As mentioned below, I’ve been keeping myself a little too busy these days. Some projects have led to kinds of completion, while others are just marks on a page, taking up time I should be spending on other things, like writing this blog.
Here’s the list I recently sent to Ms Weinman to excuse my absence:
1. In a little over a month, I wrote the first draft of a non-crime novel I’ve mentioned here before: about a man who fakes his own death on 9/11, and years later runs into his widow on a Budapest street. While it still needs to be rewritten—the plotlines kind of slide and slip out of control—the first draft is promising, and I hope to have a solid draft by the end of the year for editors to look at.
2. I went to Istanbul in order to work through edits, and then the final copyedits, of what’s still being called Liberation Movements, the 4th book in the Eastern European series. Those final edits took significantly more work than the previous books, largely because it’s a different type of book. It’s much more minimalist, clocking in at around 55,000 words (Yalta was in excess of 100,000) and following multiple characters in a non-linear fashion. I’m very pleased with it, but the work became intense.
3. For a while I was obsessed with a nonfiction idea, and spent a lot of time on a proposal that hasn’t really taken shape yet. Inform: How the Snitch Shaped the Twentieth Century. The title says it all.
4. As I’ve recently become a fan of a few television shows, in particular the SciFi Channel’s remake of Battlestar Galactica—which has some of the best writing around—my head’s been lured to boob-tube ideas. In particular, a WWII series involving a US Army CID (Criminal Investigation Division) officer from D-Day to Berlin, primarily tracking US-committed crimes. Of course, this means that the WWII stories are less than heroic, but that’s how I like it. I also like the potential to examine contemporary politics through the lens of “the Good Fight.”
5. Also on the visual arts front, I’ve been editing an old screenplay once called The Confederates, now called Syndrome. I believe I’ve mentioned it before. It tells of a man who steals his brother’s wife, only to lose her while they’re in Jerusalem. She falls victim to the religious lure of that city and wanders into the desert in an imitation of Christ. I think it’s a good story, though the script still needs significant work.
6. More recently, I headed out to a cafe to work on one project, then found myself almost involuntarily writing the first chapter to, of all things, a sci-fi story—no doubt influenced by my love of Galactica. Though I stopped after 10 pages, the story, which involves time travel and the decolonization of the United States in some unspecified future, still sticks in my craw. I’m sure I’ll come back to it.
7. And though it’s proven to be an utter waste of time, I’ve made about 5 beginnings to a pseudo-Bond book. No doubt I’ll waste more time with it in the future. Being a fan of the Bond-candy our culture’s saturated with, I can’t help but want to try my own take.
8. And, of course, I’ve been working on the 5th and last book of the series, called The Falling Sickness. I’m about 100 pages into the first draft, but that’s only a drop in the bucket of what is going to be by far the longest in the series. I have a vague target of 900 pages, but it’ll be as long as it needs to be. Why so long? Because it will work as three novels under one cover, dealing with three years: 1986, 1989, and 1990, spanning the decline, revolution, and post-revolution period of my fictional country.
Those are the projects that have been taking up my time. But writing, as everyone knows, is also a business venture. I’d like to pretend that I ignore this fact entirely, leaving it to my agent and publisher. But the fact is that even when there’s nothing you can personally do about publicity (because, say, you live in Hungary), you can at least ask questions. I’ve been asking why Yalta hasn’t received more press attention.
There have been some big-name glowing reviews, and I’m pleased about them. Texas Monthly, the Houston Chronicle, Chicago Tribune, Toronto Sun, and even Esquire. And the web-based reviewers have been exceptionally supportive, in particular Kevin over at Collected Miscellany. But we’d been expecting more, at least from other places that had enjoyed the previous books. And these reviews didn’t seem to build up much presence—much word of mouth—much hype. So I’ve been discussing with my publisher why this happened, and how we can plan for the next book. The greatest fear for any published writer is a slow slide into insignificance.
In the end, though, there’s no explanation. A certain amount of this business comes down to luck, and I’ve heard plenty of stories about titles editors were sure would break out, which received press silence. So now the discussion is solely about what to do next year, with the next book. This, too, takes an inordinate amount of time, and leads to insecurity, fear, and an overall questioning of why one does what one does. Screw it, why not take a real job? Why be subject to the notorious mood-swings of the market? Why not got yourself a day-job so the sales don’t matter as much—so they don’t threaten to make you homeless?
I know why. Because this is the place I’ve always dreamed of being, to be able to pay my rent solely with the profits of my imagination. I may complain, but for Christ’s sake, I never imagined I’d actually make it this far.
And it’s only money. The real challenge is writing well. Which is a topic I’d like to lead into next, a discussion on literary ambition.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)