Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Monday in Connecticut

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One of the odd things about writing a book–for me, at least–is that I often get to the point of having to stop before I’m ready to stop there.

Which is a sentence which makes very little sense, I know.

I think the problem is that when I start to write a book, the project feels absolutely impossible.  A book is a really long piece of writing,  so long that part of me can’t imagine anybody really doing it. 

And I know I’ve written a lot of books by now, some of them considerably longer than whatever it is I’m writing now.

It just feels impossible, that’s all.  So, when I start working, I find myself  pushing and strainoing to make sure there is “enough” to make a book. 

Then there comes a day when I suddenly seem to have too much.

This sort of silliness has been exacerbated by two factors–on perennial, the other temporary and recent.

The  perennial one is the fact that I never have any sense if a book is good.

I do know when a book is actively bad. I have no trouble noticing active crap, which is why the book that’s out now, Wanting Sheila Dead, was written twice. 

But if a book is better than that, I just don’t know, and won’t know until I read it myself  after it’s been published.

The more temporary and recent thing is the fact that the last two books I’ve written have been written in periods of great personal crisis.  It’s hard to keep a sharp eye on where you are in the manuscript when your mind keeps wandering to the latest disaster.

And the disasters have effects.  I’m usually at this stage in a novel around the month of April.  Now it’s July, and not only is it too hot to work in my office for whole swaths of the day–my office is a sunroom–but my allergies are going absolutely insane.    Some of those allergies affect my eyes, which means that I’m not only unable to see for the customary reason (I’m blind as a bat), but because my eyes keep tearing up.

I don’t really mean to moan and groan here.  The point of this wasn’t to make a complaint, but to state a fact.

This morning, I realized that I was on the home stretch of this one–a nice, complicated one, small town, lots of odd characters with unpleasant natures, and no social issue more complicated than whether or not small towns should have working police radios.

You think I’m kidding, but a small town near here had a referendum on that very subject–and it lost. 

If you want to commit a crime, there are areas of Middlebury, Connecticut where the cops are just not going to get the call.

But I’ve got calls to make, and I’ve just finished a Christie (Mrs. McGinty’s Dead–Poirot, and a good one) and started on an Erle Stanely Garner Perry Mason (The Case of the One-Eyed Witness–complicated opening, too early to tell), and it’s impossible to sit for much longer in this sun room.

Plus, I have tea.

Written by janeh

July 26th, 2010 at 6:08 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses to 'Monday in Connecticut'

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  1. I always thought that writing something as long as a book was impossible, but I thought that I had that opinion because I’d never written a book. I thought people who actually wrote entire books, lots of them, kind of took the whole procedure in stride. I don’t mean, like some people seem to, that I thought you could knock off a book in a few hours. I mean that, having done it so often, you must surely know that it is possible to write a book! Maybe it even becomes easier to write one, with experience (and barring personal disasters, which would throw anyone off their form).

    Well, except for the well-known cases of writers with writer’s block, of course. But I thought they were the exceptions.

    I can understand the not-knowing if something is good, though. I’m a rotten judge of my own writing, when I did any, and that was nothing more than minor academic papers, reports, etc.


    26 Jul 10 at 11:44 am

  2. I have long wished more writers and speakers would take to heart the desire of Inspector Parker: “Could you not begin at the beginning, go on until you come to the end and then, if possible, stop?” (CLOUDS OF WITNESS, I think.) At all events, firm adherence to that program, together with the legendary Person with the Mallet, whose job it is to stop the artist from fiddling with a completed project, might substantially raise the quality of the arts.

    Mystery writers at least have a built-in end point. (Lois McMaster Bujold once mentioned that by the time she realized what she was doing, she had “overshot” her ending on an early novel by about 100 pages.) You may not be ready for the novel to end, but at least you know when it has.

    But I do ponder the question of density. A Jane Haddam is about half again the thickness of a Stout, a thinnish Christie–she varies more–or a Papazoglou. Yet the mysteries don’t seem to be more complicated. They take place in a richer setting with more characters having interior lives. Is there a way of gauging that going in, or do you just go on to the end and measure the product against a desired word count?

    Good luck with the heat.


    26 Jul 10 at 4:41 pm

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