I’ll be out of the country for a few weeks and I’ve asked a couple authors to pop in and introduce themselves while I’m gone. Today you’ll meet Eric Stone, and on September 23rd you’ll meet Miles Corwin, author of KIND OF BLUE, HOMICIDE SPECIAL and THE KILLING SEASON.
I’ve known Eric Stone for a number of years now. He’s a genuine nuisance and an all-around Good Guy. He is also the author of the Ray Sharp series of detective thrillers set in Asia and based on true stories that he covered as a journalist: The Living Room of the Dead, Grave Imports, Flight of the Hornbill and Shanghaied (in which he brutally murdered his series protagonist.) He is also the author of Wrong Side of the Wall, the true-crime / sports biography of Blackie Schwamb, the greatest prison baseball player of all time.
He is currently at work on a trilogy of coming of age novels set in Los Angeles during different eras and in different communities.
Eric worked for many years as a journalist in the U.S. and Asia, covering everything from economics to crime; politics to sex, drugs and rock & roll. He once wrote an advice to the lovelorn column for a bi-lingual (English-Chinese) fashion magazine. He currently lives in Los Angeles. You can learn more about Eric at his website, http://www.ericstone.com
WRITING SUCKS, BUT WHAT ELSE AM I GOING TO DO?
A guest blog for Murderati by Eric Stone
This summer, for the very first time in my life I’ve been having an awful time trying to write. I don’t like anything I write and what little I manage to start loses steam, or slams into brick walls. Thirty years ago I would have been filling the wastepaper bin in my office with reams of paper. Now I’m more environmentally friendly – if you don’t take power plants into account – I just discard pixels.
All the palliatives and advice I’ve received and dispensed to others myself over the years have done no good.
“Inspiration is for amateurs.” Oh, fuck you Chuck Close, you get millions of dollars for one of your damned paintings made up of all those endless tiny self-portraits. You don’t need inspiration, you’ve got your shtick.
“When you face writer’s block, just lower your standards and keep going.” Blow it out your ass Sandra Tsing Loh, I find your Asian Valley-Girl Mom blather on NPR incredibly annoying. Talk about low standards.
“If you don’t think too good, don’t think too much.” You could hit the ball, sure, couldn’t you Ted Williams? But you weren’t much of a fielder. Booze used to be good for sticking to this advice, but as I get older the hangovers get worse and less worth it.
It might help if my latest book would sell. It’s been sitting on about eight editors desks in New York, mostly, since sometime in July. Waiting is murder, slow, torturous murder even when it’s your sixth book.
Maybe this is it, the end. Maybe all I had in me was five books. Most people don’t ever even write one.
But maybe by the time this blog is published – after Labor Day – the publishing industry will have finally left the beach, shaken off the sand, washed off the sunscreen and got back to their offices. Maybe some of them will take pickaxes and shovels to the piles in front of them and finally unearth my manuscript. Most of them will reject it.
Maybe one of them will realize it is the best thing I’ve ever written and the next book will be even better and they’ll buy it. That possibly hallucinatory carrot dangling just out of reach in front of my nose is what keeps me going. That might just prove inspiring. Take that, Chuck Close.
But there are those times when I think, sometimes even know that the smart move would be to simply give up. Who needs the damn carrot anyhow?
Those are the times when I’ll be chewing on a paperclip at my desk, wondering what would happen if I just swallowed it. I’ve never swallowed a paperclip.
Those are the times I can best picture the label on the bottle of good single malt in the next room. Not until five or even six, Eric. Not until you can think up something to reward yourself for or build up enough sorrow to drown.
Those are the times I am taunted by the knowledge that distraction, amusement, companionship and simple gratification are no more than a couple of mouse clicks, a phone call and a couple hundred bucks away.
I guess I’m just too stupid to give up, or to prematurely reach for that bottle or dial for that doll, or to do any of the too many things that I know would be easier than sitting here day after day spewing shit from my fingertips. (Although I might swallow the paperclip one of these days, by mistake if not intention.)
At times I feel like the aging, graying, sagging, verging on heat-stroked mule plodding up the narrow path of the Grand Canyon on a hot day. There’s all that cool, fresh water in the river far below. It glistens so beautifully it beckons, just sidle on over to the edge and lean a little too far and it will all be over soon.
But what can I do? I’m a mule, just another fucking mule. Even I know that the promised carrot is probably an illusion. And it sure as hell isn’t cake. But it’s a carrot and I’m a mule and the only thing I really know is how to keep putting down one hoof in front of the other and maintain just enough balance to keep from stumbling over the cliff.
Every day that I get up and want to do something else, want to get in my car and just drive away, want to go score some good strong dope and turn myself into one of the blissfully, mindless walking dead, I have to flog myself out of it. I have to whip myself with the only one word of real, smart advice that any writer ever gets. It’s the dumbest, most obvious thing anyone can ever tell a writer or a writer can tell themselves, but it’s the only thing that makes any sense in the end. It’s the only thing that any writer who really is a writer can really do anyhow.
Eric, just shut the fuck up and write.
Eric, I am so there.
Welcome to the blog.
Just keep writing, don't even look for excuses or inspiration or the whys of it.
Hey Eric, nice to see you here.
I think a trip to San Francisco would be the perfect antidote. What's that you say? I'm just a siren that costs more than $200 bucks? Ah well, that would be right.
