WCAD is the first novel I’ve written since 2010. Five years is an eternity in writer years. Some writers can crank out twenty books in that time. That represents a whole career worth of books for most other writers. However you measure it, it’s a long time to be away.
It was a learning period for me. Most relevant here, I relearned storytelling on a foundation of “wow, this is good” and “I wish this book wasn’t on my Kindle so I could throw it against a wall” as opposed to the old “you can’t do that” and “you will do it this way or you will send back your advance and starve” school from which I last graduated. I’ve gotten closer than I’ve ever been to writing what I want to write. For the first time since the first time I had a book published (the only previous book I wrote off the leash), I’m not embarrassed by the final product. When I emerge from the mandatory post-release depressive episode, I might go so far as to say I’m proud of WCAD, but I can tell you already, lack of shame is a huge evolutionary leap for me as a writer.
I’ve had a bunch of pseudonyms I could have resurrected, but it won’t do my new writing any favors to be associated with any of that old crap. Reinvention as a writer is the best reason I’ve ever had to adopt a new name, so here we are.
To my melodramatic dismay, “here” is currently staring at a blank slate of a blog.
I’m not new to this blogging thing. I’ve done it because I was contractually obligated to do so. I’ve done it because I was brainwashed that it was a requirement if I wanted to sell any books. I ought to be good at it by now — or at least proficient enough that the thought of doing it doesn’t cause nausea, chest pain, and hives — but the truth is, I don’t enjoy it. I’m kind of a wallflower, and not the kind who secretly yearns to be the belle of the ball. Being invisible grants much more freedom than the unforgiving scrutiny of the spotlight. I know I’ll have a better time hiding out behind the potted palm and spying on the infinitely more fascinating people. I’m too boring to waste words on, but I know all the secrets that play out when people think no one is watching.
It’s my pleasure to tell those tales with names changed to protect the innocent and prevent the guilty from murdering me, embellished as necessary to fill in gaps and dull bits, but I, myself, would be a piss-poor protagonist of even an obituary. It wouldn’t enhance my reputation as a storyteller to natter on about a character with the personality and adventures of a bowl of instant oatmeal, so I’m not going to be the personally sharey kind of blogger.
What else is there?
I’ve heard over and over again: “Don’t talk to readers about writing. They don’t understand, and they don’t care.” During the past five years, another thing I’ve learned is that most things I hear over and over again are wrong, and the frequency and insistence with which they’re repeated is usually proportionate to their wrongness. In a different context — friends, family, coworkers, romantic partners — yeah, it’s probably true that nobody wants to hear a writer ramble incessantly about writing, unless that writer is surrounded by other creative people (and usually not then, either).
But writing is what brings readers and writers together. If anyone is going to be interested in hearing about writing, it will be the readers of that writing. A writer has a better chance of connecting with readers about writing — the fulcrum of the reader-writer relationship — than some random topic like the weather or nail polish or cats. Nobody is coming to this site to get the forecast in my area or because they’re dying to know what color I’ve painted my toenails or to see adorable kitty pictures.
I don’t even have a cat.
What I do have is a book, which I assume brought most of you here (either because you read it and liked it or because you heard of it somewhere and are trying to determine the likelihood that you would like it if you did read it) and intimate knowledge of that subject, so that’s what I’m going to blog about, oft-repeated admonitions be damned. If you’ve read the book, perhaps you’ll be interested in some of the process involved in the making of. If you’re contemplating reading the book, perhaps you’ll be convinced I know what I’m doing more than a lemur smashing its butt into a keyboard for the equivalent of 90,000 words.
Perhaps it will be boring and disillusioning and you’ll fill up the comments with “No, seriously, don’t talk to readers about writing. We don’t want to understand, and we don’t care,” in which case I’ll admit I was wrong and revert to a book-description-with-buy-links site and quit freaking out about what I’m going to say to you.
And I am freaking out. I’ve had more anxiety composing this introductory post than at any point in writing the book, and I’ve revised the post
twice thrice as many times.
Blogging is more like public speaking than writing. Blogging is addressing you directly. There is no “an opinion about the book isn’t a reflection on me as a person” shield. What I say here does reflect on me as a person, and in the absence of being a huge phony — a performance I have neither the energy nor the lack of conscience to maintain — I don’t have as many tools to manipulate your reaction as I do when I’m writing a story. For someone who spends sometimes twenty hours a day micromanaging every infinitesimal nuance of a story universe, lack of control in the real world is cause for freaking out.
Thus, I’m in a big hurry to get off the stage and direct your attention toward the book.
While I was working on the rough draft of WCAD, I was already thinking ahead to what kind of support I would give the finished book. I knew even then I wanted the focus to be on the writing. I’ve seen a lot of writer blogs that come across mostly as tutorials aimed at other writers. As a writer, I’ve benefited from a couple of those resources, but as a reader, I’ve never been compelled to read a book by a generic explanation of technique. I don’t want to be told the writer knows something should be done; I want to be shown that the writer has done what should be done before I invest time and money in a book.
The obvious way to make the craft accessible and relevant to readers is to use what they’ve read (or are considering reading) as proof of concept: “This is what should be done and why. This is how I did it in this story. This is the effect it had on this story.”
I had in mind for most of the writing and all of the revision process explaining some of the behind-the-scenes thinking — why I did this instead of that, where that idea came from, and so forth — which not only aided in the preparation of a fair amount of blog content well in advance but also made me more mindful of the behind-the scenes thinking while I was doing the writing, so instead of going through the book after the fact and apologizing for the million things I’d do differently in hindsight, I made sure, as I was doing the work, I wouldn’t do them differently because you could hit any decision with a hammer and it would stand.
The purpose of the walkthrough is not to explain the story. My editors and I put the necessary effort into making everything about the story clear in the story. When I was going through the manuscript asking myself “What can I say about this part?”, if I thought there was anything in the story that required clarification, I FIXED IT IN THE STORY. If there’s any ambiguity left in the book at this point, I fucked up, it’s too late for explanations now, and I’m not going to point it out and make excuses for it.
Even if the walkthrough of WCAD to follow is mind-numbingly boring to you, doing it was helpful to the book in a way nothing else (editors, critique groups, beta readers) has ever been. Thinking about how to explain my new writing philosophy, such as it is, helped solidify that, too.
So thank you, Blog Reader, even if you scoop up your numb, bored mind and never return, for helping me be more conscious and make sounder decisions early on, leading to much less of a godawful mess to repair later. The story would be diminished if not for your spectre.
If at any time there’s anything in particular you’d like to know, drop it in whatever comments section you’re closest to, and I’ll try to accommodate your request.
The first stretch of the walkthrough will go up next Monday (prepublication, but I’m getting antsy; you can follow along with the excerpt until the real deal is available).