Friday, November 05, 2004

Writing Bunches

Terrill Lankford sent along some nice words commenting on my previous post about finishing my latest book, and I certainly appreciate them. But you went and made me think about what it's like writing lots of books, so this ramble is on your head, Terrill.

I didn't set out to be prolific. I just wanted to write books that I enjoyed writing and make enough money at it to keep from having to go out and get a real job. Early on, though, I was lucky enough to start writing Mike Shayne novellas for MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE as one of a rotating group of authors writing as Brett Halliday, and then after a while the editor, Charles E. Fritch, asked me to do all of them. This meant coming up with 20,000 words each and every month. I discovered I had a pretty good work ethic, and I liked the regular check. (This was when MSMM still paid regularly, a situation that, sadly, did not last.) When I started selling novels, I drifted into series work because that was where the most opportunities were at that time. I liked writing the books and I got them done on time and in good enough shape that they didn't need a lot of revision, which meant that the editors liked working with me. They threw me more and more jobs, and I turned down very few of them (and still regret the ones I did turn down). Over the years I've learned that there are a lot of writers who write better than I do, and there are a lot of writers who write faster than I do, so the key for me is to keep combining speed and quality to the best of my ability. Someone once said that writing series books is like hitting a baseball: sometimes you swing and miss, sometimes you get good wood on the ball but hit it right at somebody, sometimes you hit a single or a double or even a home run. But you take your swings as best you can, then get back up to the plate next time and do it again.

I've also had a huge advantage in being married to an excellent plotter and editor. I can say to Livia, "I need a Longarm plot," and usually within a day or so she'll give me one. Or I'll do something incredibly stupid in a manuscript and she'll spot it and either fix it herself or tell me what it needs. So the editors never see those mistakes and probably think I'm smarter than I really am. Some books I plot myself and Livia doesn't find anything that needs fixed except a few typos. But without her help on the others I'd never be able to keep up the pace that I do.

1 comment:

Cap'n Bob said...

Very interesting, James. To continue your baseball analogy, I've never seen you hit worse than a triple. I find your style engaging and easy to read and your characters totally believable. I always know going in that reading one of your books won't be a disappointment.