Sunday, May 13, 2018

In Its Spell

© by Gerald So | 4:00 a.m.

This past Thursday, three college friends and I attended the Mysterious Bookshop double-signing and conversation between Ace Atkins and Alex Segura. It was the last day of Ace's tour for this year's Spenser continuation, Robert B. Parker's Old Black Magic, and Alex's second tour date for his fourth Pete Fernandez P.I. novel, Blackout.

Among many things I admire about Ace and Alex is their reporters' approach to writing. For reporters there's no time to wait for inspiration. Stories must be filed on deadline or you'll probably be fired, so you must always be in some stage of writing, ready to kick into high gear when it's called for.

Also, someone in the audience asked if Ace or Alex read others' fiction while they're writing. Ace said yes. Because he's always writing, he can't let that keep him from reading.

These answers resonated with me because I'd spent the past two weeks working day and night, getting little sleep in between, on an idea that goes back to a 1995 aborted novel.

I've reworked the partial novel since November 2016, trying to get at the core story I wanted to tell with its characters and present it as a short but complete story. I last thought the story was ready to submit two months ago. Formatting it for its latest market led to a more significant revision than I saw coming.

I knew everything I wanted the story to do; I'd enthusiastically put writing the story before all else; but, the work was still frustrating. The action in my mind's eye wasn't showing as vividly on the page. I could only revise, revise, revise until it did. Saturday morning finally it did, and I submitted.

Specific markets and deadlines motivate me, but I also know I can't simply use another writer's process. If it takes me a month to write as many words as someone else might write in a day, that's the way I work. As I discover how I work best, I can tell you, but you still have to find your best working conditions and tap into them.

When I had my book signed, I told Ace I thought I was adding significantly to my story, only to see a lower word count. "The same thing happens to me sometimes," he said, "and it never gets easier."

This story definitely hasn't been easy, but I can't say it hasn't been fun. It's shown me that having a specific idea to work on, no matter how frustrating the work may be, no matter where the idea leads, is another thing that keeps me going.

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