Monthly Archives: September 2013
Today’s post is an announcement, and it’s something I’m excited about. I hope my regular readers, who follow the blog for its discussion about writing, will either find it equally exciting or at least put up with it for the next two months. And I hope more readers will join in the chatter on this new topic.
The official publication date of FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition (co-authored with Kevin Finn) is October 31st, though the book is already available online. In honor of that, and as this fall is the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK, the event on which CAMELOT is based, I will be blogging more often here and EVERY OTHER blog, through October and November, will be on a topic related to JFK and/or the assassination.
Part of this is commemorating the event (and the fact that this blog is titled Let the Word Go Forth, a direct reference to JFK), but part is also about the writer’s life, celebrating one of the writer’s best tools: research.
Kevin and I spent literally years steeped in the research for CAMELOT. While I admit that research can be one of the great time-wasting activities of writers (“I can’t start writing; I’m still researching” – we’ve all heard that one), there are also writing projects that really can’t come into the world WITHOUT rigorous research. In the case of CAMELOT, it wasn’t enough just to research the facts of the assassination (a huge topic in itself). We also spent time researching a plethora of OTHER topics, which we used to make the world of 1963 Dallas, the setting for most of our novel, as alive, as real and as plausible as possible: the early 1960’s, JFK, his life, his family and his Administration, Lee Oswald and his life and mysterious associations, and the culture of the times.
I’ll also talk about how that research helped us fit together the complex puzzle that became the plot of FORWARD TO CAMELOT and how it made possible some wonderful moments in the book we could never have stumbled upon ourselves. (You can’t make this stuff up, folks.)
Here’s just one tiny example of how research drove our plot:
In the story, our heroine is Cady Cuyler, an actress living in New York in the year 2000. Cady is smart and resourceful and courageous, and when she time travels back to Dallas in 1963 to solve one mystery, she discovers another mystery that begins with the disappearance of a young woman from the place where Cady gets a temporary job. In fact, Cady is taking this girl’s place as a telephone operator.
Cady looks for clues to the girl’s disappearance–how can a girl with little money and no motive to do so just vanish?–and at one point she finds a woman’s head scarf in a desk that has small metal photo frames on it. In this scarf there are several photos of this girl, obviously at a party, with a man.
That one came out of research. I found a terrific book called THE WAY WE WERE: 1963, THE YEAR KENNEDY WAS SHOT by Robert MacNeil. It was a fascinating look at popular culture and important events in that year, leading up to JFK’s assassination in November. And guess what? In the October section in the book, there was a mention (and a photo) of a woman’s headscarf with those little photo frames spaced across it. It was a passing fad and only lasted about a month. But if Cady’s seeing this scarf in November, it’s not out of the question that a girl who likes the latest fashions would have bought one a month before when they came out.
Small? Sure. Not very significant at all. But it was a tiny detail that could help make the story feel real. And we used many of them.
I’ll talk more about the large and small issues we faced in the research for FORWARD TO CAMELOT in the upcoming weeks. Meanwhile, expect a regular writing topic post from me once a week, and a second blog about CAMELOT-related topics once a week, for a total of 9 additional CAMELOT-related blog posts through November.
Looking forward to ‘talking Kennedy’ with you this fall!!
Syd Field, the great screenwriting guru, said the most difficult part about writing was knowing what to write, and all these years, I’ve agreed with him. We’ve all hit that moment in a project where we just DO NOT KNOW what to do next, what happens next, or how to even GET to what happens next. We get frustrated and discouraged, and since writers are the world’s best procrastinators, often we tell ourselves we may not know how to fix it now, but tomorrow, we surely will. We put down the project with a sigh (of relief) and tell ourselves we’ll come back and nail it.
And then we don’t. Because tomorrow the wall looks even higher and more insurmountable. So we put it off again, telling ourselves that next time, we definitely will fix the problem. And the next time the wall looks even higher—and so on and so on. Ultimately that putting off and putting off might be the #1 reason why so many writers give up on a project they really, really wanted to finish: we just can’t find a way through the forest, and each time we try to come back to it, the wall looks higher and higher. First we were frustrated; now we’re completely intimidated. And the project languishes, sometimes forever.
