Tranquility Now

This looks tranquil, yes?

A couple years ago, I came up with a story idea I really liked. It was a marked departure from anything I’d ever written and, I felt, would be a fun challenge to write. Bai books got in the way, however, with their shiny chase scenes and explosions, and I put this story idea in the vault for a future day.

Usually, story ideas lose their shine in the vault. You take them out months or years later and they’re plainer, less appealing, than they were when you sent them there. You wonder what you saw in them in the first place and either put them back or throw them out.

Not this one. This one waited for me. It was ready. I was ready. I sent Bai Treason, the last book of my Bai series, off to my publisher and started sketching out ideas for the story.

Wes and I spent almost the entire drive home from the Oregon coast hashing out possibilities. He’s one of the greatest sounding boards of all time and my favorite person to brainstorm with. I came home with a wad of napkins all covered in scrawled notes, then spent the rest of the summer organizing those notes onto index cards so that when the time came I could keep the details near at hand.

I began the novel in August of this year. It slow, as both its format (a split perspective, the story told by the daughter in the present and by the mother before the daughter was even born) and it’s style (heroine’s POV, third person past tense) were unfamiliar to me. Over time, I settled into it and by the end I was clocking 3,000+-word writing sessions as the word poured out of my fingertips.

And now, on a rainy afternoon in November, I’ve finished it. The first draft is complete, and I feel oddly bereft without it. This project is the most honest thing I’ve written to date, and I’m both anxious for people to read it and nervous about the prospect.

My goal, way back at the beginning of the summer, was to have Bai Treason sent to my publisher and have a first draft of this new project ready by Christmas. Done and done, with time to spare.

Now all I have to do is have surgery on my knee after Thanksgiving, re-learn how to walk, and fix the new project up and I’ll be ready to pitch it in Manhattan in July!

Oh, and move to a new house next year and release Bai Treason. All easy stuff, right? Ha! As always, writing the book may well have been the easy part.

Self-Improvement via Coercion

I’ve never been a person for whom moderation came naturally. Why stop at one thousand words a day when three thousand words a day will help me finish this novel three times as fast? If I cut out sugar, why not cut out bread, too, and then I’ll lose weight twice as fast. If exercise twice a week is good, then surely five times a week is better, right?

I wrote a few weeks ago about pushing myself really hard prior to surgery, and it both worked and didn’t. I cleared all my to do lists before surgery, which really helped during recovery because I didn’t feel as twitchy from my permanent spot on the couch. It did, however, make me feel like I was riding in a speeding car with no seat belt and someone slammed on the brakes.

Entropy after inertia is not an easy transition.

So now, two weeks after surgery and with four weeks to go until my next, much bigger, surgery, I’m in a strange limbo. Even though I feel like I should be relatively over it already, I’m still exhausted and my limits are set in stone. There’s really no sense pushing it at this point, because invariably my injury just pushes back.

I got really ambitious and walked around Target over the weekend and I was so tired afterward I had to come home, ice and elevate, and then take a nap. When I woke up, I realized it’s actually kind of stupid to walk more than I have to because hello, there’s a huge hole in my cartilage.

I feel pressure (from myself) to be back to normal, so for now life is a constant effort to reign in my Type-A Nutjob tendencies and remind myself that, unlike in mathematics sometimes, the limit does exist. Each day is a marathon, and if I sprint at any point, I might wind up with nothing left to get me over the finish line.

The same principle applies to my writing. In a fit of naivete a few weeks ago, I calculated that if I wrote a certain number of words every day of my recovery, I’d have the first draft finished by the time I went in for the second surgery.

That’s not going to happen.

I refuse to rush what is arguably my favorite part of the writing process, and I’m not going to do that to myself because some days I can hide on my couch and type. Some days, I have to go to appointments, ice and elevate a few times, or take my kids on field trips. Life happens, and I’m not going to short-change myself by trying to force all of it to happen in the narrow window between now and when everything stops again.

Writing will happen, because I’m disciplined enough to make sure it does, but first drafts, for me at least, are not the place for brute force. This is a time of discovery and finesse, and I’ll be damned if I don’t let myself enjoy that process.

So I guess I’ve finally learned some measure of moderation. Better late than never I suppose, and besides, what other choice do I have? Sometimes you have to become a more balanced, well-rounded person against your will. The universe drags you, kicking and screaming, toward progress, and then when you look back, you wonder why you put up such a fuss because really, this isn’t so bad after all.

An Honest View of Recovery

Don’t ask me why.

I feel like I’m two people at the moment. One of these people is tired of sitting on the couch and ready to jump back into the fray. School drop-offs, grocery shopping, errands running, and manuscript writing! Bring it on! Rawr! The other person is tired, stifled, and uninspired after a week of painkillers, painkiller detox, crappy sleep, and routine disruption.

