Thursday, June 9, 2011
In Which I Say "No Thanks" to the "Tortured Artiste Toiling Alone in a Garret" Trope
First things first: I'm grateful to Kelli for allowing me to drop in and chat a bit in my old haunts. I may be saying, "No, thanks," to the Tortured Artiste trope, but I'm saying a big "Thank you!" to Kelli!
No on to the matter at hand…
I grew up thinking my life as a writer would be that of a solitary artiste toiling away in obscurity until suddenly the public recognized my brilliance. Then it would be all cocktail parties, television interviews, annual appearances on the New York Times bestseller list.
In recent years, my vision has shifted from the garret to a writing hut in the backyard (still un-built, but a boy can dream). Plus, I've developed a far more realistic view of the writing/publishing path. Brilliance -> cocktail parties -> television interviews are no longer part of my fantasy (I still hang on, wistfully, to the bestseller list dream). And that whole solitary thing?
To hell with that noise.
While it's true my day-to-day writing has a solitary component, the fact is going from manuscript to book has involved any number of people, all critical to the process. Those people have included my writing critique group, my agent and my editors. Toiling alone in a drafty garret isn't nearly as much fun as bouncing ideas off friends and publishing pros, sharing work-in-progress and then making it better based on feedback, or gabbing with other writers about our challenges and struggles. And drinking beer with friends. (No, thanks to snooty cocktail parties, but yes, please, to hanging in the pub or coffee shop with writers and readers alike.)
Just for fun, I worked out how many people were involved in each book along the way. Turns out: a lot.
Lost Dog was read in draft form by seven writing critique partners, four friends, three agents (include the wonderful Janet Reid), two editors, and, well, even me—many times. All these people made suggestions which improved the book, even the two agents who weren't interested in repping me. My experience with Chasing Smoke was much the same, though the only agent who read it was Janet, and my critique group had shrunk a bit. Starting with Chasing Smoke, I got to work with the amazing editor Alison Janssen too. As I went along, with each book, early readers contributed. With Day One and County Line, I wasn't able to show as much draft as I had with earlier books but the help I got was crucial nonetheless.
I can't say I always took everyone's advice. Sometimes I simply disagreed, for good or ill, with a suggestion. Sometimes the suggestion itself pointed to a problem I chose to solve in a way which differed from the reader's thoughts. But more often than not, early readers pointed out flaws, inconsistencies, or areas where the narrative lagged or veered off course. The books are all better because of the process, and I can't imagine ever working differently.
What I can imagine, however, is that writing hut...
Bill Cameron writes the gritty, Portland-based Skin Kadash series. County Line, the fourth novel feature Skin Kadash and Ruby Jane Whittaker, was released on June 1 to raves, including a Publishers Weekly star. In The Atlantic, D.B. Grady cites County Line as part of the long and storied crime fiction tradition. Bill's contribution to First Thrills, "The Princess of Felony Flats," was nominated for a 2011 CWA Short Story Dagger.