Repetitive Virginity

By Pari Noskin Taichert

My favorite time-stealing, attention-sucking, procrastination-aiding computer game is Tumblebugs. After each round, a humorous saying pops up as a kind of reward. My favorite is, "Confidence is what you feel before you understand the situation."

Ah, Dear Grasshopper, it’s true.

A few years ago, I was in full swing, agonizing about being a small-press author. Should I wait to see if BELEN would sell to a big NYC publisher? Would I doom myself to a tiny career by staying with the University of New Mexico Press? Oh, hell, what should I have for breakfast?

I’m sure most writers often succumb to this weird desire to try to predict the future. We’re victims of the feeling that a wrong move can cast us, and our works, into oblivion quicker than snow melting on a sunny sidewalk.

One of the people from whom I sought perspective was Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen Bookstore and PP Press fame.

She said, "Pari, you’re only a book virgin once."

Alas, my publishing cherry had already been popped.

Peters is right, though. Debut authors (Hey, J.T. and Alex, what do you think?) only have one chance to be fresh and new–without the outward expectations that come from a more established career.

However, I find it a tad inaccurate for those of us who have been at this profession a little longer.

Without lapsing into too much grooviness, I’d like you to look at this link. Here, you see THE FOOL in a traditional tarot deck. (I have a much prettier deck and might be persuaded to bring it to LCC or Malice this year — and do some readings — if enticed abundantly. But I digress . . . )

If you look at the card, you’ll see a youth, haversack on his back, dreamy and joyous expression on his innocent face. Look a little closer and you’ll notice he’s about to step off a cliff.

Yep. I think that’s a marvelous metaphor for how I’m feeling right now (and why the saying from Tumblebugs might be more apt).

Book #3 is at the publisher; I got the 13-digit ISBN on Friday. Rather than feeling the ennui of the initiated, I’m incredibly optimistic.

I’m not the only one who isn’t jaded, though experience might tempt many a writer to focus only on the negatives. Most novelists I know think that this, their next novel, might be the one that breaks out, that establishes unequivocally a career, that makes enough that they can relinquish half of their promotional responsibilities, or earns at least the dollars necessary for their children’s first year at a state university.

Indeed, I think many of us become blithering optimists with each new release AND with each project begun.

We become book virgins again and again and again . . .

What say you, fellow writers?
Do you feel this way? Or, do you exercise caution in your heart, know not to expect too much?

What say you, fellow readers?
Is there anything comparable in other fields? Heck, do you feel this way, too, each time one of your favorite authors comes out with a new book?

BTW:  A moment of gratitude and silence to honor MLK today. And, when you’re through with the quiet, go to this site and listen.

36 thoughts on “Repetitive Virginity

  1. Alexandra Sokoloff

    This is an interesting topic to me. I had no idea of the whole debut cachet when I broke in to publishing.

    Now that I know a little more about the business, I sometimes wish I’d started with a BIGGER book to launch first – but it would be pretty ridiculous to complain: THE HARROWING was my first book ever, I wrote it having no idea whether or not I coud pull it off, and it sold right away to St. Martin’s in a two-book deal (but believe me, I’d paid all my karmic dues in the Hollywood trenches).

    But since you’re using the virginity metaphor – I can’t help taking you literally. I lost my own virginity as a conscious decision – I just wanted to do it so I could get on with it. I didn’t even tell the guy I was a virgin and he never guessed. It was a fine first time but not even remotely in the same universe as sex now – I am SO much better and sex is so infinitely better now that I know what I’m doing.

    Same with books, I think. The first time thing is HIGHLY overrated.

    As a reader, I have always found my favorite authors long after their debuts. And since I both read and write standalones, every book is its own unique experience.

    It might be conventional wisdom that your debut is an extraordinary time, but for me, the first book, like my first time having sex, is and was a mere prelude to the extraordinary journey to come.

    And speaking of journeys, The Fool is my favorite Tarot card. Whatever must be done to entice you to bring your deck to LCC, name it and it shall be done.

    Hail to the King.

    Reply
  2. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Good morning, Alex.

    You’ve brought up so many points.

