A Word of Advice

Several blog readers have commented about the writerly content in my blogs, but since writing is my life, that’s not too surprising. I’m either writing, thinking about writing, or editing something already written.

One thing I almost never do is talk about writing a book at the idea stage. It’s one of the reasons I don’t do book proposals. The only time I did was with Kiss of the Bees. The original editor, at a different publishing house turned it down, said that it didn’t line up with the proposal, and demanded the advance back. I found out later that the whole problem had far more to do with conditions inside the publishing industry at the time than it did with the content of my book, but having the head of a New York publishing house tell me that I couldn’t “write my way out of a paper bag” was incredibly hurtful. I actually took to my bed for for a time after that disturbing phone call. Later, when my regular editor at HarperCollins took on the manuscript, she made fewer changes in that one than in any previous manuscript, but I digress.

So why not talk about a book when it’s at the idea stage? At that point, they’re very fragile. Think of a bubble floating along and encountering something as harmless as a blade of grass. What happens to the bubble? It vanishes. So if you mention a possible storyline and the listener says, “That will never work.” or “That’s a terrible idea.”, then chances are the idea will vanish, too.

Today, I’m making an exception to the “idea stage” discussion rule because, if someone wants to write in and tell me it’s a terrible idea, I don’t care. Because I already KNOW it’s a good idea.

The idea stage book I’m going to discuss is the next Beau book. No, at this time it doesn’t have a name or a proposed pub date. What it does have is a file name—Beaumont # 25 along with a few paltry notes about the characters involved in the name file.

In several of my more recent books, the stories have harkened back to characters who appeared in previous novels. Why not? If I’ve already created someone—given them character, history, and context, it makes no sense to let all that work go to waste.

Since the character(s) I have in mind turned up in Breach of Duty, I’ve spent the last several days reading and re-editing that book. In the past my publisher has released new editions of older books to precede the upcoming one. For example, Payment in Kind featuring Maxwell Cole was reissued prior to the publication of Proof of Life, and Taking the Fifth with Alan Dale was re-released prior to Sins of the Fathers. Now I’m lobbying for a reissue of Breach of Duty prior to the publication of Beaumont 25, and no, I am NOT going to tell you which character(s) will reappear. You’re perfectly welcome to call me a spoil sport on that one. Again, I DON’T CARE!

By the time a book has been written, line-edited, copy-edited, and given a first and second pass reading, I’m usually sick and tired of it. As a consequence, I seldom, if ever, reread my books after they’re published. Breach of Duty came out in 1999. That means it was probably written in 1997 and being edited in 1998, and that’s the last time I looked at it—until three days ago.

Overall, I think the book held up fairly well. I believe I was a little heavy-handed when it came to the foreshadowing part of the story, and I know way more about crime scene investigation now than I did back then. One of the DNA issues that was impossible then is possible now—so I let that be, but there were a few things I did change. For instance, “post traumatic stress syndrome” is now, twenty-two years later, firmly in the lexicon as PTSD—disorder not syndrome. And my tendency to write echoes—repeating the same word several times in rapid succession—is very much in evidence. I removed several of those.

But those were just the words. The story itself still worked. The characters still walked and talked, and, even now, after all these years, some of what they did had the power to give me goosebumps. So rather than throwing those folks away and leaving them moldering on the literary rubbish heap, I’m putting them back to work.

When I first started writing, I joined a Seattle area writers group called Seattle Freelancers. One of the founding members was Betty McDonald, the author of The Egg and I. When speaking to the group once, she mentioned that one important lesson she learned over a life-time’s worth of writing was not to throw anything away.

I think Betty would be happy to know that I’m still following her advice.