January 9 – 15: “Is it possible to fall in love again?”

thriller-roundtable-logo5In the midst of struggling to finish a manuscript, writers often admit to loathing the story. This week, ITW Members Sarah K. Stephens, Angel Luis Colón, Alison Joseph, Alexandra Ivy, Jeff Soloway, Adrian Magson, AJ Davidson, Linda Lee Kane, Patricia Smiley, Thomas Perry, Mary Lawrence, A.J. Kerns, Dana King and Nichole Christoff discuss whether or not it’s possible to fall in love again? Or is the passion gone for good?

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Sarah K. Stephens earned her doctorate in Developmental Psychology and teaches a variety of human development courses as a lecturer at Penn State University. Her courses examine a variety of topics, including the processes of risk and resilience in childhood, the influence of online media on social and behavioral development, and evidence-based interventions for individuals on the autism spectrum. Although Fall and Spring find her in the classroom, she remains a writer year-round. Her short stories have appeared in Five on the Fifth, The Voices Project, The Indianola Review, (parenthetical), eFiction, and the Manawaker Studio’s Flash Fiction Podcast. Her debut novel, A Flash of Red, was released in December 2016 by Pandamoon Publishing.

 

Angel Luis Colón is the author of The Fury of Blacky Jaguar,NO HAPPY ENDINGS, and the in-progress short story anthology Meat City on Fire (and Other Assorted Debacles). He’s an editor for the flash fiction site Shotgun Honey, has been nominated for the Derringer Award, and is published in multiple web and print pubs such as Thuglit, Literary Orphans, All Due Respect, The Life Sentence, RT Book Reviews, and The LA Review of Books. He’s also currently repped by Foundry Literary + Media. Keep up with him on Twitter via @GoshDarnMyLife.

 

Alison Joseph is a London-based crime writer and award-winning radio dramatist. She is author of the series of novels featuring Sister Agnes, a contemporary detective nun, and also ‘Dying to Know,’ a crime novel abut particle physics featuring DI Berenice Killick. Her new series features a fictional Agatha Christie as a detective, published by Endeavour Press. Alison is a member of Killer Women, and was Chair of the British Crime Writers Association from 2013- 2015.

 

Alexandra Ivy is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Guardians of Eternity, as well as the ARES Security series.  After majoring in theatre she decided she prefers to bring her characters to life on paper rather than on stage.  She lives in Missouri with her family.

 

 

Formerly an editor and writer for Frommer’s travel guides, Jeff Soloway is now an executive editor in New York City. In 2014 he won the Robert L. Fish Memorial Award from the Mystery Writers of America. His Travel Writer mystery series is published by Alibi, Random House’s digital imprint for crime fiction. The second novel in the series, THE LAST DESCENT, which takes place in the Grand Canyon, just came out.

 

Hailed by the Daily Mail as “a classic crime star in the making”, Adrian Magson is the author of 21 books, the latest of which is The Bid (Midnight Ink), published on January 8, 2017. This the second book in a new series featuring investigators Ruth Gonzales and Andy Vaslik, after The Locker—Jan 2016—”Magson takes the suburban thriller overseas and gives it a good twist. Readers ……will happily get lost in the nightmare presented here.” (Booklist Reviews). Adrian also writes the Marc Portman spy thriller series (Severn House), prompting one reviewer to comment: “the most explosive opening chapters I have read in a long time. Give this man a Bond film script to play with!” The next title is this series is Dark Asset (Severn House – spring 2017)

 

AJ Davidson is a traditionally published author and playwright, who, in Spring 2010, made the switch to Indie. He is keen to explore the potential of a rapidly changing publishing world, and is enjoying the closer contact with his readers that e-books afford. AJ has a degree in Social Anthropology. Married for 32 years, he has two children, a Harrier hound, and a cat called Dusty. Not one for staying long in the same place, AJ has lived in many countries across several continents. He has worked as a pea washer, crane-driver, restaurateur and scriptwriter. A member of the ITW. Represented by the Jonathan Williams Literary Agency.

