Dealing With Disappointment

Just the other day I finished what was supposed to be the final draft of Pawn Takes Knight, the hotly awaited sequel to The Vengeance Season.  After cogitating on what I had wrought and conferring with my First Reader, I decided this would be a good time to write a post on dealing with disappointment.

I’m an Astros fan.  And when I say “fan” I mean that I watch over 120 games a season.  I DVR the ones I can’t watch live and I try to make it to Houston for at least two games a year.  All this for a team that sucks worse than the Cubs.

This post isn’t going to be about baseball, I’m just declaring my bona fides for talking about disappointment the way a guy who writes a weight loss book shows you his before and after pictures.

Writing is a solitary undertaking.  That’s good and bad.  For instance, when a shortstop muffs an easy double play, millions of people watch him do it.  And then millions more ask him about it when he goes out for dinner or drops by a talk show.  And if he has the bad luck to do it during the World Series, as Bill Buckner did, it dogs him the rest of his life.

A writer, on the other hand, has the luxury of failing in private.  A bad draft just becomes fodder for the next, hopefully better, draft.

That’s the good news.  The bad news is that writers are just as enfeebled by the desire for applause as actors or baseball players.  In our minds, we rip the last sheet of paper from the typewriter (because we all secretly live in the 1930s when writers were actually respected) and toss it into the air where it explodes into confetti as our family and friends and especially total strangers come rushing in to congratulate us.

It’s hard.  Writing is hard.  Writing a novel takes a long time and there are many points at which you’re unsure you’ll make it to the end.  Very often, you don’t make it to the end.  Finishing is in itself a sort of triumph.  And that sense of triumph is what compels so many writers to pack that less than acceptable manuscript off to an editor or agent the moment the ink dries.

Yeah, sure, it’s not great, there were parts you wanted to handle more deftly, but you got the point across.  The rape scene is probably too graphic and the revenge killing is too underwritten but, hey, there are worse novelists making big money on the New York Times best seller list.

Right?

Wrong.  There is no writer worse than the one who sends out a manuscript that is not up to his own idea of what quality is.  Yes, there are writers who slap stuff together and still manage to inhabit the NYTBSL like so many tapeworms but they are doing the best they possibly can.  It’s not that bad writing is popular.  It’s just that the stuff these guys cough out in a pool of bloody mucus is actually their hard won best effort.

The truth is that it’s not bad writing that gets you booted out of the literary saloon.  It’s lack of conviction.  Readers can smell it on every page.  I’ve done it.  I won’t mention the writer, but I clearly remember thinking he was hacking his way through the second half of a novel while I was trying to finish it.  That book remains unread to this day and that writer is off my purchase list.

So… that brings us to Pawn Takes Knight.  I put everything into the story that I wanted to put into it.  All the elements are in place and all the pieces that are supposed to fit with future and past stories from Roy’s life are inlayed there with the precision of German engineering.  But it’s still not right.

When I finished the 198th* draft of The Vengeance Season, I realized I had finally put together a story.  It had characters, it had plot, it had style.  It was the novel that opened the way for everything else I’ve written since.  But it was also the novel (in its first 197 instances) that taught me what fake sounds like.

I hurried my way through Pawn Takes Knight because people were telling me they wanted to know what happens next.  That’s a valid concern and a valid reason to try to appease them.  It’s just not a valid reason to deliver a substandard product.

Roy Doyle’s adventures will take a short hiatus while I work on something else (marketing Arc of Destruction and writing the second draft of a YA novel just brimming with monsters and teen angst) until I can gather my wits and take another run at the story.  I’m not worried.  I got most of it on this try – there’s a good chance I could have gotten away with releasing this one – but Roy is my centerpiece.  He deserves better than that.

In the meantime, I’m now world famous.  My books are now being purchased on Amazon UK, Germany, Spain, France, and India.  Who’s missing from this list?  I’m looking at you Italy.

