Nostalgia For What Never Was

I’ve heard, and been told, that there was a time when all a writer had to do was write the next book. Sure, an occasional book-signing or convention appearance was a good thing, but otherwise marketing was handled by the publisher and we didn’t worry our pretty little heads about it.

I don’t think that was ever true, or at least not the extent of legend, except perhaps in one category. That is, if you were exclusively a short story writer, then all that mattered was getting the next story as good as you could make it and getting it out. You hoped, certainly, that enough readers would like your work to create a level of demand, maybe even for a collection every ten to twenty years. Marketing, on any real level, was out of your sphere. My first fifteen years or so as a writer  I spent solely on shorter works and in that mindset, which served well enough at the time.

These days, writing is only part of what you do. And if you self-publish in addition to whatever else you’re doing, it may not even be the biggest part. Mainline publishers either don’t do any marketing at all outside pitches to the distribution channels, or do it perfunctorily at best, so whichever route you’re taking, marketing and promotion is pretty much your responsibility.

My problem is that I suck at it. I’m trying to learn, don’t get me wrong, but it’s an uphill climb. It doesn’t come naturally to me and no matter how much my head knows the necessity, my heart is elsewhere. I don’t want to look at spreadsheets and numbers, and writing ad copy is not like writing a book or story, and even though one serves the other they are definitely not the same thing. A separate skill that has to be learned, along with SEO and things like “keyword relevancy.”

That “ivory tower” idea is looking better and better, even though it’s pretty much a legend too.

Muse & Writer Dialogue #14, aka Fool Me Once

Muse: You’re not trying to pull that stunt again, are you?

Writer (looking affronted): Whatever do you mean?

Muse: I mean you have a piece of flash fiction due Wednesday. Your attention is elsewhere, and so you play off me to get your word count.

Writer: No, that would be clever. We both know I’m not clever.

Muse: No, but you are sneaky. It often passes for the same thing.

Writer: Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that I was attempting to do so. You’re my Muse. Shouldn’t you help me?

Muse: That isn’t helping. It’s encouraging bad habits, and you already have enough.

Writer: Aren’t you even curious?

Muse (sighing): Fine. What’s the word?

Writer: Barefoot

Muse: And you need me for that?

Writer: I would appreciate your help, yes.

Muse: You’re a lower middle-class kid from Mississippi. You spent half of  your early summers barefoot. The bottom of your feet were so tough, you could run barefoot over a stubble patch and not even notice. And  you need my help for this?

Writer: Well, I admit the word works pretty well as an image, such as the one you supplied above. But you have to admit, as a theme it’s somewhat lacking.

Muse: You’re talking 500 words. You barely have time for a decent scene, never mind a theme.

Writer: But all stories have a theme, and I don’t do vignettes.

Muse: So fine, you were a kid from the Bible belt who avoids anything to do with Bibles. I’ve met vampires more in touch with their spiritual side. Tie that in with barefoot.

Writer: Nonsense. I’m very spiritual. I’m just not religious. And you’ve never met a vampire. They aren’t real.

Muse: Also nonsense.  You write fiction, remember? And by the way, neither are muses. Real, that is.

Writer: You show up here a lot for someone who isn’t real. And the idea of a muse has been around for centuries. That makes it real, in a sense.

Muse: By that logic vampires deserve the same courtesy. By the way, have you ever heard of the Leanan-sidhe?

Writer: Sounds vaguely familiar.

Muse: It should. You wrote a story about one, years ago. It’s a type of fairy muse who inspires writers and poets with inspiration so fierce they burn out and die young. Count yourself lucky you got me instead. Not real? At this point I’m as real as you are.

Writer: That’s not saying much.  I’m something of an artificial construction myself, or at least I feel like one.

Muse: Of course you are. You tell stories about yourself in order to understand yourself. And so does everyone else with more self-awareness than an amoeba. You’re all artificial constructions. The only difference is sometimes you get paid for it. And you think muses and vampires aren’t real? Talk about a mythological creature….

Writer: We’re digressing here; I’ll edit it out later. Let’s get back to barefoot.

Muse: You get back to barefoot. I’m done now.

