Vacation, All I Ever Wanted

Over the last couple of years, job constraints and financial strains have come together to make the family’s usual Beach Week impossible. This year, however, thanks to a couple of really stellar months of e-publishing sales (thank you,  KDP Select! ) We’re going to be able to make it. So, if all goes as planned, this time next week will find me with my toes in the sand and my Big Bag O’Books in a beachfront house at North Carolina’s beautiful Caswell Beach.

And I am ready. Boy Howdy, am I ready. I’m ready to take my watch off and spend some time either lying on the sand or bobbing aimlessly about in the water all day, chowing down on seafood every night, and generally not giving a damn about anything other than whether we need to make a run to Southport for another case of Fat Tire and another gallon jug of sunscreen.

But with the delicious anticipation of a week off comes my usual nagging dilemma: does “getting away from it all” mean getting away from writing as well? For years, I used the downtime to get some work done on the latest project. In fact, the first few chapters of my first book, THE DEVIL’S RIGHT HAND,  came together during a Beach Week, when I pulled together a few fragments I had floating around and combined them with an idea I’d had on the drive down. Big chunks of both GOOD DAY IN HELL and SAFE AND SOUND were written during Beach Weeks, when I hauled the laptop out on the deck (or into an unused bedroom) and hammered away at the keyboard during the hours when it was just too damn hot to be out on the sand.
But one of the things about this self-publishing gig is that all your deadlines are self-imposed. I don’t have an editor waiting impatiently, except the one in my head. I could take a week off and not fall behind.

Or can I? See, if I don’t write, I feel guilty. That editor may be only in my head, but he’s a judgmental little sucker. The idea of slacking off for a week, especially in mid-project as I am now, has him shaking his imaginary finger at me and asking if I still think I really have the dedication it takes to do this professionally. (Why no, I’m not well. Not at all. Why do you ask?)

On the other hand, maybe a week off will recharge the batteries. Maybe letting some of these ideas simmer in my unconscious will allow them to become deeper and richer.

In the end, I’ll probably end up doing what I always do…compromise and take my notebook and pen along. And I’ll write. Because, as a fellow writer once put it, I write because I can’t not do it.

How about you, fellow Thalians? Have any suggestions about what I should do? Do you take vacations at all? And when you do, do you spend any or all of the time typing or scribbling, or whatever it is you do to get the words and images out of your head and onto the page? Is it possible, or even desirable, to shut it off for a week?


Is Two Too Many?

by J.D. Rhoades

A week or so ago, an article in the New York Times sparked quite a bit of discussion in the writing world. The article was titled “In the E-Reader Era, a Book a Year Is Slacking.” It noted that, with the explosion of e-readers and e-reader apps on mobile devices, readers “used to downloading any book they want at the touch of a button” get impatient for new material from their favorite authors, resulting in authors being pushed by publishers to pull “the literary equivalent of a double shift, churning out short stories, novellas or even an extra full-length book each year.” This led publisher’s representative Bruce Joshua Miller to write a letter warning that authors and publishers who “buy into” this were “devaluing the writing process as well as the product of that process” and risked ending up on the “toxic junk pile along with old e-readers and cell phones.”

As I watched the debate unfold, the question kept nagging at me: is this really such a new thing? I seem to remember back in the day (as we geezers like to put it),  my favorite science fiction writers were publishing novels, short stories, and the occasional novella during the same year. And, as I once wrote elsewhere, my friend Duane Swierczynski, once did a blog series called “Legends of the Underwood,” about some of the old-school paperback and noir writers like Gil Brewer, Richard Matheson, Richard Bachman aka Stephen King, etc. who could write like the wind. Bachmann/King, for example, supposedly wrote THE RUNNING MAN in three days. In those days, multiple books a year by the same author weren’t unusual; Western writer Louis L’Amour was writing as many as four books a year for Gold Medal until Bantam offered him a contract to do a mere three. Much of the stuff produced by the paperback houses, of course, was dreadful, but they also published writers like John D. McDonald, who was cranking out a couple of Travis McGee books a year until he slowed down to one a year in the 70’s.

Now, I confess, when I first saw this article, I said to myself, “I couldn’t  put out two full length novels a year if you held a gun to my head.” But then I thought about it. On a regular writing day, I’m good for a little over a thousand words. Writing five days a week,  that’s about a 5K a week. Most of the writers I know, by the way, write more than five days a week.  A regular mystery novel runs anywhere from 85,000 to 100,000 words. So you could, theoretically, turn out a first draft every 17 to 20 weeks. The key words there are “first draft”. When I said “a thousand words”, I didn’t promise they’d be any good. But should it really take 32 weeks for a second, third, however many drafts you have to do to polish that masterpiece?

But this calculation also presupposes that all a writer has to do is write. One of the secrets of the productivity of the old paperback masters was that they didn’t have to tour, promote, contribute to their websites, or all the things a modern author is supposed to do to keep their fans and their publishers happy. They turned the book in to Fawcett, who printed a mind boggling amount of copies and put them in spin racks in every drug, grocery, and candy store in the country. Do that for me, and I’ll give you two a year, easy. Oh, and pay me enough to quit the day job so I can get all this done.

So what do you think? Thalians, is two a year doable for you? What about one plus a couple of novellas (now that e-publishing has made that a viable form again)? What would make it possible?  Readers, would two to three books a year from the same author delight you or burn you out?  Are authors complaining about doing two books a year trying to safeguard the quality of the writing process or just crybabies?

Growing old waiting for your audiobook? Take action!

A quick note here mid-week to give a shout-out to Iambik Audiobook who have released three of my books on audio recently. Not only does the author have input into the narrator selection (akin to having final approval on your book cover — when did that happen?) but you work with the narrator and Iambik to make the best product you can. I found the experience transforming, maybe because I’m doing my books with Thalia Press these days. (That means I edit myself basically so I love having a team at Iambik!)
The company is bundling the three audiobooks — my two Dorie Lennox mysteries, One O’clock Jump and Sweet and Lowdown, plus my stand-alone suspense Blackbird Fly, with a 25% discount right now! The single title price is only $6.99 but you can all three for just over $15. (The discount code is mcclendon-audio through the Iambik website.)

To find out more about the books and their narrators, check out this Iambik blog post. I loved what they had to say about my writing (another reason to love Iambik!)

The Iambik Blog: The Prolific and the Chroniclers