For me, coming back to a project where I didn’t know how to fix the insurmountable problem was the most difficult part about writing. Just dragging myself to my desk to face it was almost more than I could deal with. It would get to the point on many projects where I so dreaded trying to deal with a problem I had already put off and put off that I would tell myself I really didn’t want to write that project anymore anyway; it was probably better to go on to the next one, which would surely be much better and go way faster.
And so the cycle would start again.
Stephen King, in his book ON WRITING, provides what I believe is the best possible remedy for this problem. Leave it to someone that prolific to give you that light in the forest.
King has an inflexible rule about writing, which by its very nature forces you to confront your issue and deal with it.
He says simply that YOU WRITE EVERY DAY.
And you get a certain number of words written every day, a number you yourself decide on. No discussion.
And you don’t get up from your desk until that number is completed. No excuses.
He explains that doing this keeps the one quality in our writing that keeps us coming back to our desk. It’s MOMENTUM. The more of it you build up, the easier it is to face a mountain in your path. If you’ve got a juggernaut behind you, with all those words you’ve already written, a mountain ahead looks like an anthill. You know you’re going to get through it, over it or around it. It’s just a matter of getting the words down without stopping.
That’s the principle on which Nanowrimo is built. Writing 50,000 words in 30 days leaves precious little time to procrastinate. Got a problem? Write on the other side of it. It’s a way to get through the morass, and what King and Nano both want for you is to KEEP WRITING, because sooner or later you’ll solve that creative problem. It’s the best answer I know. And forcing myself to stay with the problem — or write on the other side of it, so I’m building up my word count even when I have no idea how certain plot points will come together — has made it possible for me to finish projects I never thought I could finish.
There’s a famous story about Richard Harding Davis, who wrote serialized magazine stories many years ago. At one point in his latest story, his hero had fallen into a well (dry) and could not get out. No ladder, no one above to help him, smooth sides all around him; nothing to climb. What to do?
Then Davis got into a contract dispute with the magazine and refused to write more until they came to terms. His editors panicked. How would the guy get out of the well? They tried other writers; no one could solve it. They had to forge a new agreement with Davis, and they waited breathlessly for his next chapter. How would he get the guy out of the well?
The new chapter arrived from Davis and they ripped open the envelope. And here were his first words: “Once out of the well … ”
There’s always a way out of the well, even if you have to finesse it as Harding did. (That to me is the ultimate of a guy writing himself into a corner, and I try to remember it when I’ve done the same thing.) Just stay at your desk and keep pouring out the words. It’s your story, after all, and it’s a story that cries out to be finished, even when you have no idea how to get your hero out of the well.
You’ll find a way. Believe me. Just sitting at your desk can produce magical results.
The first full week of promotion on STEALING FIRE (official promotion efforts on FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition begin in late October), and I’m already exhausted. “Don’t stress,” I’m being told. “This is supposed to be fun.”
Last Thursday I finally faced my most daunting giant–revamping my author website. The Super Book Blast for STEALING FIRE began the next morning. I couldn’t have interested readers coming to a site that hadn’t really been overhauled since 2004. But GoDaddy’s new Website Builder was not particularly intuitive. However, having been a GoDaddy customer since 2003, I also know they have among the best customer-service people in the world. So I sat on the phone for about three hours, with 3 different GoDaddy Tech Support guys (all wonderful), and by golly, when I finally went to bed that night (understanding Web Builder MUCH better by then), not only was the site completely written and re-designed, it had been published and re-directed to my original domain, where anyone could find me. (Yes, please, check out my updated website!) It’s much simpler, but contains all the important information about me, my books and my upcoming events.
And hey, updating it should be a lot simpler. (I found out this morning that wasn’t necessarily true–turns out some revisions I made on the site now don’t show up in the behind-the-scenes Website Builder, though they DO show up on the published site. Another call to GoDaddy in my future, I guess.)
Friday was the Super Book Blast for STEALING FIRE (through Goddess Fish Promotions). This involved visiting 34 sites (and a separate blog on the Book ‘Em NC blogspot, which brought it up to 35), which I did 3 times on Friday and again on Saturday, to check for comments from readers and respond to them. I got the hang of that pretty quick, so while it took 2 hours the first time I checked them all, I was able to do later checks in 40 minutes or so. I answered all comments and at the end of the Blast Day awarded a gift to one person who commented. Since I got to pick the person, I chose the person who had followed the Blast so assiduously that she left a comment on something like 20 different sites! How can you not reward enterprise like that?
