Category: Writing

crime scene tape

I couldn’t give you an exact date, but I can definitely nail down the general period when I decided I no longer wanted to write crime: late 2012.  At that point I’d enjoyed measurable sucess with The Borderland Trilogy (link), and there was significant pressure (which still hasn’t abated) for me to write more of the same.  Maybe not set in Mexico, but it had to be crime.  The thing is, I didn’t want to write crime, and I had good reasons for that.

Though I’m sure there are exceptions, I feel crime is a genre which revels in misery.  How many brooding, alcoholic detectives are there out there, listening to opera or jazz until they have to track down the next serial murderer or rapist?  How many tortured or mutilated women have you read about?  Or dead kids?  Or self-destructive drug addicts?  Wife-beaters?

You may notice elements from my own books in there, and that’s because I was hip-deep in the demands of the genre.  And I wanted out.  I wanted to be able to get up from the keyboard every day without feeling like I had to take a shower.  I wanted my characters to have accomplished something at the end of their stories, regardless of how much it might have cost along the way.  I wanted to write about heroes, not temporary winners.  If crime is the genre of misery, then I was tired of being miserable.

This isn’t to say all endings are happy.  They certainly aren’t.  Over the last few months I’ve submitted a couple of manuscripts with decidedly dark (or at least murky) endings.  But, again, this is not the same as the nihilism posited by so much crime fiction.  There’s a point and purpose to whatever darkness exists in these fictive worlds.  It’s not noir for noir’s sake, which is the tiresome norm in the crime genre.

Will I never, ever write a crime novel again?  I wouldn’t say that.  But if I do, don’t expect what you read before.  I’m all done with that.

Writing

A man writingI’m finishing a book tomorrow, and it puts me in mind of an essay (link) Stephen Hunter wrote for The Daily Beast (link) a year or so ago.  It inspired a goodly amount of bitterness among what I’ll charitably call the “writing community,” as Hunter pulled no punches about what it takes to succeed in this business.  It hurts for some people to hear, but writing is not about touchy-feely things, but about production.  If you want to make it, writer, you need to write.  Otherwise you will not get to the point where you’re doing this professionally.

And let’s be clear: this is not a comment on the skills of any particular writer, not even you.  But if you’re complaining about not having the time or the inspiration or whatever it takes to complete salable fiction, the problem isn’t people like Stephen Hunter.  He’s figured out what it takes, and he’s doing it.  It’s not glamorous, but it’s what used to be called a work ethic.

As Hunter himself says in the essay: “[T]he most difficult test of the author isn’t his mastery of time or dialogue, his gift for action or character, his ability to suggest verisimilitude in a few strokes, but his ability to get back into the book each day.

I have said time and again over the past eight years, as my career has slowly crept upward with critical and commercial recognition, that I am no great shakes as an author.  I get the work done. That’s all.  Other writers are more brilliant, more charismatic, and have great tweets.  All I do is grind it out, day after day, and in the end I have something to sell while they don’t.

Yes, it sounds cynical.  People think about writers in this exotic way, as if they spend their hours daydreaming, and then capturing those dreams on a page for the delectation of readers.  It really, really isn’t that way.  Maybe some folks might manage to get a book or two out in their lifetimes after lounging in their salons, smoking cigarettes and waiting for the Muse, but most will fail because it’s about work, work and more work.  And that work never ends.

Writing

Thumbs upFor about a year and half recently, I didn’t write anything.  I didn’t have to, since the Camaro books are coming out and I’m contractually bound to publish those and only those for the nonce, but given what I’ve said about writing every day, I really ought to have been working.  But, you see, I forgot the most important thing about writing: you have to love it.

I know writing isn’t like working in a coal mine, but it’s still hard work.  It’s harder work than it has any right to be, and it’s easy to decide not to bother.  This is doubly true if you’re writing things you don’t want to write, or are writing in a way which doesn’t make you happy.  I was in that spot.

While the Camaro books were released, I wrote three books.  None of these books will see the light of day because, quite frankly, they aren’t the books I would have chosen to write.  I wrote them either because I felt they catered to an audience, or in such a way that would please that audience, not because they satisfied me as an author.

Not everything you write is going to sell.  Not everything you write is going to be salable.  The important thing is that whatever you write is what you want to write, and written the way you want to write it.  Anything else is a failure on every level.  Even if you do end up making a jillion dollars, it’s not worth the heartache.  You have limited time on this earth, and few enough opportunities to write books.  Don’t waste any of these writing anything which doesn’t fulfill you, no matter what anyone says.

These days I write what I want.  I write it the way I want to.  I don’t care if it’ll sell, or if anyone will even want to read it.  That’s not my concern.  My job is not to sell, it’s to write.  Wanting to sit at the keyboard day after day and put in the work is all that matters.

Writing