Tuesday, August 28, 2012

What Lucy taught me about writing


It’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep -- again. My story is a giant hairball in my brain but it’s more than that. I am obsessing about the world of publishing and my little place within it. There is so much uncertainty in our business right now. Bookstores are closing, advances are shrinking, publishers are paring their lists, and we are all groping for something to grab onto as the eBook earthquake rumbles beneath our feet.

I retreat to the sofa, remote in hand, searching for something to quiet the questions in my head.

Have I used up all my good plot ideas?
Is it too late to switch to erotica?
Should I take out a loan to go to Thrillerfest?
How did that hack get a movie option?
What should I write about for my first Kill Zone blog?
Did I remember to feed the dogs?

In the darkness, the ceiling shimmers with fifty-seven channels of nothing on. Then, suddenly, there she is -- Lucy Ricardo. My muse, my all, my Ambien.

Before I know it, eight episodes have passed and the sky is lightening with a new day. I have an epiphany! Everything I need to know about surviving in publishing today can be learned from “I Love Lucy.”

Speed it up!

When Lucy needed to make money she went to work in a chocolate factory but found out it wasn't easy keeping up. Time was we could get by doing one book a year. Not anymore. Maybe we can blame James Patterson who is fond of comparing novels to real estate -- i.e., the only thing that matters is how much room your books take up on the shelf (real or virtual). But the eBook age has accelerated the metabolism of publishing and many of us are pulling extra shifts, churning out novellas, short stories and even an extra book a year. (Lee Child just put out his second Reacher story “Deep Down” and I'm working on a novella prequel to our March 1012 Louis Kincaid book HEART OF ICE). Lisa Scottoline in this New York Times article, calls it “feeding the maw.”  What I call it can't be printed here. Sigh. But I get it.

Reinvent yourself!

What did the artistically thwarted Lucy do when she wanted to be in the movie “Bitter Grapes?” She went to a vineyard and became Italian. Is your series on life support? Are you in midlist limbo? Maybe you just need a change of identity. If you write dark, try light. Leave your amateur sleuth and write a standalone thriller. Got the “bad numbers at B&N blues”? Adopt a pen name and start over. Or. . .go over to the dark side. I know, we aren't supposed to like this eBook thing. But it has given new life to some authors, like my friend Christine Kling who put out Circle of Bones when no publisher would. It's the Wild West and if you want to be a pony soldier you gotta mount up!

Make friends!

When Ricky and the Mertzes forgot her birthday, Lucy joined the Friends of the Friendless. ("We are friends of the friendless, yes we are! We are here for the downtrodden and we sober up the sodden!”). Truth is, publishers aren’t putting out anymore (publicity-wise). So we writers just need to get ourselves out there more! No, a pretty website isn’t enough. Now you need to be on Facebook, Quora, Writertopia, Writers CafĂ©, MySpace, Tumblr, Foursquare, Goodreads, Shelfari, Fictionaut, Broadcastr. You need to Tweet even if you’re a twit with nothing to say. Oh, and when you have couple free moments, post something on your blog and what do you mean you don’t have a book trailer on YouTube? It’s all about buzz, Bucky. Or is that branding? I don’t know...

I need a nap. Or maybe a glass of good Sancerre. Probably both. All this advice about what we should be doing to sell ourselves and our books. And you know whose voice I keep hearing? Neil Nyren. He's the president of Penguin-Putnam books and a friend of mine. (Yeah, I'm namedropping.) At SleuthFest one year, Neil said, "all the time you're doing that other stuff you could be writing a better book."  I need to remember that.

That and what happened to Lucy. She tried too hard and ended up too sick to eat chocolate and dyed too blue to get in the movie. I think it's time for a new muse. Maybe Wonder Woman is available.

19 comments:

  1. Great post, PJ and welcome, glad to see you here.

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  2. A fine debut here at TKZ, PJ. The opposite of Lucy's first venture into commercials via Vitameatavegamin.