 

Linda Lee Kane, MA in Education, PPS, School Psychologist, and Learning Disability Specialist, is the author of The Black Madonna, Witch Number is Which, Icelandia, Katterina Ballerina, Cowboy Jack and Buddy Save Santa, and Chilled to the Bones, 2017 release date, Clyde: Lost and Now Found, and Bottoms Up, A Daisy Murphy Mysteries. She lives with her husband and three dogs and six horses in California.

 

 

Patricia Smiley is the best-selling author of four mystery novels featuring amateur sleuth Tucker Sinclair. Pacific Homicide is the first of a new series about LAPD homicide detective Davie Richards and debuted on November 8, 2016. Patty’s short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Two of the Deadliest, an anthology edited by Elizabeth George. She has taught writing at various conferences in the US and Canada. She served as Vice President for the Southern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America and as president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles.

 

Thomas Perry is the bestselling author of over twenty novels, including the Edgar Award winner The Butcher’s, a String of Beads, Poison Flower, and Forty Thieves. His Metzger’s Dog was voted one of the best 100 thrillers ever by NPR listeners.

 

 

Mary Lawrence lives in Maine and worked in the medical field for over twenty-five years before publishing her debut mystery, The Alchemist’s Daughter (Kensington, 2015). The book was named by Suspense Magazine as a “Best Book of 2015” in the historical mystery category. Her articles have appeared in several publications most notably Portland Monthly Magazine and the national news blog, The Daily Beast. Book 2 of the Bianca Goddard Mysteries, Death of an Alchemist, released in February 2016.

 

Nichole Christoff is a writer, broadcaster, and military spouse who owes Jane Austen, James Thurber, and Raymond Chandler for her taste in fiction. Nichole is also the award-winning author of The Kill List, The Kill Shot, and The Kill Box starring army brat and private-eye-turned-security-specialist, Jamie Sinclair. When she isn’t at her desk working on her latest novel, Nic is out in the woods with her ornery English Pointer.

 

yemenArthur Kerns is a retired FBI supervisory special agent and past president of the Arizona chapter of the Association of Former Intelligence Officers (AFIO). His award-winning short fiction has appeared in numerous anthologies. He is a book reviewer for the Washington Independent Review of Books. Diversion Books, Inc. NY, NY published his espionage thriller, The Riviera Contract, and the sequel, The African Contract. The third in the series, The Yemen Contract, was released in June 2016.

 

Dana King has two Shamus Award nominations, for A Small Sacrifice and The Man in the Window. His Penns River series of police procedurals includes Worst Enemies and Grind Joint, which Woody Haut, writing for the L.A. Review of Books, cited as one of the fifteen best noir reads of 2013. Down and Out Books will release the next book in the Penns River series, Resurrection Mall, in May 2017.

 

ITW

International Thriller Writers Inc represents professional authors from around the world. Learn more about them, their work, and the sources from which they draw their inspiration at the Official ITW Organization Website.

Interested in becoming a member of the International Thriller Writers? ITW offers Active and Associate memberships.
22 Comments
  1. The marathon of dedication and sheer hard slog involved in writing a novel frequently leads me to develop a love/hate relationship with my story as I approach the end. As a story teller, I can’t wait to cross the finishing line so I can share my story with others, the ultimate goal for most scribblers, and yet ennui can descend and I sometimes dread the thought of more long lonely days spent in front of my laptop. Whenever this happens, I remind myself that the primary reason for the loathing comes from having advance knowledge of the ending. I rarely spend much time on outlining a story before starting a novel, much preferring to allow the plot to develop organically. If I don’t know where the story is headed, then hopefully the reader will be equally intrigued. However, I will have a rough idea how it will end, so there’s no dramatic twist or edge-of-a-cliff denouement for me, and this inevitably saps energy from the story telling process. When the tedium becomes too much to bear I’ll stop writing and go back to reviewing earlier sections, something that never fails to lift my spirits. The thrill of reading passages that are close to being the finished product – at least until my editor gets her hands on the manuscript – is reinvigorating and inspires me to complete the story.

