Hittin’ the brakes

There was a time not too long ago — we’ll call it three months past, just to keep it simple — when I wrote like a madman. For five solid years I turned out a book every eight to 12 weeks, and sometimes even less. I wrote The Night Charter in just 17 days. My attitude was more, more, more and more. And then? Some more.

This stemmed largely from my relationship with my previous agent. She was okay with me writing a ton of material because it gave her a lot to work with, so I would knock these suckers out, send them on to her and she’d sift through the wheat to separate it from the chaff. Which isn’t to say I was turning out inconsistent writing, but only that some were more salable than others. What she didn’t want, I figured I’d find alternative outlets for. One of those things turned out to be The Night Charter, which she wouldn’t even read, but has turned out to be a game-changer for me. Such is life.

Whatever the case, I had the attitude that if I wasn’t writing four or five or six thousand words a day, I was not living up to my full potential as a writer. I have health problems that are only going to get worse as I age, and the clock is definitely ticking. Better to crank out the material now, while I’m still in shape to do it, than to wait until it’s too late. I mean, that makes sense, right?

But things changed when I linked up with my new agent. He’s not interested in reading six or eight manuscripts in a year. He wants to see one or maybe two tops, and he wants them to represent my very best work. He doesn’t want to sift out that chaff, he wants me to do that for him, and I think that’s fair. He has a lot of clients, many of them higher profile than myself, and it’s not realistic to ask him to read a mountain of new material every year in the hope that one thing out of a dozen will be the thing he thinks he can sell.

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Turn and face the strange.

My deadline to deliver the second Camaro novel was September, but because I’m a wild man, I had a completed and edited manuscript to deliver by August. This particular novel went through a lot of hands before it landed on my Mulholland editors’ desks, and I extend thanks to my wife, my agent and the freelance editor I hired on, Elizabeth A. White. Before those three even got their grubby little paws on it, I had already written the book from the ground up twice, and then excised a little over 10,000 words from the second version. So it’s safe to say I did more post-operative work on this manuscript than I’ve ever done on anything else before in my life. I did not enjoy the experience, and hope never to repeat it.

Anyway, at this point I haven’t heard back from my editors as to whether the book passes muster — though initial feedback, I should say, has been positive — but I know one thing already: though the book has for two years been called Meaner Than Hell, it is now called Walk Away.

Why Walk Away? Well, it’s a funny story. You see, I gave my editors the manuscript and they didn’t like the title, so I was asked to change it. Suggestions were made, the publisher herself weighed in with her opinion and the alteration was made.

Okay, maybe the story isn’t that funny, but that’s a small example of how things work at the professional level. You can’t be precious about things like titles because they are oftentimes the first to go. The Dead Women of Juárez was retitled North Pass until I convinced them a variation on my original title, The Dead Women, was the best way to go. Tequila Sunset was originally called Indians. And La Frontera? The book has recently been retitled by its German publisher as Coyotes. My involvement in these changes, as you can probably tell, is pretty minimal.

Continue reading Turn and face the strange.

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