Sunday, December 3, 2017

What If?

For Dec 3

Today Terry Shames answers the question: If you knew anything you wrote would be published and successful, what would you write?

I always figured I’d write the great American novel, so if you had asked me this when I was in my twenties, that would have been the answer.  But when I actually started writing, everything I wrote turned into a mystery. Even my very first book, a science fiction book about aliens was really a mystery in sci-fi clothing. (This particular book has never again seen the light of day, so we’ll say no more about it.) After a while I realized that mysteries are clearly what I intended to write, so there was no sense in changing it.

That’s the short answer. The long answer is more complicated. I thought the first mystery I wrote would be published and highly successful. I really did think that, especially after it was snapped up by the first agent I queried. Lest you think I threw a bunch of words on the page and flung it out there, the book had been rewritten at least ten times, including the protagonist morphing from female journalist to female amateur detective….to a male cop. How’s that for editing! Alas, the agent was unable to find a home for it. By the time he told me it was a no-go, I had written a second book and decided to start fresh with a new agent. Exactly the same thing happened. This time with a very well known agent. And it continued to happen with two more books—each time with a seasoned veteran of an agent, each time with a rejection.

With every new book I thought, “Of course it’s going to be published and successful!” It took years of rejection and going back to the drawing board, to finally begin a series that took hold. That was my Samuel Craddock series.I feel as if in that sense, I have written books that are published and successful.

So I think I need to take the question one step farther: what would I write if I knew I would not just be published and successful, but wildly successful. Girl on a Train successful. Successful like Sue Grafton, Craig Johnson, Tana French, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Susan Shea (okay, I slipped that one in to see if you were paying attention). To think of the answer to the question I need to think about the kind of book I would want to write. So many choices, so little time—thriller, police procedural, historic, foreign intrigue, caper, humorous, adventure, private eye….whew!

The answer is that every book I write I hope will be wildly successful. I don’t start a book thinking, “Gee I hope this book bumbles along and has a few readers.” I think, “This is great idea! What fun! I’m sure it’s going to be a huge success.” Then reality intervenes. At about 10,000 words my thought process is something along the lines of, “Maybe this is a mistake. I’m not sure this idea will work.” 20,000 words: “What was I thinking? This is going nowhere!” 30,000 words: “You can’t throw all these words away. Try to think of something to make it work. ANYTHING.” 40,000 words: “EEEEEEEKKK! Help!.” 50,000: “Just write the book.” 60,000: “Just finish the damn book!” 70,000: “Surely the edits will fix it.” Eventually I get to the editing stage, the first stage of which is, “What a hot mess!”

And then it goes through an amazing metamorphosis. Editing gets done, the book gets turned in to my publisher, it gets a good going over by my editor, my copyeditor, my proofreader. Final verdict: “Hey, this is okay! I think it’s going to be wildly successful!”  So I guess my final answer is, what would I write if I knew it was going to be published and wildly successful? Exactly what I do write!

And here’s the cover of my next book, which comes out January 9—the book I think is going to be wildly successful:



Susan C Shea said...

So I was paying attention but I'm not sure I'm laughing at being the obvious not wildly successful author added for a laugh! I,too, have dreams...We all have dreams and ambitions. It's why we keep working at getting better at what we do, right?

Terry said...

Oh, I thought long and hard about that but thought a few things: 1) you are a realist, and neither of us is as wildly successful as we would like to be, nor as successful as the others in that list, 2) you would laugh anyway, 3) any mention is good! (I started to mention Danny Gardner, but figured I needed another woman on the list, and finally 4) IT COULD HAPPEN--and then you'll look back and snicker at me.

Tarra Thomas Writing As T.T. Thomas said...

Well, I'd be OK if you used my name instead of Susan's! LOL...but yeah, we all must be related by some obscure piece of DNA 'cause obviously we all think alike. We relate, we don't wanna relate! We love our ideas, we hate our execution of them--until we love them again. We're brilliant, we suck. We're tough, we're puddles. I write historical romance, for the lesbian crowd but all others who like a good story, so, just my luck, my genre chose me, and most of the lesbians seems to adore contemporary! I research long, hard hours, spend long, hard hours writing, self-publish with ALL the latest tools (Vellum, Scrivener, iMac), and still, crazy low sales. But these are the books I would write if I knew that what I would write would be a wild success. OK, so did I just prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I'm crazy? LOL...go ahead, use my name any time!

Terry said...

Tarra, you make my point perfectly. We write what is ours to write and hope for the best!

Cherie O'Boyle said...

And this is what I love about both Terry and her books: completely unpretentious. With Terry, you always get exactly what you see. So refreshing! I, too, hope the new one is a runaway bestseller!