Archive for June, 2020


Time Off

It turns out that book 1 in this series is in reasonably good shape. I should manage to finish this round of revisions tomorrow, and then since there’s a holiday this weekend, I’m going to take a bit of a vacation. Not that I’m going anywhere. But I think I need a mental vacation. I may do some brainstorming and work-related reading, but I won’t try to write. So, I probably won’t be posting here the rest of the week.

My kitchen seems determined to annoy me. Last week, there was the refrigerator saga (still no word about it being delivered). Then over the weekend my toaster oven died. The top element stopped working, so it wouldn’t toast or broil, and having it on “bake” meant the lower element overachieved to try to reach the right temperature, so the bottom of things burned. But Target had the current equivalent of this one, which was at least ten years old, so all is well and I’ll be able to have toast again. Really, during the summer I do a lot of my cooking in the toaster oven so I don’t have to heat up the big oven. I use it for broiling fish, baking potatoes, heating up things that I want to be crisp. I thought about getting something really fancy, but I decided I don’t really have the room for that, and I’d want to do more research. It sounds like when you get one that does too many things, it doesn’t do any of them well. Right now, I just want to be able to make toast, heat up baked goods, and broil fish.

My weekend fun was learning all about the Black Death. Amazon was offering the Great Courses program about that as a free preview this month, so it’s expiring Tuesday, and I realized after I got started that there are 24 episodes. They’re only half an hour each, but that’s still a lot. I really liked the lecturer. She even mentioned that The Doomsday Book by Connie Willis is one of her favorite novels (me too!) and confessed that she has a contingency plan for if she gets sent back in time to that time. So I was binge-watching the Black Death this weekend. These were all filmed several years ago, so she had no idea what would be happening now, but it’s interesting how little human behavior has changed in all that time, even though we know a lot more about how disease works now. I am looking forward to moving on to cheerier topics once I finish this. Some of my friends are watching it, too, so we were discussing it on Facebook. This is probably one of those “you know you’re a nerd when …” things.

I’m going to have to figure out what I want to write next — do I do the third book in this mystery series, start working on this fantasy series I’m developing, take another look at the book I wrote last year that needs to be rewritten, play with the women’s fiction idea I’ve had brewing? That’s part of what I’ll be figuring out this week.

Romanticizing Small Towns

I’ve been looking at more women’s fiction, and in addition to the “when her husband left her …” plot, it seems another common thread is small towns.

In the days of chick lit, in the early 2000s, urban settings were the big thing — the single career girl in the big city. Now everything seems to be leaning toward the small town. The woman whose husband dumps her or cheats on her may already be in a small town and has to deal with the social fallout. Or when she leaves, she heads to her small hometown, the small town where a relative lives, the small town where she went on vacation as a child. Even the single woman books, the ones written by authors who got their start in chick lit, seem to be focused on small towns. They’re all about women who leave London to go to a village and open a bookstore/bakery/cafe/shop. Then there are all the Hallmark movies about successful career women in big cities who end up chucking it all to go live in a small town with a down-to-earth guy.

I know a few of the British authors actually do live in small villages, but with the rest of them, as someone who’s actually from a small town, I have to wonder if any of these people have actually lived in a small town. Because starting over in a small town is incredibly difficult. The social circles are generally closed. There aren’t a lot of single men, since most of the men get snagged in sixth grade. There’s not much to do unless you like high school sports.

Mind you, most of these fictional “small” towns aren’t what I’d think of as truly small. They tend to use “small” to refer to populations under about 50,000. A lot of the small towns are in the 20,000 range, which might have more going on. When my family moved to the small town I’m from just before I started high school, the sign at the city limits said the population was 2,180. It might be closer to 5,000 now, but it’s grown rather dramatically, and they expanded the city limits. When we moved there, your dining options were limited to Dairy Queen, a small cafe, a local barbecue place, and a fried chicken place. While I was in high school, we got first a McDonald’s, then a Burger King, and then there was a locally owned restaurant that kept changing, with nothing in that building staying in business for as long as a year. I think the Pizza Inn came after I was out of high school because we had to drive to another town about 14 miles away to go to Pizza Hut when I was in school. It wasn’t at all like the idyllic fictional towns with all their bustling downtown areas with local cafes and coffee shops and romantic date restaurants, and a busy social calendar of festivals, fairs, concerts, and other arts events. There is more of a nightlife there now because a major country music star is from that town and has opened some performance venues that draw big acts, but that was far into the future when I lived there (and I’m not sure how successful it’s been).

