Some days it feels like I haven't seen the sun for days, apart from a little dog walking, though I know that's not entirely true. I get up in the morning, do a little yoga to get myself warmed up, then pull down the blinds and start to write. By the time I finish, it's often dark. Today was one of those days. I'm really looking forward to finishing the first draft of this book and taking some time off. Perhaps a quickie road trip to Provincetown. I managed to make further progress with the hand corrections, though the going wasn't as smooth as yesterday. Oh yeah -- and it's New Year's, so there are things to be done later this evening.
Another really rewarding day. I've gone back to hand writing corrections on the rough draft of Lake on the Mountain. Today I edited the first 58 pages of what feels like really solid material. This section covers the first day of the story, beginning with Dan picking up his son Ked after school, hosting a mini-birthday party for Ked with Dan's best friend Donny, and ending with a late night emergency meeting with a former neighbour desperate to talk to someone about his troubles. There are still about five chapters (of 28) that are extremely rough. These are scattered throughout the text and not all bunched at the end.
Today was a momentous day. Lake on the Mountain passed 70,000 words this morning. I have to remind myself that that's not really a long book for me, though. A Cage of Bones was more than twice that in its first draft. It wasn't until I cut it down to about a third its original length that it sold, however.
I think I have another 3-4 thousand words to go before I can declare the first draft of this book done. And then I get to chop and rewrite.
The world hasn't blown itself up and Bhutto is buried, so I've gone back to doing the one thing that seems to bring me peace of mind. If I've learned anything over the years, it's to use my unsettled emotions to write. I created what felt like powerful scenes during this day's writing: the death of a child, the resolution of a conflict between my protagonist and his son. Time will tell if they really are powerful or if I'm just consoling myself.
Ultimately, I wonder which has killed more people: religion or politics.
No words can be adequate for a terrible day like today. With the death of Benazir Bhutto goes the hope for decency, tolerance and even world peace. Those who think the death of one woman won't affect us should remember that Pakistan has nuclear power. This death will haunt us all.
Today I drove to the Adolphus Reach, where part of my new book takes place. I was on my way to Boxing Day dinner in a place called Sandhurst and decided to go a little further, as I was early. I was actually in search of a home -- not for me, but for my characters. I prefer when my writing holds up under factual scrutiny. Of course it won't matter to most readers, but when I write about a full moon ocurring on a particular date or the tide being high at a certain time of day, then you can be sure those events match with reality. In this case, I wanted to see if I could find a home on the water similar to the one I'd imagined. I found four such homes that looked like the large family estate I was writing about, but all four were recently built. The home I'm writing about has to have been around more than 25 years because of something crucial to the plot. Now the choice is either to fudge the description so my imagined estate can't be pinpointed geographically, or let it stand as an act of creation. On the other hand, by the time this book gets published, the real places might almost be old enough.
One of the things I like most about having a real queen (besides the grandsons) is the Queen's speech on Christmas Day. I love her crisply written and carefully delivered words to the Commonwealth in a world that seems increasingly senseless and violent. I think the queen imparts a sense of order and decency, no matter what the fashionable left may say. This year was no exception as she singled out the socially marginalized and the military to be remembered at this time, and reminding us that we all have a part to play in helping make the world a better place. In fact, her words sounded just like socialist rhetoric ... except that they were actually, hmm, well, Christian. Just imagine.
While it gets harder to find the simple traditions of Christmas, I still find myself enjoying what I enjoyed in childhood. The stillness of the night, snow (when it comes and before it gets churned into slush), clear voices singing in harmony -- these are things I've always loved. But what I loved most were recitations of Christmas "classics." Today it all came back to me while driving around looking for last-minute presents and hearing on radio TS Eliot's "Journey of the Magi" and selections from Dylan Thomas's "A Child's Christmas in Wales", for me the most evocative and magical of all Christmas writings.
Okay, so even writers have to come to a halt for Christmas. It looks like I won't be meeting my self-appointed deadline to finish the new book by Christmas, but I'll be working on it over the next few days anyway. Sorry, Santa.