Monday began my first virtual book tour (hereafter referred to as VBT) with Goddess Fish Promotions – 22 stops in 30 days (weekdays only), at pre-arranged sites. So I was checking the site of my first stop, Christine Young Romance Writer, before 7 am to make sure all was well and leaving my first comment. Sunday night, I had tweeted this, along with posting it on LinkedIn and on both my Facebook personal page and my Facebook Author page.
I spent the better part of that day driving to Myrtle Beach to meet with media people about upcoming appearances on radio and TV shows. (This is about a two-hour drive from Mount Pleasant.) When I came home I re-checked Christine’s site for comments, answered email and worked on promotional stuff I needed to send out, along with interview questions and other material for upcoming blog sites where I was appearing. I also queried other bloggers with big followings, hoping to get a book review or interview spot with them.
Tuesday I did some follow-ups for the Myrtle Beach meeting, followed my 2nd book tour stop–Teena in Toronto — wrote some new promo material and finished the electronic press kit for CAMELOT. I also looked at a novel-in-progress (with longing), wanting to dive into work on that, but feeling I needed to devote most of my time for awhile to getting promotional efforts up and running. (The good news here is that I try to mention FORWARD TO CAMELOT in every promo I do for STEALING FIRE. And my promo efforts for FORWARD TO CAMELOT will of course also include mentions of STEALING FIRE.) When I unchained myself from the computer for a short break, I spent that time running to the post office to mail out the gift I awarded in the Super Book Blast plus other promo-related packages.
Wednesday I had two tour stops. Reviewer Julie Whiteley, who’d given STEALING FIRE a fantastic review, hosted me (her first author interview!!) on her blog, Clue Review. (Thank you, Julie!) And my Goddess Fish tour stop that day was Farm Girl Books, who also did a great job. Each night I’ve been tweeting my next day’s stop, plus posting that information on both Facebook pages and LinkedIn.
I also continued the Myrtle Beach followups, plus more inquiries to other bloggers, plus inquiries to other media outlets. My writing partner on CAMELOT, Kevin, phoned at 11:30 pm because ‘it’s not okay to call other people at this time of night, but you’re a writer, so I knew you’d be up’. Uh-huh. We talked for an hour about book promotion for CAMELOT.
I’m beginning to side with those writers who say they’d love a writing career, as long as it’s just writing. The other stuff–this stuff–is what they dread.
I so totally get that.
But to be fair, I should also say that what I really dread is the admin work. I LOVE going on radio and TV. I love speaking in front of live audiences. Interviews are so much more fun than sitting at the computer for endless hours, looking up email addresses, radio stations and TV outlets and begging people to have you on. That is not fun. Even writing, with those moments where you’re so lost in the forest you have no idea which way is up, is more fun than this. (Though also to be fair, I would say that the most flying moments I’ve ever experienced in my career are those moments when I’m in the middle of writing, totally lost in what I’m doing, with complete clarity of thought and totally focused on the road ahead. NOTHING is better than that.)
So part of living the writer’s life–at the time of a new release–involves all this promo work. I did try to hire a PA, but the woman I hired had to drop out, for personal reasons. I know having her, or someone like her, working with me would have made a big difference. I still don’t despair totally of finding someone to help me, but right now, there’s no one on the radar. I’d love to turn over all this stuff to someone else, and you know what? At some point, I will.
At that point, the writing life will go back to being a lot of fun. Because I love the writing and I love the appearances afterward. I just don’t like all the organization in between. And I’ve just decided–while writing this post to you–that I’m not gonna do it anymore, as soon as someone else can take it over. The lesson here, I think, is to do only what YOU as a writer really have to do–bring your unique point of view and sense of life to your writing, and show up to have your picture taken and talk to readers, so they get to know you. No one else can do that, but on the other hand, why would you want them to? That’s the fun part.
Remember that scene in JULIA (assuming you remember the 1977 film) where Jane Fonda as Lillian Hellman gets so fed up with her writing that she throws her manual typewriter out the window? I remember that scene with great fondness.
And right about now, I feel like doing the same thing.
Obviously, I need to get back to writing, folks.
See you on the other side of more promotion–and please, do visit my website for upcoming stops on my book tour–really would love to see you there!