Most of my books have been about people who’ve left small towns. I think people from big cities daydream about a romanticized version of small town life, a simpler, quieter place with less traffic, less stress, where everyone knows everyone. If you’ve lived in a small town, you know that’s not necessarily true. The mystery series I’m developing does take place in a small town and involves a heroine who moved from a city, and it probably is closer to the idyllic fictional version than anything real, but for a cozy mystery that’s a genre trope, and I am trying to insert a bit of small-town reality even while making it a place where I wouldn’t mind living.

But it does make me wonder if I could get away with a women’s fiction book about a woman who goes to the small town, learns something about herself, and then takes that lesson back to the city rather than finding love and a close circle of friends and a new home in a small town.

Customer Service

My big distraction this week has been customer service issues.

I noticed that something funny was going on either with one of the electrical circuits in my kitchen or the refrigerator. I looked it up, and after doing some testing, it seems like the problem is with the refrigerator. This is something that’s known to happen with older refrigerators, and this one is nearly 16 years old. It’s working, and I’ve got a workaround going, but it probably needs to be replaced. With the likely issue and with the age of it, this repair would not be worth it.

So I went to order a new refrigerator. Home Depot said they couldn’t deliver anything before mid July, but I found what I needed at Best Buy, and they said they could deliver as soon as Monday. So I placed the order and took the Monday morning delivery slot they offered. Then last night, I got an e-mail saying I needed to set a delivery appointment. I followed their link, and they had the appointment I’d chosen as my second choice and said I needed to choose a first choice before that date, but none were available. I tried doing the online help chat thing, but nothing happened other than it sitting there for two hours saying it would connect me to an agent. I called this morning, used the callback feature, and eventually talked to someone. It turned out that the problem was that they didn’t have that unit in inventory and couldn’t even set a delivery date. I don’t know why they didn’t just say that instead of letting me order and set a delivery date, then telling me I needed to set a new date. So I cancelled that order.

I found almost the same thing at the same price at Lowe’s, and they said they could deliver in 3-7 days, but said they’d be in touch to schedule delivery. I’m waiting on that now. We’ll see if they actually have something. The order confirmation e-mail just says they’ll call with a delivery appointment, but says there may be “delays.” It would be nice if they built the delays into the information they give you when you order. If it’s going to be 4-6 weeks, then put that in up front. Don’t promise 3-7 days.

It seems that this is a combo problem between the pandemic and the trade war. There were already issues from the trade war with China, and then they shut down manufacturing. Plus, people sheltering at home are buying home stuff. I just hope my fridge holds out, since it’s pretty full. The freezer is my main concern. The stuff currently in the fridge will probably be eaten over the weekend, but I’ve got about a month worth of food in the freezer. If I get really desperate, I’ll pick up a dorm fridge and cook the meat in the freezer.

But I did not need this distraction. I’m trying to revise a book, and with having to buy a new refrigerator, I definitely need to get some books out there so I can bring in some money.


Reading Slump

I hit a bit of a reading slump this weekend. I’d finished reading a big epic fantasy series, so I wanted something completely different. I dug through my to-be-read stash, looking for something along the lines of a romantic comedy, and I ran into an annoying trend.

I picked up one book that seemed to be a nice women’s fiction kind of story with a heroine close to my age, but the beginning of the blurb was along the lines of “She thought she had the perfect life, but then her husband left her for another woman and her teenage daughter got in trouble …” I wasn’t in the mood for a recovering from divorce and dealing with a troubled teenager book, so I picked up something more chick-litty. That one was about a 30-year-old who thought her life was over when her long-term boyfriend broke off their engagement, and now she has to deal with her cousin who’s getting married, and she’s realized she has nothing else going on in her life because she’s let her career and other interests slide. My reaction was along the lines of, “Oh, honey, no. Get a life.” I think I could have handled the book if it really had been about her finding her own life, but it seemed to mostly be about her juggling men.