Thanks for the kind words. Tomorrow I leave on a road trip to Bouchercon, then the Mississippi Delta. Sometimes getting away from home helps kick me in the ass. Writing for an hour or two in the morning in a motel before hitting the road is surprisingly productive.
The honesty in your post makes me want to pick up one of your books Eric. Yet another author discovered via Murderati!
Eric, Nora Robert's interview in the New Yorker was good for one thing. When asked what makes her so successful, Robert said, get your ass in the seat. Amen. I keep flogging myself after my work week (that's the hard part) to do just that, very slow going. I go to New Orleans (have dual residence in SF and New Orleans) in the summer when I really want to be productive — truly. Something about the swampy heat and warm nights. Enjoy the Delta — after St. Louis. I'm missing Bouchercon this year — staying home to get the manuscript done. But I'm always good for single malt…just an email away…
So – do any of you reading this out there have any tricks for bullying yourself into writing? For me, getting out of town often works. There was a time when it was booze and cocaine, but that seems unseemly – not to mention self-destructive – these days.
Nah, none of the stimulants works anymore — gave up smoking, even coffee and drinking just puts me to sleep. I go to the beach or get away. Because I have a day job and my house needs so much work, there are a lot of distractions. If I get away, I can be more focused. I got a lot of writing done renting a house at the beach a couple of times last month. The only other thing is to set out a block of time and just sit there. Routine is the best if you have that luxury. Tricks? Make a pot of hot tea and sit through it and write. When it's done you can get up. Editing — I make myself get through a chapter then get up.
I used to do well in a crowded place as I didn't feel so left out, but people don't leave you alone (again you have to travel so no one knows you). I don't need quiet but I do need to be anonymous.
I look at the the dull sameness of my surroundings and get motivated to escape.
Eric…that rocked. Man, other than the already published part, you tapped into my brain and extracted those thoughts I never let loose on anyone. I feel you, bro. The Ted Williams paragraph made me spew half-digested Zicam all over my keyboard. Ahh…the joys of a hangover and a coming cold.
The way I throw jet-fuel on my desire is by traveling to the place where my soul resides. I can usually only go once a year; it's expensive. But when I'm there, something happens. Things click in place. Ideas that have been stewing either come clear or go away. Then, usually as I sit down on the 767 to come home, it comes pouring out.
Thanks for your thoughts today. Can't wait to read your work.
Yeah, change of scenery seems to help a lot of people. I was in Bali for a week earlier this year – a valley where there are almost no tourists and very little to do. I got a huge amount of writing done. I'm hoping my five days in the Mississippi Delta – one of my other favorite and peaceful places on the planet – will have a similar affect. Then again, I will undoubtedly be distracted by wanting to drive around and explore stuff when I'm there.
Keep writing, Eric, because you're really good. All, if you haven't read one of Eric's books, do so now: like this blog, they are gritty, sexy, irrascible, truth-telling. I don't know what's become of the publishing industry or where they go in the summer, but I too am waiting for that "after Labor Day" bite. Jeez! I think perhaps too much time is being spent on twitter and elsewhere…but with any luck, Eric, soon you'll have good news. Keep us posted!
I'm not very efficient or prolific, but I do write fiction daily — sometimes 11 words only, sometime a lot more. The only thing that keeps me doing it is the promise to myself.
There's so much over which I don't have control in my life, so much that is incredibly challenging . . . I simply don't want to let myself down on this one small thing.
Thanks Claire and Pari. I also try to write something every day, no matter how awful it is – which lately is all that it feels like it is. But I've got to do it to avoid sinking into lethargy.
Eric, I was beginning to feel your pain until you noted that you spent a week in Bali recently. I've got my own pain to feel anyway waiting for those same editors to tell my agent it's not cute enough, or serious enough, or long enough, or short enough to be the one story they're not too scared to buy and possibly not make money on.These are tough and strange times for mid-list writers. Good thing we're all a little strange ourselves…and tougher than we admit. (Or dumber – as you say, what are we going to do but write?)
It's great to see everyone welcoming Eric! I just have a moment to pop in….I'm not doing a lick of writing, because I'm in IRELAND with my wife and kids! Yeeeha! Friggin' beautiful, man.
Thanks for coming by, Eric!
Stephen, I am so jealous – love Ireland!
Hi Susan. Bali was back in February and on someone else's dime. Writing was going well then. Sadly, no more, or at least not for now, and I can't afford to go back.
Stephen, thanks for having me. It's a pleasure.
I like your style, dude.
Don't swallow the paperclip. I have a hunch that nothing good would come of it.
Apologies for coming late to the party. Anybody reading this post will realise you've got talent in spades. That alone should tell you not to give up.
But some days it's all stick and no carrot, isn't it?
Oh, you mentioning "dialling that doll" for £200? That seems a lot of money for something that's possibly inflatable … am I missing something here?
Hi Zoe. Thanks. I'm not about to give up. As I said, what else would I do? The sad fact is that if I had to pay someone in order to be able to write, rather than the other way around, I'd probably still do it. As for the "doll" – it was 1940s colloquial – as in a living doll, rather than an inflatable or even finely constructed facsimile thereof. And $ not Pounds (couldn't find the right keyboard shortcut for that.)
I'm a little lat to this, and I liked your post. Very honest, which I appreciate. I am now going to find out if your books are as enthralling. Please don't swallow that paper clip…
And I second what Lil said, Eric!