Thanks everyone for reading and commenting here on Blogger with me. I appreciate your support and participation! After a long (and somewhat painful process), I've finally created a new site that combines my blog and my website. (I've coined the word blogsite, but it doesn't seem to be gaining any common usage :)
So click over to my new space and bookmark it. I hope to add more RSS features in the future and make dozens of other changes, but be patient. Wordpress is challenging, and the site is a work in progress. I intend for it to be reader friendly and interactive. For example, I have a book discussion page where you can post questions about my novels and I'll attempt to answer them.
I also hope to post photos and links and events. But for now, I'm blogging, and I hope you'll join me. My first blog is about what constitutes good writing. Stop in and tell me what you think.
I was on my way to an interview yesterday with a homicide detective, and she called to cancel because she was at a homicide scene. Of course I responded, “Can I come down there? Please!”
So I ended up at a riverside park with the whole homicide team, asking questions and feeling giddy with excitement. I know, I know. A person was dead, and that's a tragedy. But I couldn’t help it. It made me think about the show and character Castle, and how excited he gets when he’s called out to a homicide. How silly it seemed for him. Hah! I felt like a teenager at a party with the cool kids.
Of course, they didn’t let me anywhere near the body (dang!), but still, the afternoon was very educational. I learned about a cool gadget called “total station” that’s used to create computerized maps of the area. And I learned that a big guy in a black undertaker-like suit driving a mini van comes to pick up the body. I’m still checking it out, but I think he’s a contractor for the county who simply picks up dead bodies when called out and takes them to the autopsy room at the hospital. A mini van! It’s not how I visualized it.
Mostly what I realized is that you can strive for realism when you write these scenes, but you can’t replicate reality or you’ll bore your readers to death. Everything happens very slowly—unless the killer is still on the scene. Otherwise, there’s lots of standing around. When I showed up, the detectives were all eating pizza out of box flopped open on the hood of a cruiser. It seemed so odd, I almost laughed out loud. Nobody eats pizza at the homicide scenes I write, and no one ever will.
Other things I learned about the sergeant who invited me to the scene:
She supervises a team of eight male detectives and gets no flack about her gender.
She remembers the name of every homicide victim she and her team have investigated.
She’s still going to sit down with me for a formal interview next week, so I can ask about her career and write a profile about her for the paper.
I read a blog post recently that claimed having a day job is good for your writing career and it made me wonder. She supported the claim with several points, the first being that having a steady income is a good thing. No argument there. If your novels are not paying the mortgage, something has to. But putting aside the money/necessity issue, I’m not sure most day jobs are good for a fiction writing career. In fact, I'd bet most novelists would give up their day jobs in a heartbeat if they didn’t need the money. (The exception being doctors and lawyers.)
The blogger’s second point—that it “gives you the urgency to write when you do have time”— may be true if you’re a receptionist in a chiropractor’s office who spends most of the day reading magazines. But if your day job is, say, editorial project coordinator for an educational publisher, and you spend your day writing copy, editing galleys, generating ideas, tracking documents, planning and attending meetings, etc., then it’s very likely your brain power will be spent by the end of the day and no matter how much you want to work on your novel after dinner, it probably won’t happen. Or you’ll try and get very little done. On the other hand, a job that leaves you physically exhausted but requires no real brain energy (pulling green chain) might allow you to be more creatively productive in your free time. Having done both jobs, I speak from experience. (The chiropractor receptionist job I just made up. )
Another supporting point was that it “provides material for your writing.” Again, it depends on the job. The green chain job offers little in the way of stimulus for characters or scenarios, but it will give you that “urgency” to write. That sense of “I must finish this novel and get it published so I can quit this hellish job before I go insane.” Then of course, some writers get whole novels out of their day jobs (The Devil Wears Prada). Most jobs fall some where in the middle of the continuum as far being a source.
My own situation is that I work three days a week for a newspaper, which provides a steady paycheck. But on those days, after writing copy all day, I don’t write novels when I get home. I also do freelance editing and manuscript evaluations. But I do those projects on nights and weekends after I work on my novel. So most days, my personal writing gets the biggest surge of my creative juices. And this is why I’ve been able to write two novels in the last fourteen months. Not because I have more free time, but because I have more focus.
What do you think? Is your day job good for your writing career? Would you give it up if money wasn’t an issue?
Screenwriter William Goldman is famous for saying “nobody knows anything” about the people running Hollywood and the entertainment industry. Recent book discussion chatter about one of the Edgar winners leads me to think this is true of the publishing industry as well. (I’ve had my suspicions for a while.)
China Lake by Meg Gardiner won the Edgar for best paperback original. I have not read this book and, considering what my listmates at 4 Mystery Addicts and Dorothy L have to say about it, I probably never will. But based on dozens of comments, I have to wonder how it beat out every other paperback published that year. Here’s just a sampling:
“I felt the protagonist, who had the maturity level of a 10-year-old, spent most of her time being too stupid to live, the police were portrayed as complete idiots—from the very beginning. From the structure of the chapters, to some of the worst metaphors I've ever read, to terrible dialogue, there were times I felt as though English were the author's second language.”
“The only thing that kept me from throwing China Lake against the wall was I was reading it in e-book form and couldn't throw the computer that far.”
“Our mystery readers' group read China Lake and the highest rating it received was ‘okay,’ otherwise it was rated ‘not recommended’ or ‘did not finish.’”
Hated the Gardiner and DNF'd it. (meaning Did Not Finish)
If you’ve read the book, please share what you think.
The point here is not to criticize this author. We’ve all had negative reactions to our work. What I mean to say is that the publishing industry (and the awards process) isn’t logical. There is no scientific way to measure the quality of a story. Strangely enough, the contradiction inherent in this novel winning an award gives me hope for every talented writer who has yet to be widely recognized. If a book this criticized can win an Edgar, then your book can win over an agent, find a publisher, and be loved by readers and reviewers.
Do not ever give up because one agent said you couldn’t write or five publishers said no thanks. I’ve had publishers tell me they loved my novel, then say no thanks anyway. The lesson here is to try not to make too much sense of it. It will drive you crazy. Just keep writing and improving. There’s hope for everyone.