Why does it seem to be that most of the changes in a woman’s life in books seem to be driven by men? There’s the whole subgenre of “my husband dumped me for a younger woman and now I have to find myself” in women’s fiction. There’s the subgenre popular in British books of “my boyfriend dumped me, so I’ll move to a village and run a bookstore/bakery/cafe.”

Not to mention, it’s nearly impossible to find a contemporary-set book about a heroine over 40 without a blurb that starts along the lines of “after her husband left her/cheated, she and her teenage daughter …” And it usually seems to be a romantic relationship that “fixes” her problems.

During all this dissatisfying reading this weekend (I tossed a couple of books after chapter 3), I realized that I’m having two different reading cravings, and my attempts to search for this sort of thing came up empty, so if it’s out there, I’m looking in the wrong categories or using the wrong search terms.

One is a light romantic comedy with some slight paranormal element — something along the lines of my Christmas book, but right now I don’t want it to be about Christmas. So, no full-on magical world like in my Enchanted, Inc., stories. More like one mystical element, like maybe the heroine’s wishes start coming true, or she gets the ability to read men’s thoughts (a la What Men Want), or a Groundhog Day kind of scenario in which she lives the same day over until she gets it right, or she gets to go back in time to fix one thing, etc. “Paranormal romance” mostly seems to get you a lot of shifter/witch/vampire, etc., books. “Fantasy romance” seems to be more of the full-blown fantasy world sort of thing. “Magical realism” is more literary and more about theme.

And I want women’s fiction that doesn’t center on romance — a woman who moves to a new place to start over, but it isn’t about a divorce or breakup. She gets her life together maybe by developing friendships or figuring out what she wants. Maybe she does fall in love along the way, but that’s not what “fixes” her. It might be a byproduct of getting her life together. Or maybe she goes on a grand tour to find herself, but not because she got dumped or broke up, and she finds herself through some experience other than sleeping with a hot, young foreign stud. And because it’s me, I wouldn’t mind some magical or mystical element.

I have read a few books like that, so I looked up one on the library web site to see what their “readalike” recommendations were. None really fit what I wanted, but then I found the “story elements” function, where there were tiles showing some of the key elements in that book. You selected the elements that you were looking for, and it would give you recommendations. I had to keep removing things I wanted before I finally got a recommendation, but I don’t think it’s very comprehensive because my Enchanted, Inc. books would have fit every tile I had selected, and they didn’t come up. I looked at the one book that came up. How did the blurb start? Along the lines of “after learning that her husband was cheating on her, she loaded up her teenage daughters and took off …”


Enjoying Summer

I’ve really been trying to adjust my attitude toward summer, to not just look at it as something to endure, and it might be working.

I decided that I will celebrate the first 100-degree day of the summer by having ice cream, and I even bought a pint of ice cream. Wouldn’t you know, there isn’t a temperature over 95 in the 10-day forecast. Not that I’m complaining. I just find it amusing. Will that pint of ice cream sit uneaten in my freezer all summer? If we don’t get a 100-degree day by Labor Day, I’ll make a peach cobbler then and have ice cream. If we do get a 100-degree day, then I get ice cream, so win-win.

Because it hasn’t been too hot, I’ve been able to sit out on the patio and read in the evenings. I generally have enough light for reading until about 8:30. That’s something I can’t do the rest of the year.

I love summer fruit. They had watermelon on sale last week, and I picked out one that had all the signs of being good — and, boy, was it. It’s so sweet that it’s like eating candy, and it’s huge, so I still have half of it to go. Then there are blueberries, strawberries, and peaches. I’ve got plenty of dessert stuff in my freezer, but with all this fruit, I haven’t wanted it.