    Some readers comment that my novels do end quite abruptly, but this is a conscious decision rather than any detestation of the story or the characters. Over the last twenty-thirty years I have noticed writers becoming increasingly long-winded with their endings. For me, a story is over when it’s over and I see little point in dragging it out. Naturally, as a writer of a mystery-thriller series, I will throw in some hooks for the next book, something that can be done in a few simple paragraphs rather than thirty or forty pages. The old axiom should be borne in mind: if it doesn’t set the scene, develop a character, or move the story along, get rid of it. Wise words.

  2. Linda Kane says:

    It’s always exciting when I begin my novel, the research, the organization of all my ideas, than I begin to write, everything is coming together and somewhere in the middle, things begin to drag down. I begin to loathe what I’ve written, but I push through, sometimes reluctantly, toward the end, when I feel I’m getting my point across to my satisfaction I become elated. It’s like all the pieces of my puzzle have finally come together. What is difficult is editing your beloved words, words that you felt were so important to the story, now seem trivial. I do get bothered again, but when I send it to the final editor, and it’s polished up, my passion comes back tenfold.

  3. There is always a point in the story when the plot falls apart, the characters seem two-dimensional and my story-telling seems to have lost its heart. The only difference these days is that I recognise this syndrome – ie that after writing quite a few novels I am prepared for some weeks spent feeling like this. The fact it’s familiar makes it much easier to just press on – in fact, continuing to write is the only way through it, I’ve come to realise. And yes, it does seem to be in the middle of the story. My novels start with exciting characters and ideas, and also I tend to know what I think will happen at the end – but getting from a) to b) can seem insurmountable at times. It’s not helped by the characters behaving as they want to once they’re established – quite often a character has taken me by surprise, so that the role I thought they’d play in the story becomes impossible, and then once again I’m stuck.
    The other side of all this is that from time to time I pick up one of my older novels and start reading it, and quite often I’m gripped, even though I wrote it – the passion at the heart of the story is still there.

  4. Most writers I know—maybe all—confess to reaching a point around the midway part of their books where they have no idea why they chose this story. I has no potential, the characters are flat, the dialog stinks, and even were they able to slog on to completion, no one in their right minds would want to read such dreck. We all get past it and rekindle the passion, or no books would ever get finished.

    This is usually because second acts are hard. I recently saw a talk by Dennis Lehane where he confessed second acts wear him out. If Dennis Lehane has trouble with the middle parts of books, it doesn’t bother me that I do. It’s a natural part of the process.

    My next book, Resurrection Mall, is a good example. Originally created for my PI series set in Chicago, I was 53,000 words into it when I realized it was going nowhere and I had no good way to restart the momentum. It sat for a few weeks until I realized the problem wasn’t with the story, it was everything else. I reset it as part of my Penns River series and the whole project took off and earned a contract for itself.

    For me, the loathing aspect of writing arrives during edits. I like to edit, but there comes a time several drafts in when I realize I’m rearranging commas and swapping one word for another back and forth. By then I can hardly bear to look at it anymore, so I invoke a process I’ve come up with over the years that announces FINAL DRAFT. Knowing it’s the last one—for better or worse—re-energizes me to work on through to the end and (usually) feel good about how things turned out.

  5. This question reminds me of that old adage: Familiarity breeds contempt. As writers, our characters, plot lines, and even our general linguistic style become incredibly familiar to us. This phenomenon is the most potent, I would argue, during the editing process because we are not producing any fresh material, but instead turning a critical eye to our previous creations in the hopes of making them even better. There’s a fine line indeed between being self-critical and self-loathing.

    I think it is important to be realistic with yourself as a writer in the sense that it is almost inevitable that we will each encounter days, weeks, or even months where we struggle with our writing fluency, with our confidence, and with our agency as writers. Reminding ourselves that this is normal is, in my opinion, quite freeing. We can say to ourselves: Yes, I hate my book–right now. I think I’m a terrible writer–right now. I think I am a hack–right now. The premise of the ‘right now’, though, helps us acknowledge that this too shall pass.