The Legacy of Black Mask

I heard something the other day that turned my head around full on Exorcist style: Dashiell Hammett said that he based the character of Nora Charles on his lover Lillian Hellman.  That’s like saying Betty Boop was based on Dorothy Parker.  Don’t get me wrong, one of my favorite movies is The Thin Man – that movie had a lot to do with getting me hooked on writing in the first palce – and I’ve always harbored a secret crush on Nora Charles but can you honestly imagine her saying, “Belief is a moral act for which the believer is to be held responsible.”

And this is the problem with genre fiction.  Very often a woman like Hellman, a successful playwright, author and aggressive left wing idealist, gets translated into an adorable dingbat like Nora Charles on her way to the page.  You certainly don’t have to scratch very deep in Chandler’s work to find the misogyny.  Just look at the difference between the book and the movie of The Big Sleep.

In the book, there is no love story between Marlowe and Vivien Rutledge.  She’s just another conniving, manipulative woman.  As a female in a Chandler novel, that’s about the best you can hope for.  Otherwise, if not mentally incompetent, you’re either a mannish ice queen or a ruthless killer.  I even winked at this in The Vengeance Season by having one character start out as the mannish ice queen and work her way through the other phases until she ends up a mental incompetent.

It sounds like I’m bagging on Chandler, but I’m really not. The first time I read The Big Sleep in college it was like lightning snapped through my synapses.  Every word on the page elevated what had been a pretty trashy genre to the level of literature.  It was amazing.  It was the first time I didn’t feel guilty for wanting to write genre fiction.  And that misogyny did not enter detective fiction through Chandler.  It was already well established by the time he came along and it continued on long after he died.

Watch Out of the Past or The Killers or especially Double Indemnity and you get right away why the French added the femme fatale as a critical ingredient in any film noir.  Carry that forward to one of the best faux noir ever made, Body Heat, and you find Matty Walker, the finest example of the vicious, self-serving woman so crucial to these stories.

How do you turn that around?  Frankly, I don’t know that you can remove that character from detective fiction entirely.  There is a portion of the genre’s archetypes that couldn’t function without her.  I had the same problem in The Vengeance Season and could never get rid of her completely.  In the end, I made sure the other two female leads were empowered females not looking to suck the life of the nearest man.  Maybe that’s all we need, some more fully developed characters to balance out the sometimes necessary ugly stereotypes.

And now we’re really off!

The Kindle Store has released The Vengeance Season to the public now.

The Vengeance Season

Now I guess we start the social networking phase of our plan.  Unfortunately, I’m quite Facebook averse so if all of my FB friends bought one copy each, I would make enough money to buy lunch… for myself.  So, I guess I’m off to start liking things and posting pictures of my dog and whatnot.

Wish me luck.

And we’re off!

So today I published The Vengeance Season in the Kindle store and created this blog to keep track of what, if anything, happens as a result of that action.

I wrote the first draft of this novel ten years ago.  It has since been rewritten and edited half a dozen times, including a few major overhauls and a page one rewrite.  In the process it got me my first agent and a number of missed-it-by-this-much chances with publishers.  It was a frustrating enough experience that I had abandoned the story (and the Roy Doyle series) completely until someone very dear to me (hi, Mom!) convinced me to at least get it out there so people have a chance to read it.

I’ve always been circumspect about “vanity publishing” because it involved a tremendous amount of your money going to a publisher and not very much going into your pocket, but this seems to be different.  Niche groups of readers are buying into the eReader phenomenon in record numbers and the incredibly low prices ($1.00 – $3.00) make it a low risk investment for them to sample different (unknown) authors.

Seriously, haven’t you ever stood in a bookstore with some weighty tome priced at $29.99 in your hand and wondered to yourself how many pages you’ll get into it before abandoning it on the shelf with the rest of its unread kin?  I have.  I have a special shelf full of them.  But at three bucks, hey, why not?  Download it, pop it into the reader, and see if you can’t get enjoyment out of it that’s roughly equivalent to the value of a gallon of gasoline.

The book will be publicly available tomorrow sometime at which point I’ll link to it from this blog.  At that point, I figure one of two things will happen.  Either I will sell a few copies and have a few people send notes about dropped words or typos or I will sell thousands of copies and have thousands of people sent me notes  about dropped words or typos.

I’m hoping to sell 100 copies before this is all over.  That’s a good face-saving number, right?