance to wade through the 700+ posts here to find what they want.
So instead of cutting and pasting a whole bunch of links to essays in this side, I went for the short answer, knowing I would post the results in a kind of Cliff’s Notes version of this blog.
So here’s the short answer version of many popular writer’s questions. For more detail, see the rest of the blog.
(Note: questions in parenthesis are paraphrased by yours truly for the sake of brevity)
(Reader mentions different jobs he has had, including a recent stint in the military)
Thank you for serving in the military. I can’t thank you enough for doing that.
It sounds you have a lot of different experiences, which is a good thing. A writer doesn’t have to have experience in a lot of different jobs and rely solely on imagination, but I think experience helps. Your resume sounds a lot like my early one before I settled down.
(Reader asks about how one should go about tackling a writing project)
If you’re reading my blog, you’ve probably found tons of information about writing from my particular point of view. You should hunt up some blogs from other writers to see how they’re handling things. I’m a big proponent of finding out what works for you as a writer, because what works for me or another writer might not be your cup of tea. Plus, the way I write has evolved over the years.
I’m 39 and I’ve wanted to write my entire life but have yet to finish a book. I have multitudes of ideas streaming in my head with good ideas.
Yup, you’ve got it bad. Welcome to the club. Most writers have tons of ideas (I even do a writer’s seminar called “The Idea Is The Easy Part” to show how easy it is to come up with a concept for a novel). Our big issue is time to do something with those ideas.
I have a friend who is a brilliant idea man. He’s always coming up with a new idea for a book. His problem is, he gets these new ideas when he’s supposed to be working on another book, and he gets so taken with the new idea that he abandons his in-progress for the new idea. Those writers who are published learned to discipline themselves and pick one idea, working on it until it’s done. If the new idea is really good, it won’t go away.
I go out and buy notebooks and pens and write short spurts here and there.
I do that too. I have notebooks with notes and starts of books all over the place. It’s like buying a new notebook and/or pen validates the new idea. But again, that discipline is the key.
But I make excuses and think that I can’t make money doing that.
It’s hard. And it’s hard for outsiders to understand that, for every Tom Clancy or Stephen King, there are 1,000 writers like me who do it for the love of writing, and of course, for a shot at that brass ring.
Fortunately, with the advent of the Amazon Kindle and other e-readers, it’s become easier to make money on one’s work by self-publishing. Good money. One woman just signed a $2 million contract with a major publisher based on the Twilight knockoff novels she was self-publishing. But it needs to be good. Or shamelessly commerical.
Do I need an agent?
There’s a joke in the industry that you can’t get a book sale without an agent, and you can’t get an agent unless you have sold a book. If you want to get published by the Big Six, you need an agent. If you’re willing to go the self-published route, no. If your self-pubbed stuff catches on, the agents will find you.
The story of how I got my agent is on my blog. It helped that I went in through the Science Fiction/Fantasy Door. That genre is more open to new writers and unsolicited submissions than the more mainstream stuff.
How do I get a book contract?
By writing a darn good book. And you do that by writing and writing and writing and writing. Every time you write you get better at it. No anabolic steroids necessary.
How can I get a publisher to pay me while I write?
1) Write a darn good book
2) Sell it to a publisher
3) While you are marketing the first book, start on the next one. This way you can tell your publisher you’re working on a new book and they will understand that you’re serious about writing.
4) If your book gets buzz, or hits it big, or perhaps even breaks even, your publisher will want to tie you down with a multi-book contract. When that happens, congratulations!
That’s approximately the way to do it. Fortunately for us all, publishers want to make sure an author can go the distance and produce something both readable and salable before committing to their writing careers.
I’m sure some people have gotten contracts without going through some version of this, but they were either celebrities who could be hooked up with ghostwriters, or had established themselves as writers in another area (short fiction, journalism, etc.)
When you were writing the Angel’s Luck series what was your writing process?
It depends. The first book, Desperate Measures, was the first novel I ever wrote. During its writing I was going to college, getting married, and looking for a job. It was written piecemeal over the course of 4 1/2 years, and the original version was twice as long as what was published. While it was at market, I wrote A Death Of Honor, then The Mushroom Shift (about police work – I worked for a few years as a sheriff’s dispatcher), then The Company Man. By then I was a better writer and was able to hack the mess that was DM into shape.
The other two books in the trilogy I was under contract to write. I had said I was never going to write a trilogy, but the characters wouldn’t leave me alone. So I pitched DM to my editor as the first book, said a few words about what the other two books would be like, and Del Rey bit. I wrote those two as a full-time writer, and I treated it like a full-time job.
