Thursday, June 15, 2006

Wherein Tracy Indulges in a Decidedly Unfunny WhineFest

What makes a book a keeper? If there were some magic formula for writing one every time, I would, of course, take it in a heartbeat. As long as I didn't have to sell one of my kids or give up a kidney or be nice to Ann Coulter. Or jump into the spider tank on Fear Factor, because ... eeeeeeuw.

Lately, however, I've been wondering where I'm going as a writer. When I wrote Maximum Security, I knew it was the best I could do at the time. I obsessed about the partial for MONTHS, took about a year to write the book in my head, sold said partial to Harlequin, and spewed what was in my head on paper in six months.

Because I had the luxury of time to do that pre-writing that I find so necessary, I ended up feeling good about the first draft. I revised it, and then felt really good about it. Sure, I went through that period of sheer and utter hatred, where I told my friend Sue that this was it, I was done as a writer, the book was sewer sludge, and Intrigue was going to demand their advance back. But a few months later, I went back and reread the revised manuscript after letting it sit for awhile, and I decided it was officially Not Bad. (My appreciation of my own work goes on a scale from Looking for a Bus to Throw Myself Under to a very pleased Not Bad, so this is a great thing.)

The book won a few awards, and a handful of people told me it was up on their keeper shelves. THAT was the best praise I've ever, ever gotten. Ever.

However, I never got to the Not Bad stage with the three books in the "Mission:Family" series, and it has been nagging at me lately. Sure, I've got excuses. I wrote those books with a new baby underfoot, in a foreign country with an impending move back to the US breathing down my neck, and child care only two days a week so I could concentrate on both work and writing for a few hours. But do readers know that or care? No. All they know is that I put out three more books, and they have to decide whether those three books were good enough to warrant spending more money on future books of mine. Excuses are useless. All that matters is the work.

My friend Dana Marton is working on the coolest three-book series for Intrigue right now. Although I thought her opening was awesome, she's ripped it apart three times now, at least, and I've loved it more every time. Every time I glance at a book from the Mission series, I wish I'd followed Dana's example more. And when I get a nice compliment from someone about the books, my first impulse is to apologize. Because while the Mission series was the best I could do at the time, it wasn't the best I could do, period. (I probably shouldn't be admitting that in public, but let it never be said that I don't suck at self-promotion!)

The hardest thing right now is that while I'm working on Renegade Ridge, I'm worried that I can't do it again. (I know, cry me a river--you're published. But just go with me here--the neurotic behavior doesn't stop with the magic contract.) I want to churn out another Maximum Security, a book that represents the very best I can do, ever. A book that earns a coveted spot on a few readers' keeper shelves. But I'm worried that I won't have time, that life and writing are just tooooo haaaaaarrrrrrrrrd with two kids and a husband who has to be hit over the head with the vacuum hose multiple times to start cleaning anything, that I've lost my mojo, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. I hate everything I'm writing, I feel stressed out, whine, whine, whine. And I could get ready for Renegade Ridge's release by churning out more excuses, but in the end, they just don't matter. All that matters to a reader is the work.

Sorry, you all. I think I'm in suffering from a lack of peanut butter M&Ms or something. I'm even driving myself nuts today.

You know, I have this feeling that at this moment, I'm not a gajillion-books-a-year kind of writer. Ideally, at this moment, I'd be like Jeffrey Deaver and would take a year to research and really get into my book, then crank it out once it's fully realized in my head and send it to the publisher with the awesome feeling that it's Not Bad. Can I ever get that kind of time luxury with Intrigue? Probably not--the editors want three books a year, at least, and I agree with them--when your book is only out for a month, you need to do something to keep your name out there.

My hope is that if I keep pushing myself and writing books at a faster pace than I'm comfortable with--especially once I send Marin to day care this fall--my abilities will catch up, and it won't take me so long to complete a manuscript that's Not Bad. I'm contracted to do three books for 2007, and since the deadlines are spread apart and not back-to-back as they were for the Mission series, my goal is to get all three to Not Bad status. I WILL do it. I will, I will, I will.

To all of you sweet people who comment on here from time to time, PLEASE NOTE that I am NOT fishing for compliments. I'm not searching for a bus at the moment, so let's just pretend that the Mission series doesn't exist right now. But whether you're under a deadline or not, I'd love to know if you've ever experienced this kind of feeling (I'm guessing yes), and what you do to snap out of it.


Jen said...

I can relate to this completely. Don't be so hard on yourself, though. Churning out three books is NOT easy. It's paying the dues, just like the rejections early on. Then, I think there's the book, the one. The one that you don't sub to HQ. The one that really launches you. Nora did it. It's attainable. Go for it.

Paula said...

Tracy, I'm terrified that my editor will not like my second book nearly as much as my first one and refuse to buy it or even let me revise it to make her happy. And even if she does buy it, I'm terrified that readers won't like it as much as they seem to like the first book. And then I'm terrified that if they like that book, they're going to hate the third book.

I don't think it ever gets better, either. But I'll let you know if I ever figure out how to snap out of it.

And I know you weren't fishing for compliments, but I have to tell you, I read your Mission: Family books first, and I spent most of the time I was reading thinking, dang, I wish I'd written that. I decided you were a must read author on the basis of HOUSE OF SECRETS without reading any of the others, and I haven't changed my mind since. (And I consider myself a fairly picky reader).

I think you're a lot harder on yourself and your books than your readers are. I, for one, am delighted that you're going to be doing three books in 2007.

Tracy Montoya said...

Jen, I like the way you put it--paying your dues. Maybe you have to accept less than Totally and Utterly Perfect while you grow as a writer.

Thanks, Jen!

Tracy Montoya said...

Thanks so much, Paula, even if you decided to rebel and not follow directions. ;-D

I'm sure Intrigue will buy more from you. They've invested a lot by taking your first book, from a purely business standpoint. And FT was so well done, I believe without a doubt that you can do it again. I LOVE the thought of exploring the dark sides of Lily's and Rose's gifts, as you mentioned on your blog--I bet the editors will, too.

Want some peanut butter M&Ms?

Charlie said...

I think what you're feeling is pretty normal. I know that doesn't make it any less painful. I've seen that terrified look in lots of new author's eyes. It might help to add, that they are usually the ones who do really well as time goes by. You care enough to work at it and make it better and better. As for compliments on your current work, no fishing required. See here for unprovoked thoughts on fabulous author TM:

As an unpublished author, my strategies for coping with fear and doubt might not help you much. Being around other writers can help sometimes. Hearing Sherrilyn Kenyon speak always helps. Reading the write book can help. Mostly, I have to push it out of my mind and keep moving.


Paula said...

Yes, I think I'll have some Peanut Butter M & Ms, thanks. ;)

Tracy Montoya said...

Charlie! I didn't know you were blogging. Excellent--yet another blog for me to use as a procrastination tool.

And thanks so much for liking Joe so much. : ) I appreciate the plug, and look forward to doing the same some day.

You know, I didn't realize Sherrilyn Kenyon was such a dynamic speaker--I'll make a point to seek her out, esp. if she's speaking in Atlanta. I need to read her someday, too. I've heard such good things about her books.

I gave myself a good kick in the pants today. Didn't have time to write (work deadline), but at least I'm not being a pill anymore.

charlie said...

Sherillyn is fabulous. Makes me cry and then makes me want to go write books. She's been one of my godesses since way before I ever read one of her novels. She is super motivating and amazing with her fans. I don't know about Atlanta, but I think she is key note at Fun in the Sun next year.

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Tracy Montoya writes romantic suspense for Harlequin Intrigue.

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