Saturday, March 01, 2008

Various and Sundry Observations

First, in re Vicki's, Charles', and Rick's discussion about James Patterson's practise of basically letting someone else write his books for him. I was raised in the American West by long, tall, laconic people who lived by a code. I was bred to have standards, and I actually do. In my youth, I was an uncompromising idealist, and in my dotage, I have become philosophical, tolerant, and forgiving of human foibles. However, if I could be assured of making hundreds of thousands of dollars at it, I'd write porn. I would want to do as Vicki suggests and use a pseudonym, though. Perhaps fortunately for the ethical state of my soul, the only difficulty is that I am far too delicate and ladylike to know anything about that.

I will be teaching a workshop on how to write a mystery novel one week from today (March 8) at the Fountain Hills, Arizona, Book Fair. I hope all who are in the vicinity will drop by - it's free, but one much pre-register. Preparing for this workshop has been enlightening. The truth is that I've never tried to articulate the process I use to construct a mystery. There are innumerable books written or edited by authors of all kinds, including some heavy-duty mystery novelists. It's all very well and good to learn about constructing story arcs and the like, but I actually learned the conventions of mystery writing from reading and deconstructing my favorite novels. So that is more or less what I'm going to say at this workshop. Who do you like, why do you like her, and can you figure out how she did it? The more I write, however, the more I find that I want to depart from the formula and strike out into storytelling parts unknown. I am always fascinated to hear how other mystery novelists came to practise their craft, and how their craft has changed over time.

Fellow Poisoned Pen Press author Betty Webb was kind enough to host me on her blog last month. Betty has an eye-popping new book out this month called Desert Cut, and I've just posted a conversation we had about it on my website. She shares some of her thoughts on writing, as well.

After the aforementioned workshop is over, I need to start thinking about the next book in the series I'm writing. This is difficult. I'm always brain dead for weeks after I finish a book. Once I do start writing, it takes me a year to get a book done. I haven't learned the secret of popping out a book every six months. I don't know if I want to. It's all hard enough as it is. The series I'm writing has an end. I'm planning a ten book arc, and that is all. I'd like to plow ahead and get the series done, then work on a couple of stand-alones that have been percolating for a while. Back in 2005, I did the launch of my very first book with Rick Riordan, the author of eight successful (and deservedly so) "Tres Navarre" mystery novels set in Texas. Shortly after we did that program together, Rick, who at the time paid the bills by teaching fifth grade language arts in San Antonio, began writing a series of young adult novels about a boy who learns that he's the son of a Greek god. That series took off like a rocket, and Rick now supports his family handsomely as a full-time author.

I don't know why Rick's experience has been on my mind lately. Perhaps it has to do with all this discussion about the vagaries of mystery-writing. I'm wondering if writers in other genres have it better or worse.

I heard Diana Gabeldon speak about how her first book, the mega-bestseller Outlander, came to be. She said that her publisher told her that they were going to market the book as a Romance, and her first reaction was to object. She told him that she didn't write the book as a romance, and though it did have romantic elements, it was more Historical, with bits of Science Fiction and Mystery. Her publisher told her that a best selling Sci-Fi book will sell about 50,000 copies, whereas a best selling Romance does about 800,000 copies. To which she replied, "well, then, call it a Romance, by all means."

Perhaps if I am not equipped to write porn, I might be able to manage a bodice-ripper.

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