WHERE THINGS STAND

By Stephen Jay Schwartz

 

I’ve had a lot of people ask when my next book will be out. “What, the book I’m still writing?” I ask.

Well, I hope to have it finished by the end of the year. However, I’m not on contract, so the first place it goes is to my agent, who has to love it if it goes any further. Then he’s got to sell it. That deal will take as long as it takes and then I’ll have to work with a new editor, who may or may not want me to make significant changes. Then he/she must put her/his stamp of approval on the book before the book goes into production. The book ends up on the shelves about a year after that. So, if I finish it by the end of the year it will be another year and a half before it hits the stores.

God, that’s depressing. Will there even be bookstores two years from now?

Or I could go the self-publishing ebook route, like other authors I know. Then I could have the book available a couple months after it’s done. I’d have it out in less than a year.

I haven’t even been thinking of traditional publishing versus ebook self-publishing. I’ve only been concentrating on writing a good book, no matter how long it takes. But it’s been a long time now and ultimately my decision might rest on expediency and control (ebooks) over the glamour of seeing my hardcover in stores and reading reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist (traditional publishing).

Does not having a new book on the shelves every year mean I’m not in the game?

I don’t know. Now that I’ve learned a little bit about the world of publishing I don’t have the same mad desire to rush my work into publication, the way I did for Boulevard and Beat. I was living on the dream that being published would change my world, that it would bring vast riches and movie deals and an international fan base. I’ve learned that, while these things can in fact occur, they generally take many years and many, many novels in the pipeline. I’m no longer willing to put my friends and family aside to juggle a full-time day job and a full-time writing career that eats every evening, weekend and holiday. My kids are twelve and fourteen now and I only have so much time to be their daddy. I don’t want to be remembered as the guy who lived hunched in a chair behind the night-time glow of a computer screen.

I’ve simply decided to take it slower. And it’s not like I haven’t been working. This past year I wrote and rewrote a feature screenplay on assignment and I had essays and poetry published in numerous print publications, including the “Now, Write” series, “Writers on the Edge” (22 writers talking about addiction), and Gerald So’s “The Line-Up.” I’ve been active in oodles of events for Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America and I’ve committed to projects for Thrillerfest and other organizations. And I’ve written the first full draft of my new novel, which I’m basically tossing into the trash in favor of a new take on the story. So, I’ve been active, I just haven’t finished my fucking novel.

And yet that’s the name of the game, isn’t it? Pumping out the pulps? Everything else seems like busy work. Everything else is a distraction.

I wonder how long I can live on the reputation of my first two novels. A long time, I hope. Because it’s going to be a while before you have another Schwartz book in your hands.

Hopefully, it’s worth the wait. These things, these books, are forever, you know. I think I’d rather write six or eight really, really good books than twenty or thirty novels that blend into one, underwhelming conversation. And that means I’ll probably always have to have a day job. And maybe that’s okay. It keeps the writing pure. It means I’m doing it for the right reasons. I still only want to write novels that I want to write. I can write screenplays on assignment, no problem. There’s no love lost in writing for the screen. It’s just a paycheck and I’ll take it if I can get it. But the novel is my heart and soul. As personal as a saxophone solo in a bebop garage band. No one’s gonna tell Charlie Parker to play a catchier tune. “You know, the kind the fans can sing along with.”

So, the big news is that I’ve yet again changed the venue of my current novel. You know, the one set in Amsterdam? Only I re-set it in Las Vegas a few months ago. Last week I re-set it in San Francisco. I was in the City for a couple days and on the phone with my wife, just rattling off the passion I have for the magical city and then I hear her timid little voice saying, “Maybe you should just set it in San Francisco and be done with it.” And, as usual, she’s right. I love the city, I know the city, I have contacts at the SFPD and FBI in the city. I hooked up with my police friends while I was there and suddenly I was introduced to the Chief of Police and I was invited to sit in on a press conference he held regarding a recent police-involved shooting. I got the red-carpet treatment. And I ran story ideas by my cop friends and they offered the solutions to all of my problems – exciting, new locales in the city, operational secrets, “insider” information. It would take me months, maybe years, to acquire this kind of access in Las Vegas.

It’s a process, man. I’m actually glad I’m not writing on contract now. I’m glad I don’t have a deadline. It’s taken all of two years to discover the story I want to tell. And the book will be better for it.

It takes what it takes to get it right.

And that’s simply where things stand.

31 thoughts on “WHERE THINGS STAND

  1. Pari Noskin

    Stephen,
    I love reading about your journey here and the all the twists and turns it has taken so far. Gosh, I remember when that first book was just coming out!

    I know this story you're writing will be all the stronger for the care and heart you're giving it . . . and the time you're giving yourself to write it truthfully.

