Hey, all. Gerry Boyle here. Taking a break from work on my next novel. It’s called 50 Shades of Green and it’s set in Ireland. It’s about this young guy, a graduate student, who goes to interview this beautiful and seductive heiress on her estate in County Wicklow. Well, she’s a little older and very beautiful and in a matter of hours he falls under her spell… (It’s pretty racy but I’m told that racy really sells).
Just kidding. I guess that idea (or a variation of it) is taken. What I’m really working on is–well, I can’t tell you.
Have you noticed that most novelists (mystery and otherwise) are very reluctant to talk about works in progress? This seems to be more true of fiction writers than nonfiction. I know historians who are more than glad to tell you what their next book is about, even share chapters long before the book is finished. Not so novelists. I’m willing to bet that, like me, the esteemed writers on this blog would have to be coerced, bribed, and threatened with bodily harm before they would outline the plot of the book they’re working on.
Well, maybe they’ll tell you, at least that much. And if there are any armchair psychologists out there in blog reader land, maybe you can offer your own theories. I can tell you that I hate having to pitch a book, either in writing or in person. I recall being asked by my agent and then-editor, at a fancy restaurant in Manhattan, what I was planning for the next Jack McMorrow novel. I had a good idea, I thought, but I worried that in the restaurant, with the linen tablecloths and clatter and chatter, it would sound lame. They listened as I summarized the plot, me thinking the whole time that I wasn’t doing the idea justice at all. I can write the book; I just hate to boil it down to a few spoken sentences. In my mind, you can’t.
So it’s with some trepidation that I first give voice to an idea for a new book. My first sounding board is almost always my wife Mary. We sit at the dining room table (after clearing the dishes and small talk) and I take a deep breath and then spit it out. Jack McMorrow is doing a story on … and then he meets this guy … and Roxanne is worried because …
While I’m talking I’m studying her expression for any reaction. I ponder her first comment, the follow-up question. I ask myself, is this as good an idea as it seemed when it was swirling around in my head? When I was sketching in the solitude of my study?
Usually it all turns out fine and after that conversation I launch myself into actually writing the book. But in the writing process this is the step—the first utterance about a book—that I like least. RIght up there with summing up a book plot at a reading or book talk. Or reading my own jacket copy. What do my MCW colleagues think about that? Does anyone actually like their jacket copy?
I remember reading that Robert B. Parker, when asked what one of his books was about, would answer in a word or two or three. “It’s about love.” Or “It’s about honor.” And that was it. No walking people through the plot. The book would speak for itself. If you were interested, you’d read it.
So what am I working on? I have three projects underway, actually. One Brandon Blake. One Jack McMorrow. One book that is a collaboration (my first) with a fun and interesting writer I know. I’m excited about all three and I hope readers will be, too.
One of these days I’ll have to tell you more.
I hear you, Gerry. I have to do an outline for the editor before I get the ok (and part of the advance) on each book and I hate it! I have gotten pretty good at writing a ten page synopsis that doesn’t really say anything except that there is a murder and Liss solves it.
Ooh, Kaitlyn. Will you give lessons in the 10 pages = nothing synopsis?
Gerry–I totally agree. I hate summarizing my books either on paper or in speech, especially before they’re written. But after isn’t that easy, either.
Once – a long, long (it seems) time ago – I told the whole plot of a book I was writing to a dear friend over lunch.. Then went home – and couldn’t write it. It never sounded as good as it had over those glasses of wine. Bottom line: that book never was finished. After that, I’ve refused to discuss any book in progress with anyone except, when pressed, with my editor — or (when I’m desparate for either reinforcement or an idea) with my husband. Anyone else gets very general meandering comments, like, “It’s set in Maine.” Superstitious? Darn right!
🙂 Gerry, I recognize all those steps (the watching listener micro-expressions, the self-assessment all the while). Interesting you should post this now …
The setting of my series is now going through one of its periodic self-destruct implosion PR nightmares. The good news? Every few years, my setting’s in the news!! The bad news? Every few years, my setting is in the news – and it comes off looking awful! I’m reluctant to tell people specifics about my setting, yet I’m uniquely qualified to write a mystery in this world. Oy vey. Anyway, thanks for a fun article.