Friday, April 22, 2011

No Rhyme or Reason

Everyone offers advice on how to get published and how to market and network and it's beginning to get a little confusing. Use Twitter and Facebook to talk about your book. Don't talk about your book so much on Twitter and Facebook. Be interesting, but not too interesting. Don't let everyone see how bad the days get sometimes. Sparkle, Neely, sparkle. It's just like the five rules for writing. According to Somerset Maugham, no one knows what they are, but they'll try to tell you the only way to do it is their way. More one size fits all and never fits anyone. The three bears all over without the baby bear. It's too big. It's too small. It's never just right. What works for one author may not work for another and seldom works for everyone even though they sell millions of books telling you just that: it works for everyone because it worked for me.

When I was studying art -- the painting and drawing kind and not the art history kind -- my teachers taught me to do it the way they had been taught. I followed their instructions and got good results, but I was never quite happy until I could do it my way. Instead of roughing out the face and placement of ears, eyes, nose and mouth and sketching in the hair, I began with the eyes and worked out from there. For me, everything started with the eyes. I guess that's why people always said the eyes seemed alive. In a way, and especially for me, they were.

I am more than willing to try it someone else's way, just like I've tried nearly every diet I've ever come across, but eventually I fall back into old habits and do it my way.

Write large and add all the details and then pare it down. Instead, I write tight and expand on that once I've finished the book.

Edit once or twice and leave it in a drawer for a week, then go back, read it, made small adjustments and send it out. How about I edit it as many times as I like, forget about it for a couple of years while I work on something else, and then come back, decide I did it right and then send it out, all the while tinkering away at it even up to publication? That works for me. Some stories are easy and come out fully formed and some take time to hone and for me to get into the right frame of mind to hear the voices and get them down. That's what's happening with Whitechapel. I couldn't hear the voices for a while, couldn't get the sound of their voices and their syntax, and so I put it away -- for years. I won't say how many years, but my mother keeps saying she wants to see it in print before she dies. She'll outlive me, but I doubted the book would be finished in my lifetime.

And then it happened. I opened up the file, took a look at the outline, put my fingers on the keyboard and suddenly I knew just where I was going. I heard Delilah's voice again, the way she speaks, the way she engages the world, that special sense of derring-do and vulnerability she keeps hidden from everyone, especially Henry. I have it now and I should be able to keep going. I know where I'm going at least.

In the meantime, I've written two other books, seen both published and am being buffeted by the networking and marketing gurus pulling me this way and that. I don't know if book trailers work, but there was a sale, so why not? I don't know if I should talk about my weird reading habits, like reading three or four books at a time and keeping them separate and distinct. I never mix one with the other. How could I? I'm reading a book about Van Gogh and his last doctor, who wasn't really his doctor because he couldn't practice medicine in his home town; he has an office in Paris and comes home to Auvers three days a week to be with his family and paint. I'm also reading a murder mystery set during the time of Henry II of England and it's really fascinating. I love historical novels that carry me away and put me in the time period without effort. I'm also re-reading Salem's Lot just because I had a hankering for Stephen King and that particular story. Maybe it's a way for my creative brain to tell my scientific brain that it soon will be time for me to get into post apocalyptic vampire fiction, which is what I planned anyway. I usually have to slide in sideways.

There is no rhyme or reason, at least not looking from the outside, to the way I work, but it works. I can juggle three or four (or in my case, twenty) stories at the same time and not lose touch with any of them -- if I hear the voices. No, I'm not schizophrenic; I'm a writer. It goes with the territories. If the characters aren't real to me, they certainly won't be real to the reader. I'm sure about that side of the business, just not the marketing and networking side. I'm more interesting -- and more exasperating -- in person (at times). Just ask my friends. And I leap from subject to subject without the least hesitation. It's my way.

I follow Scott Eagan, partly because I submitted Among Women to him, and this morning his advice was that he looks at the whole writer. He said he liked my story and the writing was good, but it wasn't right for him at this time. I wonder if he found my writings on dismembering corpses or the slashing prose I used when I was battling a cyberstalker? I didn't mention names -- or grave sites -- so it wasn't obvious, but maybe my bounding from subject to subject gave him the idea that I was quixotic or undependable. Could be.

My art teachers told me it was wrong to start with the eyes when painting or drawing a portrait, but I still did it. It worked for me. Don't try this at home. It might not work for you. No one wears my size any more.

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