  2. Richard Maguire

    Stephen, I was a big fan of Haydn Glass, and very much looked foward to seeing how you developed his character in future stories. Then I read in one of your posts that either your publisher or agent advised you to drop the series. I found that hard to understand. Glass is complex, and much more interesting, and human, than Harry Bosch, for example.

    But then, what do I know? I'm the guy who commented 4 weeks ago on your post about tense. Saying I can't read stories written in present tense. Apparently, I showed myself up as a total idiot. (Can't help it, though. Fiction written in present tense throws me out of the story, completely.) Which is the reason I no longer comment here – except for today, because I think it's a real pity there haven't been more Haydn Glass books. Just wanted to say it.

  3. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Pari – thanks for the support, dear. We both know how hard it is to juggle the world and still write a clear sentence.

  4. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Richard – I do appreciate your comments, always. Thanks for the fist-bump on Hayden Glass. I feel the same as you. I'm definitely going to write another Glass novel – probably right after I'm done with this one. And, if no publisher wants it, I'll sell it as an ebook. Which might be the best way to go, anyway. Also, I've optioned the series to a great TV producer, so there's a chance it will end up as a cable series. If that happens it will open the door for me to continue writing the series.
    My job with the current novel is to get you to love first person, present tense. Just wait, I'll get you yet.

  5. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Stephen

    I feel your dilemma, because I'm still trying to straddle the traditional and e-publishing worlds. How successfully I manage that is anyone's guess, but it's a steep learning curve.

    And I have to say that being in charge of my own destiny has proved a liberating experience, and done wonders for my creativity 🙂

    Stay well, my friend. Keep scribbling.

  6. Shizuka

    Stephen,

    Your Glass novels and your posts always feel so authentic, so you (even though I've never met you).
    And if changing things dramatically between drafts and taking the time is what makes that happen, it sounds like the right path.

    I'm unpublished, but even if I eventually publish, I'll always want a day job.
    It takes the pressure off the writing.

    Shizuka

    PS: I'm a big fan of skillful first person present tense.

  7. Lisa Alber

    I, too, love reading about your journey. And I say kudos to you for committing to daddy-dom. That's life, and so is earning money. I'm in my second week in a full-time office job (technical writing), and I'm having a hard time ridding myself of the feeling that I have betrayed my fiction dream. There's so little time now! I've been wondering about you in your job–and also with your family responsibilities–and when you get your writing in. I don't function well when I'm sleep deprived so it's not like I can trade sleep for extra fiction-writing hours. It's a dilemma…

    I love San Francisco too. I've taken many an identical shot from the bunkers as you've got posted here….sigh…Whatever you decide to do (epub or traditional), I look forward to your next one!

  8. Sarah W

    "I've been active, I just haven't finished my fucking novel."

    I'm going to cross-stitch this one and put it over my desk. It may not seem like an inspirational affirmation, but I think you just kept me from ripping out two large handfuls of hair from the sides of my skull. I'm not sure when the Little Engine switched from "I think I can" to "You should be done," but it's been getting to me.

    So thanks.

    (and I wanted you to know that a couple months ago, I brought Beat to a medical procedure that terrified me — even though I knew I wasn't going to be able to pay attention — and the story caught me to the point that the nurse had to call my name twice. And that was the third time I'd read it. So if Hadyn Glass has more to do, put me on the list of people who want to see it)

  9. Blair

    Steve-O,

    How our lives and careers run parallel to each other is uncanny, but will save the details for a private email – or dinner at Bravo Cucina (or Spago's if I get another movie!). Totally understand backing off on the gas a bit to ensure enjoying life before it passes you by (brings to mind a terrific article about a Nat'l Geographic photographer/father of two who's wife angrily threw a stack of his pictures at him and said, "Be sure to bury these with you because they're the only ones who will attending your funeral!"), but do hope it's merely an energy-recharging sojourn, and not the last of Haydn Glass. Love the idea of eBook self-publishing. The world will not cease to rotate with a few agents and editors, indeed it will spin faster with the weight relief.

    In any case, remember, it took Robert Caro 30 plus years to complete his LBJ tome. (and I'm still on the first one!)

    http://www.esquire.com/features/robert-caro-0512-3

    Cheers, mofo.

    B

  10. Eric Stone

    Boy howdy do I know right where you're coming from. I'm struggling like crazy trying to write the third novel of a trilogy I've been working on for the past two years. My agent has the first one. Over a year ago it got into a shape in which she wanted to sell it and was optimistic about doing so. It hasn't sold yet. I'm also struggling with the whole question of whether or not to go the e-pub route if and when it doesn't sell.

