Sunday, May 03, 2009

Guest Blogger John Corrigan: Between Contracts

Today our guest blogger is John R. Corrigan. John was born in Augusta, Maine, in 1970. Along with his wife and three young daughters, he lives at the Pomfret School in Pomfret, Connecticut, where he teaches Advanced Placement English and Mystery Literature, among other courses, and coaches hockey and golf.

The first Jack Austin novel, CUT SHOT (Sleeping Bear Press, 2001), earned excellent reviews (see "reviews"). In 2002, Corrigan signed with the University Press of New England, an honor that made him UPNE's first mystery novelist and produced SNAP HOOK (2004), CENTER CUT (2004), BAD LIE (2005), and OUT OF BOUNDS (2006). The Jack Austin series has been praised for accurately portraying the stresses associated with high-pressure athletics. John is currently at work on a new series featuring a female border patrol agent as protagonist.

Here's what John has to say about Being Between Contracts. I can relate!

Thanks to Debby Atkinson for not only reading my Jack Austin series but for asking me to contribute here.

I write this entry from an island known to authors as “between contracts.” It’s no beach resort.

I’ve found this tiny patch of land to be an unwelcoming place. It’s a place that I, like most writers, struggle to comprehend, a place where corporate consolidation leads to unemployed editors, a place where a manuscript lies unread on a desk that gets cleaned out on Friday only to be swept off that same desk by an editor who, on Monday, enters anew bringing different priorities. I’ve also found this island to be a place where I must constantly fight the currents of self-doubt while awaiting the call from my agent saying my new series has been sold.

The thing is, I rowed to this island myself. And I’m the one who chose to kick the boat adrift, when I walked away from a contract to write a sixth Jack Austin novel.

So why do that to myself? Why not write another book like the one Debby Atkinson enjoyed? After all, in this age of major publishing house layoffs and editors who are scared to take on a new series or sign a mid-list author, this is a major risk.

Let me begin with some back-story: I invented PGA Tour pro Jack Austin one morning in El Paso, Texas, back in 1995, during the second year of my MFA program. CUT SHOT came out in 2001 and was followed by four others. I was with a prestigious university press, but distribution was bad and sales weren’t where I wanted them and improving only slightly with each book, despite excellent and even starred reviews. After spending a decade with Jack Austin, I wanted something fresh. So while working on the fifth Jack Austin, OUT OF BOUNDS (2006), I decided to try something different. One morning, I wrote a scene and emailed it to my agent. He loved it. Once I met the deadline for OUT OF BOUNDS, my publisher offered a contract for a sixth Austin novel. I declined and went back to that scene.

It would be disingenuous to say I started a new series solely for artistic reasons. Before moving to Connecticut from Maine, I had an annual tradition of signing with Tess Gerritsen each fall at the Bangor, Maine, Borders. She once asked what my sales figures were. I told her.

“That’s good,” she said.

I reminded her that she was a New York Times best-seller. “How can you think that number is good?”

“Women buy fiction,” she said, “and you’re writing golf books. To make it worse, you’re writing tough-guy golf books. So you’re missing out on the majority of the fiction market. Those numbers are good—considering the small audience you’re writing for.”

To be perfectly honest, you and I both know that if my Jack Austin series was selling like Tess’s books it is highly unlikely that I’d be starting a new series. I rarely think of myself in artistic terms, and I’ve probably never called myself an “artist” publically before. However, I am a guy who loves words, who loses track of time when I’m looking for the right ones to fill blank pages with, a guy who is passionate about moving and cutting them until they sound and do exactly I’d hoped they would. And I constantly seek new challenges, new characters with different skills and different problems. A hundred and fifty pages into the new book, when a character said something I could have never foreseen, hinted at an act I’d never have predicted, I sat back, stared at the computer screen and thought, This is why I do it. This book owes me nothing more.

So what all of this talk of sales figures, my desire for better distribution, and my enjoyment of the writing process adds up to is a risk—a book written on spec. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written, so for better or worse, I’m willing to own my decision. I’m willing to step off that boat, turn, and kick it free. Now I stand firmly in a frightening place, facing restless natives and my own demons, waiting for the phone to ring.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful, honest piece. I appreciate your honesty and candor.

Vicki Delany said...

I want to know how you get to sign with Tess! Thanks John, definately food for thought for those of us also consumed by self-doubt

Rick Blechta said...

I'll bet you every writer struggles with self-doubt, every artist for that matter.

John, sometimes you've gotta do what you've gotta do. If you had really wanted to write another novel in the series, you would have done so. Your hesitation to accept another contract is the proof. If you had accepted and not been fully committed to the project, your writing would have suffered, I'll bet. You probably did a very wise thing.

Yes, it would be wonderful to sell thousands of books and be successful enough to just do what we love, but you also must be true to yourself.

I'm in the same boat, sitting and waiting, and often wondering why I do it at all. When I get to the end of a novel, I have no idea whether it's good, bad or indifferent. And when you wind up waiting a long time to sell it, that gets to be pretty hard to bear.

Best of luck, and thanks for guesting (I hate that word, but it works in this case...)

Susan said...

John Corrigan's comments are from-the-heart as well as insightful. These day, self-help and "how to weather the financial storm" books seem to be at the top of the list.

I've often thought about writing about my life in corporate America, now that I am out of it, but don't know what the audience is for such introspective works.

It would touch on the need for balance vs. all-consuming work environments and the idiosyncracies of entrepreneurs.

Susan Bengston

Anonymous said...

It takes willpower and confidence to write so honestly about your experience being between books. Congrats for taking your self-doubt and turning it into a learning tool we young writers can identify with and benefit from.