I did a talk and book signing last weekend at a charity event, and the organizers had five of my eight novels available for sale. During the signing, readers would scan the available titles and inevitably pose this question to me: “Which of these books is your favorite?” Sure, I get it, someone who’s never read my stuff wants to buy the book I love the most. Were I in their place, I’d want to know the same thing.
What readers don’t know is most novelists HATE all their books. This fact, inevitably, makes for an awkward conversation.
Which of these is your favorite?
Well, they pretty much all fucking suck, so take your pick.
<<blinks>> Aren’t you a bestselling author?
Yeah, go figure.
<<pauses, looks on with concern>> Well, they can’t be THAT bad.
That’s the attitude that put the Nazis in power.
Good lord. <<slinks away, no sale>>
Sure, okay, that’s slightly exaggerated. But the truth remains: every book is a relationship that runs its course.
It always starts off strong. There’s the idea for the book, or maybe even just an opening scene. I’ll get excited just thinking about it. And then I write that first scene and BAM, I’m in love. I think of all the possibilities. The places we’ll go together. All I want to do is spend time writing, discovering, unearthing a new world, with new characters, finding inspiration in the littlest of things.
This honeymoon stage lasts, oh, probably 100 or 150 pages. And then doubt starts to creep in. What if this isn’t the one? What do you mean I have to work hard at this relationship? This existential struggle continues for another 150 pages or so, and then a true sense of despise takes over. Okay, I’ve put in all this effort, and you’re still not giving me what I want. You’re not as special as you once were, and sometimes you don’t even make sense at all. I’m not sure how this is going to end, but it’s gonna be bad.
It’s difficult to escape the loathing that’s pervasive about 80% into that first draft. I’ve spent so much time on it I no longer have any perspective if the book is good or not, and my default sense is it stinks. And this is when I start to get the *faintest* inkling for a new book, a tiny seed of an idea planted that slowly, day by day, grows into a mild obsession. Suddenly all I want is to be with my new book and have nothing to do with my current one. But I can’t just break things off. I have to finish what I started, get the necessary closure.
So I write the ending, and usually this is when the spark comes back. A sense of you might be the one after all. But it’s too late, and by the time that last sentence is written, there might even be a tear or two. It’s over. It’s all over, and time to move on. Time to fall in love again with something new.
And then the cruelest of all things happen. Right in the middle of the honeymoon phase with the next book, my editor sends me notes on the last manuscript. This means I need to spend two or three months rethinking a relationship that’s ended. Do you know how difficult it is to work to make something better after you’ve already moved on? It’s like going back to marriage counseling after the divorce has been finalized.
So this is why novelists hate their books. This is why I never, never go back and read any of my books. Never listen to the audio edition, either. The irony is the book I hate still has to come out and be promoted, and I have to talk about it like it’s the current love of my life. And I have to do readings! This is when a funny little thing happens. When I’m looking for a passage to read, I have to scan the book, and once in awhile I’ll find a section that, impossibly, I don’t hate so much. That I might actually like. A sentence or two that could even be borderline great. And there’s that spark AGAIN, but this time it only lasts as long as a dying ember coughed from a campfire. Then, like that, it’s gone.
So the next time you’re in line at a book signing deciding which book to buy from an author, I suggest asking the following question: which of your books do you despise the least?
I guarantee the answer will be readily forthcoming.
Making It Up
Newly added episodes of my conversation series Making It Up are out!
This month I chatted with #1 national bestselling author Samantha Bailey (Watch Out for Her), USA Today bestselling and five-time Agatha Award-winning author Hank Phillippi Ryan (The House Guest), acclaimed flash-fiction writer Nancy Stohlman (After the Rapture), and critic-favorite novelist Ciera McElroy (Atomic Family).
All episodes are available on my website, my YouTube channel, and wherever you get your favorite podcasts.
Reserve your spot for my novel-writing retreat!
The details have been finalized for my Gentle Novelist coaching program and retreat, taking place August 9-11, 2023 in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. The in-person retreat is limited to 10 people and booking is now open! Read about the retreat and reserve your spot here:
Join me this summer for an intimate, inspirational, challenging, and rewarding writing experience. My sole focus is to have you leave the retreat with the tools, motivation, and momentum to finish that book you’ve been thinking about for years. I understand that retreats not only require commitment, but money! That’s why I’ll be awarding one scholarship per retreat, which reduces the tuition by 50%. If you are interested in the scholarship, please fill out this form.
Looking forward to helping you make your writing dreams come true.
What’s Entertaining Me
Book: The Girl Who Died (Ragnar Jónasson, Minotaur, 2021) I’ve never read Ragnar’s books, but figured it was time since I’m headed to Iceland this November for a writer’s conference he founded. Translated from Icelandic, The Girl Who Died is a standalone thriller about a young woman seeking a new start in a secluded village where a small community is desperate to protect its secrets.
Of all the interesting characters in the book, the most compelling is the setting of Skálar, a remote fishing hamlet in Iceland with a population of ten. The prose is solid, Jónasson instills a beautiful sense of paranoia and crushing solitude, and the reader, like the main character Una, immediately feels the simmering malevolence of the dark and isolated destination.
A solid mystery with a satisfying ending, The Girl Who Died will not be the last book I read from the writer who The Times UK labeled “the best crime writer in the world today.”
Show: White House Plumbers, (HBO, 2023) From the HBO website: “This five-part limited series imagines the behind-the-scenes story of how Nixon’s political saboteurs, E. Howard Hunt (Woody Harrelson) and G. Gordon Liddy (Justin Theroux), accidentally toppled the presidency they were zealously trying to protect… and their families along with it.”
I’ve only watched the one episode released so far, but this show is fantastic. And note how the description uses the word “imagines.” That’s because, though inspired by the real Watergate events, the show itself is also considered a satire. Which means the characters are over-the-top, and the dialogue bordering on the absurd. Which also means the show is funny as hell, and I can’t think of better actors than Harrelson and Theroux to pull it all off. A must-watch for fans of both political history and the Keystone Cops.
Photo of the Month
Because I needed MORE places to write, I recently had a stamped-concrete patio built at my house, upon which I installed up a hard-top gazebo. You’ll find me here most of the summer.
Update from My Kids
Exciting times! My son committed to LSU Honors College, where he’ll be studying athletic training and exercise science. And my daughter is home after her sophomore year at Michigan State, and she’ll be sitting in that gazebo all summer studying for the LSATs. She was excited to be with Scully again!
Update from My Cat and Dog
A rare instance of interspecies getting-alongness.
Humor of the Month sent to me by a friend
Book-Love Instagram Post of the Month
Not book love, but figured I’d share my love of this pic floating under the #carterwilson IG hashtag.
That’s it for now! Until next month…