How many hours a day did you write?
Again, it depends. When I’m writing a novel, I tell myself my daily goal is 5 pages, and I take however long it takes to get there. Many days I’d get on a roll and write more in just a couple of hours. If I was having a bad day, I told myself I had to get through at least one page. More often than not, getting through the first page made it possible to write four more. But sometimes one was all I could struggle through.
WARNING: Telling friends and family that you are writing full time will often lead them to think that, since you are home, you are “not doing anything”, and are therefore eligible to do things like help them move pianos.
How did you find a decent Editor to read your work?
I was marketing A Death of Honor, and since it was Science Fiction, I was going the Slush Pile route (SF is institutionally more friendly to unsolicited submissions than any other genre – although romances may be this way also… I wouldn’t know). A bunch of smaller houses turned it down. A big house wanted it, but they wanted changes that I felt would have damaged the integrity of the story. My wife kept telling me to send it to Del Rey, and I kept saying no because they published Heinlein and Clarke – what would they want with me? She persisted. I gave in. And I can’t count over the years how many times I have been grateful for my wife’s encouragement.
I do want to write and I feel that is my talent.
If you really, really want to write, nobody can stop you. Not even yourself. All sorts of people have told me they wanted to write, but when it came down to it, no encouragement I gave could make them actually sit down and write. A few did and succeeded, but if they didn’t have that spark inside driving them, they never would have made the commitment. Many others tried and gave up, or ended up not trying.
I said that it took me 4 1/2 years to write Desperate Measures. That’s because I wanted to be a writer more than anything else. And I wrote whenever I could steal the time to do it. A lot of times it was a half-page, page, two pages here and there. It added up. When I finally finished, I learned that I could write a novel. I started to get an idea of how I worked as a writer. I learned that, every time I wrote, I got better at it. And I learned that, having done it once, I wanted to do it again.
And I’m still trying. I’m not where I’d like to be as a writer, either. But I haven’t given up because I know how much writing means to me, and I know I’d rather be writing novels than anything else.
So steal what time you can to pile up those pages and see what happens.
And that is Volume One of the Cliff’s Notes. Feel free to question or append in the comments.
Okay, it’s finally time to say something because it’s all getting close.
I’m in for a writing career reboot here, and it’ll likely all start happening by the end of the month. The retooling of this web site some months ago was the first step, but now there are others. I’ve slowly been putting things into motion, but it looks like they’re all going to converge at once.
So I have not one, but two major announcements — and a minor one.
First, my new novel, …and that’s the end of the news, is almost done. I mean it for sure this time. After 10 years, a long hiatus to take care of my mother (during which time I tried to re-imagine myself as a songwriter and learned that I hated performing live) and four drafts, I’ve gotten the book where I want it, where it should be. So it’s soon to be going out in search of an agent and/or publisher.
This book has been with me for so long that it’s hard for me to look at it as “the new book”, but it’ll be new to the 99.99% of you who haven’t had some kind of preview or were pressed into service as an early reader. Anyway, once and/news goes out into the marketplace, it will be time to start what really will feel like a new novel. This will likely be the project that I have discreetly code-named “The UFO Novel.”
Which brings me to the minor announcement. Just for grins, I thought I would post very short excerpts from The UFO Novel as status updates on my Facebook Fan Page. There’ll be one excerpt from each chapter as I finish writing it, and there will be lots of chapters. It should be fun. Or not. Tantalizing, perhaps? That’s the idea. So become a fan now and get miniscule glimpses of a book in progress (or be tormented by them – your choice).
So now it’s time for Major Announcement number two. If you’re one of the lot who has been to my Facebook Fan Page, you may have seen the fanciful logo for an outfit called Thief Media (you can see it now in the upper right hand section of this page). That’s the imprint that I have started to release my old, out-of-print novels for the Amazon Kindle and in epub format for all the others. This will begin with my first published novel, A Death of Honor – which I hope to have out by early March – to include all 7 novels over the course of the next year or so.
(Actually, they will appear as only 6 novels – Ferman’s Devils and Boddekker’s Demons will be issued as one novel, which was my original intent.)All of the novels will have new cover art, and all except for the Angel’s Luck trilogy will have some kind of bonus material included. A Death of Honor will feature the original epilog that I cut from the book before publication. The Company Man and Ferman’s Devils will feature short stories that overlap into the respective book’s universe.