Normally, I enjoy the swimming pool in the summer. We have a community pool that’s quite nice and usually not too crowded, depending on the time of day, but I’m not sure I’m going to use it this year. The kids don’t have a lot of other things to do, so they really need the pool, and I don’t want to be there while there are crowds. Maybe later in the summer it will quiet down some, and we’ll see whether they have in-person school in the fall. I tend to get the most use out of the pool after school starts in August, and it stays warm enough for swimming until late September.

Then there’s my patio garden. I didn’t plant anything this year, aside from planting a couple of morning glory seeds, but I’ve got a bunch of flowers. It seems that the packet of “annual cutting mix” seeds I thought were duds last year, when only a few things sprouted, really kicked off this summer. I’ve got all kinds of strange things growing. The one plant from that packet that did grow, the celosias (coxcomb), seems to have spread seeds like crazy. They sprouted from every pot on the patio. I’ve had a bit of a problem with squirrels digging things up or stepping on things and caterpillars eating everything in sight, so I’ve started bringing the pots in overnight (when the pests seem to cause problems). For the morning glory, I’ve been spraying it with garlic spray to discourage caterpillars and putting peppermint oil on cotton balls around the pot to discourage squirrels, and it’s put on some new leaves that haven’t been eaten. When I’m sitting out and reading, I like looking at my plants and noticing the little day-to-day changes. Since all the summer events have been cancelled, I won’t be traveling, so I won’t have to worry about how to make sure my plants don’t die without water while I’m gone.

So, those are some things I love about summer. I can get some of the fruit year-round, but the rest are things I can’t really do at other times of year, so I’ll enjoy them all while I can.


Recipe Hoarding

While I’m stuck at home, I’ve been working on a massive organizing/optimizing project, going space-by-space in my house to sort through things and arrange them in a logical way to make it easier to find things. I’ve already sorted through my media racks to arrange my DVDs and CDs. Now I’m tackling my recipe collection.

I’ve come to the realization that I have a serious recipe problem. I collect so many recipes, and I end up using so few of them because I tend to repeat the usual favorites. I could make a new recipe a day every day and still never get through all the recipes I’ve saved from the Internet, and then there’s my clipping habit. I had whole folders, two recipe boxes, and a photo album full of recipes I’ve cut out of newspaper and magazines over the years. I have made a number of them. I have a fat file of recipes I’ve made and liked. But still, there’s a huge pile I’ve never even looked at after clipping them.

Over the past few days, I’ve been sorting through all the clippings. There are way too many recipes that fall into the “why did I ever think this would be good?” category. There are also cases of me collecting dozens of recipes for the same thing, and never making any of them. I seem to find the idea of tomato-basil soup, apple cake, and chocolate cake appealing. I’ve made some of the soup recipes, but I don’t think I’ve tried any of the apple or chocolate cake recipes. When I’ve made those things, I’ve used recipes from cookbooks.

Some of this has been an exercise in nostalgia, since there are whole newspaper food sections and magazine pages going back to the early 90s in this collection. I think of the 90s as being recent, but the graphic design and ad pictures now look really dated. Even the papers from the late 90s and early 2000s look old-fashioned.

After all this work, I have a trash bag full of newspaper and magazine clippings and newspaper food sections. All the recipes that I think I really might want to make are sorted by category in an accordion folder. I’ve also sorted the recipes I’ve made and actually use into another accordion folder, and the ones I use most often are in the photo album so the pages are protected by plastic. I’ve emptied one recipe box that I can now use for other things, and I’m in the process of putting the smaller clippings on notecards to go in my recipe box. This should save me a lot of time because a big part of my cooking process was digging through my recipe folders to find the recipe I needed.

Will I make any of all the recipes in my remaining stash? Looking through them has given me ideas. When the stores are a little more back to normal and I’m able to more easily get ingredients, I may start a routine of trying a new recipe every week. There is a summer (no-bake) cheesecake recipe I want to try that I may get ingredients for next time I go shopping, and there are a few salad recipes I’ll have to try. This fall, maybe I’ll actually bake one of those apple cakes.

