Writer Tech: Now what?

I am officially between books.

On average, it takes me three years to finish a novel. For 36 months running, I start every day the same way. Two cups of coffee, three newspapers. Into the office, hands on the keyboard. Okay, GO.

Eventually, an insane drive for completion overwhelms my cringing fear of criticism. I submit the manuscript to my agent and then to the publisher. At that point, I’m still heavily involved but like a mother whose kid has gone off to kindergarten, I have to loosen my grip. More and more, the book is on its own – trying to make friends, learning to get along with authority figures, looking for love from people who are not its mom.

That’s where I am now. Epitaph has gone off to New York.  We’ve settled on a cover. The initial marketing and publicity questionnaire is complete. There’s a description of the book for the Ecco catalog and the author photo has been taken. Lots of little tasks will continue to come my way, but at the moment I am at liberty.

Which kind of sucks, actually. I don’t quite know what to do with myself. I still believe the Poe novel has potential. Everyone thinks it’s a great idea, but… I’m not in love. I don’t hear Eddie’s voice or Elmira’s. That may change. Often, when I’m stuck, the solution is to change the point of view. Maybe some new character will step up to open the door for me but right now, I’m not convinced this is going to work.

At the same time, I’ve gotten interested in a new topic that I think could become a really cool Romeo and Juliet story set in Northern Michigan during the 1913 copper mine strike but that would be a tough sell. Right up there with the 1921 Cairo Peace Conference for “Not Immediately Convincing as a Viable Novel in Today’s Marketplace.”

I’m trying not to panic. I’m probably just too tired right now to dig into the Poe research.

Looking back, there are always about six months between finishing one book and really committing to the next one. In the meantime, I still need to be getting something done, making progress on some task, so the drive for completion is plowed into a determination to get organized.

After sending you the poetry written in the aftermath of my mother’s death, I went to work on my office closet, shredding and recycling pointless paper that accumulated while I was writing Epitaph. And I’ve quit kidding myself about those size 8 jeans. No more snide mockery lurking in my closet! I’ve weeded the side garden and collected all the dead batteries for recycling. Today, I swear to GOD, I’m going to deal with all those damned paint cans in the basement. Probably. I don’t know what it is about those things, but I just seem to stare at them and walk away, defeated.

Anyway, this kind of activity seems to be part of the process for me. I have to clear the decks before I can fight the next battle. While I’m sweeping old leaves out of the garage or pruning deadwood out of the shrubbery, I’ll hear the first line of dialog or come up with the opening sentence of the story, and the cycle will start again.













6 thoughts on “Writer Tech: Now what?”

  1. I was looking forward to your insight on Poe, but I’d hate to see you work on something that you’re not driven to write. Poe would have been your third 19th male to write about – so maybe you’re tiring of that. Have you ever consider writing about a 19th century woman? I think Louisa May Alcott has a lot of unexplored depth for writers to mine.

    And I was hoping you’d try writing another science fiction novel someday.

  2. Another science fiction novel definitely gets my attention! And I really liked Alice Shanklin, so don’t have a bit of trouble following along with Louisa May — We’ll fall in love with whatever you decide, Mary!

  3. Aargh!!!! Please correct ‘Alice’ to Agnes in the previous comment! My bad for not checking it with the book first. Apparently I’ve lent my copy of Dreamers to someone — please correct Shanklin if necessary!

  4. While I in no way rejoice in your temporary writer’s block, it’s slightly comforting to hear the timescale, energy, research, and personal commitment required for you to write your books. I’ve been stuck on three ideas, two more than 3/4 finished and one about 1/3 of the way to the end, for a couple of years. I can’t decide if I’ve fallen out of love with the characters and stories or if I’m just over-committed on too many other things in life. Regardless, your comments make it a little easier to look at my own struggles less critically.

  5. THe 1921 Cairo Peace Conference turned into the fabulous “Dreamers of the Day”, so go with your gut feeling and write what you want.

  6. Hi! Just wanted to tell you how much I love your books–I’ve read them all, and am eagerly awaiting “Epitaph”. The reason I am actually commenting instead of just checking out your blog like a lurker is to tell you that this: “a new topic that I think could become a really cool Romeo and Juliet story set in Northern Michigan during the 1913 copper mine strike” sounds like a book I would absolutely love to read. : )

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