I’m currently reading The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer (stay tuned; there’ll likely be a review on it next week). I won’t go into all the plot, but suffice it to say that a rich guy has one of the characters, who is an author, write a novel just for him. Pays him $2.5 million to do it, too.
At first, the guy isn’t sure what to write. He tries some stuff that isn’t his normal fare. But then he visits his publisher and a woman who’s something of a thinly disguised Stephenie Meyer (though I don’t think they share personalities) has just delivered her newest volume in the Vampire Wizards Chronicles (don’t get me started), and she’s delivered it on a jewel-encrusted, monogrammed flash drive.
This gives our author, named Conner, an idea. He writes a novel that’s more like what he’s used to writing, but since his contract stipulates that only the guy who paid him will read it, he feels free to write whatever he wants.
As I read this, it got me to thinking. See, Conner has written a series of books about a cop named Cole Padgett. The first novel—and also his debut—is considered a wonderful book by many. So wonderful, in fact, that many praise him for it—and immediately ask him if he ever wrote anything else.
That’s not the kind of question an author wants to hear.
The problem is, he set up all kinds of expectations with his first novel, and he kept having to try and top them with each succeeding volume. That made the books longer and more convoluted…and not as good.
It got me to thinking.
See, I’ve had a bit of problem getting anything written for a while now. Part of it has been going to school. Learning things like computer languages and how to set up a network tends to sap your creativity.
But that’s not all of it, much as I’d like to lay blame there.
No, I think a lot of the problem is simply this: I’ve been published.
Granted, it’s not with a big house. But the reception has been fairly good, especially for a first-time author with an indie publisher. I’ve had an official release party. I’ve sold books here and there, though never enough to do more than help me put gas in my tank and buy some food.
But you’ve heard me talk about the troubles I’ve been having writing anything to follow up with. And by reading The Salinger Contract, I think I’ve figured out why.
Sometime back, I wrote on this blog about how I can’t rest on my laurels. No author can. You’re only as good as your next book. And I’ve been letting that pressure get to me, let it set boundaries on my writing. I’ve watched other members of the group churn out books (Pamela, I’m thinking of you specifically here, lol) while I’ve struggled to get my next one just right and line up all my ducks in a row, and wondered what the hell I’m gonna do?
I’ve heard Pete Townshend went through a period where he thought he couldn’t write any more songs. And then he came out of it and Who Are You, the last album with original drummer Keith Moon, was released. Who hasn’t heard the title song?
Now, I don’t know what broke Mr. Townshend’s creative block. Who Are You was The Who’s eighth album, so it’s not like he was blocked because he had to follow up on a debut. He was long past that. According to Wikipedia, the band went three years between albums because they were drifting apart and Keith Moon was getting deeper into alcoholism. In fact, he died less than a month after the album’s release (in an ironic aside, the cover is a picture of the band, with Mr. Moon sitting in a chair that has NOT TO BE TAKEN AWAY stenciled on it).
I think some of what’s been blocking me has been the idea I have to do something to live up to what Spree is…or something like that. It’s some weird idea I’ve latched onto that I can’t even really explain to myself. It’s not like the thing shot to the top of all the bestseller lists, and I have to live up to that (thank God).
No, I think it’s simply the fact of being published after so many years. I’m left thinking, What do I do now?
Well, stupid, you don’t worry about that last book. You write the next one. And don’t have any expectations about it. Just get the damn thing done.
That’s the message I got out of The Salinger Contract, and I believe it’s gonna be a liberating one. I’m gonna buckle down and get this next one done, by God and the Lord Harry, and I’m not gonna worry about fitting it into what I’ve already written. If that means the first Rural Empires novel turns out to be entirely different than the first version I wrote, as long as it’s better, I won’t care. I need to let that spark…spark again and not look at the constraints, not think that I’m just rewriting the first 100 pages.
I’m writing. For me. Period.
Go thou and do likewise.