Publishing a novel requires an odd combination of arrogance and humility. In another life, I was a lawyer. And years ago, I used to teach legal writing. Like most forms of writing, it’s got its own rules. The forms and structures are, obviously, different from those used in creative writing. And yet… there is one piece of advice I used to give students that transcends type. To be a good writer you must have an odd combination of arrogance and humility.
A certain amount of hand wringing before a release is natural (I suppose, this is my first book release… I can at least vouch for the hand wringing part, whether it’s natural or not, others will have to say). I try to tell myself it doesn’t matter what people think, I wrote the book for myself. (And that was true until I sold it, and then the process wasn’t just about me anymore). I think, in the beginning, writers have to write only for themselves. But, later, if we don’t listen to our audience’s reactions, why are we publishing in the first place? And yet allowing yourself to become overly cowed, cornered, or creatively stifled by a critical review can’t be allowed to happen either. To some degree, you put your work out there to be judged — and then, that’s that. Walk away. Start another. What will be, will be. You’ve done your best. Some work will do well, some won’t. Not every book is for every reader.
Hopefully, I will learn something from this whole process. My biggest wish as a writer is to write something entertaining. But I don’t deny that there are a few themes that I find myself drifting to again and again. (Among them are femininity, insanity, justice, truth versus illusion, be careful what you wish for, you don’t have to be magical to matter, and knowledge that you’d rather not have learned — although I don’t explore every one of them in my first book!) So I walk a tightrope between wanting to improve my skills as an entertainer (which requires near obsessive attention to an audience’s reaction) and wanting to continue to explore my favorite themes in ways that interest me (which requires ignoring all reactions but my own).
To publish a book, to put it out there for consumption by the masses, takes… what? Confidence? Courage? Craziness? Let’s face it, writers, it takes a little bit of hubris. You’ve got to have the nerve to take that leap. To put yourself out there, come what may. And then you’ve got to have the humility to listen to the audience. Are they clapping? Shouting? Laughing? Whistling? Are they, heaven forbid, heckling? Or leaving? Or do they want to shake your hand? Clap you on the back? Send you back up?
For fun, I’ll remind you of two lines from two very different songs:
There’s the line from the Counting Crows “Mr. Jones” where the singer boldly states his desire to see himself on TV. It’s hilarious because it’s so unabashedly egotistical.
And then there’s the line from the Dixie Chicks “Heartbreak Town” that talks about taking a number, standing in line, and watching to see how high you’re going to fly on the ride to success. The title should be a tip-off as to how optimistic the song is about people’s chances. The band tells us that the ride to success is full of heartbreak. Well, maybe. But I’ll always be the kid who gets back in line.
If someone said you could ride the ride again, wouldn’t you? 😀
DARK LIGHT OF DAY EXCERPT
Failing is not an option…
“I’ve been watching you, wondering, waiting to see where you’d end up. After all, there are other demon law schools,” Seknecus said, making a moue of distaste that made it clear exactly what he thought of them, “But I was happy to see that you chose St. Lucifer’s.”
Technically my mother chose St. Lucifer’s… But there seemed no reason to interrupt just to clarify that bit of misinformation. Seknecus wandered around the room, picking through papers, flipping open and quickly shutting the front covers of various leather-bound books, never meeting my eye. I had no doubt, however, that his attention was fully focused on me.
“So, you see, seeing your name on my List wasn’t exactly a surprise, although it was included much later than I would have liked.”
He did look at me then, with a frown of disapproval. I did my best to look expressionless because none seemed appropriate. It wouldn’t do to look amused, bored or, Luck forbid, rebellious. Seknecus stared at me with narrowed eyes and then went back to wandering.
“You’ve got some catching up to do,” he said, addressing a copy of Sin and Sanction: Codification & Caselaw. “It doesn’t matter why or what excuses you’ve got for yourself. You will be held to the same standards as everyone else, regardless of whose daughter you are. And you’ve missed a lot of class already.”
I opened my mouth to protest, but he cut me off with a wave.
“Manipulation class,” he clarified. “You’re going to have to work ten times as hard as everyone else just to pass. Quintus Rochester doesn’t go easy on students and he’s likely to see your absence during the early part of the semester as a challenge. You know, failing is not an option. Not if you want to live.”
“Death is certain, life is not,” I blurted out without thinking.