Please welcome Vincent Zandri to Get Over The Hump Day.
If pressure makes diamonds Vincent Zandri is certainly a gem. When I first shared the spotlight with Vincent on Blog Talk Radio, he was welcoming and generous. He was as supportive as any indie author without a hint that he was outselling Stephen King. He has a kindness and peace that only come after overcoming great obstacles.
Today he shares a very personal and inspirational story. Enjoy!
Surviving the Slump
By Vincent Zandri
The year was 2005 and I was at my wick’s end.
What had started out as a stellar literary career of writing crime novels for a Random House imprint to the tune of 200K a pop in advance money, went south due to a corporate merger. I had published two books that were going nowhere and, at the same time, gotten involved in a ghost writing project that, while sending me around the world on a fact finding mission on the client’s dime, nearly drove me towards a nervous breakdown when it came time for the actual writing. Imagine writing for someone who is constantly telling you, “You can’t write that piece of dialogue. My friend George Bush won’t like it.” That’s the kind of vice tightening madness I was up against.
I was broke from a protracted divorce, without a home I could call my own, no money in the bank, considerable debt, no book contracts, no work, nothing. I had recently remarried and it was not going well. Instead of being a good and decent husband, I spent most of my nights staying up until the wee hours, stressing, plotting, but mostly just feeling sorry for myself. Things got so bad, my wife asked me to move out. I loved her more than any woman in the world. And because I loved her, I did what she asked of me. I moved out.
A couple of months later I woke on a cold Christmas morning. The kids were already up, but I decided I didn’t want to have a Christmas that year. So I stayed in bed until everyone had opened their gifts. When I finally emerged from my bedroom sometime that late afternoon, I went immediately to the refrigerator and cracked open a beer. I also lit up a cigarette. I stood there at the sink, staring at the beer and the blue smoke rising up from the cigarette. I knew I had reached a pivotal moment in my life. I could either slide down that slippery slope towards certain protracted death. Or, I could somehow make the effort to get my life back together.
I’m not sure what came over me at that very moment in time, but I put out the cigarette and dumped the beer. I apologized to my family over missing Christmas and then I put on my running clothes and went for a long jog on that cold December afternoon.
The next day I went back to work. Since it was going to be a while until I could manage another book contract, I went back to the beginning, so to speak. I went back to the same kind of freelance journalism and freelance writing that had originally sustained me back when I was just starting out. It took some time, but I eventually scored gigs with some global publications. I worked so hard at it day in and day out, that within the year I was working for RT, Russia’s English speaking 24 hour global satellite news network. I found myself writing news pieces, professional blogs and photographing in places like West Africa, Moscow, Italy, Paris and other destinations. I also secured some much needed bread and butter work with some trade journals that specialized in architecture, building, and design. Suddenly, I was paying my rent and putting some money away. I’d even managed to pay up most of my debt. Not bad considering when I moved out of my house my wife loaned me fifty bucks in order to start a checking account.
I wasn’t only writing journalism at the time. I was also stealing an hour or so a day to work on the new novel that would become Moonlight Falls. To my surprise, an agent willingly took it on, and while I was still more or less blackballed by the majors for having not earned out my original $250K advance, she secured a contract with a small publisher. I couldn’t have been happier. I was not only back as a professional writer and journalist, I had a new book coming out.
I was so encouraged by my humble but serious success that I started taking even more time out to write fiction. That next year I wrote The Remains, The Concrete Pearl, and then Moonlight Rises. Those got picked up by one of the hottest indie publishers in the business. In the meantime, my agent managed to re-acquire the rights to my Random House books, The Innocent and Godchild. My new publisher agreed to republish them also. By the fourth year of my career rebuilding and re-commitment to excellence, I had sold more than one-hundred thousand copies of The Innocent and nearly the same for Godchild. The Remains would go on to sell at least as many. Almost all of these sales were e-book sales, which meant the books would never go out of print. In the end, I sold so many books I would have earned out my Random House advance.