Lunch with the lovely Margaret Hart, my agent, as we discussed further possibilties for a reprint of The P'Town Murders. Yes, there is definite interest, but not necessarily as soon as I would have liked it to happen. I've begun to revise my list of demands, since for once I'm in the driver's seat, relatively speaking. I may not see the book reprinted right away, but I might be able to capitalize on the book's success and get a higher percentage of sales, as well as keeping the right to be the script writer, if it comes to that. There is seldom a real profit on films (on paper they are designed to lose money.) The only advantage to me would be to get paid to write or co-write the script for any of my books. And any film producer will already have his or her favourite writers, so usually a book's author is out of luck. Of course, it doesn't necessarily follow that a novelist is a good script writer, either.
A major day of revelations! This day has been solid gold for me. I know how I'm going to end the story and it's not at all how I was expecting to end it. The solution just crept in quietly this morning while I sat revising some chapter notes. It makes far more sense for me to end the book in this new and unexpected way (which I can't spell out, obviously.) Keep in mind that the book started out as a classic whodunnit and then evolved into a literary thriller. While it's still a literary thriller, it's taken an altogether different direction that will give it the proper "twist" without compromising its literary integrity. I'm very excited by this development. Now I understand why I've had so much trouble trying to finish it. The story wasn't ready to reveal itself till I bumbled down a few dead ends and had to turn around and come back out to see where I was really heading. Amazing!
Today was a very long day of writing, extending from 10 in the morning to past midnight, and broken only by a much-needed trip to the chiropractor. The chiropractor has had me adjust my writing configurations to make them more ergonomic (lowering my keyboard and mouse, while raising the monitor, all of which makes it easier on my body, but harder on my eyes, which are in pretty poor shape.) The results have been nothing short of sensational (when I stick to it), but the major snowstorm we experienced mid-week required a lot of digging out, and whatever physical gains I'd made were reversed just as quickly. Nevertheless, this was a major day of work.
Another day, another synopsis. I seem to be revising the synopsis for Lake on the Mountain every other day, if not every day lately. Things are shifting quickly as I approach the book's end, trying to get the order of events just right.
One of the perks of being a writer is that I get to peek in on some early drafts of books by other writers. When Paul Bellini offered to profile me in FAB Magazine, I had little thought that I could offer him anything, as he's already so accomplished and well-connected. But when he mentioned his novel-in-progress, Ruined Boy Next Door, I offered to read it and was surprised that he accepted so readily. I was also surprised to discover it's a comic gem -- I say surprised, because its territory is the world of hustlers, prostitutes and crack addicts. I'd been prepared for something, but not a richly comic vision of life. I'm also not surprised he's had a difficult time finding a home for it, given the subject matter. Still, I know there is a 'right' publishing house somewhere out there and I've offered him suggestions to help him find it.
This day turned out to be an exercise in writing in fits and starts, and then, just as I was about to pack it in for the day, I had a sudden outpouring around four in the afternoon, finishing up several important scenes, including a crucial scene between Dan and his teenaged son Kedrick. Having been dumped by his nasty boyfriend Bill (a doctor with no empathy for other people), Dan drinks himself into a stupor and wakes to find the dog has shit on the floor. In a rage, he takes out his anger on the dog until Ked intervenes. Dan learns his son is afraid of him, which comes as a very unpleasant revelation.
With my rewrites to the earlier portion of the new book, I discovered I had cut nearly two-and-a-half thousand words, bringing the total closer to fifty-seven thousand, down from almost sixty thousand. I still feel this one has a bit farther to go, however, and won't be surprised if it hits seventy or seventy-five thousand words before I'm done the first draft. I spent much of the past two days on two crucial scenes--the wedding on the ship, where a guest falls overboard and is believed to have been murdered, and the aftermath in the days following that incident. Most of the story that comes afterward is triggered by this event.
I don't know where people are still finding copies, but The P'Town Murders was listed at Number 10 on Amazon's list under Gay Fiction. Michael Thomas Ford was above me and Anthony Bidulka was below. Quite the sandwich.
Today was still a good writing day, though the pace was slower. As I get into the nitty gritty of the story, the flaws appear larger than they probably are, and it takes time to think them through. Much of today was spent on one major scene, an impromptu party the night before a gay wedding. Some important characters appear at the party (my protagonist, Dan, and his boyfriend, Bill, who is best man for Thom; also there is Sebastiano, the second groom, and a woman named Daniella who is Sebastiano's "best man".) I had to take a lot of time to get their relationships right before proceeding.