Lockdown Self-Improvement

If you found my discussion of some of the panels from the Nebula conference intriguing, you can still retroactively attend the conference, and the conference will also be continuing online all year. If you register for the conference, you can see all the panels, and now there will also be other networking and learning events going on all year. You don’t have to be a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America to participate, and there are scholarships available. All the information is here.

I’m afraid I’ve become That Person during lockdown, the annoying one who’s using the time for self-improvement rather than sloth. I’m studying a foreign language, attending online workshops, reading a lot, listening to classical music, watching Shakespeare productions online, trying new recipes, practicing the flute, and doing a massive home organization project. Sometimes I annoy even myself.

In addition to the Nebula conference, I’ve been watching some online seminars my university has made available to alumni, and I’ve been looking for educational videos on various topics on YouTube. I’ve really been enjoying the National Theatre productions that have been posted each week, along the the weekly musical. I’d thought I might need to get another streaming service, but so far I’ve hardly been watching the one I have. I might look into Netflix or Disney+ this fall, but during the summer I’ve been going outside in the evenings.

I did have actual social interaction last week when I ran into a friend from church while I was out walking, and we stood a safe distance apart and chatted for a while. I think that’s the first time I’d talked to a friend in person since March.

I’m getting close to the end of revisions on this book. I just need to rewrite the ending. What I’ve written is rather anticlimactic, so I need to write something entirely different. But first I have to figure out what that should be. That’s today’s challenge.


Smart Characters, Stupid Characters

One of my biggest challenges in revising this book is that I seem to be making my characters too smart. They figure things out easily, and when they guess at something, they come to the proper conclusion. This is deadly in a mystery, where the path toward uncovering the culprit can’t be straightforward. You don’t have much of a story if your sleuth comes up with a theory, then finds the clues that verify that theory. I’m having to do a lot of revision to insert some red herrings or to make the sleuth go down the wrong path for a little while.

At the same time, one of my pet peeves as a reader is stupid characters or, worse, what I call Plot Stupidity, where the plot doesn’t work if the characters show an ounce of sense. The plot needs them to go alone into that dark basement when they hear a strange noise there and know a serial killer is on the loose because there’s no story if they’re smart enough to leave the house and get help, but the author doesn’t give the character any reason to go alone into the dark basement that makes their decision at least a little rational.

The old-school fantasy series I’m currently reading (and I’m almost done! Then I’ll be free and will have cleared a big chunk of shelf space because I know I won’t be keeping this one to re-read) is driving me nuts because there’s so much Plot Stupidity. A lot of it is in character, as the characters have been established as headstrong and impulsive, but it’s annoying to read about people who keep bumbling into danger because they refuse to listen to anyone else or practice even a bit of common sense—and then they don’t learn from their mistakes and do the same thing again. I really want to throttle a character who keeps charging off on their own because they think they can resolve everything, in spite of being warned that others have already tried that and it didn’t work, and they’re just heading into danger. And then they get into terrible danger, barely make it out alive, don’t accomplish what they set out to do, end up back where they started—and then do it all over again because they think it will work this time.

Or there’s a character who’s clearly shady. They’ve repeatedly shown that they’re not trustworthy. People who have reason to know have warned that this person can’t be trusted. But the other characters keep trusting them. And then, guess what? It turns out that character has been selling the others out to the villain all along.

It’s incredibly frustrating to read. (I’m using the singular “they” in an attempt to make it harder to identify the series I’m talking about so you don’t know the gender of the characters.)

As a writer, I’m trying to find a middle ground between a character who’s always right and a character who’s an utter idiot. Sometimes a character can make the wrong guess or assumption based on incomplete information. Sometimes the obvious, logical thing turns out to be wrong. There are times when emotions come into play, as even intelligent people have emotional biases. We all tend to side with people we identify with. You don’t want to think that a person who’s a lot like you would commit a crime. I think there’s also a difference between being given information or advice and refusing to listen and taking action based on faulty assumptions or information. I can tolerate someone doing something dumb because they’re misinformed and turn out to be wrong, but it’s more annoying when a character is specifically warned about something and completely disregards the warning.

