Cabbages and Kings

A diary by the authors of the Louis Kincaid series

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Location: Fort Lauderdale/Elk Rapids, Florida and Michigan, United States

We are the New York Times bestselling authors of the Louis Kincaid series and other stand alone thrillers. We have taught writing at major conferences for ten years.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Night Terrors

The new book is almost done. First draft, that is. I haven't read it through since we started the thing months ago. I am afraid to. I have this really bad feeling that it is a heaping, stinking, fetid, rancid pile of crap. I dream about it now, this pile of crap, almost every night, like Richard Dreyfus in "Close Encounters." I wake up in a sweat over it. My only consolation is knowing that I feel this way with every book. And that I am not alone.

Found this entry on Lee Goldberg's blog the other day, in which John Connelly talks about his own demons: "There is always that fear that this book, this story, is the one that should not have been started. The idea isn’t strong enough. The plot is going nowhere. I’ve taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way and now have to try to find the right path again."

To which Lee responds: "This happens to me, too...but less often if I have a strong outline to start with (though an outline is no insurance policy against realizing 35,00o words into your book that it's crap and you're a complete fraud). In talking with other writers, I've noticed that the ones who hit the wall the most are the ones who make up their plot as they go along, preferring to be "surprised" by their characters and the turns in the story. Of course, this means the turns may lead to a creative dead end."

My night terrors are especially bad this time out for two reasons. We have a new publisher and I want things to go well. We have a new female protagonist who we are still getting to know. She is a spinoff character from our Louis Kincaid books. Can she carry a new series? Or will she be the Matt LeBlanc of crime fiction? Will our Louis readers follow us to the new one? Have we run out of good plots? Have we finally jumped the shark?

I don't know, maybe there are writers out there who never have any doubts. Maybe Nora Roberts or Joan Didion never break out in a cold sweat at night. But I suspect there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of you out there who are in the same sweaty boat as I am. Because getting published is the easy part, my friends. (I know, those of you who aren't don't want to hear that, but it's true.) Staying published is what's tough. That means consistently writing good books that people want to read. And did I mention trying to always become a better writer?

For those of you just starting out in this business, this is what awaits you. Days spent staring at your computer screen, deep in thought and faith. And nights spent twisting in damp percal. What can I tell you? I offer the same two words of advice I give to my youthful female friends about menopause: cotton pajamas.


Blogger Mark Terry said...

Oh, gimme gimme gimme! Is your new character by any chance a female Florida cop???????!!!!!

Can't wait to read it. Break a leg & all that!

12:46 PM  
Anonymous J. Carson Black said...

I know what you mean. Life was tough...and then I got published! How bad is that??!!! Before I got published, the world was my oyster. I was going to be the next Stephen King or...whoever. Now I'm the guest of honor at booksignings where nobody shows up, and I have deadlines, and there are times I sit in front of that computer all day long before something inside me coughs up the words.

I've had the nightmare of going back to my first draft and realizing halfway through, "This isn't a book!" Well, it became a book, and a good one, but man, did I sweat through seven or eight sets of cotton pajamas to get there.

New publisher? New character? First I've heard of this. I am excited for you!


2:14 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Well, since you asked! (go ahead, twist my arm)

We're not supposed to be talking about the new series at this point. I suspect the details can come out after we've turned the first book in. Suffice it to say, we won't be abandoning Louis Kincaid. He's what brung us to the dance.

2:15 PM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

Yeah, new publisher. We signed a three-book deal with Pocket, which is part of the Simon & Schuster clan. We had a good run with a lot of support at Kensington Books, and we will always be indebted to our editor there, John Scognamilio, who took a chance on us when no one else would. Like I have said before, all it takes is one editor who likes your stuff.

Gee, booksignings where no one comes? Golly, I've never had THAT problem. (Sound effects: me laughing my ass off)

2:28 PM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Okay, I'll admit to it--one book signing where nobody came, so to speak. For some bizarre reason, I never questioned my publicist when they scheduled a book signing on a Friday afternoon at the Wayne State University bookstore in July. It was a good lesson though, which is to say, pay attention to what you're signing up for--somebody needs to do some thinking.

3:55 PM  
Blogger SAND STORM said...

You can also have night terrors working on a second novel when your first one is not published.

Why write a second when my first isn't published?
Maybe my first one is crap?
No it's good keep going...etc.etc.

3:58 PM  
Anonymous J. Carson black said...

So you will keep Louis?

I guess that's possible, if the other character is from his world. Okay, don't answer any of this, I know how touchy things can be.