    In a way, a writer’s relationship with their manuscript is much like a marriage—another context rife with the danger of familiarity descending into contempt. Quality marriages are not built on the deluded pretense that each partner is perfect, nor do they thrive in an environment where partners are excessively criticized simply because the union binds two people together. Instead, a healthy marriage blossoms under the agreement that each partner will continue to grow and change for the better, together.

    I’d argue that manuscripts work the same way. Writers need to strive to create high quality and powerful writing. Acknowledging that this will be a process is one way to ensure that your passion for the piece will not be lost indefinitely. We will all encounter days where we think our writing is awful and feel inclined to scrap the entire project. But, much like the times where a spouse looks over at their partner as they brush their teeth and silently asks, “Really, I chose you?”, we cannot abandon our love because of a day of doubt or annoyance. Perseverance makes for passionate marriages, and for excellent novels.

  6. Never have I hated a manuscript more than the one that has just released, Death at St. Vedast. Everyday I hated sitting down to it because I struggled with that niggling inner voice, that superior editor no one has ever met, but whom we all intimately know; the one who tells you it’s crap, and that you’re crap.

    I had problems with the manuscript from the beginning. Historical details had to be carved and wrestled into a box. I took liberties with accuracy which bothered me, but it had to be done in order to have the story and mystery come together.

    I wasn’t even sure the story made sense. I finished it and took a two month break. When I came back, I read it with my evil editor sitting on my shoulder, red pen poised. And when I was finished reading, I thought, “Hey this is a lot better than I thought.” I’ll never love this manuscript like the others, but I love it because it was the hardest one to write and I came out of it in one piece.

  7. I can’t say that I’ve ever gotten to the point where I hated the story—I just hated reading it. The first draft is always fun and to go back and do the first edit is not that much of a strain. It’s almost like reading someone else’s novel. Then comes the feedback from fellow writers, which is welcomed, but at this point the process of tiding up the manuscript starts to drag.
    By the time I send it to my agent, I’d rather not see it again, but know she will have solid suggestions, so back to that “thing.” If I’m lucky to have the publisher’s editor look at it, I know I’ll have to reread that damn thing once again and make changes. I still love my story; I just don’t want to see it again and doubt if I’ll ever pick up the published book and read it. Well, perhaps I might look through a chapter or two.

  8. I like this question. I think that while you’re writing you should fall out of love with your story. It’s a good idea to be as critical of your work as you can be, because harsher critics will be looking at it soon. The ideal number of times to get to the point of loathing the story is twice. One time is when the first draft is complete. You have a beginning, middle, and end, and the basic story is put into words. If you feel loathing for the story, you’ve got a special opportunity. You’re beginning to see what’s wrong with it. Which passages are not gracefully written? Which are confusing? Which don’t move the story along? Why is the ending unsatisfying? Knowing what’s wrong is a great start for fixing it. The second time for loathing is when the writer has done all he could to fix the problems, and to improve,enliven and deepen the story. His sense of being fed up with the story is the sign that he’s exhausted his resources for the moment. It’s time to submit the book.

    1. I like this answer very much. It puts it very well. That sense of getting the book off your desk at the end of the process, that breath of relief… doesn’t make the sense of self-criticism any easier though.

  9. I call it the ‘shiny-sparkling-best-idea-ever’ syndrome. And it happens to every author. You start off the book at full-throttle. You love the plot. You love the characters. You love jumping out of bed to rush to your computer. Then, two hundred pages into the story, you aren’t jumping out of bed. You’re dragging yourself to your computer. And the plot you loved is suddenly a convoluted mess. The characters are two-dimensional schmucks who refuse to come to life, the story has holes the size of the Grand Canyon, and there’s no spark. But worse of all, you have a new ‘shiny-sparkly-idea’ that is much, much better than the dreck you’re working on. Do. Not. Give. In. It’s like chasing a unicorn. You’ll never catch it and you miss out on completing the book that once started off as ‘the best idea ever’. Writing is glorious. It’s also hard work. Finish what you start, then grab for the next book. You’ll be amazed how good it is when you’re done.

