Thursday, May 17, 2012

Things I've Forgotten To Say

Over the past little while, there have been things I've forgotten to say or include in posts. Frequently, this has to do with getting interrupted while I'm writing and losing whatever I was thinking about. Probably, most of these things were of no great import, but, sometimes, they are.

One of the things I forgot was supposed to go into my A to Z posts. When my wife brought this to my attention, I was already past where it would have logically fit within the letters, so I had planned to work it in at another spot. But I forgot. And, then, I was going to work it in at the end, but I forgot. And, then, I was going to put it into my reflections post, but I saw that article about the bionic eyes and got all excited about that, and, guess what, I forgot. This is why when I go to the grocery store only needing three things, I come back with only two of them. Actually, often that's because of the "Can I haves" from my daughter. Having to say "no" 30 times during a 15 minute trip into the store can make you forget anything.

But I digress...

Every year at Christmas, we watch Scrooged. That may be my wife's favorite movie. I'm sure that's not what she would say, but we've seen that more than anything else my wife would claim as her favorite, so I'm just declaring it her favorite. So! My wife's favorite movie is Scrooged, and we watch that every year at Christmas. [Aren't you glad we got that all cleared up? Boy, I am!]

In the movie there's this bit where the out-of-touch president of the TV station is telling Bill Murray's character that they need to have television for cats and dogs. They also need to work things into regular programming to get those same cats and dogs hooked on TV. You know, like a detective show where the cop dangles a piece of string as his "thing." This whole thing, to put into a modern perspective, is meant to show how ludicrous and absurd the 1% can be with their time and money. This guy was into cats, so he wanted television for his cats, and, since he owned the TV station, he was gonna make that happen. No matter how stupid the idea.

And, see, that's the thing: it is a stupid idea.

It's a stupid idea that has, now, become a reality. I give you DogTV! Seriously. I don't care how much science has been put into it, and they claim there has been a lot of science put into it, it's insane. I mean, I love my dog (you remember her, right?),
I even let her lick my face (was that too much?), but she's a dog! Dogs are supposed to lick faces. They are not supposed to watch TV. If dogs were supposed to watch TV, they would have grown thumbs and invented it for themselves. Heck, we did invent TV, and I don't even think we should be watching it. Which is why we just get static on ours.

Anyway... just another example of fiction being turned into reality. Even if it is a dumb one.

The other big thing I meant to mention is something that leads into something else. Not that it was supposed to, originally, but it's going to now.

I just did a review on A Thread of Grace and, really, Mary Doria Russel in general. Okay, really, it was about The Sparrow, which I'm still looking for so that I can re-read it (and that's a big deal as some of you may have picked up), but I didn't just read that one. The Sparrow, aside from winning a bunch of awards (like the Arthur C. Clarke Award), was Russel's first novel. Yes, it was her first novel. I don't mean first published, just her first.

Modern, conventional wisdom tells us that first novels are no good. First novels are for practice. First novels are to get your foot in the door and all that other... stuff that they say. Modern, conventional wisdom is often just wrong. Say it with me: it's wrong!

I'm not saying that that means that a first novel is one's best novel, I'm just saying that, often, the first is the best. Orson Welles knew it. He made Citizen Kane and said everything he did after that would be downhill. He wasn't wrong. In fact, some people have written just the one and stopped. But the one was great. Gone With the Wind. To Kill a Mockingbird (and Harper Lee was somewhat pressured to write more books, but she refused, because she knew she could never surpass the one she did write). And, even though Richard Adams has continued to write, he's never done anything better than Watership Down.

Okay, what I'm really saying is that you shouldn't listen too hard to what "conventional wisdom" tells you. Conventional wisdom is not, usually, wisdom; usually, it's just dumb things people say to each other to make each other feel better. What I am saying is that you should believe in yourself and your work and do the best you can.

Don't listen to agents. Don't listen to publishers. Don't listen to your crit partners. Only you know the story you want to write. No one else, just you. You work on it, mold it, smash it, cut it, build it, believe in it, until you, only you, after having read it 20 times or 45 times or however many times that you've read it until you're sick of it, can read it and say, "Hey, I like this. This is good. I would read this." When you have something that you would read, that you would flip through at the bookstore and think, "hey, this sounds interesting," that you would pick up and buy, well... don't worry about the rest.

You want to know a secret? Agents don't know. Publishers don't even know. Heck, the public doesn't even know. You just do the best you can. You figure out what you want, what you need, from writing, and you work toward that. Sure, I know for a lot of you that means the validation of being traditionally published, so that means working with agents and publishers and jumping through hoops and all of that, but like I said way back in this post, you have to figure out what you want. If what you want doesn't require traditional publishing, then don't go that route (really, go back and read that post (you can even still comment on it, if you want to) if you want the full discussion).

