Television: The Politician, “Pilot”

I read a description of this show somewhere that said something like: “Ryan Murphy Ryan Murphys harder than he ever has before,” and that feels like an accurate description. Thing is, I only sorta like Ryan Murphy’s work. Couldn’t get into Glee, only enjoyed a couple seasons of American Horror Story. Did enjoy the first season of Scream Queens but dropped the second pretty quickly. Liked the OJ Simpson thing, couldn’t invest in Gianni Versace. So my history with Murphy is patchwork. I’m waiting to see which way this show will go for me.

So far I’ve only watched the first episode. In the first few minutes I felt like I probably wasn’t going to like it, but it grew on me as things progressed. However, I really can’t buy these actors as high schoolers. They are so clearly much older.

In a nutshell, The Politician is about Payton Hobart, an adopted child whose singular desire in life is to become president. He’s done huge analysis on it, has decided he must get into Harvard because Harvard has produced the most presidents. And he’s gunning to become class president to help pad his college applications and lay the groundwork for his plans. But his friend (and sometimes lover) River is running against him. And when [SPOILER FOLLOWS] River commits suicide, his girlfriend blames Payton and takes up the reins of River’s campaign. [END SPOILER]

Payton has a group of “advisors” and a would-be “first lady” helping him. Murphy favorite Jessica Lange is on hand as the grasping mama of a cancer-stricken girl Payton chooses as his running mate (for selfish reasons, natch). Gwyneth Paltrow is Payton’s adoptive mother. The cast here is solid, though the advisors are thus far without individuality. Maybe they get character arcs later in the series.

I was most interested in River, but per the above spoiler, that seems misplaced and futile.

In short, I’m intrigued. But seeing as I’ve only watched the pilot, and considering my checkered history with Murphy’s work, I’m reserving full judgement.

Books: Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

This is… a cute book, I guess. It’s a modernized version of Austen’s classic. As far as I know, I’ve never read anything else by McDermid, but her bio (and many other reviewers) mark her as a crime writer, so I’m not entirely sure why she was tapped to do this, the second in a “Jane Austen Project.” Maybe because McDermid’s name sells? But then, so does Austen’s, I would think? And not necessarily to the same crowd.

In this take, Cat Morland has the rare opportunity to visit Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival with their well-to-do neighbors the Allens. While there, Cat makes friends both fair and foul, as per the Austen way. She becomes smitten with Henry Tilney and simultaneously must put up with unwanted attention from Johnny Thorpe. Eventually Cat is invited to the Tilney manor house Northanger Abbey, etc. etc.

There are a lot of things in this book that don’t quite work. The dialogue by the purported teens, for one thing. The very black-and-white characters for another. Good people are clearly angels and the bad people have no redeeming qualities whatsoever. Everyone in between comes off as a dimwit or simply dull. There are no facets to any of the characters at all. Even Cat is fairly annoying in that she is naive and often shrill.

The pacing isn’t great, either. There is a looooong wind-up before things actually happen. As I recall (and it’s been two or three years since I last read Austen’s novel), this is true to the original. BUT. If you’re going to rewrite it for a modern readership, why not pace it for one too? The result is a rushed ending, and not a very good one. Oh, it’s the requisite happy ending, but the conflict at that point, such as it is, is lame and not handled very well. I won’t go into detail in case you want to try this book, but… It’s pretty terrible. And if that “misunderstanding” had been moved up a bit and worked differently, it actually might have been both funny and a teaching moment. Instead it’s a throw away that reflects badly and leaves a bitter taste at the end of the book.

Finally, the book needed at least one more edit pass. There are some truly clunky sentences here that need smoothing out, some repetitious words that could have been tweaked. But I’ve noticed that, the more famous the author, the more corners they cut when rushing to publish. After all, the book will sell anyway, right? If I were a bestselling author, I’d demand more attention for my work rather than less.