To be honest, I’m never sure what to do at this point in recovery, because I always end up here eventually. There always comes a time when I’m functional enough to do most of my jobs, but so out of it after a weird week off that it all seems overwhelming and impossible. My life has revolved around ice packs and med schedules for the last seven days, now all of a sudden I’m supposed to go back to running things? How?

It doesn’t help that one of my children, who shall remain nameless, woke me up at 5 AM this morning, a scant hour after I went back to sleep after a 3 AM Tylenol dose. I think I got four-ish hours of sleep. Boo.

So this is an honest view of recovery. I can only sleep on one side because of the stitches on the outside of my leg, I’m still waking up to take Tylenol in the middle of the night, I find making toast overwhelming, and driving in the car makes my knee ache. My brain is stuffed full of cotton and all I want to do is watch TV, but then when I do watch TV all I want to do is want to write.

That said, I need to get back into my routine. One cannot survive indefinitely on The Office reruns and midday naps, and I don’t want to completely lose track of the novel I’m working on.

As for the fact that my next surgery is a lot more invasive and will take me down for a lot longer than this one? La la la! I can’t hear you! Denial is a perfectly valid coping mechanism!

Send chocolate and hugs, you guys.

Pale and Prolific

I just realized that I only blogged twice in August. Apparently that’s who I am, now. I’m just that lady who posts to her blog a few times a year. You know, back in my heyday I posted four times a week. I had A LOT more spare time back then. Seriously, I had, like, no kids and only one book in progress at a time. Simpler days.

Anyway, lest you think I’ve been sitting back on my laurels sunbathing and day drinking the last weeks of summer away, fret not. I’m pale and prolific over here.

I’m thiiiiiiiis close to being finished enough with Bai Treason to send it to my publisher, which is funny because my original goal at the beginning of July was to have it whipped into shape for beta readers by September. Instead, I started a new project and had Bai Treason in my beta readers’ hands at the beginning of August and now I’m just waiting for one last set of notes, having completed everyone else’s notes already.

Say it with me, kids:

As for that new project, I’m calling it Tranquility Land and it’s going REALLY well. Maybe a little too well. I’m 15,000+ words in already and the story is unfurling nicely. It’s actually two stories, staggered with one another, about a present-day daughter taking care of her paranoid elderly mother who suffers from dementia. The first story is told from the daughter’s perspective, the second story is set before the daughter was born and is told from the mother’s perspective.

That’s right. I have two, I say TWO heroines in this book. It’s Bechdel Test-tastic.

And always, the drum beat counting down the days of summer for me this year, is my looming surgery date on September 12. I’m feeling peaceful about it, because I worked my ass off this summer getting my writing projects in line. If all goes well, I have a real shot of finishing the first draft of Tranquility Land before crutches take over my life after surgery number two in October.

I may be a slacker of a blogger, but it’s because I’m RAZING AND CONQUERING MY TO DO LIST.

The Definition of a Successful Author

I was chatting with a fellow author this afternoon and she ¬†told me something that was pretty cool. According to her brother in law, who’s a literary fiction author, the incredible sense of camaraderie and accessibility that’s become one of the hallmarks of the thriller writer community is somewhat of an oddity in the publishing world. He told her the literary fiction world is considerably more cutthroat, and that we should be grateful to be in our genre.

I don’t think this is because of our genre. I think the reason for the ongoing buddy comedy that is most of the author friendships I’ve observed and made here at the conference are only made possible because of the ITW (International Thriller Writers). The organization’s founders specifically built mentorship and service into the mission of the ITW. This has resulted in a vibrant, friendly, and empowering support network.

I’ve attended three ThrillerFest conferences so far, and every single one has been a well-oiled machine. I’ve never felt like there was any sort of separation, implied or overt, between the Big Name Authors and those of us who can count our book sales using a child’s abacus.

Last night, I was invited out to have dinner with some of the presenters from the conference and it was a blast. They were welcoming, gracious, and made me feel like one of the group even though I’d only met one of them before. The most important thing I took away from those conversations (which went on until very late last night) was that no one’s career rises in a straight line. You never know which project of yours will take off, which means you just need to keep moving forward and try not to look back too much.

This morning, I attended a panel discussion featuring authors whose book sales can be measured in the millions. The moderator asked, “What is the definition of a successful author?”

The overwhelming consensus is that a successful author is one who gets it done. Writes a book, gets it out, writes another, gets it out, writes another, etc. No one mentioned sales or reviews. It was all about the writing. Each book you write promotes the books you’ve written before, which means the best thing you can do to sell books is, duh. Write more.

It was exactly what I needed to hear.

Man, I love this conference. I’m going to be sad when it’s over. And then I’m going to sleep. You guys, I’m going to sleep so much.