My book has grown up and left home. Yesterday, I sent the "first pass" pages of Flickers back to my publisher. This is the last time I will see the book before it's published (April 26th, 2016 fyi). And yes, it's like sending your kid off to college. I won't be around to remind him to comb his hair or eat all of his green beans. Or to point out that he has a dangling modifier on his chin. It's too late to adjust his character. Or remind him to be a bit more dramatic and not so wordy. Yes, I'll get his Aunt Copy Editor to check in on him. But otherwise, he's going out into the world. He's become his own man. Oh, the people he'll meet. Some might toss him aside. Others ignore him. But all I can hope is that he finds at least one good home to stay in. Or two. Well, actually, now that I think of it ten thousand or a hundred thousand homes would be okay, too. Anyway, the next time I see him he'll be all grown up. I hope I recognize him. And I do hope he doesn't try to move back in again...
There is a specific part of the brain that remembers names. I don't recall where it is exactly. Or where I got that information from. But I think it's called the embarrassebellum. Because I can never remember names. This is especially problematic since I live in a world where people use names to identify themselves. And yes, I've tried the tricks. I met one of the fathers at my daughter's school and thought, I'll remember his name because it's the same name as my cousin. But...I have several male cousins. Every time I see him I think: Is it Bill? Mark? Jim? Kirk? Michael? Oh, no. The problem is when I'm introduced to someone a horrible loud fuzzy noise fills my ears so that I hear, "Arthur I'd like you to meet BZZZZZZZZZZ and GZZZZZZZZZ." "Great to meet you. How many z's is that in your name?" Or, even worse, is when the social situation calls upon me to introduce people to each other. For example, let's say I'm at a bookstore talking to someone I've known for years and another person I've known for years walks up. This situation demands that I introduce these two people. I will suddenly feel as if a spotlight has been lasered down on my position and a Bond-villain voice whispers, "You are standing on a trapdoor and if you mess up this introduction you will fall into a tank of author-eating sharks. HA HA HA." I wipe the sweat beading on my forehead and turn to these people I've known for years and say, "Umm. What'syourname I'd like you to meet Whathisname. You have a lot in common. You both have names. And I can't remember either of them."
Gah! Bring on the sharks.
Dante's Inferno has a special circle of Hell called the author's signing table. It's a place where people have braved hail, wind, rain or meteorites to attend your book launch then paid good money for your book and are now lined up to get your signature on that book and all those people in the line up have names. I tell you they all have names.
"And who would you like me to sign the book to?" I ask the man I've known since high school.
"To me, please."
"Oh, and how do you spell your name again?"
"Really? It's Bob. Don't forget the second B."
It's time to hire a full time name whisperer. Or maybe, just maybe, there's an app for that.
Anyway, pleased to meet you. I hope to remember your name.
I love this book and I want to marry it. Okay, that's how my six year old has taught me to express my feelings. But this really is a wonderful novel. Science fiction that is poetic, thought-provoking, gentle and at times perfectly action-packed. Oh, and there are moments of absolute horror. The premise is that an artificial intelligence has taken over the world and to prevent war is has gathered together the children of the world leaders and if a country goes to war then the children from the warring countries are executed. The book is told from the point of view of one of those children. And to top it all off, the book is mostly set in Saskatchewan. Bonus points for that.
Sometimes being creative is not all it's cracked up to be. Often if I'm meeting someone new at a party or in line at the police station or at the supermarket the conversation invariably turns to: "What do you do for a living?" My answer: "I write books." If I'm not met with stunned silence (or even confusion) I will often get the next statement: "That must be so much fun!" And it is fun. Creating characters and wrapping stories around those characters has been my dream since I was sixteen. And since the age of thirty I've been living that dream (eighteen years and counting of living off my creativity). So, all things being equal, I have no right to complain.
And yet... And yet... Yes, there is a pure joy to creating a book. Most of that joy is at the very beginning when you get that first idea for a novel (Something I call ohmygodofchoicethisisanamazingidea euphoria). The joy returns again about a year or two later when you are holding the book in your hands. In-between is the actual process of writing. The endless research. The first draft. The second draft. The third draft. And fourth. The first public viewing for the editor. The edit letter that appears in a sheet of flame and burns your mistakes into your eyeballs. And so on. That is all part of the grunt work of writing and though it is not always joyful, I do enjoy it (if that makes any sense). I like the challenge.
But the pressure comes from different levels of the creative process. Can I solve this plot problem that I've created in the novel? Can I make this character more realistic? This situation? And those "small" questions lead to larger questions like does the book suck? And, if it doesn't, am I doing anything new with this book? Is it better than my last book? Have I improved as a storyteller? And, finally, will the book be a success?
That last one is important. Obviously you want your book to do the best it can. To find its place. Both in the minds of readers, but also it's great if the book finds a proper financial place. Success also means that it will earn back its advance and make more money so that more writing can be done. Often people get upset when we talk about artists and money as if the idea of cash being paid should never come into the creative equation. But, and this may surprise some people, writers need to eat. To drink. To see the latest Star Wars movie.
There is also the pressure of picking the right idea for the right reasons. I have a multitude of projects that are waiting in my "idea" bin but am constantly asking myself which one will both be pleasing to my creative side and commercial enough to add to the bank balance. Last year I released a graphic novel called Modo: Ember's End. It was a continuation of my The Hunchback Assignments series as a comic book. I chose to use crowdfunding to create the book because I wanted to test how this "new" way of getting ideas to paper worked. And on nearly every level the book was a success. Artistically, I was pleased with the story but especially pleased with Christopher Steininger's artwork (we had been talking about doing a graphic novel together for nearly ten years, so we finally fulfilled that dream). We raised over 20,000 dollars on Kickstarter and Indiegogo and received a $10,000 grant from Creative Saskatchewan. So again, the book was a success financially. Over 1000 copies have been sold around the world (we were/are hoping to find a publisher to do the softcover version, but so far have not been successful). The problem is that by the time all of the expenses were tallied (artwork, printing, shipping) my take of that money was around $4000. My best guesstimate at the time spent on the project is six months (that includes learning how to crowdfund, doing promotion, packaging, writing the script, etc.). Now in six months I can usually write a few drafts of a novel and could, in theory, make about ten times that amount for the book. So did I make the right choice to create the graphic novel? Artistically, yes. But my kid takes piano lessons and gym and...well you get the picture.
I don't have a list of five things to take the pressure off of you creatively (and I don't think pieces like this always need to come down to a fix). These words you've just read are an admission. And commiseration with those experiencing similar pressure in their lives (be it creative or otherwise).
And a chance to let off a little steam. Thanks for that.
Ah, this book had me at hello. That is...if hello means space adventure. I grew up reading Heinlein and Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and still love to expand my mind with the latest science fiction. But I just haven't seen enough of this type of writing for younger audiences. Well MINRS by Kevin Sylvester fills that void. Or space. Or black hole. A wonderful sense of action, science that's interesting (yet doesn't slow down the plot) and a great variety of characters. The characters are the children of miners who work on Perses, a planetoid that earth is mining. Just the whole idea of living on (and inside) a planetoid is interesting enough but then the bombs begin to fall from space and... ...anyway I don't want to give away too much. Just hold onto your space helmets. It's a wild ride...