Some books flow like a river, some like a glacier
Some days the story flies so fast from me that my fingers can’t keep up the pace. When I used to write every first draft free hand on a series of legal pads I would end up with hand cramps on those days. Despite the pain those are good days. But some days drag. The story is there on the wind, a diamond in the rough, and it’s like excavating stegosaurus bones to get it out. Those days are hard. Those days I wonder if the story just isn’t very good. I mean, if I have to struggle to get it out, surely it will be a struggle to read, right? And this isn’t 10th grade English Lit, people. These novels are not supposed to be hard reading. They are supposed to be fun. Sometimes funny. Sometimes not. Perhaps nostalgic and occasionally thought-provoking, but never hard.
It took me a long time to learn that the ease of the writing and the quality of the work are in no way bound together. Some writers rocket through first drafts and others plod. Most have at least the occasional day of both. Some work is almost ready to roll after one draft, other work takes many, many drafts to get right. I know from my own experience, and from that of other writers, that sometimes the story that flows is your best work, and other times the story that has to be dragged kicking and screaming from you turns out to be gold.
I’ve done both. I once wrote a novel that took 7 years to finish. I once completed a first draft that was close to publishing ready in 10 days. There’s no telling how it will go. There’s no planning for it. This is the great unknown of art. Until it is done, and until someone has read it—until many someones have read it—I can’t know. I can guess, my editor can guess. But I can’t know. The best we can do is take our collective experience and make judgement calls on what is working, and what is not. And more important, what our readers will read.
Burned Bridges fell into this abyss. It was a new series, a new group of characters and a very new direction for me. The overarching story came quickly. The finer story took some time. Some of those good days and bad days. In the end it was long, very long for me. Almost 140,000 words, or close to twice the length of the first Miami Jones novel. I finished it and gave it to my editor.
She loved it.
Sort of. She loved where the characters were going, but didn’t feel she knew them well enough. She couldn’t see the equivalent of Miami and Danielle and Longboard Kelly’s in her mind’s eye. And she felt there were actually two great stories there, and that they would benefit from being told separately.
But there was a problem. We had slated a launch for the book for this summer. I’d had even told my reader’s group about it. But it was clear that a good book could become a great book with a lot more work. It wasn’t coming out any time soon, at least not if we wanted it to be great.
Now, of course, great is a value judgement. One person might find a book great, but other might think it stinks. But as Truman once said, the buck stops here. It doesn’t stop with publishers or editors or fans or even Amazon, dammit. It stops with me. It’s my name on the front. So while a given reader might not think one of my books is great, I had better think it is. Because when it all comes down to it, I know how it feels at the other end.
I’m a reader. I get lots of reading suggestions from my readers, and have expanded my list as a result. I read every day. Fiction and non-fiction. And as a reader I know one thing.
I don’t have time for less than great.
I start a lot of books. I don’t finish many. And it’s not always because a book isn’t good. Sometimes it’s not you, it’s me. I just don’t connect with the story or the characters. That connection is ethereal and rare. I understand the value of it. It’s that feeling that drives me. Because at this point I know that there are thousand and thousands of readers who have found that connection with my work, or my work has found that connection with them.
And that’s too important to lose. So I can’t put out a book that I don’t think that you’ll think is great. As I say, I can’t know that you’ll think that. With every new book I’m not returning to the well, I am creating a new well from scratch. Each work stands alone. So I have to give each one my best shot.
I think Burned Bridges is a diamond in the rough. My editorial team thinks so too, and I trust them completely. I think there’s a great book in there, or maybe two. But there’s a lot more work to be done.
I’ve been working on this book for almost a year. It’s a long time and a lot of work to say: no, it’s not ready.
But it’s not ready.
So until further notice it isn’t coming out. The marketing has been cancelled and the editing plan has been put on hold until I chip away at the rocks and find that precious Stegosaurus. And that’s not a metaphor to be messed with!
Miami Jones 6 (7 if you count Three Strikes) has been written while this hoo-ha has been going on. Miami Jones 7 (or 8, if you prefer) is being written now. In the afternoons I am working on Burned Bridges, and I hope it gets done by year’s end. If it doesn’t, if it isn’t great, it won’t.
Miami Jones 6 – Deep Rough – will be out in June. I hope you love it.