Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Guest Post: Cody McFadyen, Author of The Darker Side

I recently started making the rounds of the various conventions and author gatherings that are available for thriller writers. This has included speaking on panels, doing the occasional interview, but most importantly, meeting other authors.

What did I find? That I should have been doing all of this from the start.

Writing is not, by default, a social activity. It’s not a team sport. There are aspects of writing that can’t be done without others, of course. My family puts up with me when I’m writing; they’re patient with my distance, my distraction, and my general inaccessibility. My agent gives me encouragement when I’m drowning in self-doubt about the current project, helps talk me away from the ledge, so to speak. My editors take what I give them and then make me turn it into the best book it can be.

But the day to day act of sitting down and making the words appear? That’s just you and you and no one else. For me, it is a doubt-fueled activity that goes something like this (starting with a Monday): I wake up and I realize that it’s a new week, and that it’s now time to start writing again. I think about this for some time. Maybe an hour. The dread builds. I have a cup of coffee, and I read (but do not answer) my email. I read three or four news sites, to make sure I’m up on world events. I have another cup of coffee. I think, again, about writing. I feel pretty sure that the writing I did last week sucks, bad. I consider going back to fix the writing I did last week, but decide that I’m using that as an excuse to not do new writing. I go and check the Amazon rankings on my previously published books and wonder what I’m going to do to make a living when this job goes belly-up. I finally sit down in my easy-chair with my laptop. I stare at the page for a while, and then I begin to type. The first few sentences are like pulling teeth. I consider that, in this moment, I’d almost rather be set on fire than write. I force myself to continue. Somewhere in there, the ball gets rolling, and for a few hours, there is no effort, everything is easy, and I enjoy myself, doing this, like nothing else there is.

Then, I break for lunch. I relax, watch some TV, get out of the groove. I return to my office no longer in ‘the zone’ and the morning process begins again. And this is pretty much how it goes, day to day, until the current novel is complete. Once the novel is finished, I give myself a day or two to wallow in self-doubt, to contemplate just how bad it’s going to be for my career when it comes out and everyone finally sees what a fraud I am. Then I dive into the rewrites, and that’s usually where I start to entertain the possibility that I don’t completely suck. I might be able to continue fooling everyone on this whole writing thing. I see my own weaknesses during a rewrite, but I also see my own strengths. I fix things, polish things, and get to a point where I feel I’ve written the best book I can. I send it off to my agent, who reassures me that I won’t be a laughing stock when I show it to my editor. I do, finally and with great trepidation, send it to my editor. I sit on pins and needles, waiting to be told that I have, at last, written a real stinker. I wait for that call to come, the one that will be filled with long, uncomfortable pauses, silences where my editor is searching for ways to break it to me gently that the book will have to be re-written from scratch.

Instead, of course, I get a collection of notes (sometimes more, sometimes less) written in a concise, insightful, and helpful manner, that point out to me different ways the book could become better. My relief is palpable. I’m able to start sleeping again. I fix the book, we go back and forth on it, and finally get to the point where everyone agrees it’s ready to be released to the public… and that’s another story entirely. I give myself a few weeks, or a few months, and then it’s time to start the next book.

What is the point of all this, particularly in relation to my opening statement? Writing is a solitary act. For that reason, it’s far, far too easy to become disconnected from the reality of publishing, which is anything but solitary. It can all seem so cerebral, something that happens in an internal universe and no other. That’s why you have to get out there, right from the start. Meet other authors, meet the critics, and most important - meet the readers. They don’t even have to be your readers. That’s not important in the beginning. But get out there and make the connection between your days and nights of madness and that end-point-reality of your book in someone’s hands.

It will open your eyes, I promise you. I made the mistake of being a little too ivory-tower at the beginning of my career. Not from snobbishness, but because I was intimidated. I didn’t really feel that I belonged. I should have gotten over it, and I’m glad, now, that I finally have.

Because I found out one key thing, an encouragement that it all boils down to: everyone is waiting for a next good book to read. People are reading reviews and searching bookstores and coming to these conventions because they love to read and are on the hunt for more. They’re not out there looking for reasons to hate what you write – they’re out there hoping you’re going to give them something good. It’s a subtle difference in emphasis, but it was the world to me.

I’m just wrapping up my fourth book. My third novel, The Darker Side, will be out by the time anyone reads this. I write thrillers that I put a lot of myself into – maybe too much, sometimes. I’m not sure I know any more about writing than I did when I started, but realizing the above, that people are out there hoping for a good book, has helped me immeasurably. It’s encouraged me in some of my basic approaches to writing: do what feels right, leave it all on the table with every book, finish every story you start. For any writers out there reading this who need their own encouragement, think about that. Focus on the truth that more people want you to write a good book than want you to fail.

I’m headed back to the easy chair now; it’s revision time.

Thanks, Cody for a fantastic guest post! You're right, we are so happy with a good book! As soon as we finish one, we need another one. Good thing there are so many great writers out there, we would be lost without you! I'm just grateful that there are people willing to put themselves through the pain of publishing a book so that we can enjoy it.

My review will be up on October 22, my date for review on the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tour.


Cheryl said...

Excellent post! I am going to put a link up to it at The Aspiring Author blog--which you'll find here:

Best of luck with your tour Cody! And one day (hopefully soon), when my "to be reviewed" pile dwindles to one or two books, I am definitely going to invest in one of your good books.

All my best,


Anonymous said...

Wow, interesting post, Cody! Thank you, Carey, for hosting him on his virtual book tour in October! If you'd like to follow his tour, his next stop will be at A Book Blogger's Diary where we will see what Rashmi thought of his book...can't wait. I'm having a blast!

Tracee said...

This is one of my favorite authors of this year! Can't wait to read his next book!

Lenore Appelhans said...

I read Shadow Man a while back and am looking forward to your new one.

Lisa said...

What a great post - I plan to share it with some aspiring authors I know.

>Writing is not, by default, a social activity.

Neither is reading, but boy oh boy are we readers social people! It's always good to meet the folks who enjoy what you do.

Anonymous said...

I am so excited about this book. It sounds wonderful and this post makes me even more interested. Thanks so much for posting this!

Thoughts from an Evil Overlord

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About Me

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New Hampshire, United States
Bibliophile, Anglophile, Traveller... I have been an avid reader all of my life, since I took the Dr. Seuss Dictionary away from my Mom when I was less than a year old because I wanted to read it myself. In college, where I earned my degree in English Literature, I was often asked "What are you going to do with it?" Now I finally have the answer to that question!!! Being employed as a Flight Attendant for twenty years has given me a lot of life experience and, better still, a lot of time to read. I love to travel for fun, too.