I read a lot of my books this week, starting with the first one published. Somebody had said once that she read her own books when she got stuck on a story (I’m not stuck), and I thought, “Well, why not?” It was a lot like looking through an old photo album, the writing equivalent of “Look how thin I was in 1993!” but the big takeaway was that the good ones were pretty good although not as good as I remembered, and the bad ones weren’t that bad at all. Also, I skim my sex scenes when I read, so obviously those weren’t working, at least for me now. Like any other memory journey, though, it ended up being an analysis of loss and gain.
Loss: I don’t have that fearlessness that I had in the beginning. I got my structure fairly quickly, Manhunting and Sizzle are the only ones that have no planned structure to speak of, but mostly I was just writing snappy dialogue and internal monologue by people lusting after each other, which was a blast to write. I was tap dancing so people would throw nickels, which is a very loose, free way to tell a story (that is not a criticism of tap dancing a story). There was a simplicity there, too, in those early categories: these are books about people falling in love. Period. I can’t do that any more, I get bored. I’m good with the falling-in-love part, it’s just not enough. Also, some of those sex scenes were ridiculous, and I knew it, and I just didn’t care.
Gain: So, okay, it’s harder to write now, but it’s more satisfying because I’m doing better work. I read the early categories and there’s not much there there, but in the SMP books, even the ones I’d like to do over, there’s Stuff there, you can reread later for deeper layers, and I’m happy about that. I have more editorial freedom now than I did with the categories, all of which had to be romances; a large part of that is the fact that Jennifer Enderlin is a goddess, which is why I’m never writing another book without her again. I’ll always gravitate back to romance, but the later stuff is just more complex and more interesting. And I learned a lot from the collaborations, especially the collaborations with Bob. My later stuff is just better generally, although not chronologically. I once had the insane idea that each book had to better than the last: that way lay madness. So there are stumbles in there, but nothing I’m ashamed of. I got smarter about structure and theme, and the writing got more satisfying, and the stories got better. So lots of gains.
Future Stuff: Everybody here knows all the different books I have in progress, and I like all of them. The big problem for me: I am an Old and I am not interested in hitting the streets to see what you young people are up to (“young” being anyone younger than 68). Example: I am horrible at texting even though that’s the way most people communicate. (I e-mail my brother and he doesn’t find the e-mail for days; he texts me and I don’t look at my phone for days.) Obviously the key is to avoid modernity, but the only way to really do that is to write historicals (never gonna happen) or fantasy (see Paradise Park and Monday Street). And of course, the brain is aging, too, and that’s going to show up in my work. So there has to come a time when somebody reads my stuff and tells me kindly to stop. I just re-read Rex Stout’s last novel, and it was still great, but I remember reading that he asked everybody if it was good because he was in his seventies when he wrote it. I’m not there yet (not that far off, either) so I really need to be vigilant. And start setting my stories in the 1990’s which was the last time I dated and when people did not text or do Facebook (I think).
Conclusion: My plan is to keep writing the best books I possibly can, and when I can see that my best is not very good, stop publishing. It’s good to take stock every now and then, but it’s better to keep moving ahead until it’s time to sit down with a Diet Coke and watch the dachshunds and the bears in the sunset, proud of the fact that I wrote twenty (?) novels that were pretty good. That’s a good ending to a good story.
And now back to work.