Last night I read a few of my short stories from Night at the Demontorium. I read Bedring, Sparky’s First Day, and He Dreams in Yellow. The first two I wrote over 10 years ago. They’re so well written, so diverse, so original. I know that sounds conceited; but hold on, I have a point. And the point is that I should have been writing the whole time since. Who knows where my writing career would be by now if I’d made writing my primary focus? I lacked self confidence and let statistics about publishing scare me away. I spent ten years moving, flailing in relationships, and getting technical training and a Master’s degree. I don’t regret the education, especially since my firm’s tuition assistance program paid for it 100%. That and professional memberships are helpful on the day job front. But writing is my single talent. I can draw, but it’s nothing compared to writing. I was born to it. And I should do it constantly for the rest of my life. Going the whole month of May without writing (while The Bad Death is with beta readers) feels unsettling. I’ve been devoting my weekdays to marketing; but starting June 1, I’m writing every weekday, even if I have to quit six hours into a work day for marketing. That’s why successful self-published authors like JA Konrath hire out all other tasks; they know their job is the writing.
This month I’ve been thinking a lot about the next book in my series, House of the Apparently Dead. I think before the Greeley girls leave Charleston …oh wait, I should tell you who the Greeleys are. My series is set in 18th century South Carolina. The Greeleys are rich sisters who freed their slaves. They’re modeled after the Grimké sisters, two rich Charleston ladies who really were abolitionists and who eventually left the South under a cloud of unpopularity brought on by their condemnation of slavery. So in House of the Apparently Dead, the Greeleys will parcel up their plantation and deed it all away before shaking the dust off their feet on the way out. They will leave their mansion and immediate property to Charlotte, Julian Mouret’s sister. In The Bad Death, Charlotte is cossetted by her family as the fragile flower they believe her to be. But in House of the Apparently Dead, she suffers dreadfully and the Greeleys’ gift could be her salvation. There, that’s all I’ll tell you for now. No spoilers. I see the three books in my series as more than historical versions of the urban fantasy genre. I see them as carrying on the thing Jane Austen and Charles Dickens did so nicely — multiple character plotlines. Austen’s novels were about families. So, even though Pride and Prejudice is primarily a romance between Lizzie and Mr. Darcy, there were also Jane/Mr. Bingley, Lydia/Mr. Whickam, and Charlotte/Mr. Collins subplots, like vines running alongside the main plant. And Dickens — think of Bleak House, for one. Yes, there’s Esther. But there’s also Gentleman George and his estrangement from his mother and his loyalty to his ruined friend, Nemo. His inner conflict over these people lands him in jail. And there are the orphaned wards of Jarndyce who fall in love, but the boy is ruined by greed and ambition and lack of purpose. Then there’s poor Lady Dedlock, with her lost love for Nemo and her secret, illegitimate child. No wonder Dickens was a phenomenal success! Who can resist the longing within the hearts of these characters? And because each plotline holds not only its own conflict but conflicts with and propels the other plotlines, we’re hooked into the story and can’t let go until the end. So, in writing House of the Apparently Dead and the third novel (as yet untitled), I must find ways to interconnect the subplots so they conflict with and stir the others. It’s like a giant web. If you pluck a strand on the far upper edge, it causes all the other strands to move in reaction. How to make that happen? Well, that will come from God. I know that sounds conceited; but hold on. I’m just acknowledging that the talent isn’t really mine. So I must ask for an idea, and once given the idea, ask for guidance to do right by it. I’m a channel for the creative force that made me out of dust and gave me breath. The same is true for you.
What talent were you given? Have you been distracted from it? Did you play an instrument? Get it out of the guest room closet and dust it off. Did you paint? Find your brushes and start again. Don’t be afraid. Just start again. If you write, keep writing. Birds sing every day. Why not you?
After four months of sabbatical, I turned The Bad Death over to beta readers who will keep it through May. Since May 1, I’ve contacted professional editors and am reviewing their sample edits to the first 10 pages of my novel in order to choose who I’ll work with. I created a spreadsheet of 35 book bloggers who might be interested in reviewing The Bad Death and I’m drafting my marketing plan. Wondering what beta readers will think, how extensive my revisions may be, and how responsive and positive book bloggers may (or may not) be has got me tense. I’m surprised to be stressed out. I thought a year off from the day job would be all cake and lollipops. But no. You’d think the minuscule sabbatical budget would be the nail biter, but that’s holding up pretty well. It’s ‘am I good enough?’ angst. Part of this is just my temperament. But I also know I’ve become someone with only one topic of conversation. I need to get out more.
So Saturday, I met my friend DeAnna for drinks and a movie. It was nice to have a couple of vodka tonics at the Oar House bar, which is open to the air and Bayou Chico, and just chat about anything. Then we went to see The Great Gatsby. Baz Luhrmann’s version of the classic is spectacular. 3D made every scene look iconic (even the credits were framed in 3D Art Deco designs). Leo gave Gatsby animal magnetism, which I think is an improvement over Robert Redford’s portrayal in the 70s version and even over the Gatsby of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Luhrmann and Carey Mulligan give Daisy more credit for depth and self awareness than the character deserved. Tobey McGuire, with his bug eyes, looked too impressed with wealth and with Gatsby. The novel’s Nick Carraway is a comfortable, droll observer. He has the sturdy character for which Midwesterners are known. In the novel, he moves with ease through West and East Eggs, the ash world between them, and the city beyond. A bold departure from its predecessors is that this version is extremely homoerotic, which makes good financial sense in this bi-curious era but which I found distracting. At one point, Gatsby even puts his hand on Nick’s thigh. One more kibbitz…I won’t give you a spoiler, but there’s a scene where Gatsby does something straight out of Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane. You’ll know it when it happens. I’d see the movie again. I recommend the 3D showing, as that technology actually contributes to the point of Luhrmann’s production. The emotional heart of the story is more poignant for the exaggerated setting. For fun, here’s the film trailer for the 1926 version of The Great Gatsby.
I’m so glad I got out of the house like a real human being.