Saturday, May 13, 2017

Returning Writing's Magic

by Eric

Mary and I have begun work on our twelfth John the Lord Chamberlain mystery. We don't have a title yet, not even a working title. Well, except for "Twelvfer". Ever since "Onefer" Our Byzantine books have started with that sort of default title. We have completed an outline. We know that John is going to sixth century Rome. Besieged by the Goths, the former imperial capital is a ghost of its former self, half ruined and depopulated. We also have a vague idea of what transpires. Our preliminary outlines are subject to change and usually do. It's nice to start off with a destination in mind, but our itinerary changes as the trip progresses.

One thing I am sure of is that the journey is going to be arduous, more so for me, than the writing of Onefer, Twofer or even Elevenfer. I learn something new about writing with each new book. There's always another aspect I realize I should've been thinking about but never bothered with. Transitions? Don't they just kind of...happen?

The increasing difficulty of the job surprises me because I imagined writing would naturally get easier -- just another of many misconceptions I nurtured, along with my dream of being an author, practically since I could hold a crayon. That's plenty of time to grow a fine crop of misconceptions.

In particular I underestimated how much plain hard work is involved in writing for publication. An aspiring author might take half a lifetime to produce a publishable novel but then, in most cases, he or she (or they) have to do it all over again -- in the space of a year or two. Then repeat the process again and again. If they are fortunate enough to have the opportunity.

There are beginning authors who think writing a novel is like matching the winning numbers on a lottery ticket. Sure, we read in the newspaper about Joe Shmoe who wrote that gripping page-turner "Flaming Pizza of Desire" while scrubbing pans at the Greasy Spoon Diner and then, practically before he had bundled his handwritten manuscript off to a Major New York Literary Agency, was drying his sudsy fingers on a contract for more then the gross national product of Paraguay. But we also read on the same page about John Shmoe of Cat's Elbow Corners who just won $25,000,000 on the Lotto. Neither happens often enough to worry about.

First-time authors have been known to get mega-bucks deals and, hey, someone's got to win the lottery. But while few would argue that buying lottery tickets is a viable career path, one occasionally sees aspiring authors whose thought is that nothing will do but they will write an instant bestseller. Is a thriller about a lawyer embroiled with middle eastern terrorists while on an expedition to Mount Everest climbing the Bestseller Lists? Then it's time to bone up on crampons and falafel and get writing!

Fortunately, Mary and I never entertained the notion that writing is a lottery. We went about it like any other job, starting small -- or I should say short -- by writing stories for anthologies and magazines. After we had a better idea of what we were doing, we wrote a "practice" mystery novel, to prove we could write at that length, made an effort to sell it in line with our expectations of a sale (small), did not succeed and moved right on to writing our first John the Lord Chamberlain novel, One For Sorrow. When it was completed we queried here and there but quickly decided we'd have a better chance of being noticed by an independent publisher.

After Poisoned Pen Press bought the manuscript we reworked it as needed under the guidance of our editor Barbara Peters and in the process learned a lot that an editor at a Big Publisher could never have taken time to try to teach a pair of novice novelists. Then we applied the lessons when writing Two For Joy.

And the learning process continues.

Will we ever have a bestseller? With a Byzantine eunuch as a protagonist, only if the general population has the discerning taste of those of you reading this blog.

Will we continue to work at our craft and gain a larger audience? We certainly hope so.

Writing isn't really about hitting the jackpot. Rather it is about knowing that readers are enjoying your work. Mary occasionally visits library web pages so we know our books are on library shelves all over the country -- in Schenectady, NY; Stillwater, OK; LaGrange, IL; Osh Kosh, WI.

It amazes me, the idea of our book, sitting on the shelf of some distant library in a place I've never seen. When I was a kid, it was visiting the library that hooked me on books, on the magic of the bound pages that would transport me to other worlds and allow me to lead other lives.

It is still magical but now, with a lot of hard work, we add just a little bit to that magic.

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