    On literal virginity and the first time:I wasn’t particularly impressed. I remember standing in the middle of a bridge crossing the Loire River (in an unnamed city) in France and thinking, “Hunh. So, that’s what the Trojan War was all about. Hunh.” I couldn’t understand what the big deal was.

    Debut authors: Whether they realize it or not they have this incredible aura of newness, freshness that is bestowed upon them by readers.

    I think it’s more difficult to “impress” and please readers as a career progresses.

    But that’s what most of us set out to do, to get better each time we publish. I don’t think I set out to do the same thing with sex, though it happened anyway.

    Re: The FoolI love this card, too. I have several favs in the Mythic Tarot. In the Major Arcana, it’ll come as no surprise that among my favorites are The High Priestess, The Star and Temperance.

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  3. JT Ellison

    I’m on the precipice of the cliff, a few yards behind Alex, so I can’t answer the question fully. I agreee that life, books, the career will get all the sweeter with some experience under the belt.

    This time is very exciting, but I’m so busy I don’t have a lot of time to stop and smell the roses. When I do, the feeling is incomparable.

    Going in to bookstores to meet booksellers, getting to share that my first novel will be out in November has been a heady experience (you know that, Pari, since you’ve been witness to that with me.) Not to mention all the pre-work that’s going in.

    I’m inclined to think that this first time will be special. I can’t claim any nonchalance when it comes to, ahem, first times, quite the opposite, so I’ll let that guide me and rest easy in the knowledge that it will be quite an event.

    We’re even planning a major event around the launch. BIG party, a book debutante ball. Why not?

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  4. Pari Noskin Taichert

    J.T.,Oh how I wish I could be at your launch; it’s going to be such a great party.

    And, yes, I’ve witnessed your joy and the incredible response you get from booksellers — and everyone else — when you tell them about ALL THE PRETTY GIRLS.

    Enjoy this time. Revel in it.

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  5. Keith

    I think I’m going the other direction. I started out with a “wait and see” attitude, but I married somebody who’d rather enjoy the whole process, including excitement at the possibilities.

    Whether you start out cautious or excited, the crash is the same either way. So why not be excited while you can?

    I’m still naturally wait-and-see, but not as unilaterally.

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  6. Guyot

    I have my Hemingway quote above my desk:

    THE FIRST DRAFT OF ANYTHING IS SHIT.

    Now, while they are great, amazing first novels released all the time (think Sakey and Hawley), I agree with what I’ve heard Lawrence Block, John Updike and others say:

    Your latest book should always be your best. One should get better the more one does something. If your focus is the work BEFORE anything else, then I believe each book will be better than the last.

    I think when a writer begins to produce product that doesn’t measure up to previous work, he/she is being distracted by too many outside agencies; success, marketing, the Internet, etc.

    And I’m aware that this ain’t easy. Especially if you come out of the box on fire. That’s why I have so much respect for people like Barry Eisler and Lee Child. These guys (and some others) continue to blow me away at how they are able to raise their game every year. (if they’d only give Reacher and Rain cool watches to wear)

    When I write a pilot now, I am aware of how it measures up to my previous stuff. Not while I’m writing it, but once I’m done. And if I look at something and think, “This is okay, this is just decent” then I scrap it, because I know it wasn’t my best effort. Because I believe I should be working at the top of my game right now. Not anyone else’s – just mine.

    Yes, I’ve written things recently that suck. And it’s always been because I was writing for the paycheck. I was paid to write someone else’s idea and I did it. As best I could. But it’s usually not as good as my own stuff.

    Not that my ideas are any better, but it’s just easier for me to “get into” something that comes from within, as opposed to some banker’s idea of a good series idea.

    And to your reader question… I still get incredibly excited when a favorite writer releases something new. Be it a novelist, or a TV writer with a new show, or a feature coming out by a writer I admire.

    Reply
  7. Pari Noskin Taichert

    So, Keith, are you having fun yet?

    You’re right about the crash. The outpouring of public support for my debut was astounding. With my second book, not as many people came to see me at booksignings in some places, and the sales have been at least as strong as #1, but it was a bit like being “old news.”

    I’m not complaining — my audience continues to build — but it was a noticeable shift between the books.

