Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Stages of Fear

Image by amboo who?, via Flickr
I wrote my first book without fear because I had no expectations. I didn’t really think I’d finish writing a whole book, let alone sell it.

When Warner Books bought it, the fear began.

First, I was afraid my editor would forget me before I’d written a second. That proved an unnecessary worry: By the time I finished Angel, she still remembered me; however, Warner had stopped publishing Regencies.

So the next fear was that I’d never find another editor/publisher who liked my work. I did, obviously, or I wouldn’t be here. So let’s move on to the next stage. After several books, my editors no longer expected to receive an entire manuscript. They began to give me contracts on the basis of a synopsis of 7 pages or so. At that point, the quivering question becomes what on earth made me think I could turn this bare idea, which seemed so promising at the time, into an entire novel. And how can I turn these names into real, engaging people?

I’ve never had much trouble with characters. Plots are another matter. The perennial fear, usually striking about 1/3 into the book, was (and is) failing to coming up with enough twists to make the word count.

It’s sad to reduce a novel to a word count, but publishers generally expect a certain length, so we mid-listers generally try to comply. Otherwise there’s always the dread possibility of having to pad or worse to cut, not for artistic reasons, simply to reduce the size.

Familiarity breeds if not contempt then at least the feeling that one will probably manage to complete the project adequately.

My next moment of terror came when the two publishers I was working for both decided to stop publishing Regencies (one in the middle of a three-book contract). Though I was quite happy to turn my hand to something else for a change, I had no idea whether I could write a competent mystery that someone would pay good money for. By then I was earning my living by writing, so it was quite frightening to find myself in that situation.

Twenty-three years later, I can say with some confidence that, yes, I can write mysteries. Now my fears stem from being in the opposite position from at the beginning of my career.

Then I had to write a whole manuscript not knowing if it would sell. Now, since The Bloody Tower or thereabouts, I’ve been getting contracts without even a proposed title—Daisy Dalrymple Mystery #16, Cornish Mystery #3. I start without even the shadow of an idea in my head. What if inspiration fails to burgeon?

Aaargh!

Carola Dunn is author of the Daisy Dalrymple Mysteries, Cornish Mysteries, and multitudinous Regencies. The paperback edition of Superfluous Women is now available to pre-order. 

20 comments :

  1. Fascinating! As someone who loves both your mystery series, it's so interesting to learn the journey that brought you to this point.

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  2. Interesting insights into the life of a 'mid-lister' ... speaking for the bottom-feeders I can say that fear is an emotion we learn to conquer ... otherwise we might miss a call from a publisher, fearing it was a bill collector.

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    1. Very interesting to hear how things go from the other side of the book. Readers so rarely hear about the angst involved in the creative process and the uncertainties involved. I hope the plot inspirations continue unabated and trauma free.

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    2. Thank you for sharing this. :)

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  3. I must say, Carola, a lot of us would like to support ourselves with our writing. Having noted that, I love your well-made points that fears don't end when our work begins to support us; they simply change. We writers have chosen a solitary profession that comes with a multitude of scary scenarios. When we add the fears of those who choose to publish independently to the list that faces our traditionally published sisters and brothers, we open up another can of terrifying worms. Still we write. Great post!

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  4. Fear holds many writers back: from starting the book, from finishing the book, to sending the book baby out into the world to be judged. Thank goodness most writers overcome their fears so that we have an endless supply of stories to feed our addictions!

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  5. Your post is so spot-on, Carola. I don't know if we writers ever get over that basic insecurity that makes us get such scary doubts so often.

    We are at the mercy of whatever whim blows through the publishing world, so we can never rest assured when it comes to a contract. One of my first with Kennsington, crashed when they decided to stop a line for which I was writing. I got the notice just as I was finishing the manuscript.

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    1. That 3-book contract I mentioned--I had finished and sent in and been paid for the first when Walker dropped the line. They published it. The second was 2/3 written. It happened to be my "baby" Regency, The Babe and the Baron, requested by my editor, in which the widowed heroine was pregnant. When I stopped writing, the poor woman remained 8 months pregnant for two years--until another publisher picked it up and I finished it. (The 3rd, also eventually published, was the second in a trilogy).

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  6. Very interesting story. Who would have thought that a great writer such as yourself could have those fears. Inspiration will never fail you. You have such a wealth of knowledge, beautiful places and characters to draw on you need have no fear there. Thank you so much for your wonderful Daisy Dalyrumple and Cornish Mysteries I can really lose myself in a different time and I find it hard to put any of your mysteries down until I've unraveled the plot and never quite get it right, you keep me guessing right to the end.

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  7. You have turned all that fear into great success! :)

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  8. Great post! I wonder, as you'd been writing the Daisy series for so long when you took up the Cornish series, did that have any sort of cross-contamination effect? What I mean is, obviously you were inspired by the new series. So did this new Cornish world of inspiration give you ideas for the older series, or vice versa?

    Joshua Ian

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    1. I expect so--though I prefer to call it cross-pollination--but nothing I could pinpoint. Do let me know if you spot anything that might be evidence!!

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    2. Ack! Cross-pollination, of course! :) Sorry for that word choice.

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  9. Fear works - it's kept you writing some good stuff.

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  10. I think you have nothing to fear now!

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  11. Your Daisy book covers are always so cute, and distinctive. The branding is very effective.

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    1. Wish I could say it's my doing, Morgan! I've been lucky that Minotaur found a wonderful artist for the 12th book and he's stuck with it, now reissuing the early ones with his work.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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