Some days I get so absorbed by the scene I'm writing that I forget where I am in real time. In my head, I'm on the banks of a river in mid-September, but when I look up and see the snow outside my window and a hawk floating by with wings spread, I think, "Where the hell am I?"
Another good day writing. It feels indescribably rewarding to wake up and know it's all ahead of you. It was slower going than yesterday, though, owing to the state of the manuscript from about the one-third mark on. Neverthless, I made solid progress all day long.
The book is about a missing persons investigator, Dan Sharp, who attends a gay wedding on a ship. I was able to take Dan up to the scene where he meets his boyfriend's best friend the day before the wedding. (Bill, the boyfriend, is the best man, and his friend Thom is the groom.) For Dan, this will spell the beginning of the end of his relationship with Bill and propel him into the search for a "misper" (missing person) because of events before and after the wedding.
Back in the saddle! And I don't mean Viagra. Today was a gold mine for writing, after I shifted gears. Instead of going forward, I went back and began reworking the material I'd produced over the past few months. Suddenly things began to move. It enabled me to consolidate some of the themes and character issues that had been left dangling in my rush to get to the end of the book. With these cleaned up I can move forward again. I've also changed my writing times. I usually get into a groove, with a certain time of day being designated for writing. For a long time now it's been my habit to start in the morning as soon as I wake to make use of that fresh energy. But lately, with the cold and other things, mornings have been a muddle, with the result that I get frustrated and give up by noon. Today I started at noon, and went without a break till nearly seven pm, handwriting my corrections. Then, after supper, I tackled the corrections, inputting them on the laptop until 1 am. The first third of the book is now very clear.
And another day slipped by without any significant writing getting done. I guess I'm not the machine I'd like to be. I tried leaving the laptop and working from the printed manuscript, but that didn't help. On top of everything else, it's winter and I feel the cold in my bones all day long. (I'm know, I'm not old enough to have the right to say that with conviction, but it's true.) I spent an hour in the bath trying to warm up, and then gave up and went out to distract myself. Time to plan a vacation in Mexico.
I seem to have ground to a halt in my writing. It's not Writers' Block, but lack of focus. Another day went by without my adding much to the book or forging ahead in any meaningful way. Sometimes when this happens I find I need to switch from the computer to a printed version. I printed the manuscript tonight, so we'll see how it goes tomorrow.
Another day of mostly not writing, but one in which I was able to scrutinize the organization of story events and shuffle them around till they felt right. This is the "perspiration" part of the equation in which Picasso talked about creativity being ten-percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration.
Every once in a while I find the demands of everyday life too much for me to take an entire day to write. Today was one of those days when I forced myself to stop writing and do other things that needed doing. One of the things I notice (or don't notice) when I get into the writing, is that I lose interest in other things, like piano playing. In my twenties I was a modestly accomplished pianist, but once I started writing A Cage of Bones my practice died off. Each time I begin a new book I lose playing time and have to relearn all over again. As anybody who plays knows, if you stop playing for six months to a year, you get very rusty. Your mind knows what it wants your fingers to do, but the digits won't comply. It's a very frustrating period of getting yourself up to speed again. I keep saying I'll spend an hour every day at the piano, but it just doesn't happen. When the writing is hot, I don't want to stop. And when I start to flag, I don't want to go to the piano, though the longer I stay away the more frustrating it will be when I return.
Today was another day of good writing. Some days the new book moves forward in leaps and bounds, and other days, like today, it's the small changes and reorganizing of events that gives satisfaction. Today I reworked the outline of the second half of the story, which will help me to move forward from this point with a greater sense of clarity -- not only of what has to happen, but when it has to happen. Because so much of the story is character-driven, there's a subtle but crucial character unfolding that has to happen in order for the story to be credible.
With all the volatility over The P'Town Murders in the last couple of weeks, I sometimes feel as though I'm not getting enough writing done on the new book, Lake on the Mountain. Today, however, I managed to get in some real, solid work, despite having only half a day in which to write. It progresses, more slowly now than before, but still surely. I could have a first draft done by Christmas, in which case I might even enjoy the holidays.