    I’m really curious to see what’s going to happen with #3 because of having taken two years to get it out.

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  8. Louiseure

    I hadn’t realized that there was inherent interest and cachet with a first book’s release until my own came out. Like young debutantes at a cotillion ball, first books are hailed with a string symphony, polite applause and a deep bow. Even the overweight first-book debutante in the too tight strapless gown who trips as she descends the stairs.

    I’m now in that post-debutante stage with my second book, still going to the party, but not waiting at the top of the stairs to hear my name called.

    I think it will be more fun this time around. I’ve polished up my dance steps and I have a partner who seems to know his way around the ballroom.

    Am I excited, Pari? Not in the same way. This is more of a peaceful, easy feeling. I’m not watching my feet while I dance anymore.

    Reply
  9. Elaine Flinn

    Oh, hell, you guys – I was over the moon when my first book came out – but I’ve been around enough blocks to know the initial excitement wouldn’t last. Yes, my first book somehow managed to garner four nominations – and while that produced a sense of giddiness for a time – it was a clear warning that real work was ahead of me…and I dug in. When the second book won the Barry – I knew I was in deep shit now. It rattled me while I wrote the next book and made me second and third and fourth guess every damn word. Number 4? Same thing. So – in a nutshell – Guyot is right – each book demands even more dedication and care. But by now, thankfully, I’m less spooked – and ready to head in directions I might not have considered before.

    Reader question: I get itchy hands when my favorite writers new books are out – especially the Brit’s. I order them on Amazon U.K. and the hell with the added cost.

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  10. Deb Kristy

    Wonderful, and timely, post for me. Several years ago I noticed that I am at my happiest when I am hopeful about something, not when I’ve accomplished something. Since the analogy of the first time is being used, I’ll compare it with the lead-up to to it. The kisses, the exploration, the dreaming of what it might be like, wow, that was heady stuff. Since I realized that about myself I’ve tried to accept the hopeful stages as my main source of happiness and to stop feeling as though it’s some sort of second-rate emotion. I used to think that if I dreamed big I’d jinx things. Now I know that I can dream anything I want, because that in itself, the dream, is a big part of the joy for me, even if it never comes true. So, I dream big. I enjoy the hope. And I cry to my good friends when I can’t get there (er, going through quite a stage of it right now, in fact!).

    And yes, I am always excited anew when a favorite author comes out with something new, and I am amazed and thrilled when they go somewhere new.

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  11. Carstairs38

    I get excited when a favorite author’s new book is about to be released. Those last couple weeks are torture. Then, if the author takes even longer to set up signings, the impatience increases. After all, I want to wait until I can get it signed.

    Fortunately, it seems like there are new books I want to get each month, so there’s something to look forward to on a regular basis.

    Right now, however, I need authors to stop writing. I spent too much money over the last few months and can’t buy any more books. Please wait on releasing cool new stuff until May or June. Thanks.

    MarkWho knows that anything already coming out is already in the pipeline and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

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  12. Sandra Parshall

    I’m glad The First Time is behind me. I was a nervous wreck in the months before The Heat of the Moon came out and never quite made myself believe the good reviews were real. I went through an endless shake-me-and-wake-me-up period. As exciting as Finally Arriving was, I like Being Here far better. Now all I have to worry about is Staying Here.

    Sandy

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  13. PJ Parrish

    This may be the only business where you can be a virgin twice. Lots of authors are doing it, coming out under the guise of “debut” by just changing their names in an effort to fool the computers at B&N.

    And I’m with Paul — if you don’t keep raising that bar, you’re dead. It might take you a book or two to realize it, but dead you are. And your readers will smell it before you do.

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  14. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Louise,I like that dancing analogy. It feels right. Plus, I adore dancing.

    Elaine,You’re going to have to work hard to surpass yourself.

    Kristy,You write with great wisdom. I think I’m like you . . . the hope is the best part of all because anything, everything, is possible.

