Back to It

February 25th, 2008

I’m back in the world of Poke Rafferty, both figuratively and literally.

This entry comes to you from Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where I’m going to write most of the third Poke story, which is tentatively titled Misdirection. (God only knows what it’ll be called when it comes out — between A Nail Through the Heart and The Fourth Watcher, the people at William Morrow and I must have gone through 15-20 titles.) So I’m on Poke’s geographic home ground, so to speak, although he’s actually mostly in Bangkok, and I’m also re-entering the imaginary space that he and his improvised family inhabit.

As always, I’m nervous about it. I’ve got what feels like a good idea, but much of the story is centered on a character — a self-made Thai billionaire, simultaneously arrogant and insecure,unschooled but instinctively brilliant — whom I’m not certain I can write. So, while I’m dying to meet up with Poke and Rose and Miaow and their friend Arthit, this guy, whose nickname is Pan, is giving me the night sweats.

And things are further complicated because during a five or six-week period during which I wasn’t officially under contract to Morrow, I wrote a completely different novel, Bad Money, which I fervently hope will be the keystone of a new series. I intentionally kept the two worlds as different as possible — Los Angeles versus Bangkok, third-person versus a highly stylized first-person, American crooks versus a whole social spectrum of Thais. I even changed the tense: Poke’s stories are in the present tense, and Bad Money is in past tense.

Even with all these differences, though, everything comes out of the same imagination, and I have to do a sort of global reboot — get Junior Bender (the hero of Bad Money) and the stories in that book completely out of mind, re-center, and go wholeheartedly into Poke’s world. So I’m in my usual pre-writing state, simultaneously excited about what’s coming and scared silly.

At the moment, I’m able to use jet lag as an excuse to postpone writing the words Chapter One, but that’s not going to protect me forever. One morning soon I’ll wake up and realize I’m on Southeast Asian time, and that’ll be the wakeup call. Time to pack up the laptop and head off to the nearest coffee shop and write a bunch of words that won’t satisfy me but that I might be able to improve later, and I’ll do that over and over again until there’s something like a book. And then I’ll get really Draconian on it, just rip it to pieces and put it back together until there’s something I can show people without blushing.

So wish me luck.

6 Responses to “Back to It”

  1. Mitch Says:

    Good luck Tim! I’m sure your next book will turn out just fine. When you mention writing “words that won’t satisfy you” I can completely relate. That seems to be how I feel when I get done writing for the day, but I’m trying hard to get over it so that things keep moving along.

  2. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Life is so much more interesting at times than we want it to be. I did two days in a row and they’re both pure dross. The poor girl in “Rumpelstiltskin” couldn’t have spun them into gold.

    But okay, I’ve moved the story from one potential Point A to a potential Point B, and it’s not elegant but it’s about as good as a home movie, and at least I’ve got something to improve upon.

    Thanks for the encouragement, Mitch. I can use all I can get right now.

  3. Mitch Says:

    What do you typically do when your writing just isn’t up to par? Do you just throw it out, or do you keep it and try to mold it into something passable?

    I hate getting rid of work, even if it’s bad, but sometimes I feel like I should just toss the stuff that doesn’t jive and start from scratch.

  4. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    Odd that you should ask, since I’m going through that right now.

    What I do when I’m having real trouble is double my word count target. If I’m normally aiming for 1000 words per day, I go for 2000. And I write without any regard at all to my inner critics, just put the words out there. When I’m having trouble writing, it feels like I’m pulling the characters along. When it’s going well, I feel like I’m just trying to keep up with them.

    I find (usually) that if I write enough, without getting all crazy about how good it is or isn’t, suddenly I’ll realize that something has come to life under my fingers. Someone has started talking, or I understand something new about the story or the setting, and I’m in unfamiliar territory, and it’s territory that interests me. I follow that surge of energy as long as I can and then I go back and see what needs fixing. Sure, sometimes you have to throw away whole pages, but I try never to do that unless I have something better to replace them with.

    Once in a very great while, an entire book needs to be tossed. But before even contemplating that, I want to be sure I haven’t missed something about the idea that will really get me flowing. After all, there must have been something I loved about it in the first place.

  5. Mitch Says:

    That’s great advice to follow, Tim. I like the idea of shooting for a higher word count and throwing caution to the wind. A big problem of mine is that when things get rough, I tend to run myself into a dead end, exhausting my creativity in the process.

    My newest venture is to write about something completely new every day. I got about 6,000 words into my first novel and it just died. But in a way I’m glad that I did it, because the ideas and the characters I used needed to be addressed. It was just stuff I always tend to gravitate towards when I have a blank page in front of me. Now I feel free of my trite material, so I think I’m going to challenge myself to just “go for it” every single day and see what comes out. Hopefully I can finish a few short stories before I try my hand at another novel.

  6. Timothy Hallinan Says:

    I usually find when an idea starts to die on me that I’m focusing on story rather than on character. The new Poke is a great example: I had to write a book proposal to release the advance, and as a result, I had much more plot in mind than usual when I started to write. For the first few days, I felt like one of those guys who pulls a train along a track with a rope in his teeth, just putting this damn story together. And then, yesterday, I junked all my expectations about where the story was going and just wrote characters, and I got the first real idea of the book, a life-changing situation for one of the continuing characters that will affect the entire course of the novel and will leave him very different at the end of the book than at the beginning. And I made my 2000 words without even trying.

    So, if I can be so presumptuous, I’d suggest that you go back to your characters when the idea hits the rocks. They can often navigate you back into safer and more interesting waters.

    Sorry about the metaphor.

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