All this sounds pretty damning, but I didn’t entirely hate the book. The faults are glaring and were a bit distracting while I was reading, but I did enjoy it to some extent. I gave it 3.5 stars on Goodreads (rounding to 4), though looking at it now I maybe should have gone with 3. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever read. Though again I have to wonder why these things get the go-ahead and my Shakespeare retellings do not. I’m sure name recognition plays into it, but here is Cat, an utter puddle of a protagonist, and my Nerissa (Hamlette) is considered too flippant? At least she has a personality, something Cat largely lacks except in a few scenes when she decides to be argumentative. Hmm…

Check This Out

I’m one of the interviewees in Maximum Z’s latest article. If you’re unfamiliar, Max Z is an aspiring screenwriter (and a darn good one) who takes time out of his busy schedule to encourage and inform other writers. While he does focus a lot on screenwriting, he broadens his scope to authors and other writers, too, as is the case in today’s post, which discusses marketing. And a lot of what he says applies to all writers and creatives. Definitely worth checking his site out, bookmarking, reading regularly.

The Perfectionist Writer’s Struggle

There’s no misery quite like being a perfectionist writer. We want—expect, even—our story to spring like Athena fully formed from our skulls onto the page. In our heads, the story is perfect. Alas, when we try to make that perfection concrete by writing or typing it, everything crumbles.

I think this is partly to do with perfectionism and also partly to do with… How can I phrase it?… People for which most things come easily, people who aren’t used to having to redo their work… They have a particularly difficult time with the idea that their first draft will not and should not be their last. I am one of these people. I say this not to toot my own horn, but to show that having things come easily is not a wonderful trait. It makes me lazy. It makes me more whiney when I do encounter obstacles because I’m so used to sailing over them. It makes me want to to declare my first draft to be my final draft because of course I did it perfectly the first time.

And of course that isn’t true.

People who have spent their school days working hard in order to succeed have a much better chance of greater success in the long run. They’ve developed a work ethic and a willingness to continue hacking away at something until they get it right.

So maybe “perfectionist” isn’t exactly the correct word here. Though perfectionist writers have their own set of problems. They keep wanting to tinker with a manuscript indefinitely because they want it to be perfect. In that way, they’re rather the opposite of the ones who are so sure they are one-and-done. These perfectionists don’t want to let go. They’re often convinced there is some set of rules or a mathematical equation that, if they check everything off the list or get the right answer, then their book will be perfect. And only when it’s perfect will it be ready to query or publish.

What each of these types of authors has in common, however, is that in both cases the authors need to be comfortable with the idea of imperfection. The Type 1 author needs to be willing to admit a lack of perfection, and the Type 2 author needs to be willing to live with a lack of perfection.

NOTHING AND NO ONE IS EVER PERFECT

You’re going to find a typo in the final, published version. Or you’re going to re-read it and wish you’d written a sentence differently.

And no, you didn’t write it perfectly the first time.

I have never, ever been sorry that I went back and edited and revised. In every single case the book has been better for it, no matter how much I bitched and moaned that it was fine—perfect—the way it was.

It won’t be perfect. Ever. Your job is to get it as close to perfect as you can, up until the time that continuing to fiddle with it has little to no ROI. It becomes a waste of time rather than a benefit to the work… or the author. In fact, eventually the work and the author begin to suffer for it. Part of being a writer is learning to find the sweet spot of having rewritten/edited it as best you can and not going any further.

Part of being a writer—a big part—is learning to live with imperfect. Both at the start and the end of your project. And in yourself as well.

No One Asked for Your Book

Here is a harsh truth for starting writers (and maybe even for those who’ve been at it a while): no one asked you to be a writer. That’s something you signed up for, for whatever reasons. But you can’t be surprised or angry when your sense of entitlement is undermined by the utter lack of interest and/or attention for you and your work.

I’m saying this because I’ve heard so many new(ish) authors say, “I worked so hard and then no one cared.” Hell, I feel that way almost all the time! But then I remind myself that there are billions of books out there competing for a limited number of readers. Think about it: how many of your friends and family and coworkers read? For pleasure, that is? And when they do read, how many of those people read the genre(s) you write? In some cases, it’s a very small market. And that market—those readers—can be difficult to reach because of all the noise. By which I mean, there are so many books out there, so many authors yelling about their work, and readers have learned to tune most of it out. Being seen becomes increasingly difficult. Being read even more so.

In a society that has petted us and told us we’re all special and unique, we’ve created a sense that there is constantly a spotlight on us. With Facebook and Instagram and so on, we cultivate “audiences” and become stars of our own shows. Or so we think. But if everyone is thinking about themselves and their “show,” no one but you is thinking about you. Or your book.

