Since completing the third and fourth books (simultaneously) of the AKA Investigations series, I am doing that Pick-A-Project-Polka; a dance we writers do when we’re trying to decide what we feel like working on next; we listen to our muse, we dance with our muse, we kick our muse out and get practical, and we sometimes curse our muse and send it to bed without dinner. All of these I’ve done this time around, as well.
Fortunately, I seem to have spent enough time on a particular draft to safely assume it’s the one I will be finishing next. I have always had a collection of half-written books that one day I intend to finish (Quintessence, Somewhere Else, and Another Justice, to name a few). Most writers can probably say that. But the interesting thing is being faced with tangible examples of how far you’ve come as a writer. Stories I recalled as really good, needing to be finished because of their value, I now look at, and consider them lining for a birdcage.
Take the one I’m rewriting, now….it started out years ago as The Curse of Madagascar. Then the TV series, Lost, began to air and I was afraid I’d be accused of plagiarism to some degree, if I tried to publish that story, even though I had written it years before the TV series came about. The book was about a straight couple, newlyweds, who are on their way to Saint-Denis, in Africa for their honeymoon, and instead get stranded on a tropical island (Madagascar, though they don’t know where they are) after their transport boat sinks. They battle a shark, then get on shore with nothing, and struggle to survive in an environment that is filled with strange creatures, is unfriendly and mysterious, and soon discover there is something sinister going on, and their lives are in danger, because there are some villainous men who are using the island for….er…um…
Here is where the story fizzled (Honestly, it fizzled from the get-go, but for the sake of explanation–) I needed to pinpoint what the “curse” in the title referred to….
Originally, it was in third person omniscient, then I changed it to third person limited. Originally, it was also set in Africa, but then I decided I didn’t want to spend the research time necessary to write anything about a setting I knew little about, and opted instead to change the setting to Cache La Poudre, a wilderness area in Northern Colorado. I am familiar with my home state. Also, at different times it was about drugs, human trafficking, and I even considered something supernatural, like the island was a living entity somehow, and perhaps it was a sort of purgatory, and my characters were already dead, but in some alternate reality after death (See? Very similar to Lost). It hardly mattered what my story was about, though, because the whole shebang was a cheese-fest. Dialogue smarmy and uber-romanticized, like something out of a bad Harlequin (not to suggest there was ever a GOOD Harlequin). But I noticed all the stereotyping I was doing, with gender-roles. I, of course, had to have the man save the woman, and she was, of course, weak and frightened and only able to feel safe while in his arms. Repugnant, all around.
[finger in my throat, and a retching noise].
So then, in the spirit of focusing my writing endeavors on the one genre (lesbian), and more importantly, in the spirit of putting my name only on stories I’m not ashamed of, I decided to rewrite what I already had on this story and finish it.
One rewrite focus area, as mentioned, was the dialogue–cheese-be-gone….another was the sentence structure. Too same-same, too often. Then I ran into that whole stylistic quagmire of having two females in almost every scene and getting tired of using “she” and “her” so having to fix that with sentence structure, and stylistic tricks. Another was beginning paragraphs and sentences with the same word repeatedly, over and over, again and again, until it became a repetitious, recapitulation, reiteration, replay, reproduction, rerun, reshowing and also a duplication. Amazing, the little lessons we learn about our craft that we hardly notice until being faced with them in the form of our own literary apparitions, ghost stories from the past. My muse was quite wispy and frail back then. Largely attributable to my early years of reading too many of the aforementioned romance novels, and also watching too many soap operas. I learned how to write poorly from both (these sorts of things also have a way of retarding your intellect, as well). My writing only improved when I began to read more accomplished, masterful authors. Like Edgar Allen Poe, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Robert A. Heinlein and later, Dean Koontz (in whom I have lost interest in recent years, perhaps because his writing has become a little tedious–though I did learn a great deal by studying his writing, to find out what he was doing to get me to turn that page every time).
In fact, most of my reading experiences have been about finding a set of authors I could follow; but they were few and far between, and so I read widely in many genres, and ultimately discarded most of them after reading only one of their books. It takes quite a lot to get me to turn a page, and if it’s not a strong enough pull, I will lay that book down and move on. I’ve always felt that there were not enough years in my life to read everything I want to read, so I am loath to read anything that isn’t a valuable use of my time. I can see how all of these experiences have shaped me as a writer.
I’ve always enjoyed the Maximum Ride series by James Patterson, even though I don’t usually read in the Young Adult genre. I found those books hugely entertaining and delightful and quick-reading, which was what I wanted at the time. And more recently, I enjoyed Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, but was disappointed in the cop-out ending–a particularly potent peeve of mine. And I have only a few days ago, discovered Nelson DeMille, and he’s shaping up to be a favorite, if this book, Plum Island, continues to be as good as it has been from page-one. I’m excited about this possibility, since I see the stacks and stacks of books he has just waiting for my hungry eyes to explore.
Over the last ten years or so, I’ve read far more nonfiction than fiction. I read many books by authors like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins, Carl Sagan, George Smith, Stephen Hawking, and other authors in the science and atheism category, as well as a plethora of social psychology. It seemed to influence me to write nonfiction, which is why I strayed from the market and over-diversified myself into lower royalties.
But I was in a self-imposed curriculum, my own university, and the studies I did in religion, alone, would have garnered me a degree, if I had been doing it in an actual collegiate setting–perhaps a master’s thesis equivalent, in the three years it took me to write my 6-volume magnum opus, Supernatural Hypocrisy: The Cognitive Dissonance of a God Cosmology. Additionally, I published a book of poetry (Yin & Yang: Poetry from Both Sides of my Disposition), a memoir (Falling through the Cracks: This Misadventures of No One Famous) compiled all my essays into volumes, (Like Too Much World, and Wear a Helmet, and Bettered by a Dead Crustacean) and even a volume of essays about writing in Don’t Fall in Love With Your Words (Fall in Love With Your Craft). I wrote a few nonfiction books for lesbians, like ISO (In Search Of): The Art of Dating, Relationships & Sex for the Discerning Lesbian and Sullied Pajamas: A Discerning Lesbian on Dating, Relationships & Sex.
Throughout all this abandonment to the whims of my muse, I learned a great deal about the craft of writing and of the discipline of publishing and editing, but I was not being wise about the market. I said I didn’t care about that, I made enough money writing what I wanted to write, with no regard for what was popular. But then the royalties crashed when the ebook market opened up and my print books stopped selling while my electronic versions increased instead; but I was now competing with a whole horde of Indie authors, the successful ones of whom were writing series fiction and sticking to one genre. I had, as I said, diversified myself right out of a paycheck. And I was getting really fond of that extra money. Hopefully my rededication to one genre, and focus on series, will get me back on track.
Sales are surprisingly good for my two new ones Also Known as Syzygy and Also Known as Rising and Falling, which are numbers 3 and 4 on the AKA Investigations series. This tells me that there were readers out there just waiting for me to continue that series. And I will continue to do that, while developing other series in the subgenres of lesbian fiction, and making most of them novellas since the trend seems to be shorter books, now. I guess people don’t have or make much time to read these days. Until then, I must keep my focus, and not stray into territory that I can’t occupy in a formidable way, and hope to gain an appreciable piece of the literary pie in that fashion.
Fingers crossed, when not typing.