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Cold Front

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I don’t know why, but I’m really having a lot of trouble getting over this particular novel–no, not getting over the novel, exactly, but getting over the weird physical side effects of writing. 

I have no idea if this is something every writer, or even every writer of fiction, experiences.  When writers get together, they don’t talk a lot about writing.  Money, now, they talk about money.  But.  Ahem.

Anyway, for me, writing a novel is a little like taking speed.  But only a little.  It’s not just that I’m revved up, but that I’m in a brain zone that is very unlike myself in the everyday.  One of the reasons I tend to read only fiction during the time when I’m seriously concentrating on writing fiction is that during that time I have a lot of difficulty focusing on anything else–hell, I have a lot of difficulty focussing on other people’s fiction. 

I’m usually a read-a-big-book kind of person.  I like whole books, and I like them long, fiction and nonfiction both.  When I’m writing, though, I’m either unable to concentrate on any sustained line of thought, or I am able, and my own book is going badly.  So while I write novels, I read short stories or, if I have to have real life, magazine articles.  And I mean short magazine articles.  Anything above, say, twelve hundred words, and my mind wanders.

At the moment, I’m working my way through a Christmas present, called Too Big To Fail, by Andrew Ross Sorkin–an extended (very extended, it’s a long book) look at the meltdown that led to the financial collapse of last year.

And there are some interesting things in it that would remain interesting even if all the money angst didn’t interest me intrinsically.  Some of the people are fascinating as examples of psychological something or the other.  I don’t mean that they’re unusual types, only that in some cases I was surprised at finding some types in some places.

There is, for instance, the acting head of Lehman Brothers, a venerable investment bank and one of the iconic Wall Street brands of my childhood (along with Merrill Lynch, who’s next up in the book)–anyway, I find it difficult to believe that a man could have had a career that long and varied without anybody ever noticing that he was absolutely useless in a crisis.  The guy responded to the implosion of his firm the way my younger son responds to thinking he’s about to get a bad grade–anxiety all over the landscape, unable to shut up, unable to control his impulses to jump in and make things worse, unable to think straight.

A lot of us are like that.  It’s not an unusual trait.  I just can’t believe somebody who is like that ended up heading one of the largest and most important investment banks in the world. 

But although that kind of thing is interesting in itself, and although I’m interested in the general subject matter of the book, I find I’m having a hard time keeping my mind on it when I’m reading.  I wander off into the kind of thinking I usually only indulge in when I have nothing else to think about–having mental fights with people that are better than the ones I actually had because now I know what I wish I said; calculating the bills for the next month; singing country songs I vaguely heard once a couple of months ago and thought I had successfully gotten out of my head.

Sometimes this sort of thing happens because the book I’ve been writing managed to create a world I’d rather live in than the one I live in now.  That was not the case in this book, although a lot of it takes place on Cavanaugh Street.  Things on Cavanaugh Street are moving in a few new directions, and I was laying the foundations for that.

Maybe it’s just a matter of this last push at the end having been so heavy-duty and so panicked.  I do think the book I just handed in is infinitely superior to what the book was when I first handed it in.  I also tend to pace myself with writing, because I don’t like panics.  Maybe it’s that I know I have a few corrections to do–although, next to the fourteen page editorial letter my editor sent me about the original version, the few changes he wants in this one are chocolate cake.

Maybe I should take Robert’s advice and do a little more self-promotion.  He hadn’t realized I wrote short stories, and I actually write a lot of them, although they’re not much like the books I write.   They tend to be both incredibly dark and incredibly bloody. 

But I always feel uncomfortable with blogs that are all about a write pushing his latest thing in print–look here!  I wrote this book!  Buy this book!  This book is good!

Maybe it’s just that I always feel uncomfortable with self-promotion.  I also tend not to get out into public much.  You pretty much have to drag me kicking and screaming. 

Every once in a while, my favorite reality show obsession, America’s Next Top Model, has a thing where the girls are asked who most deserves to win the competition, or who has the most potential, and all but one of them picks herself.  Then the one that doesn’t gets lectured by the judges on how wrong it was for her to pick somebody else.

But if it were me, I’d pick somebody else–because ingrained in the back of my head is the idea that it’s just rude to vote for yourself right out there in public like that.

I’ll admit I have the same feeling about people who vote for themselves in private, like when they’re running for things, but I do recognize that that’s a little odd.

Written by janeh

January 28th, 2010 at 8:04 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response to 'Cold Front'

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  1. Please no, not on the blog! Yes, I know exactly the sort of writer who describes everything in terms of his or her own writing. I could name names. Sadly, Appin Dungannon was not exagerated.

    But it’s helpful if the reader who picks up a novel and enjoys it can go to the author’s web site and find out what else is available. That’s especially true with uncollected short stories or non-fiction articles in magazines. A simple list saying, effectively “this is what I have written, and here is where it can be found” points the reader in the right directions.

    For a professional writer, you have an unusually broad range of interests not related to selling books, and I would not for the world change that. But a list of publications on your web site might sell more books without taking up an inordinate amount of time. Think of it as courtesy rather than self-promotion.

    Side note: it’s one of the reasons I’ve always loved the writing of H. Beam Piper. Some of his characters have the unusual degree of detachment which lets them say “those people are every bit as good as ours” of another organization. That sort of intellectual honesty should be encouraged. But posting a bibliography is a statement of fact, not a boast.


    28 Jan 10 at 6:17 pm

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