Writing swallows most of my day. It's absorbing, and on occasion, infuriating and painful.
I do have other interests. Guitar, French, photography, chess. I love to bike and cross country ski, in the appropriate seasons. I'd like to go back to riding horses someday before I'm too old to do so. Yet I spend my days with imaginary people in imaginary worlds.
When I was practicing law, I earned something between $300 and $500 an hour. My first novel, Trojan Horse, came out last October. I couldn't even begin to calculate how many hours I put into writing and editing the numerous drafts. I've had wonderful reviews. A prominent British critic listed Trojan Horse as one of the best thrillers of 2020 and yet my sales have been less than overwhelming. I would have made more money practicing law for one hour instead of the hundreds of hours I put into this book. My financial bottom line for Trojan Horse, considering all the money I've put into marketing is probably a negative several thousand dollars.
Last night, I was thinking about the obvious truth that, setting aside the superstars like Lee Child or Michael Connelly, the people really making money at writing these days aren't authors of fiction. They are the services selling reviews, selling tips on how to be a best selling author, selling advertising, selling the opportunity to give your book away while offering the hope that people will read it for free, like it, and then shell out money for your next book.
Okay, I knew all this going into writing my novels. (I'm on my third Kolya Petrov novel now, the second in the series will be out in September.) I'm fortunate in that I don't need to live on my earnings as a writer. I write, like so many of us, because I feel empty when I'm not writing, because I love creating stories and characters and living in the world of my imagination. Still, nevertheless, there is ego involved here. I would like to be more successful in selling my books, although I'm going to be damn careful about the services I use to get there. It's easier to justify how much time I put into writing when there is a tangible reward. There is another reason why I want to be successful, though: to share my stories and my characters on a bigger scale than I do now. The more successful authors share their stories with thousands of people, and book clubs and organization are thrilled to have them speak. I have to admit, I have an ego. I'd like to have a few more people wanting to read my books and hear me speak.
The ego is a terrible taskmaster, isn't it?
This gets me to the incident yesterday which probably prompted my ceiling staring session - although in retrospect I think this could have been an episode on Shitts Creek.
I had joined a very small - 3-4 people - local book club and the scheduled book for the month of March was my book, Trojan Horse. I looked forward to this session for days. I knew it would be only a few people but I thought we'd discuss the themes, the characters, how and why I made artistic choices in writing in book. Have I mentioned that I love talking about my books?
So I signed on to the Zoom for the book club hour. There were two other people on initially, a woman maybe in her eighties and a man, maybe in his fifties or sixties, who, I believe, had been a professor of something. The guy told me he couldn't read my book because of the violence in it. For him, it wasn't just that there was torture but that a woman had been murdered in the opening of my book. Because he's very tuned into the horror of violence against women, although the most explicit violence in the book is experienced by a man."Okay," I said. I understood. I do know that some people have problems with the level of violence.
The older woman told me that she read the book. The torture scenes bothered her, but it was a real page turner, and she couldn't put it down. And that was all she had to say about it. I talked about why I wrote explicit torture scenes in Trojan Horse - which actually had to do with the deeper theme of morality and choices: that these scenes were necessary for readers to appreciate the level of betrayal of the character and also raise the issue of characters willing to go along with an evil that they didn't personally witness. That discussion took five minutes because it was basically a monologue. No one wanted to actually discuss it.
So fifteen minutes into what I'd thought would be an interesting discussion of Trojan Horse, the two other participants started throwing out the names of books to read next time. The guy, who found my book too violent to read, wanted to read a book about a man volunteering to be sent to Auschwitz to try to organize a revolt. He couldn't read my book because of the violence - but he wanted to read about people in Auschwitz?
Another woman joined the group fifteen minutes into our session. She also was probably in her eighties, and she had trouble getting her mike or her camera to work. She hadn't read my book, either. Apparently, she hadn't even tried. Once we got her sorted, the guy who found my book too violent but was fine with reading about Auschwitz launched into a forty minute narrative about his family background, his family name, what other books he was reading, what he thought about the other books he was reading. He talked about his family leaving Israel - and I realized he meant the expulsion of Jews from what was then their home in around 79 A.D. (We were an all Jewish group - so his family's expulsion from the land of Israel in 79 A.D. wasn't exactly unique to him.) Our newest arrival thought he meant that his family had left Israel within the last few years, prompting a five minute session to explain that he was telling the story of his family's migration over two thousand years. Then the hour was up.
My husband later noted the irony: that a man who was so deeply woke about how women were treated that he claimed he couldn't read my novel had hijacked a meeting that was supposed to be discussing a book written by a woman - to talk about himself.
I wound up both infuriated and amused, both because of the absurdity of the man taking it over and at my own reaction to it. That session was supposed to be about me, damnit. About my book. Not about his family or family names. Ego really does take over sometimes, doesn't it? His - and mine.
Dibs on this scene for a comedic novel in the future.
So why do I write? Still don't exactly know, but maybe it has something to do with the fact that my first reaction to the book club session that I just described was to mark it down for later inclusion in a novel. All of which circles back to the fact that I write because I can't imagine not writing.
My second novel, Nerve Attack, will be out in September. If you haven't yet read Trojan Horse, please check it out on Amazon. https://amzn.to/318VaGy