Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Taking Stock and Paying Dividends

How often do you step back and take stock of where you are in your writing life and where you want to go? Is this a New Year’s only thing, or do you do it more often? 

From Jim

Filling in for Catriona this week. Returning her favor from last week when she was celebrating the launch of her latest Last Ditch mystery featuring Lexy Campbell, SCOT & SODA. Here I am enjoying Catriona’s magnum opus with my highbrow, bookish face. Actually, I should be laughing in this photo. The book is hilarious!

Okay, now that I’ve settled the ill-advised wager I made with her about how to pronounce her own name, I’ll move on to this week’s topic.

We all spend a lot of time thinking about our writing careers, how to promote better, hone our skills, or find that great “high-concept” idea that is a sure winner. But do we make resolutions to accomplish those goals? I don’t know about others, but I do it to some degree when I start a new book. I resolve to write something different, if only to change the structure, the solution, or the setting. But that’s nothing unusual.

At the beginning of this year, I took stock of my career and decided I needed to do something I’d been thinking about for a while: write something new. I have no intention of abandoning my Ellie Stone books, at least not until I’ve exhausted all the possible Stone titles. But I’ve resolved to write a thriller of sorts. Not a techno thriller, a psychological thriller, or even a domestic thriller. I’d be behind the curve if I did, chasing a bus that’s long since driven away. Rather, I am writing a book in a more traditional vein. An old-fashioned thriller that leaves the super tough/smart guys to those who are good at writing that kind of thing. The same for the unreliable narrators and drunks on trains. I enjoy those books but don’t feel I could write a good one. 

So, yes, I’m writing a throwback. Stranger in a strange land. Expats in exotic locales, set in the mid-seventies. Regular folks caught up in irregular activities. But no microfilm or super villains. Bad guys, of course, just not the of the evil genius variety.

Last year, in 2018, I decided to write some short stories for the first time in thirty-five years. It wasn’t exactly a resolution, but more of an idea that came to me when Eric Beetner asked me contribute a story to the UNLOADED 2 anthology (Down & Out Books). All profits go to promote sensible and reasoned debate on guns in America. The result was “Pan Paniscus,” a cautionary tale about racism, privilege, the value we give to some lives but not others, and a young bonobo named Bingo who’s escaped from the zoo.

I also wrote a story, “Who Is Stuart Bridge?” for Mysti Berry’s labor of love, LOW DOWN DIRTY VOTE. This volume was also for a good cause: fighting voter suppression. All proceeds go to the ACLU.

Next up was good pal Brian Thornton’s brainchild DIE BEHIND THE WHEEL—due out June 24, 2019 from Down & Out Books—a crime fiction anthology inspired by the music of Steely Dan. My contribution was “Who Killed Harley Quinn?” You’ll have to read it to figure out which Steely Dan song inspired me.

And, finally, I was fortunate enough to land a story, “A Bed of Roses,” in Strand magazine. And my name is on the cover!

So I learned that taking stock and making resolutions can be a great motivator and send your writing to places you never thought you’d reach.This year I resolve to write that thriller


Dietrich Kalteis said...

Good post, Jim. I look forward to reading the thriller you're working on.

James W. Ziskin said...

Thanks, Dietrich! Me too!

Susan C Shea said...

I had no idea you were so prolific as a short story writer. Impressive. You’re not the only author with a successful series who wants to try something different, to flex your writing muscles and venture into new territory. Can’t wait to read the result.

Cathy Ace said... the sound of the new direction. Enjoy!