As anyone who has ever tried to write a book–fiction or non-fiction–will tell you, book-writing is an arduous task. It requires extreme patience, fortitude, discipline and a modicum of talent for putting into written format the ideas and images floating around in one’s head. So why would a sensible, moderately intelligent writer whose name is identical to my own try to work on two novels at once? Am I crazy? You tell me.
The facts are these. Ten plus years ago I had an image of an attack by a group of people we’ll call Savagers on a lonely farm family. The parents are killed. One of their chilidren–a young girl–is taken away to be raised by her captives, while her older brother is bereft and barely able to function. That image grew over the years into a story and that story grew into a saga involving not just the surviving teenager but another family that also came under attack, and a world where force of arms most often prevails.
Having worked on that story on and off in between completing four self-published novels, I decided last fall that it was time to concentrate on getting that one into shape to be published. Parts of that story were workshoped at the Baltimore Science Fiction Society’s critique circle; parts at the Writers In Paradise conference I attended in January, and other parts have been critiqued by individuals with whom I have exchanged drafts. So, I knew the story had potential, but it still needed work.
What kind of work? These days to get a novel published (or to sell a substantial number of self-published books) one’s story and one’s writing both need to satisfy an ever more demanding standard of excellence. Understand the logic of this sentence. As good works get published and read, editors and readers don’t have much tolerance for books that fail to come up to the quality level of what’s already been published. Writers have admitted as much, having been told by editors, “I could have published that book ten or fifteen years ago, but I can’t do it today.”
Some of the criteria that works of fiction must satisfy today include a gripping beginning, characters with whom the reader can empathize, conflict and threats that feel real and that motivate thoughts and behaviors by the characters that the reader buys as genuine and plausible, a plot that builds tension, and a climax that satisfies by resolving the conflict in a believable, but not too obvious manner. Those requirements apply to romance, mystery, sci/fi-fantasy, and even literary fiction, although the nature of the conflict and its resolution may be less interesting in contemporary “literary” novels than the process or the path to that resolution–all of which started with Proust, Joyce, Mann and others.
In any case, while in the middle of trying to bring my fantasy saga up to speed, another story image came to me one day about a month ago which was so vivid I had to start working on it. The story that I am now crafting is another political thriller set in comtemporary America.
So I find myself gazing at the summit of two giant mountains, having as a goal to reach both, but having to start each day like Sisyphus at the bottom.
Working on two very different stories despite the almost impossible goal of doing both well has some advantages. It means I can take a break from one story to work on the other. Sometimes distance is needed to solve a problem or read what one has written with fresh eyes. Working on two stories gives me that distance in small doses as I try to work on both stories every day.
Whether I’ll ever finish either is unknown as is whether either will be “good enough.” I do pledge to you my loyal friends, readers and family that neither will be published until it meets the standards that I equate with traditionally published books in those fields. So, be patient. I have work to do and meanwhile please enjoy the fine work that other writers are producing both from traditional and self-published side of the industry.