The lazy days of my summer turned into a frenzy in the last month. Getting two books into production, distribution and then into the marketplace, with all the promotion that’s necessary to support them, is CRAZY. (Note to self: Never do two back to back again!)
I live ten minutes from a beautiful beach, but didn’t hit the sand once this summer. (But true to freakish form, though it was rainy, wet and cool all summer, as soon as school started, it got sunny and hot–so I guess I still have some time!)
This year, though, it wasn’t about enjoying the summer. It was about getting the books done.
STEALING FIRE was finished in late June, went live on Amazon in early July (#2 in its first 12 hours – yeah!!). The paperback was out two or three weeks later, though the official publication date was August 31st (to give reviewers lead time).
MEANWHILE… virtually as soon as I finished work on STEALING FIRE, we went to work on CAMELOT (official publication date is October 31st). What I thought would be a quick edit turned into a full-fledged revision, but I hope readers will love the result. We were able to correct a couple of minor historical errors no one else was likely to notice (but they’ve bugged me for ten years; I’m happy to have them changed!) In the process, though, we really came down hard on the extra fat in the book, cutting everything we felt could go. The result is 100 pages SHORTER than the original–yes–a full 25,000 words less. And you know what? I love the new version even better than the old one.
There’s a famous story that when George Kaufman, the playwright, died, the eulogy over him was said by his partner, Moss Hart. (Their most famous play together was THE MAN WHO CAME TO DINNER.) According to the story, when Hart got up to speak the eulogy for Kaufman, he pulled out a set of notes, and the first thing he said when he faced the audience was, “I can just hear George saying, ‘It needs cutting’.”
Well, that’s me. Kevin Finn (my writing partner) swears I say everything twice. I hate to admit it, but when I saw his take on the novel, I understood what he meant. It’s a great object lesson. And while I didn’t love cutting some of what we finally threw away, the truth is, we only lost one full scene from the original manuscript–and the novel has much better pacing because of it.
But bleeding as we slashed words and sentences (and, sob, paragraphs) STILL wasn’t the end. Clicking the ‘Send’ button to return the corrected galley to our publisher wasn’t the end. Approving the cover art (which we wrangled about all summer) wasn’t the end. Even writing the blurb for the back cover wasn’t the end.
It’s not enough to write the first draft, send it out for comments, address those comments in an edit, check for historical accuracy, polish it, get it accepted for publication, get it through production and then get it into the marketplace. Sigh.
Oh, no. THEN… you have to sell it.
So literally without pausing for celebration (or sleep) after turning in all the final work on CAMELOT, I went back to the material I needed to prepare for my upcoming book tour(s). There are two for STEALING FIRE–the first starting with a Super Book Blast this Friday–and continuing through the end of October. There are two for CAMELOT–starting at the beginning of November and continuing through January.
That’s a lot of material to prepare.
I finished the last of it (I think) for the first STEALING FIRE tour (through September) on Monday night. At 11 pm.
But don’t get excited–because I have yet to revamp my website, write a press release for CAMELOT and turn in the material necessary just to START the process on the CAMELOT tours.
This is the writer’s life. And I’ve been truly experiencing it–really experiencing it–for the very first time.
I’ve had books published before, but the amount of work required from me has never been as all-encompassing on any of them as now. And while I really believe in a pro-active approach where the writer is involved in all phases of publishing, it does have its moments where you feel like you’re drowning.
And then, if you’re like me, you get nasty and defensive. Charles Dickens never had to tweet; why do I? Did anyone ever ask Shakespeare for his website address? And who refused to buy John Steinbeck’s books because he didn’t have a blog? Yeah. Take THAT, Jane Austen.
As someone pointed out to me this morning, living a dream also means living the part that isn’t so exciting. And for me, knowing that’s part of it makes living the dream, somehow, a lot more real. I like that. I think I’d be suspicious, even optimist that I am, if every moment of my working day was unmitigated sunshine.
A writer’s life, above all, has to be real. Sometimes that’s the only way you know you’re living the dream.
STEALING FIRE on Amazon:
FORWARD TO CAMELOT: 50th Anniversary Edition on Amazon:
And if you’re willing to read and review CAMELOT on Amazon, B&N.com, Goodreads and wherever else you’d like to post about it, email me for the URL and coupon code for a free copy from Smashwords (expires September 30th): firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enjoy the writing life!