  10. I rarely loathe my story, but as I race toward the dreaded deadline date, I do experience tedium from reading the words again and again—ferreting out fatal flaws like unnecessary alliteration, word echoes, and time-line problems. It’s the love of my characters that sustains me during this editing process.

    I understand them even before the writing begins, because before typing Chapter One, I’ve already written character biographies that include history and anecdotes, what makes them tick, and how they react when their needs aren’t met. Once I understand their goals and what they’ve endured before the story begins, I’m in their corner until the end and beyond.

    To remind me of the importance of vivid characters, I keep William Faulkner’s quote near my computer when I write: “…the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can made good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.”

  11. Writing as well as you can is brutally hard work, so naturally we begin to hate it after a while. Little flare-ups of agony are normal and should be ignored, but I find that when the pain lasts more than a day or two, that’s often a sign that there’s something fundamentally wrong with the scene I’m working on. Sometimes the solution is simply to hack it right out of the story. After all, if a scene isn’t making me cackle to myself, or nod to myself, or give me some little thrill of satisfaction, then who’s going to miss it?

    Obviously you don’t want to cut so much that you leave a plot hole, but you also don’t want to plug up the plot holes with boring sludge. Write the scenes you love to write. Your passion will return soon enough.

  12. I think every writer I’ve ever met has a love/hate relationship with their work-in-progress. For me, falling in love with the story again means falling in love with one small aspect of the story. That aspect can be finding a way to twist a turning point just a little further, or revealing a detail in dialogue that speaks louder than a character ever could. The hunt for those things keeps me coming back to a manuscript, and coming back means completing that manuscript. And it’s so easy to fall in love again with a story after you’ve finished it!

  13. Every project I’ve ever worked on has intense peaks and valleys. It’s not always so easy to convey a lot of what’s playing in your head on the page the very first time…or the second time…or the THIRD time.

    So yes, there are times when I’ve been immensely frustrated with a project.

    That’s what revision is for, though, right?

    And that moment where the hard work of revising, snipping, adding, etc seems to place you right where you always wanted to be? That’s the part where I find myself falling in love with a piece. As corny as it sounds, it’s a bit magical to see something that felt almost stuck in the gears finally out on paper.

  14. It’s not so much loathing the story, but loathing the fact that occasionally, something – a paragraph, a sentence… even a chapter if it’s got a problem embedded within it – simply won’t come out of your brain and onto the page the way it should. Part of the emotion is knowing that deep down, eyeballing it like a mongoose eyes a snake isn’t going to fix it. And this is where you can, if not careful, begin to dislike the whole story… because you know it’s not yet ready to be published.
    Fixing it, of course, comes like a rush of adrenaline. Okay, love. Let’s call it love. You love it all over again because you can move on and start something else.
    Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that, yes, having to read the pesky thing dozens of times all through the writing, editing, copy reading, proofreading, re-editing CAN bring on moments that are not full of love but loathing.
    But, as the saying goes, that, too, will pass.

  15. I’m interested in how universal those negative feelings are – every one of us recognises the truth of the question. Not one of us is saying,, ‘what, no, I love my writing all the way through’… I think Adrian’s tone of resignation about it, that clearly comes from great experience, is right – that it’s somehow an innate part of the creative process and it will pass. I’ve really appreciated what everyone has had to say about it.

  16. What’s also interesting, Alison, is that everybody here is still writing! It’s like every job, I guess; there are aspects that can get you down, but you rarely hear (or maybe it rarely happens) that a writer has got so fed up that they’ve thrown their keyboard in the river for good. That says something about how much we value what we do, no matter what. Well, it can’t be the money, can it? :))

  17. So true Alison and Adrian–writing can be a slog like any other profession. It’s the joyful moments–editing and finding a paragraph or sentence that you love, connecting with readers over a character you imagined–that make the less appetizing aspects (hours upon hours of sitting and editing) worth it.

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