>steps off of soapbox< (who put that there, anyway?)

Look, all I'm trying to say is don't let people get you down by telling you things that aren't necessarily true. Things like "it's only your first novel, so it can't be any good." Go look at a list of first novels by many famous authors (or only novels), and you'll often find that those first novels stand out among their work. You'll find just as many who had awful first novels and kept getting better and better. Just don't think that because it's your first it can't be any good.

Personally, I like my first novel, The House on the Corner (which I reviewed here). It's good. I've read it... many times, now, and I still enjoy it (and I had a whole class of 6th graders (and the teacher) laughing during chapter 19 this morning). But it's not The Sparrow, or Neormancer, or Citizen Kane (although it has been compared with The Sorcerer's Stone by more than one person), and I hope I get better. In fact, I plan to.

I suppose what all of this boils down to is this:
Believe in yourself.
Not in any New Age way or belief that believing in yourself will bring you everything you could hope for. It won't. Don't let anyone fool you. However, believing in yourself, that you can do it, is the only way that you will keep working at it. No one else can give that to you, but plenty of people can take it away. If you let them. So don't. Believe in yourself, believe that you can make it happen, work to make that come true.


  1. I think the misnomer about the "first novel" is a lot of times it's not really the first. I have no idea what my "first novel" would have been because it was probably something I wrote back in 7th Grade. Most writers I'm sure have quite a few things in their proverbial drawer before their "first" novel ever gets published.

    I do think on the balance the first novel is not the best. There are some tremendous first novels but usually it takes a writer some seasoning to be able to get it just right.

  2. My first novel is in the trash bin somewhere (or occupying a landfill). Yeah I seriously tossed it. Slipstream is actually the fifth novel of my career. Kudos though to anyone that gets it right first time out of the box.

  3. This was a rousing post. I want to write all the books and stories now!

    Agreed, there's your first novel and then there's your first novel. I wrote my first when I was sixteen, on a typewriter in the spare room of my parents' house which I turned into my study. Years later I found some of the pages and read them and you know what? They were not bad. I thought, gee, I could have kept going with this.

    In the past few years, I've started and in some cases completed novel manuscripts that just didn't feel right. Last year, I got a complete draft that I can work with. This time, I think I'll keep going.

    Also, your dog? Oh wow your dog is so cute. She's killing me. Buy her all the TVs and some treats immediately.

  4. I think how good a first novel is depends on how much time the writer is willing to put into it. First drafts usually leave a lot to be desired, whether it's the first book or the twenty-first, but proper editing can polish that lump of coal into a diamond. Or so I hope. I've been polishing the crap out of my book for a looooong time.

    Oh, and one of my son's dogs is addicted to television. No kidding. I never saw anything like it before. He actually reacts to what's happening on the program he's watching. AND can turn the TV on by himself, too. (Hasn't figured out how to use the remote yet, though.)

  5. First, I know I don't need to point this out, but you get easily distracted. :P

    Second, you're so right! I'm totally not following convention at the moment. I wrote a novel. Loved it. Didn't immediately find an agent for it (quite after 16 queries), so I decided what the heck, I'm going to write a trilogy. So, I'm working on my second novel in the trilogy, only it's really the first one in the order of things. It's confusing, but I get it. When I'm done, I hope others get it as well. We'll see. But, yeah, agents and publishers are really just guessing at stuff, and half the time they get it wrong.

  6. I've got half a dozen novels under my belt. Well, I have half a dozen drafts of assorted novels under my belt. I enjoy reading about Brandon Sanderson's rise to publication. The guy had written something like 13 novels before one of them got picked up and then it was several years before he actually began a novel knowing it was going to be published upon completion. It just seemed funny to me.

  7. Okay, I know what you're talking about--I think. At least I have my interpretation of what you're saying based on my point of view. That's part of the first book thing. If a writer's written more than one book some readers may think the first one is the best and others may prefer another book. It's all opinion.

    As far as the writers who stop at one book, maybe they've told the story they wanted to tell and don't want to talk about it any more. Then again maybe there's some kind of failure fear at play--they don't want to have to top themselves or they fear judgement of not meeting expectations. I'm sure there are a ton of variations to the first book story and many different interpretations.

    The authors I admire and won't be unhappy if I follow suit are the ones who write a less than stellar book first and follow it up with a bunch of similar stuff and they make a ton of money doing it. Yeah, I'm mercenary, but I've got bills to pay and travel I want to do.

