Wednesday, August 1, 2012

A Quarter-Million Words Later

I started to write The Last Ballot Cast in mid-February and finished writing it in mid-July. It came in at 942 manuscript pages. I cut that down to 912 pages. Took me five months. Didn't take a day off. I'm still tired, but I'm happy. Except for the damn typos that sharp-eyed readers find after three proofreaders missed them.

To be fair, there are usually five proofreaders for my books, but surgery and summer school knocked two out of the box. C'est la vie.

For me, writing is a solo effort. I don't collaborate. Can't imagine sharing the creation and execution of story. That said, I have a whole lot of help. My wife, Catherine, is the first reader and editor of everything I write. It's my great good fortune that she likes my stuff. It would be awfully tough for her to put in all the hours she does to bring my work to the reading public if she didn't like the material.

Let that be a lesson to all young prospective writers: Make sure you marry someone who likes what you do. If your would-be spouse isn't a fan, you probably want to keep looking.

Other than marrying well, it also helps to cultivate interesting friendships. In the first Jim McGill book, The President's Henchman, I introduce a new martial art called Dark Alley. It's pretty much an anything goes form of fighting given structure and discipline. Not long after I came up with the idea, I met Jim Sullivan who teaches the near equivalent of Dark Alley. His discipline falls under the heading of Natural Spirit International. He's helped me to develop McGill's ongoing adventures in close-quarters combat. If you're looking for a highly functional form of self-defense, Google Jim's mentor, Datu Kelly Worden.

Susan McIntyre was my medical reference person for TLBC. She knows just about every awful thing that can afflict the human body. She probably has half the doctors in AMA in her database. If she doesn't know something off-hand, she can always make a call.

People like this are good to know when you're doing research. Their knowledge lends an air of plausibility to your writing. On the other hand, I'm not writing text books. So when the mood takes me I exercise the favorite device of all writers — literary license — and shamelessly ignore reality.

But back to McGill. TLBC, Parts 1&2, conclude the first term of the McGill series. Employing another literary technique, circularity, the villain from The President's Henchman, Dr. Damon Todd, returns to threaten McGill again. This raises the question: What do you do with an SOB who didn't learn his lesson the first time? McGill is a character with a moral center. Shedding blood unnecessarily is not his thing. But neither is letting some jerk kill him or someone he loves. Forcing a character to make a tough choice is the best way to show who he is.

In order not to fall into a formulaic rut with McGill or any other recurring character I write, I have to make sure they grow, age, evolve. McGill, facing the near loss of his son, changes his ways and decides to teach all his children the vicious art of Dark Alley. Patti not only changes political parties, she makes a daring choice of a new vice president. Sweetie, after decades of celibacy, gets married. Welborn and Kira become new parents. Leo and Deke leave government service to join McGill in the private sector. As all that happens, a new face takes over the Secret Service's White House detail.

Readers don't want to see any of their favorite characters disappear, much less die, but it would be an awful mistake for a writer simply to leave them marching in place. So be forewarned, there will be more changes in future McGill books.

Regarding politics: These are political thrillers. Inevitably, they will reflect my political views. Some reader-reviewers have taken me to task for expressing liberal views. They seem to think the genre is the exclusive property of the far right. Guess again. My political views are eclectic. I'm liberal on social issues; I'm conservative on balancing the budget and paying down the national debt — but I believe the best way to do those things is to tax the rich and end welfare for the wealthy.

It's like Willie Sutton said about robbing banks: "That's where the money is."

Meeting reader expectations: Intentionally leaving a number of things hanging at the end of The K Street Killer, I felt a certain sense of obligation to resolve those situations without delay in TLBC. So I worked harder than I ever have before — and harder than I ever intend to work again. It's very flattering to have readers want your next book as soon as they finish the previous one, but after a while it gets trying. "Are we there yet, are we there?"

Patience, dear reader. All things in good time.

Regarding writing and making money: I write to honor my muse and serve the story. If I do my best, I trust that my work will find a paying audience. So it really irks me when some nitwit thinks I make a writing choice simply to serve financial purposes. That's not to say that I don't want to make money from my novels. Of course, I do. The more money I make, the more novels I must be selling. The more novels I sell, the more people must be having a good time reading them. It's a virtuous circle.

But so many writers work so hard for so long with so little reward, that it honestly pisses me off when some jerk thinks I'm trying to screw him out of a lousy $3.99. I mention that only because it happened to me recently. What a dick that guy was.

To end (almost) on a brighter note, nothing makes me happier in my professional life than to know I've made a reader happy. If you noticed the dedication to Part 1: TLBC, you saw that I acknowledged those of you who've read my books and written to me to share your feelings. Thank you.

Oh, yeah. The Friends of Jim McGill Facebook page can use more friends. Get some conversations going there with your fellow readers, will you?  Here's the link for The Friends of Jim McGill.

1 comment:

  1. You're not quite Jim McGill, but you are a pretty cool guy. Just started reading part 1 of The Last Ballot Cast and I'm hooked again. 912 pages shouldn't take all the long to read so we sure hope you are working on the next one.

    Seriously, thanks. We appreciate you.