Always Wanted to Write a Book? Do Tell!

So, you’ve always wanted to write a book? Isabel is at her leisure to listen.

Me? Well, that depends. 

Don’t get me wrong – I’m willing to help aspiring authors. I mentor through several organizations and do my best to be generous with helping people looking to build careers as writers. 

The problem comes in when people are only talking and not wanting to do the work. That’s why this week’s topic at the SFF Seven is phrased the way it is: What do you want to tell someone who says ‘I always wanted to write a book’?

Come on over to hear those things I never say out loud. 

Having It Both Ways

A storm rolled in yesterday afternoon, producing rain, sleet (or hail – we weren’t sure) and then snow. I love all the looming shadows and the layers of cloud here.

I was IMing with one of my Critique Partners yesterday, about how I’m hitting this new place in my writing career. KAK (who just redesigned her blog AND actually posted to it here) is pre-published and is hitting the querying and submitting now. She was catching up with me on how Sapphire is doing, and I said it seems to be doing really well, though I make a point of not looking at sales rankings, etc. (With the glaring exception of that run on the Carina Press website, which I caught by surprise and then all the people who love me kept checking and telling me that I was still #1. That was pretty damn fun.) One way I knew was that my Carina editor, the insightful Deb Nemeth, emailed to ask if I was sending them more BDSM romance. Check that, she said “you are submitting more right?” and then said things about building readerships and frequency of publishing and so on and so forth and other things that I just don’t like to keep in my head for very long. KAK holds marketing stuff in her head much better than I do – one of the reasons I love her – and she said that Deb is right and that you need 3-4 books a year to build a readership. And I asked her if she wanted the email address for my boss at the day job.

Okay, I might have been whining a little bit.

Because she said, hey, you should be happy that editors are ASKING for your work. (I may have mentioned that my Ellora’s Cave editor, the lovely Grace Bradley, has been making similar noises.) I was chastened. I should be grateful. I *am* grateful.

The thing is, they ask what I’m working on and the novel I’m finishing is not one they’re asking for. So far, nobody is really asking for The Body Gift, either. So, I’m in this funny place where I have limited writing time and I’m spending it writing the books nobody is asking for instead of the ones they really want.

I’m insane, right?

I’ve seen career writers talk about this particular struggle – the work you want to write vs. the work they want to pay for. From that I know that this will never change. Charlaine Harris wrote the Sookie books way longer than she wanted to because of this. And you keep reminding yourself how tremendously lucky you are that they want to pay you to write more.

But then there’s that other reason we write. The love of it. “To touch the hem of the gown that is art itself” as Ann Patchett says. (Yes, I’m still reading that book. I went back, slowed way down and now I’m highlighting great lines to share here.)

I suspect the next step will be finding a way to do both.

One Great Novel

This is actually the same sunset that I posted on the blog November 3, but with a different camera and settings. In case any of you are as geeky as I am and like to compare.

Come on, you like it, you know you do.

I don’t typically read a lot of writing craft books these days. I have my favorites on the shelf and occasionally look up a particularly good quote – usually to share with someone else. Last night, though, I saw in the Kindle store (most invidious marketing tool EVER) that one of my all-time favorite writers, Ann Patchett, had a little book up on writing. I saw it because I was debating whether to buy her new book, State of Wonder. The story doesn’t look all that interesting to me, but who am I kidding? Ann Patchett is one of those writers who writes so beautifully that I don’t care what the story is. But then they want $12.99 for it, which I think is too much for an eBook. So I was wavering and I spotted this: The Getaway Car: A Practical Memoir About Writing and Life.

At last! Ann is going to explain to me How She Does It.

It’s short – only 45 pages – and it looks like she self-pubbed it. Which means she should get most of the money for it. Which I also like.

And it’s lovely.

There’s this great story in there that I just have to share with you all. Long time blog-gobblers will understand why I like it so much.

…my husband had told her I was a novelist. Regrettably, I admitted this was the case. That was when she told me that everyone had at least one great novel in them.

I have learned the hard way not to tell strangers what I do for a living. Frequently, no matter how often I ask him not to, my husband does it for me. Ordinarily, in a circumstance like this one, in the Masonic Lodge in Preston, Mississippi, I would have just agreed with this woman and sidled off (One great novel, yes, of course, absolutely everyone), but I was tired and bored and there was nowhere to sidle to except the field. We happened to be standing next to the name-tag table. On that table was a towering assortment of wildflowers stuck into a clear glass vase. “Does everyone have one great floral arrangement in them?” I asked her.

“No,” she said.

I remember that her gray hair was thick and cropped short and that she looked at me directly, not glancing over at the flowers.

“One algebraic proof?”

She shook her head.

“One Hail Mary pass? One five-minute mile?”

“One great novel,” she said.

“But why a novel?” I asked, having lost for the moment the good sense to let it go. “Why a great one?”

“Because we each have the story of our life to tell,” she said. It was her trump card, her indisputable piece of evidence. She took my silence as confirmation of victory, and so I was able to excuse myself.

I couldn’t stop thinking about this woman, not later that same day, not five years later. Was it possible that, in everybody’s lymph system, a nascent novel is knocking around? A few errant cells that, if given the proper encouragement, cigarettes and gin, the requisite number of bad affairs, could turn into something serious? Living a life is not the same as writing a book, and it got me thinking about the relationship between what we know and what we can put on paper.

So now I’m thinking about that, too.