A lot of my revision in this book has involved sending my sleuth down some wrong paths, sometimes because she jumps to an incorrect conclusion based on incomplete information and sometimes because her emotions get in the way and she doesn’t want to suspect someone she feels sorry for. I hope that’ll be enough to make the story work. And then I need to work to build that into the first draft so I don’t have to spend months rewriting the book.

writing life


One of the panels I watched during the recent Nebula conference was on rebounding — making a comeback after your career has had a setback. I found it rather reassuring to see that people I thought were successful had been through some kind of change or setback, and they’d all come out of it in some way.

I’ve had a bunch of “careers” along the way. I got a quick and early start, selling my first book to the second publisher I sent it to. It was a small press that distributed only to libraries, so I didn’t make a lot of money on it, but it was a foot in the door. I sold them two more books in short order. I’m afraid that this gave me a very unrealistic view of publishing. I’d sold everything I’d written and only had one rejection. I probably sounded like that scene in the movie Legally Blonde in which the blond sorority girl gets in to Harvard Law School so she can follow her ex-boyfriend and get him back, and when he’s astonished that she got in, she scoffs and says, “Like that’s hard.” People would talk about how tough it was to get published, and I’d think, “Like that’s hard.” That impression continued when I sold a book to Harlequin — a big publisher. I did have a little struggle after that. They rejected the next couple of proposals I sent, but then bought another book.

Soon after that, though, career #1 came to a crashing halt. My editor left publishing and New York, and I got passed around to other editors. The line I’d been writing for folded, so there really wasn’t a place for me at that publisher. They were trying to edge all their books to be “hotter.” Even the remaining “sweet” line wanted a lot more sexual tension than I could write well. I don’t know how many proposals I sent them, but none of them sold. My editor ended up sending a manuscript back to me (after months of back and forth of edits) with a photocopy of an article about a book called Bridget Jones’s Diary, the business card of an agent, and a note saying “I think you could write this kind of thing, maybe turn this book into a single title.” I did talk to that agent. She was encouraging about my writing, but she said she thought what I’d written was the perfect category book and she couldn’t imagine trying to sell it as single title. The “chick lit” books hadn’t yet taken off in the US, but the contemporary romantic comedy books were doing well. I don’t think Bridget Jones had even been published here, so I was assuming it was like the contemporary romances with cartoony covers.

I spent some time rewriting that book, found an agent who liked it, and she submitted it to a few publishers. They rejected it, but asked to see something else. I wrote something else, but never heard anything from any publishers. I now wonder if that agent even submitted it because I’ve since talked to the editors who supposedly had it, and they didn’t remember seeing it. After working with a different agent, I know that you get an answer, one way or another. An agent doesn’t let a book sit on an editor’s desk for a year with no response. Around that time, the chick lit craze hit the US, and I thought that was actually a better fit for that book, so I revised it for that market and sent it to my agent. The next thing I heard about that book, a package landed on my doorstep four months later. It was that manuscript (back in the days when they were still doing hard copy, not electronic submissions) with a note handwritten on top of my cover letter saying, “This will never sell.” I sent the certified letter firing that agent that day, not because she didn’t like the book, but because of the way she handled it.

I wrote a number of proposals and shopped them around to agents and editors. Finally, I was at a conference and chatting with an editor about this crazy idea I’d had about a chick lit story with magic. The editor asked to see it, and I wrote Enchanted, Inc. That editor didn’t buy it, but I got an agent and the book sold, six years after my last publication. Thus began career #2.

Enchanted, Inc. came out to very positive response, went back to print, and the second book did well, too. I got another contract for two more books. Things seemed to be going great. And then they dropped the series. I wrote a proposal for something different, and no one bought it. I wrote A Fairy Tale with the idea of having something to submit to those editors who wanted something like Enchanted, Inc., but I wasn’t really happy with it and put it aside to think about it.