    But in spite of the current rage for it, or maybe because of that, I can't help but still see most e-publishing these days as little more than a higher tech form of vanity press. It has also, for a number of writers, become a quantity rather than quality game. Crank out enough books, no matter what the quality, and enough people will buy at least a few copies that you might make a living at it. I'm not that kind of writer, though sometimes I wish I could be.

    I liked your first two novels a lot, a whole lot. If it comes down to that, I'd rather read just one or two or three more that live up to the standards of the first two, than a dozen more that don't.

    Write well, my friend. Write at your own pace. I'll try to do the same.

  11. Ian Rabin

    Stevo, you write for all the right reasons. Glass is not a see-through character. (oy) That's what makes
    it makes such a tough but worthy journey. Your fan …. Ian

  12. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Zoe – ah, creative freedom. A dream whose time has come.

    Shizuka – Weird that we should actually appreciate our day jobs, isn't it? I hate the kind of pressure I feel when I'm trying to survive off my writing. It turns me inside out. It makes me question my instincts. Of course, being independently wealthy would do the trick. I wouldn't mind being part of the Leisure Class.

  13. lil Gluckstern

    While you mull over how your book will reach us, I will look forward to it whatever its incarnation. It may not be easy for you, but your hard work results in books of rare immediacy, and give me a compelling ride.

  14. Allison Davis

    Follow your feet, Stephen, they seem to do the best research for you. Call me when you're here — I need to take up your friends offer to assist on the current languishing book. I agree that the pressure (I live in a produce now world) to have it done (your book isn't finished yet? asked people who don't ever write letters anymore) can be stiltifying. I'm taking some time off starting next week, and I'll see if I can get my head quiet enough to start writing again and productively. Thanks for sharing. As always, another writer's struggles resonate (sometimes like a gong). In any case, whatever and whenever you emerge with your book, it'll be amazing, I know.

  15. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Lisa – oiy, you're on your second week of a full-time job. You're just now realizing that your freedom is slipping away. I've had so many "week twos." I've had like thirty jobs in my lifetime. The second to last week is always the best.

    Sarah – I can think of no better validation than to have my books comfort someone who is about to endure a terrifying medical procedure. The fact that you've already read the book two times previously means more to me than a starred review in Publisher's Weekly.

  16. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Blair – so true, so true, about the Earth's relaxed rotation from shaking off the agents, managers and other riff-raff. I'm sure they'll find a way to get their claws into ebooks soon enough. Yes, let's do Bravo, but I'd rather do Spago to celebrate the fact that you're directing Taxi Driver II. Long live Bubble Boy!

    Eric – them are some meaningful words there, my friend. Thank you. I know I'll make use of the ebook world one of these days – I do want to epublish a book of poetry, short stories and essays. And I've seen big agents and publishers chasing first-time ebook authors. It's a crazy world out there – everything is turned on its head.

  17. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Ian – thanks, brother. Now finish that novel of yours and get yourself a ten-book publishing deal with Harper-Collins. A deal like that ought to earn you at least a thousand bucks.

    lil – thank you, dear! It's odd to think that a three-year writing cycle can result in an experience of rare immediacy. That's what we shoot for, anyway.

  18. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Allison – next time I'm up we'll do a get-together with the guys, get them talking about your story. It's just the thing you need to get re-energized about your book. It works like a charm for me. And don't languish too long – you have a wonderful voice, a great protagonist, and a story to tell. Can't wait to spend time with you in North Beach.

  19. John M

    Wow. Lots of pressure and choices from every direction. Smart to regroup and focus. Nothing's worse than missing out on family time. It's an enormous sacrifice. But failing to self actualize will make you an unhappy husband and father. Oh man, talk about a catch-22! Thanks for the very honest and thought provoking blog.

  20. KDJames

    Stephen, there are things I want to say to you but, reading these comments, there are other things more compelling. Besides, you already know I love you and support you and all that crap. So shove over, dude.

    Richard, you bastard. I loved what you had to say weeks ago about present tense. I was nodding my head in agreement and cheering you on. Do NOT fucking tell me that because of that opinion you are no longer willing to comment over here. Do NOT make me hunt you down and pry your fingers off your backside and use them to slap you upside the head. I place great value on dissenting opinion, especially when it is voiced with intelligence and respect, as yours was. I repeat, do NOT make me track you down and go all Liam Neeson on your ass. That sort of behaviour scares my kids. Even after all this time. You'd think they'd have become inured.

    Sarah W, you are another one who drives me to the brink (as long as I'm getting things off my chest here). Your voice is so compelling, so unique. For the love of all that's good and Oreos, please just finish whatever you're writing. I don't even care what genre it's in, I'll read it. And I'll love it. Just . . . damn, woman. Finish it and set it free. And then write the next thing.

    Also, Allison and Lisa, same goes. I want to love what you write. I know I will. Please just fucking put it out there and let me read it.