With the return of my rights to The P'Town Murders, the question of a reprint looms. My agent wants to find a new publisher who will fly with the success. While I'm hopeful such a publisher can be found (one who will agree to reprint immediately, while demand is still strong), I'm also considering other possibilities. There are viable ways to cut out the middleman and recoup a larger profit for myself, but the spectre of self-publishing is raised. Is self-reprinting (taking the opportunity to make a buck on my own work -- something a writer seldom gets to do) the same as self-publishing, if the book has already been published? And is self publishing even still a blemish on the part of a writer in this age of print-on-demand, or is it simply a smart business decision on the writer's part? (Not that writers have ever been accused of that!)
A quick look through the history of publishing shows that some of our best have been self-pubished, at least initially. Walt Whitman not only self-published Leaves of Grass, he also self-reviewed it under a pseudonym. Artistic cheating or good business sense? Now that the book is a classic we don't think twice about its origins. Similarly, Virginia Woolf's work was published by her husband, Stephen. Isn't that still self-publishing when your spouse does it for you? So why the stigma? A glance at the recent nomination lists for the Lambda Awards reveals titles from such print-on-demand publishers as I-Universe and Lulu Books. I think Walt Whitman would approve.
In the aftermath of the past few months, I can safely say it's easier to get published now more than ever before. The question is whether a writer can be any kind of real success. My book was published and sold well, but then, as it was topping amazon lists, the publisher not to reprint. My screenplay was about to go into production when the producer demanded we renegotiate the contract (to write me out of it, essentially--and that on the eve of the biggest writers strike in recent years.) Last night I watched a documentary on James Joyce, one of the greatest writers ever. Weighed down with a massive ego and a sense of entitlement, even Joyce was shocked to find that he wasn't the instant success he thought he'd be. While writing his greatest works, he still struggled before a mentor began to pay his bills. Is it the strong who survive, or simply the stubborn and deluded?
Today is one of those unavoidable writing days, where I don't like anything I write or much of what I've already written. The analogy I've come up with is water: on these days I feel as though I'm sitting on the surface and can't get into the water. I read the words, but they don't make sense and they don't sink in. I can't get inside them, which is where I want to be, and where the good writing happens. On days like this it's best to go bake a loaf of bread or vacuum. I rearranged my office.
The reality of what it means to have my rights back for The P'Town Murders continues to sink in. Do I try to find a publisher who will republish asap to cash in on the book's continuing demand or simply go to a printer, cutting out the middleman here? Or do I let the book go out of print without trying to do anything about it?
In the first case, it may be a golden opportunity to get in with a publisher I want. If I go print-on-demand, however, I've got to take a crash course in business admin. (Taxes, customs, postage fees, ugh!) The other problem is that some POD print houses really want to be ersatz publishers. They want to determine your price and whether or not the book is returnable by distributors, which will make it unattractive to many buyers. In return, they simply give you a percentage of sales, which is pretty much what a publisher does. In reality, this is a monopoly mentality so that their partners (e.g. Amazon) can have the guaranteed best price (this is subtly written into their contracts with you.) There are others (like Lightning Source and ArtBindery) that give more flexibility, if you're looking into this yourself. The thing you've got to make sure of is whether or not you can get the books into a good distributor.
One thing I am sure of: now that I have the rights back, I don't want to let them go again. To lose control of the first book in a series potentially endangers the entire series, as I've seen. In this case, I was lucky. Next time, I might not be. That's why the print-on-demand option seems so tempting. Otherwise, I need to find a publisher who will reprint now and let me keep the rights in my name. Does such a creature exist?
So today I schlepped downtown and offered my last copies of The P'Town Murders to Glad Day Books and This Ain't The Rosedale Library, two of my staunch supporters over the years. I was also able to provide them with copies of my first book, A Cage of Bones, having just received a batch from the UK distributor. I'd been complaining to Aaron Hamburger (author of The View From Stalin's Head, a terrific book of short fiction published by Random House) how hard it was to get copies of my book, thinking it must be nice to be published by a large publisher, but Aaron said "unless you're Norman Mailer" even Random House isn't always great at providing books. And now not even Mailer will get to appreciate that fact.