Category Archives: Writer’s Aspirations

To Thine Own Writing Be True

It’s been an interesting experience getting The Mushroom Shift ready for publication.

I mean, here is a novel I wrote almost 25 years ago, and as I’m reading it, and as I’m having my Kindle read it to me as part of the proofreading process, I’m discovering something about it that I hadn’t expected.

It’s a really good book.

Yeah, authors are supposed to say that sort of thing. But I don’t say that about many of my others – not A Death of Honor or The Company Man, or the three books of the Angel’s Luck trilogy. While I can chat them up to interested readers, I don’t think they’re particularly good, largely because I hadn’t yet hit that mystical One Million Words mark.1 Of my published novels, Ferman’s Devils/Boddekker’s Demons is the first one I can page through without cringing, largely because (I believe) by that point I’d actually Gotten Good.

Yet here is a novel that was my third (written after Desperate Measures and Honor2), before I had Gotten Good – but I can mostly read/listen to it without wincing. Plus there are moments in the book that make me marvel at how good it really is.

Granted, there’s one scene in The Mushroom Shift that I have long considered one of my best pieces of writing ever – but one scene does not a great book make. Mushroom I think is a great book, in spite of the fact that my writing style hadn’t completely evolved. Why?

Well, I’ve been thinking it over, and I believe I might have the answer.

The Mushroom Shift was written for love. It was written for the sheer joy if sitting down and telling a story. It was written because the story was coming out of me, and not for any sort of commercial consideration.

The others from that period were, well, written to try and make money.

Ditto the story about Ferman and Boddekker, which was something I wanted to write for a long time, and had a great time doing so when I finally did it.

Ditto again for Drawing Down the Moon, in which I defied my then-agent’s advice and sat down and wrote it because it was a story I wanted to tell. Well, DDtM is also a great book because I think I have officially Gotten Good now, but you see the pattern forming.

There’s something to be said for tossing commercial considerations out the window and writing for the love of the process.

Need more proof?

Open up your web browser, point it at Amazon dot com, and look up the Stephanie Plum series of novels by Janet Evanovich. Check out the reviews of the early series; One for the Money, Two for the Dough, Three to Get Deadly

People love ’em.

Now check out the reviews of books Fourteen, Fifteen, Sixteen, Seventeen. Evanovich’s readers are turning on her, accusing the writer of making her books dull, boring and repetitive – basically phoning it in for the score.3 One reviewer even accuses her of milking the series after allegedly reading an interview in which Evanovich advocated doing exactly that.

I’m guessing that the one thing on the minds of all of Evanovich’s disgruntled readers right now is, “Where is the love?”

Don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing bad about writing for money. But there seems to be a strange phenomenon that occurs when you do that. You start keeping commercial considerations in mind, and perhaps you start getting a little shy about letting loose for fear of offputting your readers. And pretty soon you’re doing that thing of stamping the novels out using a cookie cutter formula.

I suppose it’s nice work if you can get it.

But so much more satisfying… and a much richer legacy you will leave… if you be truthful with yourself as a writer, if you push yourself out of the box, and simply write for the sheer joy of creating, of telling a story you want to tell rather than shooting for the lowest common denominator.

Who knows? Your fans might even like it, too.

  1. Or that new iteration of skill honing, the Ten Thousand Hour mark.
  2. That’s right – those early novels weren’t published in the order in which they were written.
  3. And actually, in the interest of full self-disclosure, I found her books dull, boring and repetitive after just two. Along with highly irritating. But she makes more money writing than I do, so you can’t argue with success.

Repeat Reading

An interesting morning postmortem on last night’s writing. I think it’s interesting that I’ve passed the 100k word mark and the story is showing no sign of slowing. I originally thought that it would run about 125k at most, but plans have a way of changing, I guess.

I’m wondering if, when And/News hits somewhere in my recently speculated word count, I should try as an exercise to edit it down to around 100k. I don’t know what purpose that would serve, though. So far the book seems to have everything in it that needs to be there. It’s also odd that when I sat down to write PH, I knew it would be a long project, knew that it would be about the length that it turned out.

Why the difference? Why is And/News still growing and developing? I’m not sure. Probable explanations:

1) I’m working in a new genre and haven’t developed a feel for length yet. My current projections are a fine length for a thriller.

2) With this book I am trying to commit more to character development. I was tired of my early books being criticized for thin characterization when it was there but cut for the sake of fitting into an editor’s page count. Boddekker had great characters, I think, but nobody read his story. So it’s Round Two.

3) The book is doing what it is supposed to be doing, growing organically, striding toward the length that it should be. Like Abraham Lincoln’s legs, which were long enough to reach the floor, And/News will be the length it needs to be to serve the story.

I suspect that the correct answer is all of the above.

I don’t know why I’m obsessing over word count at the moment. Likely because I’ve had “100,000 Words” pounded into my head for so long. I should stop worry about/obsessing over it and enjoy the rest of the write (I’m saving a vacation day in case I need it for my “last chapter marathon”).

I also realized something else about this project. I think And/News might be one of those books that actually improves on the second reading. This isn’t a negative thing – I think the book will be a great read the first time through.

See, I love films that become a whole different experience when you see them again. I’ve often said I envy people who get to see Casablanca for the first time. But it improves with subsequent viewings, because once you know how things turn out, you can see all of the subplots and intrigues that swirl around Rick’s Cafe and influence the final outcome. A lot of my favorite films are this way; The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable, Memento. And I bought Donnie Darko so I could try watching it again – it must get better with subsequent viewings (I liked the film overall but felt the ending goes horribly wrong somehow).

When you go back for repeated viewings with these films, you can see all of the clues that point the way to their conclusions, creating an entirely new viewing experience.

I can’t think of many books like that. Jean F. Merrill’s The Pushcart War was that way for me, but that was the difference between reading it as a 5th grader and then reading it as an adult and seeing all the wonderful satire that went over my head the first time.

I didn’t set out to do this. But it occurred to me this morning that And/News had the potential to offer… not a different, but an enhanced reading experience the second time through. And it has less to do with the thriller part of the book as it does the characters that are in it. I’m excited about the prospect.

Is this just my writer’s ego over asserting itself? I’ll have to get the book finished and published. Then you can tell me.

NP – iTunes (Garbage, “Stupid Girl”)