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ProAm Tip #40 – Texas Book Festival & What’s it all about, Alfie?

I’ll be selling, signing, meeting and chatting on Saturday, October 27 on the Capitol grounds in Austin for the Texas Book Festival. I’ll be there from 10-2 splitting my time between the booths Jennie Reads and Writer’s League of Texas. Come find me and get a great read! My books will be available all weekend at the Jennie Reads booth in the Pavilion tent (first one closest to 13th Street).

Now – What’s It All About, Alfie?

Good movie. Both of them, Michael Caine and Jude Law’s versions. Completely irrelevant right now, except for the title. What’s it all about? Your book? (Or story, or poem, or whatever… for the now I’ll just call it a book because that’s mostly what I do.)

Whatever you just said, you’re lying.

We always are, when we’re forced to give a simple explanation. ‘The conflict between nations.’ ‘The fight for good and evil on a faraway planet.’ ‘The struggle between man’s desire and his duty.’ ‘The inability to accept defeat.’ All of those describe my books, and all of those are lies.

It’s simpler than you think. And it doesn’t have to make sense. And it doesn’t have to come right away. It sometimes takes me a hundred thousand words to find out what the emotional core of a book is. My most recent complete first draft, Nomad, is ostensibly about a biker in a gang in Arizona in 1970. It’s also an undercover mystery, a murder piece, and an exploration of life in a motorcycle club.

And all of that is a lie. --- It’s about faith.

Simple. The hardcore faith a true believer has, and what happens when that faith is broken by what he loves.

I’m almost finished with the first draft of Blue Sail, a proto-steampunk alternate history book about pirates who meet a woman who can build steam engines.

That’s a lie. At a hundred thirty-one thousand words, I finally discovered what my own book is about.

Dignity. Human dignity, and what happens when the very core of a man’s dignity is stripped from him.

In my New York trilogy (until next month), the Harry DeMarko and Toni Bennett mysteries, it took me most of the first book to realize I wasn’t writing a period piece about a hardboiled detective in 1980 New York who spends his time doing the little things that he loves. Such as helping his neighbors, protecting his neighborhood, trying to learn how to live.

It’s about contentment, and how we never realize how alone we are until we aren’t.

Once I found that the core was contentment in Bleecker Street Bodies, the revisions were easy. I knew how to shape the details to wrap around my purpose like a warm blanket. I knew how to write the book I’d just written.

Isn’t that always the way? You never know how to do what you do until you’re finished.

I believe that every writer has their own process. Yours may be completely different. Yours may be more complicated, more simple, or more insane than

mine; that doesn’t matter.

I believe every writer, at their heart, is looking for that moment when they finally understand their work, their own words.

When it happens, embrace it. Don’t be shy. Once you know, you KNOW.

Don’t be afraid to give a simple answer when someone asks, “What’s it all about?”

Don’t be afraid that it won’t define what you do. It will.

Love. Confidence. Dignity. Hope.

It’s what you’re really trying to say with your book. Whether it’s a romance, a tale of revenge, a high-seas adventure, a simple murder mystery, or a lofty treatise on the nature of human beings, it’s the one word that defines what you’re really trying to say. What you really mean.

What you really believe.

Find your core. No matter how long it takes, no matter how many words it takes. It’ll come when it comes. When it does, enjoy that moment. Wallow in it. Bathe in it. MEAN IT.

Because you never know how many words it’ll take to find the core of the next one.

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