    Welcome aboard.

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  3. Omg, I love this. You 'splained it well, Lucy. I've been up since 3:00am without a TV in my bedroom, but I totally embrace your Lucy-ology. Thanks for the insights. You jumpstarted my day. Now, where's my coffee?

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  4. Hi Kris!

    I like what Neil said. It seems everything has become one big commercial these days (or as they would have said in Lucy's time, one big "brief message"), and we know what people do when there's too many commercials: change the channel. Or at least try to mentally tune them out. It all becomes background noise after a while, with everyone vying for everyone else's attention. The best advertising for your books are your books, so it only makes sense to spend the bulk of your time writing new ones.

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  5. Welcome, Kris!I love the comparison between succeeding in publishing and one of the nation's most cherished icons.

    Looking forward to HEART OF ICE and that prequel as well!

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  6. You got lots of 'splaining to do, Lucy. Great post, Kris. Welcome to TKZ and sharing your witty and timely advice for us all.

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  7. Enjoyed the "Lucy" article! Thanks.

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  8. So glad to see you are blogging again. I've missed your voice in the blogosphere. You've always got something to say that jumpstarts my thinking about this crazy world we work in - and now I know where it comes from. Where's my TV guide? Lucy! I'm home!

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  9. Kris,
    After fourteen years of being your writing partner, sister and friend, your talent never ceases to amaze me. xoxo

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  10. Thanx guys! I am proud to be with the Zoners. (sounds like something vaguely young). Next time I will figure out how to NOT shout. (ie use smaller type).

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  11. I spent 2 a.m. watching the progress of Isaac the Terrible on The Weather Channel--Lucy would've been a much better choice! So glad to have you as a fellow Zoner, Kris! Welcome!

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  12. Howdy PJ and welcome aboard. You hit the nail on the head. As a workaholic at heart I realized a while back that I need to focus on writing instead of constant screaming from the tree tops. Find one or two places to get the word out regularly, a few more that you can do bursts of data irregularly, and maybe a conference (or two) a year, but make sure to spend most of the time writing. In the long run it all works out.

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  13. Basil,
    You got it. I just spent an hour updating my Facebook "presence." I feel very in the moment now. :)

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  14. Great post. Very upbeat! Like my horse, you're obviously outstanding in your field.

    "We haven't had such spirit here, since 1969." Or since the two Johns left.

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  15. Welcome aboard! I've never been a Lucy watcher - growing up in Australia probably did it:) But having had two nights of broken sleep I see I definitely need some 'Lucification therapy' (sounds evil doesn't it!)

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  16. I never set out to be a writer. It was never the end-all dream. But when I started writing (and ashout-out to Kris and Kelly for telling me my manuscript had promise and to keep working), I fell in love with the writing. At a recent MWA University, Reed Farrel Coleman said, "Fall in love with WRITING, not with what you've written. He also said there's no such thing as 'wasted' writing, so no matter how much you think you've put nothing but crap on the page, it's still learning. You learn by doing, not by thinking about doing. (And, in a nutshell, I've just given you my own blog/recap of his session which will be on my blog on Thursday!)

    Great post, Kris, and I just might have to deal with the white font on the black background to read more here.

    Terry
    Terry's Place

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  17. Great advice from Reed, Terry. He is so right. It is sometimes hard to remember somethingg so simple and true amid all the noise.

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  18. Yeah, I need Wonder Woman too after reading your post. All of what you say is so true! Welcome to the KZ!

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  19. "It's the Wild West and if you want to be a pony soldier you gotta mount up!" Love that description, PJ. It is mind bending to try and keep up with everything and I've only written three books. YEAH! I'VE WRITTEN THREE BOOKS! I have a day job on top of the writing contract and feel just like Lucy did in that candy factory.

    I don't think I could do more than one book a year without ending up in Bedlam. That reminds me, I loved your novel, An Unquiet Grave. Awesome. Glad you'll be sharing your wisdom here. Look forward to it.
    Jill

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