Writer: Funny, so am I.

Muse: You made 500 words, didn’t you?

Writer: Nope. WE did.

Muse (string of expletives deleted): You….

 

 

 

 

Not Quite All

Fan mail is not so common that I get blasé about it. Last week I got a message from a gentleman who had read all the Yamada books, loved them, and was wondering if there would be any more. So far as the novels go, the short answer is “no.” By no, of course, I mean probably not, because I’m no better at predicting the future than anyone else, and that includes many futurists.

To my own surprise, I knew Yamada would be a series when I wrote the first ever short story (“Fox Tails)” set in his version of Heian Period Kyoto (called Heian-kyo, up until his time). Furthermore, I knew the series had a definite story arc from the time I wrote the second ever Yamada story, “Moon Viewing at Shijo Bridge.” Every story since then progressed along that arc until it was concluded in The Emperor in Shadow, the fourth book.

Now here’s where it gets complicated. Life stories, as in the story of anyone’s life, also have an arc. There’s a point where you enter the story, and inevitably, a point where you leave it. But here’s the difference—the story itself doesn’t end. It just continues with new people. Fiction isn’t like that. I thought Yamada had left the story, and that was that so far as the series was concerned. It wasn’t.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I recently wrote a new Yamada story. That was a total surprise to me. Now I think I may do a few more. He’s not quite done, and so neither am I. Together with the stories so far uncollected, I do imagine another Yamada collection is possible, but another novel? Seems like a long shot right now. I almost wish I could give a definitive yes or no, but the truth is I don’t really know, and I can’t pretend that I do.

As for the novella project (totally non-Yamada), I have two more major scenes to write after working backward to tackle some structural issues. This too could be a series. I don’t know that, either.

 

Almost There

The project is approaching conclusion. It’s not there yet, but I feel it’s past its crisis point and will be completed to the first draft stage soon. Which is not really completed, of course. Lots to do after that before it’s done and available, but now I feel confident it’ll get there.

I was beginning to wonder. Right now I’m projecting the final length to be about 35k, decent novella size. I’ve written complete novels in just under three months, and I’ve been working on this one for over six. It shouldn’t have taken this long. Only it did, and my fussing about it now won’t change anything.

When searching for a little perspective, I remind myself that my very first novel (which, fortunately, will never see the light of day) took five years to write. The extra time did not make for a better book, but I learned a lot. The second was better, both for quality and time. I forget who said that no writing is ever wasted. I”m sure that’s true, because it’s the process that teaches you, not the final result. That’s just the grade.

 

Gordian Not

Writing is always work, but sometimes it’s fun too. Or maybe that’s not the right word. Carousels are fun. Conventions are/can be fun. Writing is something beyond that. I feel relieved after a good writing day. Pleased. Justified, as if I’ve earned my oxygen for the day. I even feel that after a not so good writing day, because at least I tried.

Then there are days like I’ve had lately. What I’ve taking to call the “Gordian Not” days. Slight pun, since it’s not quite a Gordian Knot. Knots are easy by comparison. If you can’t untie one, you can always cut it, and a pair of scissors will work if no swords are handy. This is different. This is a Gordian Not. As in, you are NOT proceeding with this story until you solve this problem.

It’s no secret that some scenes are easier to write than others. There’s no shame in saving a difficult scene for another day when you’re feeling stronger. If you know what comes next, just write the next part and come back to the passage that, for whatever reason—drama or unpleasantness or whatnot—you just aren’t up for now. Gordian Nots are different. Gordian Not passages are worse than difficult. They are crucial. You literally do not know what comes next until you know how this one stubborn scene is resolved. Everything depends on it.

And you, scrivener, do not yet have its measure, and there’s no guarantee that you ever will.

Gordian Nots can kill stories in their cradles, and novels in the nursery, and have. I still have stories I can’t sort out…yet. I think most writers do.

For example, I have been hung up on the current project, a (mere?) novella. I have written novels in less time than this novella has taken, all because of a Gordian Not. Which, thank the patron saint and all the ancestors, I finally unraveled last night. I think I’ll be able to finish the story now. Finally.

As long as I don’t run into another Gordian Not.