In the meantime, the Japanese publisher wanted more Enchanted, Inc. books, so I wrote book 5. Then I got the idea for Rebel Mechanics and wrote that. It didn’t sell to the fantasy publishers, so I revised it as YA. It still took another year or so to sell, and during that time I wrote book 6 of Enchanted, Inc. I finished A Fairy Tale and it went on submission, but it didn’t sell. Around this time, my agent convinced me to publish the Enchanted, Inc. books myself. This may have been careers 3 and 4, happening simultaneously — young adult and self publishing.

Career 3 tanked pretty quickly when the publisher didn’t want more books (never mind that the book got great acclaim and was put on a number of state library reading lists). Career 4 is still sort of limping along. I’m making a living, which is good, but am not wildly successful, and I doubt I’d be able to sell a book to a traditional publisher right now. I may be poised for career #5 when I try mystery. We’ll see what happens there. But there are a lot of ups and downs in this business, and I’m not sure you can ever really feel like you’ve made it and can relax. I guess maybe if you have a massive bestseller that gets made into a movie and the publisher then wants everything you write you can relax, and if you make enough money on that book, it doesn’t matter so much if the next one tanks. It would be nice to find out. The main thing I keep reminding myself is that you only really fail if you quit.

I suspect that this kind of career is pretty common. I’ve learned over the years that even authors who seem to be doing well have had a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes, getting dropped by publishers and agents, having to start over again with something new, going through rejections even after some success. In fact, that’s probably more common than the people who hit it big with their first book and just cruise on after that or those who have a slow, steady build without any setbacks.

writing life

The More You Know

I feel like I’ve spent forever revising the book I’m working on. It’s taken me longer to rewrite it than it took me to write it in the first place. But then I noticed that my “cut file” where I stick most of the things I cut from the book (in case I need them again elsewhere) is at around 8,000 words. There’s also a lot that I just cut without putting it in the file when it’s something I know I won’t use or when I’m just tightening up, condensing a paragraph or a sentence or removing something that’s redundant. Meanwhile, the manuscript is about 12,000 words longer than when I started. I’ve written nearly half a book while also having to make decisions about what needs to be changed. That explains a lot.

I’m starting to feel like the more I know about writing, the longer it takes me to do, but I think that’s because the more I know about writing, the more I can spot what’s wrong with a book. It just would be nice if I could figure that out on the first draft so I could do it right the first time and not spend all this time in revisions.

And that leads nicely into the topic of one of the panels I watched at the Nebula conference: Imposter Syndrome. It sounds like I’m not alone in struggling more with that fear that any of my success has been a fluke as I go further into my career. When you first start out, before reality hits, you’re full of confidence that your book is great and that it’s going to be a huge success. And then reality hits and it turns out not to be so easy. That’s when a lot of people start wondering if they really belong. The more you know about the craft and about the business, the more you doubt yourself. There may be some people who are totally confident in their abilities and are right about that, but I think it’s more common that the people without imposter syndrome are the ones who might actually be imposters. The people who really know what they’re doing doubt themselves because they know how much they don’t know. That’s not such a bad thing when it makes you strive to get better. Imposter syndrome becomes dangerous when it makes you give up.

It doesn’t help that the business makes it hard. Publishing is not a meritocracy. Some good books get handled well and do very well. Some talented, hard-working authors become successful. But many more don’t, while I’m sure we could all point to poorly written books that got a lot of publisher support and became big hits. I should know better by now, but I’m always surprised to learn what’s been going on behind the scenes in the careers of people I admire. So many of them have had starts, stops, and reverses, and some of the biggest successes tend to come after their careers seem to be almost over. It’s hard not to have imposter syndrome when your series gets dropped, when the publisher doesn’t do much to support your book, when you feel like your agent has lost interest in you, when your books never get mentioned when people ask for recommendations of something that’s exactly what you write. You have to wonder if maybe the problem is you, if maybe your books weren’t all that good and you should go find something else to do with your life.

The people who succeed in the long term are those who can get over that feeling and keep trying without giving up. And who constantly work to get better, even if it means spending what feels like ages getting a book just right.