I have happy memories of Kensington. The best editor I've ever had was there - Tracy Bernstein. When I finished my new series and started looking for a new agent and a new publisher, I tracked her down at NAL.

Happy to say she remembered me, and the rest is history!

4:28 PM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Well, you can't be accused of sugar-coating the truth for us newbies, can you?

I just feel so encouraged... Really, actually. Makes you feel better that you aren't the only one that struggles.

5:30 PM  
Blogger Jude Hardin said...

Congratulations on finishing the first draft! For me, that's the hardest part. I love rewriting and editing, so maybe I missed my calling.

Just curious, do you guys work from an outline? If not, how do you manage not to go back and read as you're going?

7:57 PM  
Blogger JA Konrath said...

I'm sure it's excellent.

9:14 PM  
Anonymous J. Carson Black said...

I just read your contribution to Lee Goldberg's blog regarding JA Konrath (Or JA's guest blog).

I think you're right. Writing a great book is the best thing you can do. And another one, and another one. And after awhile, the drumbeat gets stronger.

A good point, too, about being underpublished. It's great to achieve sell-through. I think there's a magic place where your sell-through starts to exceed the expectations of the publisher, but it takes time, and patience.

I'm hoping that's true. I'm just another blind man with the elephant, but between your blog and Tess Gerritsen's, I'm learning more every day.

10:13 PM  
Blogger Bethany said...

All writers at all levels deal with the dread of writing well. Really. I just think when the big dream of publication and then staying published hits you square in the nose--THEN reality hits and we double our self-depricating habits. I'm right there with you....

10:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best of luck with the new series and new publisher. I'm excited for you guys. I've suffered the midpoint fears already but lately I've been having more of those cotton pajama moments and thoughts about running off with other projects that come courting. But if I'm ever going to do this professionally, I have to act like a professional now. So I continue...

11:03 PM  
Blogger Bryan D. Catherman said...

How exciting! Waking up thinking about work is never a good thing, but at least you wake up thinking about your book, unlike many people in the world who wake up thinking about changing tires, picking up garbage, changing old people's diapers, or stocking shelves. It does however, sound like you have a lot to dream about, but that's a good sign, right?

(On a side note, the links on this post seem have an extra "http://" thing going on.)

Thanks for sharing your night terrors with us!

9:51 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

To Sandra: I don't believe in sugarcoating things for folks trying to break in. The biz is just too difficult, and I do no one any good by leading them to believe otherwise.

However, when I do workshops or write here, I try to be encouraging. But I can tell from just a few minutes talking with a new writer whether they have the kind of attitude that is going to help them break in and then survive. And that attitude is a blend of grit, faith and realism.

You really need all the tools you can acquire to make it as a writer today (craft being no. 1 but there's more to it). Which is why so many people find Joe Konrath's Newbie Guide helpful -- he gives useful advice.

10:27 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...

To Jude:

We used to outline heavily, now less so. I think I will deal with the subject in a future post.

To Bryan, thanks for the headsup on the hinky links! I fixed them. Computer stuff is not my strong suit.

10:30 AM  
Blogger Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks for that response. One thing I notice amongst some of the aspiring writers is the idea that the minute you sign a deal, it will be easy street.

Instead, it seems to get harder as you go along, just the challenges are different. You're pressuring yourself to write a better book, or to move into new terrain, whatever.

Which suits me fine. I'm always up for a challenge.

I'd say JA's blog is very useful, but he might read it and think I agree with him. Which would wreck my image as a disagreeable upstart.

8:33 PM  
Blogger Bernita said...

Even with your experience and success?
Makes me feel better.Gives me hope.
I thought it was just because I lacked some essential quality of vanity that I decided mine was total, useless, utter crap when I finished the final polish yesterday.

5:31 AM  
Blogger PJ Parrish said...


As others have said, I think any writer worth their salt has self-doubt. It is partly what makes you want to become a better writer.

I read a review of a new Flaubert biography this morning that quoted something Flaubert said in 1847:

"Happy are those who don't doubt themselves and whose pens fly across the page. Myself, I hesitate, I falter, I become angry and fearful, my drive diminishes, and I brood more over an ill-suited word than I rejoice over a well-proportioned paragraph."

May your pen fly across your page!

10:47 AM  
Blogger JD Rhoades said...

re: outlining:

I had to do an outline to sell the third Jack Keller book.

Once the outline was done and I knew how it ended, I lost all interest in writing the book.

I got over it when someone pointed out that by the time the book was tunred in, no one would remember the outline.

but still...I'll take the terrors over that bleak stretch.

11:53 AM  

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