Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Spare some words?

Puerto Vallarta cat has the right idea...

For a writer, I often find myself at a loss for words.

Maybe I only get a certain quota, and once I've used them up, I have to wait for the next shipment to come in. Given that I'd been on somewhat of a tear working on my WIP for the last three months, I've probably been operating on a word deficit. I'd reached that point on a project where the end was not exactly in sight but coming into view, where I'm so intent on seeing it that it's like I'm in this weird tunnel, where everything around me is slightly out of focus and not nearly as important as that place I'm trying to get to.

Then I get there and realize that three months of junk mail and catalogs and magazines and receipts and all other manner of chaos is what I haven't been seeing as I tunneled my way through to the end.

Where I arrived on Saturday.

"You're not paying enough attention to me. Where are your priorities??"

I finally got to type "END" on my latest book (my fifth since I started publishing), and since I'm a "slow drafter, polish as I go" sort of writer, it feels reasonably complete (we'll see what an editor has to say, of course). This was a weird project for me for a few reasons. It's the sequel to my second book, "Getaway," a book I never thought I'd be writing a sequel to in a million years. For one thing, "Getaway," being a second book, was cursed with full-blown Second Book Syndrome. Second Book Syndrome is real, gang. Ask any novelist. And it's deadly.

Okay, it's not literally deadly, but the feeling of suddenly having to produce a book when others have expectations of you, for the first time, is very disconcerting and not very much fun. You're constantly second-guessing yourself—well, actually, that's every book, not just second ones, but it's worse with second ones because you feel like you suddenly have a lot more to lose, and coping with that feeling is a learned skill.

Anyway. "Getaway" wasn't very much fun to write. But that's another thing I've learned, five books into my so-called career—how I feel about what I'm writing while I'm writing it, how hard it is to pull it off, those feelings have very little relation to how the book comes out at the end of the ordeal struggle process. For example, the third Ellie book, "Dragon Day," was really a miserable book to write. There were so many things going on in my life that made it tough, I didn't have the prep time I usually take to write a novel, I had to make all kinds of tough decisions about what to do with this character in a book that may not end the series but does wrap off a number of threads that run through the trilogy, and…it was hard. By contrast, the second Ellie book, "Hour of the Rat," was a blast to write, probably one of the more enjoyable creative experiences I've ever had. Is #2 a better book than #3? Objectively, I don't think so. #3 might be the better book, actually.

Coming soon to a bookstore near you...

It's not that you don't learn things as you continue to write books—you do. But every book is different, and though you may have learned some new chords and gained some chops from all your prior experience and practice, it's not the same song. You still have to learn what the new book is trying to teach you.

"Go-Between," the "Getaway" sequel, was a fun book to write. I really enjoyed taking a character who in her first appearance was kind of a wreck, rather naive and totally in over her head, and showing who and where she is after that experience (POTENTIAL SPOILER: You really don't want to mess with Michelle). For me, part of the fun in writing a series is precisely that: showing how the experiences your characters have change them. I was also able to dig into an issue that fascinates and appalls me: the American prison/industrial complex. The US currently has a total inmate population of 2.3 million people, which in terms of both the number of prisoners and as a percentage of the population, is the biggest in the world. We’re 5 percent of the world’s population, and we have 25 percent of the world’s prison population. 

That’s right—we’re number one.

The challenge is to deal with these kinds of themes in ways that aren't didactic, that are an integral part of the story, a part of its bones. It was fun to do.

Okay, it's possible that I have a strange idea of "fun." But I do think dealing with social issues and ideas of justice are things that crime novels do very well--a part of the genre's bones--and a part of what keeps me coming back to writing, and reading them.

I guess it's appropriate that I wrote some of "Go-Between's" final scenes in Puerto Vallarta, where "Getaway" took place ("Go-Between" is set almost entirely in the US, with one scene in another country). I really like Puerto Vallarta. It's a very interesting city, it's beautiful—


—and I have an amazing circle of friends there who are doing all kinds of creative, interesting things. My one regret with "Getaway" is when I read comments from readers who really liked the book but after reading it have decided that they never want to go to Mexico. Readers, don't let my book keep you from visiting one of the most wonderful countries in the world! I can almost guarantee that you will not find yourself trapped in a bizarre scheme involving possible CIA black ops and drug cartels. Instead you will most likely find yourself doing this:

—in a place that looks like this:

"Go-Between" takes place almost entirely in the United States, and all kinds of scary things happen, but I doubt that anything I wrote would keep people away from Houston, Arcata, San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego, right?

What could possibly be scary about this place?

I read recently that one of the biggest regrets that older people have is that they didn't travel enough while they were physically able to. We're all constrained by our circumstances, but what I hope is to never be constrained by my fears.

Lisa…every other Wednesday...


  1. Being one who is rapidly joining the "older people" category, I'd have to say that almost ALL of our regrets center around not being able to do what we want to do, whether we ever did them before or not. Not that I'm saying I'm unable to do anything I want, because I do pretty much whatever I want, but what I want is probably unconsciously preselected to be things that I know I can do.

    And if you understand any of THAT, then you're probably in, or soon to be in, that group known as "older people." :-) But it beats the alternative...

  2. Love the cover, congrats on finishing #5, share your take on the process, want the beach, and hope to hit the point where I'll have to reflect back on what I missed...though not sure I'll then be able to remember what that might be. :)

  3. Hah! (huh?)

    Well, I understood MOST of that, anyway! :D

    And I've definitely reached the Age of Regrets.

  4. Jeff, if you remember it all, you didn't do it right.

  5. Thank you for the journey, and I'm looking forward to the new book.

  6. Congrats on finishing #5 Lisa. And I can vouch for Difficult Twelfth Book Syndrome, but every book has some parts that are a joy to write, or we wouldn't keep putting ourselves through this ... would we?

    You're absolutely right about part of the fun of a series being watching how the characters change the things around them, and are changed by them. Charlie's personal journey is what keeps bringing me back to her.

    Oh, and as I've said before, Puerto Vallarta looks fabulous. The Mexican Tourist Board should be paying you commission!

    1. PV is quite a beautiful place! You should check it out. I have a friend who has very cool artsy studio/apartment she rents out for a good price -- it's a good place to get some work done.

  7. I'm just starting book 7, well 45000 words in, and I still have that fear that I am about to be 'found out'. It might be discovered that I am actually not a 'proper writer'.
    As proper writer would be doing something being marvellous and witty while wearing a smoking jacket. When I would rather play with the cat, as it looks like it knows the plot.

    1. The cat is absolutely necessary for the creative process, I find.