In addition to my out-of-print titles, Thief Media will also be releasing two previously unpublished JCF novels. The Mushroom Shift is a profane and darkly funny novel about police work that was written between Honor and Company and will be released between them. Trust is a political thriller written in hopes of being published in time for the 1996 election. It will be released before Ferman’s Devils.
To celebrate this in a small way, I have changed the graphic in the banner above to a section of corrected page from the third draft of …and that’s the end of the news. There may or may not be other surprises and releases, but I’m going to leave things at this for the time being. After all, I have a lot of work to do right now.
Okay, it’s pushing past 4am. The Benadryl I took to settle my allergy has long since kicked in, but the email I decided to write to pass a few minutes turned into a monster, and so I’m going to recycle it here.
A friend writes:
I wanted to see if you thought that a prospective writer should read a book on writing a novel if he were going to take-on such a project?
And here’s my typically verbose answer:
It certainly wouldn’t hurt to read books about writing novels. Notice I said plural: books, not book. I’m fascinated by the creative process, so I enjoy reading them… to a point. But here are some problems that I see with the whole how-to book thing:
1) It inhibits the reader because a lot of times, the authors of these books are so in love with their own process, that they pass it off as THE WAY to write a novel. It ain’t. THE WAY to write a novel is what works for you. That’s why they call it the writing process.
Speaking from experience – I always got discouraged when I read a writing book when it said thou shalt outline before writing thine novel. Earlier on I had made the discovery that I never ended up writing any project I outlined first, be it short story or novel. That’s because, for me, part of the writing process is one of discovery, and if I start with an outline, that takes the fun out of it. When I start a novel, I usually have an opening scene, an ending scene, and an idea of what takes place in the middle. Then I outline as I go.1
So it’s okay to read “how-to-writes” by others, but keep in mind most of those methods are not being freshly carried by Moses off of the mountain top. That’s how it works… for one person. I remember starting Desperate Measures (the first novel I actually finished): I sat down and said, “I don’t care if I’m not a professional writer – I’m going to write a book without outlining.” The book just had to come out, see, and I was willing to throw conventional wisdom out the window to get it done.
The best book on writing a novel I’ve ever read is Lawrence Block’s Writing The Novel: From Plot to Print. It was a liberating read for me because he was the first to say “the way to write a novel is what works for you.” I wish I’d found the book earlier. It would have saved me a lot of psychic grief.
And you should know that I’m one of the heretics who doesn’t think much of Stephen King’s On Writing. There’s some good stuff in there, but it’s strictly Writing 101. In typical King fashion, the book is way too long2 and, I feel, overrated for what it says. Maybe the reason people rave about it is because they’ve never been told this stuff. Shame on their high school and college English and writing instructors. Or maybe they never listened to their teachers and ate this book up because it came from Stephen King. Shame on them, then.
2) Some people get addicted to the processes they read about and make such a big deal out of trying out new things that they never finish anything. There reaches a point where you’ve just got to apply pants to chair and beat the book out of yourself, discovering the process of how you write a book as you do.
3) I believe the creative process is an organic thing that evolves. If I had written a how-to-write book in, say, 1990, it would no longer be true to what I do today. And I think that’s the way it should be. Some people might write books in the same old way they always have, and that’s fine. But we should have the chance to evolve, too. And the way I work certainly has. And I kind of hope it never stops. I don’t know of any writing books that reflect this.
As of now, anyway. I’m too busy trying to write to read anymore how-tos.
4) There should come a point in every writer’s career when they walk away from how-tos and start putting words on a page. It doesn’t matter how the words get there. The writer has to find the process for him/er self.
I believe (or should I say, I agree with Lawrence Block) that every novel is a first novel since you haven’t written it yet.3 But those early novels can be tougher, I think, because you’re in the process of learning how you work. Once you do, the sitting down part gets easier.
When I become world dictator, one of the laws I will pass is a disclaimer that every how-to author must put on his/er method book:
“Caution: The principles in this book are those that work for its respective author. Your results may vary.”
- On a panel once with the great Lois McMaster Bujold, she looked horrified when I said that. That’s because working that way would absolutely not work for her. Viva la difference!
- Yeah, I know, it’s probably his slimmest tome ever – but it’s still full of unnecessary stuff.
- Janet Evanovich and John Irving being the exceptions to this.
Frequent readers of this blog will know that I often invoke “show, don’t tell” as one of the early steps to take in becoming a good writer. Now mystery writer Nancy Curteman has taken all of the, um, mystery out of doing this, explaining it in a much more concise way than I could.
Hat Tip: My Literary Quest
via Global Mysteries