Monday, April 26, 2010

One day at a time

As some of you may have noticed, I've been fully embracing my inner lunatic of late. Today was no exception.

I finally heard from one of those elusive betas -- and it wasn't good. He didn't much care for the book. And since he's an honest guy who shoots straight (one of the reasons I selected him), he didn't sugarcoat things. Mainly, he couldn't get past the fact that three of the main characters are loosely (ahem) based on people he knows well. He said he had a hard time seeing them as fictional characters, and instead spent much of his time saying things like "so-and-so would never do anything like that!"

He did say the story was "okay" and the writing was "pretty good," so I didn't actually jump off the Illinois River bridge, although to be honest it was touch and go there for a while.

Look, I'm a realist at heart. I know I cannot write a book that everyone likes. If I did that, I would be the first novelist ever to pull it off. It just ain't gonna happen. I know that.

But that doesn't stop me from wanting to write a novel that everyone loves.

So after punching my cell phone "off," I did what I normally do when my dreams die a horrific death -- I uttered a string of curse words that would shame a Marine and lit another cigar.

But then I did something else. I called a friend of mine, a guy who is actually modeled in my book. He's someone I talk to when things go bad, someone who can help talk me down from the ledge. Some of you reading this post may know someone like him.

So I called him. And he didn't answer. So I waited ten seconds and called him again. And he didn't answer. By now, I was convinced that my life was over, that I suck not only as a writer but as a human being. That I could screw up a wet dream. Trust me, I can get pretty rough on myself sometimes.

Finally, when I was about to do something really weird, like pray or something, he called me back. Now he was also a beta reader and he liked the book; he had only a couple of minor issues.

"So should I just bag the whole goddamned writing thing and find a job at Radio Shack?" I asked, only half joking.

"Well, you could," he said in his southern drawl. "But in the end, I think it would kill you. Maybe not physically, you know, but in other ways. Worse ways."

After he told me that part I stole as my own above (about being the only novelist who writes a book everyone likes), I asked him -- in this whiny little voice, What I should do now?

"Well," he said, pausing. (He always pauses like that; it kills me sometimes, just waiting for him.) "I think you should get off your ass and try to get the fucking book published. And quit looking for a way to fail."

After he finished reading me the riot act, he spent several minutes telling me how to write my query. And remember, he's a damned engineer, not a writer. I couldn't believe the chutzpah!

Of course, he was dead-on right. I came away from the call with a whole new hook for my dead-in-the-water query.

I love my friend Greg. He always says the right thing, even though I sometimes want to kill him for it.

Onward, fellow travelers. We shall get through this, one day at a time.


  1. Hello,
    To quote you: "Look, I'm a realist at heart. I know I cannot write a book that everyone likes. If I did that, I would be the first novelist ever to pull it off. It just ain't gonna happen. I know that."

    Good for your friend Greg who steered you in the right direction. Look for a publisher and keep writing. Oh, and best of luck!

  2. I love your friend's comment about stop looking for ways to fail. Huh. It's so true for many of us. If we can just say, "Well, it wasn't good enough. I tried." We give ourselves permission to give up. Now that I know that the quitter is always lurking in me, ready to pounce, I'll be prepared. Instead of giving up, I'll just work harder.

  3. Nobody is ever going to write a novel everyone likes, Terry. And it's a jolly good thing in my humble opinion.

    Why? Because we'd all be like a flock of sheep otherwise. Each following the one in front of it. Wearing the same goddamn awful clothes, watching the same movie over and over and over again....

    You are unique, as I'm sure is your writing. You want to keep it that way.

    Now off you go, get back to work :)

  4. You are so lucky to have friends. Oh, I do have some friends - good ones - but I can only 'see' them by email. My job never allows me to settle anywhere and get close to anyone, though it makes up for it in some small part by allowing me to see the world. Still, I wish I had some close friends I could actually see on a regular basis.

    I share your feelings about writing, also. It bothers me that no matter how well one writes there are always going to be those who can't stand what you do.

  5. I hate it when people can't get past the "who is this that we know" mystery. When ever I give my ms to anyone (friends, family) I say please refrain from projecting yourself or anyone else into these entirely fictional characters. Even if there are obviously details pulled from real life -they are a whole new concoction - new people - not meant to be the people from my life. So - if I were you I would disregard that point from your beta because they need to attend FICTION 101. It is called fiction for a reason. But I know it is hard for people - because secretly that is really all they want to see - is if they or anyone they know "in" the book.

    Chin up.

  6. Yay for Greg!!! Now buck up Bucko and get to writing that query!

  7. Isn't it funny how those particular people always know exactly what to say to bring us back to a reality we love and renew our hope? But the other side of that is WE are willing to listen and take action. THAT is what makes all the difference. It really is a two way street, a combined effort.

    I love knowing that there is always a way and always a solution. If we can shut that voice up long enough to DO what we need to, that's half the battle.

    If it weren't for people like Greg who stick and stay and do the work, people like us would be doomed. So I have to give a shout out to your "pal" Greg.

    It's those people that don't agree with us that keep us striving to be better. If everyone was on our side and agreeing with us all the time, someone's lying.

    One naysayer out of six? Hell, that ain't bad at all. (Between you and me Terry, they're just jealous). ;)

    I know you'll finish what you started, but I also know that the mental torture we put ourselves through in the meantime can cause some paralysis at times. This too shall pass my friend. ;~}

  8. Az always, you guys are great. It's amazing how much support one receives through a silly little blog, isn't it? It's *almost* as good as real life. :)

    Gina, I knew you'd appreciate Greg's comments. I'm not sure if he was wearing his eye patch, since he was at his office, but it's always a possibility with him. Thanks for your kind and understanding words, as always.

  9. Sorry I haven't been commenting lately, Terry, I'm in Peoria now and have been crazy busy and have limited internet access. But I agree with your friend, now is the time to attack and take no prisoners. Start mailing agents, other writers and anyone who can help. I want to buy several copies of your book for Christmas presents!

  10. I agree with him. You need to hurry up and start querying. You're wasting so much time agonizing over this part, you won't have anything left to agonize over the wait on partials and fulls! ;o)

    PS - I'm kinda scared too.

  11. Marty: Dude, if you're in town, we ought to get together for a cup of coffee (sorry, don't do anything stronger these days)! I will be in the city tomorrow to have lunch with a friend of mine. If you have time, let me know and I'll shoot you my cell number. (Nice shoutout in Phil's column today. Good for you).

    Tracy: Who? Me? Scared? Nah. OK. Maybe a little. Fine. A lot. Happy? ;)

    Cubs are coming back to life, finally. I hope the Orioles can right the ship as well. They've looked pretty good of late. There's ALWAYS hope, even in the AL East.

  12. You realize I have to quilt that idiot a paisley eye patch now, right? "Gary's" wife.