Saturday, December 11, 2010

Going Back to Square One


Our guest blogger this Sunday is none other than another of the original members of Type M for Murder, Michael Blair. He's published 5 novels so far and there's some information about his sixth at the bottom of the posting. Take it away, Michael!

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I read once, many years ago, that you should never let anyone read what you’ve written until you are completely sure it’s the absolute best you can do – and even then, think twice. It was around the same time, I think, that I also first heard what I call the “big lie” of writing, usually told to beginners by creative writhing – oops – writing teachers and correspondence school instructors, that there’s this muse who peers over your shoulder and whispers into your ear and you just write down what the muse whispers. That, I’ve learned, if I’ve learned anything about this game since I started writing, is a crock of shit. Writing is work, plain and simple, and hard work at that, despite what my mother thinks. My dad knew; he was a writer until my mother thought he should go into advertising. But I digress...

The other thing, though, about not letting anyone read your work until you’re certain it’s ready – that I know is true.

Raymond Chandler wrote, “The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.”

When we set out to write something, be it a song, a mystery novel, even a blog entry, we usually have something we want to achieve, a unique style or voice, some point we want to make, things we want our readers to “get” – or at least appreciate that we’ve given it our best shot. But writers aren’t generally the most confident people on the planet. I’m not so sure about self-published writers, though; it takes real guts to publish some of the dreck I’ve seen. Vanity, thy name is – You’re digressing again.

Sorry. Where was I?

Because a lot of writers – okay, maybe not you, but a lot, I think – are never quite 100 percent – or even 90 percent – certain that what they’ve written is the best they can do – or even any good at all – they tend to hate to let go. There’s always room for improvement, one more revision, another fraction of a percentage of certainty to be gained, before inflicting their work on some poor, innocent editor. Yes, I know there’s no such thing, but – Jesus, will you stick to the goddamned point!

Uh, sorry. My internal editor is getting frustrated. It’s only trying to earn its keep, I suppose. I really should listen more often. Maybe if I’d listened to it before I let go of the umpteenth draft of what I hope will eventually be my next book, I might have saved myself – and my best friend – a lot of grief. But despite my internal editor’s admonitions that it wasn’t quite cooked, I took it out of the oven and sent it to my “first reader.”

Even though I knew – or at least my internal editor did, but I wasn’t listening – that at 125,000 words it was too long; that there were too many characters and too many of them, particularly the main characters, weren’t quite as developed as I’d have liked; that the plot was overly complicated and had a tendency to wander off now and then; that the internal logic occasionally broke down; and, finally, that I hadn’t accomplished some of the things I’d set out to do. Moreover, I was not sure at all about my decision to write an “American” book in an effort to find a U.S. publisher. But that’s another story for another time.

I know what you’re thinking. “What a maroon,” as Bugs Bunny used to say. And you’d be right. But can you honestly tell me that you’ve never done it yourself? If the answer is yes, you’re either lying or you’re a hell of a lot more confident a writer – notice that I didn’t say necessarily a better writer – than I am.

Anyway, I did it and suffered the consequences, as did my reader. He wasn’t right about everything, of course, but he zeroed in on pretty much everything I felt was wrong with the manuscript when I sent it to him – some of which I didn’t consciously realize until his feedback. Such feedback can be a very painful experience, but it is necessary from time to time to maintain your connection to reality.

So it’s back to square one, more or less. It’s either that or chuck the whole thing out and start something new – and you can probably guess how likely that is.

Now I’m letting go of this, for better or worse. My friend and I are still speaking to each other. And I’m looking forward to reviewing his next manuscript.

Cheers from snowy Montreal.

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Michael's next book will be No Good Deed. Here's a bit of a teaser:

Business is slow for Burlington, Vermont, private investigator John “Hack” Loomis, so when Connie Noble, Loomis’s assistant and sometimes lover, asks him to look into the disappearance of her friend Belle Ryerson, Loomis agrees. It doesn’t take long, however, for him to realize that what should have been a straightforward missing persons case is far from it. Connie‘s friend isn’t the only person who’s gone missing after attending meetings of a local UFO group run by the charismatic psychiatrist P. Thaddeus Underwood, who looks more like a biker turned Buddhist monk than a shrink, and a disarmingly beautiful woman who claims to be in contact with an alien mothership. Add to the mix the body of a young woman frozen into the ice along the edge of Burlington Bay and a socially challenged tabloid journalist and it isn’t long before Loomis learns the hard way that no good deed goes unpunished.

1 comment:

Vicki Delany said...

Nice pic, Michael.