“But I deserve to be successful!” By whose metric? I know we’re all told that if we work hard enough we’ll succeed. Eventually. But the truth is, maybe you won’t. You can work hard and not get an agent or publisher. You can work hard, self-publish, and not sell. It can and does happen. All. The. Time.

Bottom line is, no one asked for you to add more to the growing pile of unagented manuscripts or self-published books. No one is going to miss you or your work if you don’t write. They’ll find other books to agent, other books to publish, other books to read. So if you’re going to be a writer, do it not just because you want to, but because you have to. Because you can’t not write. Don’t tie yourself to a specific outcome for your work. It’s fine to set goals, of course. But be prepared with backup plans if you don’t get that agent or don’t sell x number of copies.

I know some will say that readers do ask for books from their favorite authors. If something ended on a cliffhanger, people might literally email and ask for the next book. Agents and publishers continually ask for books from their best-selling authors because, hey, those authors make money for them. If you’re one of those, congratulations. This post isn’t meant for you. For the rest of us, though, until we’re someone’s (really, more than someone’s, lots of people’s) favorite author that moves thousands of copies per year, we’ve got to just do for ourselves. Until readers are clamoring for our work, we have to have the clamor inside of us. And I honestly believe that clamor produces quality writing, far more than a sense of obligation ever could. So even if you do “make it,” I hope that clamor continues in you. That you don’t write because you’re expected to, but because you still love it.

The Long, Slow Death of a Writing Career

I last put a book out in October. Almost a year ago. Used to be, writers put out a book every 1-2 years, sometimes more, and that was not unusual. Even “fast” writers took a while because the publishing process was a long one: write a draft, send it to your agent, who would send it out to publishers (or, if you had a standing publishing contract, just on to your editor)… Sell the book, rounds of editing, production/design, the marketing team gearing up, advance review copies sent out, and then finally the book would be published. And then the author might do a book tour or something, which took time away from writing the next thing, and so the next thing waited a bit longer to get written, and the cycle started again.

No longer. Particularly with self-publishing, authors are now expected to be content mills. Churn, churn, churn. Never mind quality; quantity is what matters. There are so many more authors now, too. Our names and our work get lost in the neverending pile. If you don’t put something out every 3-6 months, you’re easily forgotten. Even those who claim to be fans won’t wait. It’s a bit like running a marathon and not having anyone to cheer you on. After a while, you’re tired, you’re sore, and you’re wondering why you even bothered. Sure, maybe you like running, or maybe you think of it as healthy, but there are plenty of other things you also enjoy and other ways to be healthy that aren’t as painful or spirit breaking.

I’ve watched my sales slowly decline over the past few months. Part of the reason is that I’ve given up trying to market my work. It’s expensive, it’s time consuming, and the results are often disappointing. It was very fortunate that Publisher’s Weekly reviewed Brynnde; it’s become my best-selling book to date, and I can directly draw a line between the PW BookLife exposure and that success. Alas, they declined to review Faebourne, my latest, and that book has struggled. I’m sure I could pay BookLife and other outlets to review it, but paying for reviews feels sketchy to me. And, again, any outlet with significant impact charges a lot of money.

I also downsized my social media recently, which probably contributes to my decrease in sales, but so much of it was too toxic and bad for my mental health. If I have to value something, my personal wellbeing will be a priority every time. I needed to cut out the people who were always asking for help but never supporting me when I needed it. There were an awful lot of them.

Amazon continues to make it more and more difficult to be seen, and their ads can be expensive too. They have authors over the proverbial barrel, and I no longer trust them.

All in all, the collective situation does not motivate me to write. And since we know that authors these days need to churn out content faster than ever before in order to be successful… It just isn’t going to happen. It takes me a long time to write anything even when I’m excited about it. Now that I no longer am, I’ll finish the next book in, oh, never. And a day.

IWSG: September 2019

It’s time again for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Posts go up the first Wednesday of each month. Read more posts and/or join in here.

Q: If you could pick one place in the world to sit and write your next story, where would it be and why?

A: I really want to go to Japan and am making plans to visit next year. I think I’d love staying there for a few weeks to write. The utter difference in culture would, I think, make an interesting impact on my work. I’d enjoy absorbing the atmosphere and letting it permeate my writing.