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  15. Barry Eisler

    Paul, thanks for the very kind words about the Rain books. I just finished the new manuscript, and hereby confirm that Rain does sport a great timepiece in the new book. As for Reacher… I’m less concerned with whether he wears a good watch (the guy can tell time in his head, after all) than I am with whether he’s gettnig laid enough. He did pretty well in that regard in The Hard Way (no double entendres regarding the title, please), but I still think he should have slept with that cute news reporter Annie in One Shot. And what about Frances Neagley? She wanted Reacher, too, and yet Lee cruelly denied his character the opportunity to satisfy her…

    Support Jack Reacher’s sexual rights! Email Lee today!

    :-)Barry

    Reply
  16. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Hey, Mark,We’ll try to be more considerate. At least you’ve got a year before SOCORRO comes out.

    Sandra,There is a certain pleasure in not having to go through THAT again. But I’m intimidated by the need to continue to grow. Don’t misunderstand, I want to do that — I just pray that I have the wisdom to do it well.

    Kristy/PJ,I think the second “debut” thing is really odd. I’m considering using a different name for my new series, but that’s just because my current audience might not like the darker tone. Haven’t decided yet.

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  17. Elaine Flinn

    I’m with Barry on this. Poor Annie & Frances – I mean, a girl has a right to a few memories, huh? That was mean, Reacher. A little departing gift would have meant the world to those gals.

    Reply
  18. Pari Noskin Taichert

    J.T.,I’m wondering if you can arrange something with Lee. That “slinky black number” got me thinking subplots.

    Barry,Welcome. Glad to hear about Rain’s watch.

    Are you the new Prez of the Sex for Reacher club?

    Reply
  19. Guyot

    What is it with Eisler and sex-in-books?

    You’d think with that hair he’d been gettin’ enough.

    Barry… I expect an acknowledgement of “horological inspiration” in the next book.

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  20. Lee Child

    Paul, thanks for the kind words about my books. I do worry endlessly about maintaining standards – not out of any innate virtue, but simply that I need to make a living, and I’m scared of the talent creeping up behind me … including old Eisler, and including people like you, to be honest.

    Reacher doesn’t need a watch … and all I care about is whether he keeps buying me watches, and his track record has been fair so far. He just got me a Faberge Agathon, which I love.

    As for Reacher getting laid … he usually gets his end away in each book, and it’s part of his “knight errant” thing that he behaves in a relatively courtly way in regard to such things … relative to how John Rain behaves, for instance. Rain would have banged Neagley, for sure, but Reacher is more sensitive to her issues. As for the TV reporter … it’s kind of like the standard I apply in real life – I like it to be a challenge.

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  21. Mike MacLean

    How can I follow Lee Child and Barry Eisler in the comments department? I’d be ecstatic to someday share the same bookshelf with either of those guys.

    I’ve not had my name on a cover yet, but I’ve been lucky to be in a couple of very cool anthologies (see where is says “…and others.” That’s me.)

    I have a novel making the rounds with publishers, but it hasn’t gotten any bites yet. Meanwhile, I’m working on a second one. Worrying about my “first time” hasn’t done me much good. In fact, wondering if I’ve made the right choices has undermined my confidence and hindered my writing. I’m second guessing myself and not getting enough of the black stuff on the page.

    I don’t want to close my eyes and get it over with. But, in the end, all I can do is write the best book I can and let the publishing world decide.

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  22. billie

    Mike, I’m in a similar place. When I focus on the writing and not so much about the “first time,” things go better all around.

    Here’s to new challenges for both of us in 2007. 🙂

    And, wow – it sure is sizzling in here today!

    billie, back home now

    Reply
  23. Pari Noskin Taichert

    It’s all in the title, ya know?

    Bring up sex and they come crawling out of the woodwork.

    Mike,I’m really glad you followed those two. How could I possibly have been clever enough?

    Your final comment said it all, “But, in the end, all I can do is write the best book I can . . .”

    Truer words have never been written.

    Billie,It’s so hot in here, I’ve stripped down to that nice little Victoria’s Secret ensemble.

    On a more sedate note:The second-guessing to which both you and Mike refer is just hell. Most writers I know still suffer from it at times.

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  24. JT Ellison

    Mike, the simple fact that you’re working on the next book is the best thing you can do. Don’t you dare let the business side of things damper your creativity. You’re doing everything right. You need to believe in your work, and it will repay you.(Trust me on this. I was in your position this time last year, and several fine people here at Murderati reassured me.)

