Tuesday, May 25, 2010

If I win the lottery...

... I seriously hope not to end up like Hurley on Lost... (Great show by the way - I must bid it goodbye)

Actually there's not much I can say that would be any different from what Rebecca and CJ said. So I'm going to go a little off topic here . To some extent I honestly felt like I won the lottery the day my agent said we've come to an agreement with Random House.

It's not like it was a million dollar contract or anything but it meant two things: 1 - Apparently I wasn't crazy to think I could be a writer, and 2 - I now had the JOB - I'd always wanted. They say do what you love and the money will follow - here's to hoping "they" are right.

So, for me, the question is not what would you do after winning the lottery, but what DID you do after winning the lottery?

Assuming there are some readers of this blog who are not YET published and wonder what happens once you do get signed - here's how it went for me.

Agent: Hey - we got a deal. Congratulations.

Me: Awesome - now what?

Agent: They're going to get back to us with a contract and notes for the re-write on the manuscript.

I'll tell you this- it couldn't have been more than a month before I saw that contract - but it felt like 7 years in purgatory. (Is that another Lost reference - who knows for sure.)
So the contract arrives - just like she said it would and then my Editor and I discussed the manuscript. Here's the part I want you to be prepared for. This work you have slaved and toiled an polished for years is probably going to need some augmentation. Maybe even - Pamela Anderson type of augmentation. Its weird - they love it - they just you paid you a bunch of money for it - but they need you to make a bunch of changes.


So you do it, and after all the work - you look at the new book - and like Pamela Anderson - its now really ready for prime time. (To our female readers - just think of the transformation Brad Pitt underwent from Cool World to Troy) - that's what they want you to do with your book.

And they're right - in one sense, there is no such thing as good enough - but in the publishing reality there is a moment when the curtain has to go up, and they want your work to be stunning when the lights go on.

Dive in with everything you have. If your editors are like mine you will find their insight to be annoyingly brilliant. So get in there and buff and polish and re-write until you're just making changes for the sake of making changes - that's when you know its done.

So now your editors REALLY love it. They send it off to production and you pat yourself on the back and get ready for a long vacation with this lottery money and they remind you that, by the way, you have a proposal for book two due in a few weeks.


No problem, you say. I'm ready to conquer new mountains. Only thing is - you go to start writing and you draw a blank. I don't mean a writers block blank, you can still compose great scenes and witty dialogue. I'm talking about a - "How the hell did I do this the first time", kind of blank.
I think I figured out where this feeling comes from - because I certainly didn't remember it happening the first time around. But the truth is most of us live with that first book for three or four years before even going after an agent. And even though I wrote other stuff in the mean time, this was the one. Now, having to come up with another ONE, I can't honestly recall working on something that was not fully fleshed out already. I might be taking huge sections out and adding blocks here and there but the frame has been in place for a long time.

So you stare at the blank page, pen or pencil in hand (I always start long hand - because doodling actually helps my brain to work.) But this time you keep staring and you wonder. Having thoughts like - what is the sound on one synapse firing? (I don't know because none of them are.) And if a book fell in the woods - and no one was there to scan it - would I get a commission off that sale?

But finally, you start to write the first scene. "It's a first draft" you tell your self (not remembering what the first draft of the first book looked like because you've been working on what was basically a completed book for at least two years now.) And somehow you get it done.

Scene two - or chapter two - is just as painful. EXCEPT - it actually gives you a tiny little idea of how to amp scene one up just a bit. - You scribble furiously.

Chapter three - enter the villain - How do I avoid making this guy Dark Helmut from Space Balls???? Not sure - but if he is motivated in a certain way - it ties in with the hero's motivation later on and now you've got some synergy.

And suddenly it's like a freight train picking up steam - except I think they are all diesel powered now - but you get the point. And your typing and thinking and scribbling notes as you drive because you don't want to forget that amazing idea that just popped into your head - the one that will put some serious mojo on the cross mojinization of the whole shag-adelic creation.

And suddenly you wonder why it took you all those years to get that first one done to begin with.

So this is what I've learned about winning the lottery - there is no winning - you earn it, even after you've "won" it, you have to keep earning it every day. But that's okay, those are good odds. A lot better than you'll get on the powerball. They work for me.

Graham Brown is the author of Black Rain, a thriller combining the search for Cold Fusion with the creation legend of the Mayan people. Black Sun, his second book comes out in August and is available for pre-order now. He thinks if you like the TV show LOST - you will like these novels. He is currently alone in his office, working on his third book and pressing a button every 108 minutes.


Shane Gericke said...

Shagadelic post, crimefighter!

No. 2 was difficult for you to get into? I sympathize--my first flowed like the proverbial river. Second, not so much. At least till I hit the straight tracks a quarter way through ... then it picked up diesel steam.

You're well on your way to being mayor of Mojorifficville, my friend.

Graham Brown said...

Gracias my friend - I actually think the second book was easier to write overall - but starting it was such a different experiance than the first one, which was done - as they say - at our leisure.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks for showing us what happens behind the curtain,Graham! My first book took 23 months to come out, so I had plenty of time to write the second and other stuff besides. It drove me nuts at the time, but I think it did help me avoid the second book pressure. The third book went OK too, but I don't know about the fourth one. We'll see.

That's part of the joy of being a writer: you can fail at any time! (I think this is why nobody lets me give pep talks).

Kelli Stanley said...

Thanks, G-Man, for reminding us why we got into this mess, er--lottery--to begin with. ;)

Awesome post!!

And you know that second book pressure?

I'm checking it off my "to-do" list as we speak! ;)

Graham Brown said...

Becky - in addition to writing - you may have a future as a motivational speaker. :)

Kelli - as long as we're not in the mess - er lottery - alone.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Thanks for this post. Very helpful to me. It's good to know what to expect. No one ever seems to talk about this part, at least not in such good detail.

I know what you mean about living with your first novel. I'm beginning to talk like my mc, calling women chicks and babes. I don't even notice it, until people start laughing.

Liked the Pamela Anderson analogy!

Graham Brown said...

Terry - sorry for the late reply - You can call people chichk and babe all you want around me. As for the learnig curve - I find its weird being the novice when you're used to (thinking) you know everything.

Gabi said...

Dark Helmet from Space Balls was a memorable villain. I don't think we ought to be dissin' him.

How does such a half full glass guy write dark and twisty? You're a paradox.