2017 GONE WRITING, BOOK 2018
First things first, there will not be a big book from me this year. There probably won’t even be a little book from me in 2017, but my muse sometimes hits very suddenly so I don’t rule something smaller completely out. The next major book from me will be in June of 2018. Why am I taking this year off from publishing a book? Because my new editor and I decided we’d like the extra time.
My editor that I had worked with for twenty years, give or take, retired. Dead Ice was the last book that Susan and I worked on together. I was very happy for her to be able to retire early to all the wonderful plans she and her husband had made. I honestly didn’t think anything of it for my own writing process. I mean, I’d had six or seven different editors with the Meredith (Merry) Gentry series in as many books at Random House, and I’d done all right. One infamous Merry novel changed over three editors during the writing of it. I didn’t think the fact that I’d had only two editors in over twenty years at Penguin Putnam with the Anita Blake series might have impacted my writing process; the consistency, I mean. But it threw me more than I thought it would to lose an editor after that many years and that many books. I am hopefully settled in with my new editor, Cindy, for another long run.
Crimson Death was our first novel together and it was a nightmare. That wasn’t Cindy’s fault, at all. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, except my over ambitious nature. I should never, ever promise deadlines at the end of writing most novels, because at the end the muses are singing and writing usually spills forth like water from the proverbial cleft rock. Since I’m usually doing ten to twenty pages a day at that point I think that’s what I always do. I forget that at the beginning of a novel, sometimes I’m lucky to get four pages a day. It takes time to build up steam for the end of a novel, and I always forget that. Crimson Death was also the first Anita Blake novel set in a different country. I set it in Ireland, I’d read all these books, and looked at pictures . . . I don’t know, I thought that being in a different country that spoke English wouldn’t be that big a difference to my writing process. I was wrong. I was really wrong.
And then just before we left for Ireland our pug, Sasquatch, passed away. He was fourteen and we knew it was coming, but having to make that decision, holding him while he passed away in my arms – nothing prepares you for it. It’s always upsetting to lose a beloved pet, but Crimson Death was the first novel I wrote without a pug at my side in about twenty years, maybe longer. I know I had no pug when I wrote my first three novels, but other than that I’ve had at least one pug, or more, in the office with me. I started out joking that I don’t write as well without one, even with my other wonderful dogs, but as I write forward on the third novel I’ve attempted since Sasquatch passed, it’s beginning to feel more plausible.
If I could do it over again, I’d have done another Anita novel set here in the States where I was more familiar with everything and I’d have done my research at leisure. The trip to Ireland that suddenly became absolutely necessary was eye opening, exhilarating, and humbling. Nothing I had read prepared me for the Emerald Isle. I had researched the wrong questions. I had to let go of my preconceptions and the book became a very different book than the one I’d planned. Research, good research, will do that sometimes. The other problem was that this was finally Damian’s book. He’d been in the series since book six and this was book twenty-five. I had hundreds of pages done when Damian got loud in my head and said, “This is what you do to me? You make me a victim again?” He wanted to be the hero, or at least strong and not the perpetual victim the first version showed him to be, and I couldn’t argue with him, though I tried.
Ireland inspired me in a way that I didn’t anticipate. I was doing twenty pages a day in Dublin. I was hitting that end of book page count per day in the first third of the book. I thought, great, this is one of those books that writes fast! Um, no. What had happened accidentally is my muse and I had found the place we wanted to write the book, but it would still take months to complete it. I couldn’t stay in Ireland for months when I had planned on only staying for weeks. My life wasn’t that flexible. I had commitments in England both for my first ever European convention and for a research trip for a different novel. We left Ireland after less than a month and the moment we got to London I couldn’t write. I have no idea why, but I never write well in London and I’ve tried multiple times. The novel that had been going great guns in Ireland stopped dead once I left the country. If I get to the twenty pages per day point with a novel, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing, that is how I write that book. Change anything at that point from running out of the tea I’ve been drinking, the view, my chair, my desk, the computer I’m writing on or the software I’m using to write, my office pets, a lover having to travel – basically once the book is in the white, hot, heat phase, draw a circle of about fifty feet around me and everything within that circle has to remain the same or the book grinds to a halt.
I knew that about myself as a writer, but what I hadn’t anticipated was that a few days in Ireland would jump start the page count to that level of heat. Then we left the country for very good reasons and for wonderful adventures, but the book didn’t recover its speed for months. Then the other thing happened that couldn’t have been planned for, Crimson Death became the longest novel I’d ever written and I’ve written some long novels. Up to that point, I believe that Obsidian Butterfly was my longest. Interestingly it was set in a state that I’d never visited, New Mexico, so maybe its researching places I’ve never been that makes books super long for me?
The difference between the two books is that Obsidian Butterfly was pretty much the manuscript you got to read. Crimson Death I cut by a third, before it went to New York for final edits. I believe the rough draft was over 300,000 words which makes it well over a thousand pages. I have never written a draft that long. Again, maybe it’s the research, but whatever the cause, it meant that the first deadlines came and went, so we got new deadlines that could not be missed if the book was coming out on time. My first novel with my new editor became a series of emergencies. I wrote more than one day round the clock, literally. My husband, Jonathon, our girlfriend, Genevieve, and her husband Spike took turns bringing me endless cups of coffee, or just checking on me. Anyone who thinks they want to marry a bestselling writer, or a famous artist of any kind, should see that artist through a serious creative work before they say, I do. Artists, and I’m not any different, are moody bastards, and when the work isn’t going well it’s worse. I’m usually a nice person, but when the writing is going badly I roar like a dragon at any interruption. Genevieve and Spike hadn’t been living with us long, though we’d been dating them longer, so it was sort of a domestic trial by fire.
By the time the book went to its final rounds in New York, my two newest domestic partners begged me to write something else next time. They were full up listening to me talk about Anita and the gang. None of us wanted to go through another book like that. I think even my editor, Cindy, and all the wonderful people at Penguin Random House that helped make Crimson Death a reality were ready for a break. Yes, my two main publishers for the Merry Gentry series and the Anita Blake series are now one publisher. One of the largest mergers in publishing history.
I know that at the end of the process for that last novel I was drained. I felt like a seashell washed up on the beach, empty like a pretty piece of bone, caressed by the sea. So, in the end we all decided we needed more time for the next book to be written and edited. We didn’t want to go balls to the wall again. Cindy and I need time to understand each other as editor and writer. I need to let myself mourn twenty years of editorial partnership. I need to let myself mourn the loss of Sasquatch, and think about whether with three dogs, a cat, and a lizard, we can really add a pug at this time. I want to enjoy the first draft and not feel like every word has to be written in stone, because there isn’t time to revise without it becoming a publishing emergency. I need time to spend with my family, friends, and to take care of my body, mind, and spirit. My muse and I need to find our way back to a writing process that works smoothly. So that’s why there will be no new novel from me this year. See you in June 2018!