Over the last couple weeks, as I’ve been letting the first draft of my series finale rest on the dining table, I’ve been working on and off on the book to follow, the first of an espionage trilogy. By last weekend, I was the proud owner of the first 100 pages of that book, but by Monday I’d decided it was crap and started again at page 1.
Since then, I’ve worked my way up to page 40 (no great feat, as half of it is rehashed from the first version) but I’ve again been stopped by some measure of frustration.
When I look over what I’ve written, I can see it’s not bad. It’s got some nice moments, and overall the writing’s just fine. It clicks along at a speedy pace, and probably makes for a fun read. So what’s the problem?
The problem is that, while it’s probably good enough to be published, it’s nothing special. In many ways, it’s been written before, and a reader won’t be finding anything all that fresh in it.
So I’m taking a break, filling the hours with reading, and trying to reassemble my thoughts on the project.
With my first five books, I lucked out. I stumbled upon a milieu—Cold War Eastern Europe—that was not very well represented in mainstream fiction. It was a place and time that I was familiar with because of my personal interests. So I started with a world that in itself was fresh, and a world that allowed me to explore my thematic and formal interests with some level of success. I’ve been pleased with the results—luckily, so have my publishers.
But now that I’m starting anew, I’m tramping a well-heeled path—that is, contemporary espionage—already traversed by many major, and very fine, writers. I only decided on this path because I believed I could infuse it with a perspective entirely my own. That is, I could make the genre my own. What I don’t want to do is copy those who’ve come before, no matter how wonderful their models are.
Part of my fretting is based on a belief that’s grown stronger over the years—that most books just shouldn’t be published. We all know the book market is a flooded place, where there’s not enough shelf space to give new writers a fighting chance. It seems the first way to remedy this situation is to cut away the bulk of books which, while they’re good enough to wile away a few hours, don’t stick with you a week down the road.
Of course there’s no way to manipulate the market like this, and my outlook is incredibly naive, but I still believe that the publication of a novel should be an “event”. Not just a marketing event, but something that happens because it should. Because the book says something new or says something old in a new and provocative way.
But now that I’m a full-time writer, producing a book a year, it’s clear how easy it could be to slip into a rut, producing and publishing books that will appeal to readers long enough to get them through to the final page, and distract them long enough to get the next advance. I mean, now that I pay the rent with my writing, it’s very important to be able to afford rent. So I can see how I could easily slip down that slippery slope.
Happily, though, I’m ahead of the game. I’ve got plenty of time to work out how this next series will be told, and I have every confidence I’ll find the answer soon, if only because I’m insistent on finding the answer.
But when I reach the peaks of my frustration, I glance back at those 100 draft pages, and the devil on my shoulder nudges me and says, “Go ahead. Add a couple explosions, corner Osama bin Laden in the climax, and collect your damned check. Take a freakin vacation on the coast, you idiot!”
Maybe one day I’ll take his advice, but I’m still too young and dumb to listen.
(Originally posted at the Contemporary Nomad)