    An A to Z Co-Host
    Tossing It Out

  8. I think more people should tell you what their first novels ACTUALLY WERE. That would be a heck of a blogfest.

    The first (complete) novel I ever wrote was called "Finding Elvis." I wrote it back in 1993-1994. It was about a guy who decides to go to Graceland because he really wants to find his dad but doesn't want to admit it to himself. Then he goes to find his dad anyway and is kind of disappointed when he does.

    I wrote it for a contest and then it lost, and eventually I tossed out the manuscript. Now I kind of wish I'd kept it.

    I like YOUR first novel a lot. "House..." is a great book. If you get any better as a writer, the words will need to be written in electric ink. (Electric Ink, Inc. is patent-pending. All rights reserved.)

  9. Grumpy: I don't think that's true. The Sparrow was Russel's first novel. Neuromancer was Gibson's first. In fact, he wrote on request. Watership Down was Adams first. From a story he told his daughters on a car trip and they bugged him to write. Speaking of Adamses, Hitchiker was Douglas' first. And, unless he's mirepresented things, CassaStar was Mr. Ninja Alex' first, and that's an Amazon best seller. Sure, some people write a lot of novels before they get one out there, but some people don't.

    Michael: I don't believe in the trash. heh

    Elizabeth: Yeah, I want to write them all, too. At least, all the ones in my head. Right now. That's why I need clones!

    My dog is SO cute. She's like the cutest thing ever. Even cuter than the 10-week old puppy next door, and it takes a lot to out cute a puppy.

    Susan: And that is why we DON'T need dogtv! It's bad enough that people are addicted; can you imagine having to get a TV set for the dog because it won't let you watch the show you want to watch?

    L.G.: Me? Easily distracted? Pfft! I don't know what you're talking about!
    And the guessing is what bothers me. Not that they're guessing but that they try to represent it as other than guessing.

    Rusty: Is that comfortable, keeping all of those manuscripts under your belt? Maybe that's what's causing the weight problem you used to mention... Butcher wrote 3 Dresden books before he got picked up; I believe he'd only written one novel before that. Of course, all three Dresden books made the cut.

    Lee: There was certainly some amount of fear on the part of Harper Lee. She said she would never write a better book, so she just wasn't going to try. Some of them, though, I think only had the one story.

    Briane: Man, your thing with Elvis really does go back, doesn't it? But it sounds like a good story. Sort of U2 and Rattle and Hum.

    That's a cool idea for blogfest, too. I'll be emailing you...

    And I'm glad you like my first, but I do hope I get better. Actually, I can't wait for you to see the sequel. heh heh
    Electric ink sounds fun... just don't put your tongue on it!

  10. Well I did say "a lot of".

    BTW, you can read a lot of my earlier stories on my archives site:

  11. I agree - the "first" novel often isn't anywhere near the first. So yes nothing is that simple. And I think we can be driven crazy by trying to listen to common wisdom because it almost always contradicts itself. Just follow the passion. Even if it doesn't work, I'd rather live following the passion than live trying to fit someone else's idea.

  12. Grumpy: True, you did. And most people probably do have several failed attempts and false starts before the get a "first" novel.

    Pish: I'm all for not living someone else's ideas.

  13. Wonderful advice! Believing in oneself is something we should all be able to do, but yet so few can.

    Shannon at The Warrior Muse, road tripping through the #atozchallenge participants!

  14. My dogs are fond of watching the local animal shelter show...

    I rather enjoyed your soapbox speech. You should give more of them.

  15. Aww, I LOVE your doggie. So cute.

    I think liking the debut novel of a writer is all up to the reader. I love to read Stephen King but his first novels are my favorites--I think.

    I know!! "Believe in yourself" is the best advice. I might add that no one (except your mom and your dog) will never believe in you more than yourself. So don't let others tear you down, because they don't care. Well they don't care that much. :)


  16. We both still want an agent, but with that said, we agree with you 100%. For us, it's finding the right agent for us, not just finding any agent. Hell, take the same novel to 20 different agents and you'll get 20 completely different opinions. Just because an agent doesn't like it or doesn't think they can sell it, it doesn't mean that no one else will or can.

  17. AHEM! I was promised a big announcement today. Don't make me sic Rusty's Chartreuse Ocelot on you.

  18. Shannon: It's so much harder than it sounds.

    M.J.: More of them? I'm always worried I give too many as it is!

    Teresa: She is! I think she knows it, too. Even her annoying behaviors are so cute we can't be upset about them.

    You know, I'm not sure my mom ever believed in me, but my kids did, so that works for me!

    ABftS: You know, I don't want an agent enough to sift through all the agent crap to find one. At this point, I'll have to have one approach me, and we all know how likely that is to happen!

    Briane: It's up! It's up!