    *deep breath*

    Okay, Stephen, I think I'm calm enough now that I can talk to you. Maybe. You said: "I still only want to write novels that I want to write. I can write screenplays on assignment, no problem. There's no love lost in writing for the screen. It's just a paycheck and I'll take it if I can get it." Yes. YES. I'm in that place now. I can't write what I want to write, because I just don't have the writing chops to do it justice. It's taken me a long time to come to that realization. But it's true. So in the meantime, I'll write what I can in order to (I hope) pay the bills. Luckily, my command of the English language is slightly more adept than my command of time and gravity. Otherwise, I'd be out on the streets, selling myself. And at my age, that's just pitiful. Also, more than likely, unprofitable.

    We all do what we are able to do, in the time and space allotted. Funny thing about time and space, though. They live on long after we're gone. They even gain power and meaning *because* we're gone. So don't despair over things not done in a certain time or in a certain space. Do the things you are meant to do. They will find their own time and space.

  21. Rebecca Cantrell

    There's nothing wrong with throttling back and leading a more balanced life. I don't know why writers have to feel so guilty about working and also about not working. But I'm right there with you, feeling guilty either way. Right now, I'm working on feeling guilty for working less.

    Hang in there, Stephen! It's a tough world out there, but you are phenomenally talented. Your work will endure.

  22. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    KD – and I LOVE your voice, too. Don't ever stop commenting on Murderati. You're one of the reasons I love to blog, and that I continue to blog even when time is short. Thank you for making it all worthwhile.

    Rebecca – what can I say, girl? We started together, we're in it together. We're lucky we got published traditionally when we did, because the world is changing. I have tremendous respect for you and your works–you're one of the truly brilliant writers of our generation. Take your time, do it right. Remember, what remains in the end is the work.

  23. Reine

    Hi Stephen,

    Here's another fist bump. Sorry I'm late… couldn't be helped. Wondering… does it have to be either/or with e-publishing? Can't an e-book help the sales of traditionally-published books?

    As far as waiting for a book to come out, by an author I like, I can wait a very long time. I have way more books to read and try to write reviews for, than I can ever have time for. I don't think people forget about the authors they like, Stephen. Yes, of course I mean you. xo

  24. Stephen Jay Schwartz

    Reine – thank you, sweetie. Much appreciated. And I feel the same – I'll wait for years to read authors I love. It's more common in fiction – we expect a fiction author to take three to five years to write each book. Us genre folk have different standards.

  25. Reine

    Stephen, you are the sweetie. I think I need need a new reader/writer vocabulary to go with all the nuances of fiction, genre, novel, et cetera. I'm sure there's a book somewhere! xo

  26. KDJames

    Kind words, Stephen, thank you. I doubt I'll stop commenting over here, it feels too much like home. Besides, I'm way too opinionated for my own good — just TRY to stop me. There are times I just don't have anything intelligent to add to the conversation. Well, okay, that's pretty much all the time. But I value the content and conversation over here, so I try to contribute when I can. Even if that involves beating up on other commenters. Sigh.

  27. PD Martin

    Hi all.
    Richard, I hope you checked the Notify box because I agree with KD! I remember that discussion as being interesting and engaging to hear from both sides of the fence! And you're certainly not alone…I think I mentioned in my comment that I know HEAPS of readers who don't like even first person, let alone first person present. My Sophie novels are first person present and I read stuff on forums from people saying they'd heard good things about my books but then picked one up and realised it was in first person present and just put it down again. I do think first person present has more immediacy but I know lots of people like you who hate reading it. I think your opinion was valued by everyone. Some of us (e.g. me and Stephen) have a vested interest in defending first person present because that's what we're writing in (or in my case what my first series used)!

    Maybe Stephen will convert you 🙂

    Stephen, I think it's great that you're committing more time to family. I think lots of people get so caught up in day-to-day life that their kids' childhoods slip them by. We've made a conscious effort to maximise family time, and while it means we seem to be constantly broke, we both get to be hands-on parents.

    Good luck with the rest of the novel!
    Phillipa

  28. Reine

    Mmmmm, KD. Your comments are as interesting and informative – and as entertaining – as any blog. xo


    Written with iMac dictation

  29. Reine

    KD, my comment on your comment was dumped– probably looked like spam, because I didn't delete my iMac dictation tag. I sometimes put it there for others with disabilities who might be looking for a useful writing program.

    So! On to the fucking point… I think your comments, and your comments on comments, are as interesting and informative – and as entertaining – as any blog. xo

    But writing this without the Mac's dictation feature is a real bitch.

  30. KDJames

    Thanks you, Reine! I feel the same about your comments and I admire you for conquering what I know are some pretty huge (physical) obstacles to make them.

Comments are closed.