    Same to you Billie. Stay focused on creating the best book you can.

    I will admit to a thrill that my last name will allow me proximity to Mr. Eisler on the bookshelves.

    Sex with Rain and Reacher and losing our virginity. God, what a lovely day at Murderati.

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  25. Naomi

    Yup, I agree with JT. Don’t overthink it. The more you think that you have the business side of things figured out, the more you will be surprised.

    Reply
  26. Iden Ford

    I came to this post Tuesday am as I am prepping a new portfolio of photos for my latest assignment. Will put some on my blog today.My wife was faced with a choice of whether she would have a larger publisher release her new series under a pseuodonymn. We both felt that her name in Canada was worth keeping, and she chose not to worry about the US market. I think the choices you made were based on your heart and instinct, which in the end is what the creative process is all about. When we make choices that are driven by external pressures, sometimes out of necessity, I think we move away from the centre of our being. I know that is a bit of a romantic notion, as is the loss of virginity for both sexes. Lawrence Block wrote erotic fiction for years to pay the bills before he hit his stride with the Scudder and Rhodenbarr series, But I love the comment, throw your heart over the bar, the rest will follow. Good for you Pari, you are clearly on the right path.

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  27. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Iden,Thank you for brightening my Tuesday morning.

    I believe that if you listen to your heart, your life will forever blossom.

    Being a writer is only part of the picture for me. I have to keep a bigger perspective — family, personal growth, doing good in the world — these are very important to me in order to have a life well lived.

    Reply
  28. Laura Benedict

    I spend way too much time these days paralyzed with disbelief that, after almost two decades of writing little-published stories, a couple unpublished novels and many book reviews, someone has actually paid me money for a book. Two books. I gather these folks actually expect rather significant things from them. It’s the expectations that freak me out. I’m grateful, but afraid.

    I’m so pleased to read the comments of the writers who have already been where I haven’t yet gone. My head feels like it’s going to explode with anticipation and the accompanying worry. Will readers like this book? Will anyone come to my signings/readings? Will Karma come back and bite me in the butt for being grumpy in print five years ago about a book that didn’t meet my expectations and that I thought could have been better if only…?

    I think, I’m 44 and how many books do I have left in me? I have the next three planned–but what comes after that? They’re asking for a book a year? What happens in 2010?

    I sound like a ninny. Wait till you meet me. I’m sure I’ll have spinach in my teeth and I’ll be dressed all wrong. I was always that girl who was a little too dressed up for the dance and wearing that deer-in-the-headlights expression. I hope my novel debuts with more grace than I’ve had up to this point. That’s all I’m hoping for right now. Oh, and to do a good job on this next one. As JT has more eloquently expressed, it is, in the end, all about the work.

    Reply
  29. Pari Noskin Taichert

    Laura,First of all, CONGRATS!

    You don’t sound like a ninny; you sound absolutely normal.

    Welcome to the club. It’ll be a rollercoaster of joy and despondency. Know that you’ve got a whole community of people who are ready and willing to cheer you on and to support you when things seem bleak.

    BTW: I’m looking at 50 in a little more than a year, so 44 sounds like you’re barely out of diapers to me.

    I can’t wait to meet you. I hear that spinach in the teeth is a new fad, kind of like those giant plugs kids are putting in their earlobes now.

    Reply
  30. Laura Benedict

    Thank you so much, Pari! I love how supportive mystery and thrillers writers are of their brethren/sisteren. It’s rarely the same in other writing communities, I’ve noticed, particularly in literary academia. Bouchercon in Madison was my first mystery conference and everyone was so great. Thanks for making me feel welcome here. I hope we’ll meet soon!

    Oh, and if forty is the new thirty, then fifty is the new forty. Enjoy!

    BTW–We live in a college town and just the other day I noticed a guy with what looked like a giant spool in his ear. Who knew it was an actual fad?! I couldn’t help but wonder what it’s going to look like in about sixty years when he’s trying to impress the hottie emptying his bedpan in the nursing home. Talk about saggy! Yuck.

    Reply

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