I’m up early again this morning, something in the neighborhood of 4:30 a.m. That’s been happening a lot to me, lately. But then, a lot has been going on in the world. Or maybe a lot hasn’t been going on depending on how you look at it.
I don’t really want to talk about that, mostly for fear I will devolve into an emotional screed about my various disappointments with institutions, collective psychology, and even the self-imposed layers of what we mostly think of as “reality.”
Today I woke up thinking about the release of my third full-length novel, Throwing Off Sparks, which happens tomorrow, May 12, 2020. In a lot of ways I wish we could have put that release off, as many corporate publishers have done in light of recent events.
Conferences were cancelled. Readings postponed. Book release parties, one of the few celebrations writers actually get, cancelled. Disappointment has mounted, and it has not always been pretty.
Alas, postponement could not be done. For reasons of budget, mostly.
Such is the nature of independent publishing. I can’t imagine a lot of bookstores are stocking up on new titles at the moment. I can imagine a lot of people are reading. Maybe both are figments of my imagination, I don’t know.
This is my third novel in three years. Half the time it feels like I’m playing a concert in the woods alone, the other half I still have the feeling I might be able to pay my bills doing this someday. Right now, if I could split that difference I’d consider it a rousing success.
The sun’s starting to rise outside my office window. I’m surrounded in here by most of my favorite things. Bikes hanging on the wall. Shelves full of books. My jiu-jitsu belts on a rack by the door, almost 13 years worth of hard work. A constant reminder that each of my goals is a lifelong undertaking. That it takes patience to succeed. I’ve never been a patient person. I’m learning. The curve is steep.
I’ve worked hard this year on the P.I. Tales concept. I’ll work even harder as we begin to put work out beyond my own writing, because that’s my nature. I feel pressure not to let others down way beyond any pressure I feel to succeed personally.
I’ve been writing up a storm in the quarantine. A few thousand words into the second Riley Reeves novel. Almost sixty thousand into the first Rick Malone novel, which will be complete by the end of June. Almost finished with my installment of A Grifter’s Song, Rocky Mountain Lie, an opportunity I cannot thank fellow crime writer Frank Zafiro enough for inviting me into.
And I’ve got ideas for several thrillers at the top of my pile that would be another total shift in my writing focus. I realize it may well be years before I can get to writing them. If I know me, I’ll lose the zeal for them long before that. But I hope not.
Anyway, publication day. That’s what I came here to write about. Now that I’m in front of the computer I’m just sort of letting my mind wander.
2020 has been an incredibly busy year. Throwing Off Sparks is a very good book. A great book. At least, I think so. I’ve had some great reviews so far. And one rough review that I thought was a bit unfair, though opinions can be like that. People will project their own issues onto your work by default. Their own biases. Their own politics. Their own religion, jargon, agenda, and feelings.
And they should. Reading is a deeply personal and intimate affair. Readers become co-creators with the writers they read. Sometimes they just don’t fit in that partnership. I respect them for telling me the truth when that happens.
I’ve learned to mostly accept the criticism without taking it as a complete condemnation of who I am as a person. I will admit that it stings to put yourself out there creatively and roll with the inevitable punches. I hope readers and reviewers at least recognize how much courage it takes to release a novel, or any creative project, into the world. That the high from a dozen good bits of feedback can crash into the ocean of one bad review.
Most writers have put decades into their craft. Many of us have made a shockingly low amount of money for the work. It takes tremendous vision and drive to keep going when it feels like you are playing for an audience of one. TREMENDOUS.
I will admit, I do not understand what separates the successful from the mid-to-low listers. It does not appear to be talent or drive, though they probably factor in somewhere. In many ways, it appears to be a combination of timing, skill, luck, and social climbing. Most of us are terrible at gathering all these pieces together.
I am not a good schmoozer. I am bipolar. I am obsessed with saying what I feel. I can be abrasive when conviction kicks in. I have almost no capacity for group thought, and absolutely no capacity for using others to get what I want. I have made peace with this over the last year. I am a difficult person, but I do very little harm in the world. I try in my investigative work to set whatever problems right that I can manage. That is good enough for me. Other opinions need not apply.
I often wish that work were as meaningful as the work of the detectives I write about. It’s a strange feeling to want to live the lives of people you created. Their lives, the things they do, come from me, and yet I do not come from them. They are not my experiences, not really. I live with them for years at a time, walk through every inch of their sorrow and success and struggle with them. Spend hundreds of hours with them before the world ever knows they exist in the first place.
But somehow they are separate from me. They’re people I love who I will never meet and who will never exist outside of pages drawn from my mind. They live in a world I will never inhabit. That world is much simpler to set right than the one I walk through in the construct we’ve collectively chosen to agree upon as reality.
I’m rambling again. I’m supposed to be promoting my book here, something else I realize I do not have a great capacity for much of the time.
My world has gotten smaller this year. I’ve spent more time with my creations and less time with society at large. Other than books and television, of course. Those are and will remain my lifeblood. People tell incredible stories, stories I wake up thinking about as much as I do my own.
I think that Throwing Off Sparks tells an incredible story. I will be telling many more from Riley’s perspective. And also Rick’s. They are two of my best friends, and I know they will come to an end one day, so I want to enjoy this fleeting chance to walk in their shoes. To intertwine them in my own life, too.
That’s one of the greatest secrets writers hoard. We get to help entire universes come to life. Worlds sprung up from inside us but not of us, a bizarre collaboration with the universe I can only describe as a compulsion. Those compulsive worlds become a part of our real lives, too. It is unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced.
If I did this for rewards, or wealth, I would have quit a long time ago. Most of the people I started this journey with already have. It may be that they know when to hedge their bets and move on. I have never known when to stop digging. A lot of people will verify that if you ask.
I hope you’ll grab a shovel full of dirt to help me out tomorrow by picking up a copy of Throwing Off Sparks. I’m proud of the book, and I’m proud of my friend, Riley Reeves. I cannot promise a smooth ride through the novel. I can, however, almost guarantee you’ll feel a compulsion to keep reading to the end. That same compulsion kept me writing to the end, too. As Hunter Thompson once said, buy the ticket, take the ride.