Enter year six. With my new sales record and the income that was coming in along with it, I found myself with a new agent. That agent was able to repackage Vincent Zandri and acquire an eight book, “very nice deal” with arguably the hottest and potentially most powerful new major publisher on the block: Thomas & Mercer of Amazon Publishing. I had come full circle.
It took six full years to overcome the hump, or slump if you will, that began with a simple corporate restructuring. No matter what you call it, it still resulted in my having been served a crap sandwich. But there’s a major lesson to be learned here. As bad and personally directed as it all seemed at the time, my situation wasn’t unique. This business is fraught with disappointments and stumbling blocks too numerous to mention here. It’s not a matter of avoiding them since you can’t possibly avoid them all, but a matter of positioning yourself so that you can deal with them without having to take too many steps backwards.
Sure I have the major deal again but unlike the last time, I have set myself up so that I am never without a writing income, should one of my sources go south. How can you do the same?
–Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket. If you’re a journalist and/or freelance writer, try and maintain a client or two, even if your books are making you a nice living. The money will be welcome, and it will keep your journalism skills sharp.
–Don’t rely on one method of publishing. Acquire major, traditionally-based independent, and self publishing contracts. This is an ever changing business and what seems like an awesome major contract today can become a real dog tomorrow.
–Ally yourself with a very good agent. He or she will secure you work should you need it. And of course, they will sell your movie, TV, and foreign rights.
–Take care of yourself. I still like to drink beer and wine, but I never again touched another cigarette after that one dreadful Christmas day nearly seven years ago now. I run and lift on a daily basis and I love to cook good food.
–Travel. See the world and write about it. This will re-energize the batteries and give you a global perspective, the least of which is this: the world and the universe does not revolve around you.
–If you’re in bad relationship that prohibits your making a success of yourself as a writer, get out of it. My second wife saw the destructiveness of our relationship and she made the difficult decision to end it while we still had love for one another and even a friendship. Today, I have my life back together and we are once more a couple. But this relationship is so different from what we had before, that she seems like an entirely new woman to me. And as for me, I’m an entirely new man. I’ve learned from my mistakes and turned a disaster into a success. More importantly, I’ve grown up. And in doing so, I survived the slump.
Vincent Zandri is the No. 1 International Bestselling Amazon author of THE INNOCENT, GODCHILD, THE REMAINS, MOONLIGHT FALLS, CONCRETE PEARL, MOONLIGHT RISES, SCREAM CATCHER, BLUE MOONLIGHT and MURDER BY MOONLIGHT. He is also the author of the Amazon bestselling digital shorts, PATHOLOGICAL, TRUE STORIES and MOONLIGHT MAFIA. Harlan Coben has described THE INNOCENT (formerly As Catch Can) as “…gritty, fast-paced, lyrical and haunting,” while the New York Post called it “Sensational…Masterful…Brilliant!” Zandri’s list of publishers include Delacorte, Dell, StoneHouse Ink, StoneGate Ink and Thomas & Mercer. An MFA in Writing graduate of Vermont College, Zandri’s work is translated into many languages including the Dutch, Russian, and Japanese. An adventurer, foreign correspondent, and freelance photo-journalist for RT, Globalspec, IBTimes and more, he lives in Albany, New York. For more go to WWW.VINCENTZANDRI.COM
Welcome to the second installment of Get Over The Hump Day. Please welcome Terry Odell, author of 10 novels she calls romance with a twist of mystery. Terry has some great advice for keeping your writing momentum and keeping your head up when the words aren’t quite flowing.
Thanks so much to CJ for inviting me to be a guest today.
When you’re a writer, most of your time is spent alone with your keyboard and that blinking cursor on the monitor. And sometimes it sits there blinking, blinking, blinking—daring you to move it down the screen.
There are probably as many methods for dealing with stalled writing as there are writers. Nora Roberts who’s written more books than even she can count, I think, is known for saying, “You can’t fix a blank page.” She’s spot on with that. I’ve got a t-shirt that sums it up.
A few tips I can share for keeping things moving forward:
1. Understand why you’re stuck. For me, it’s usually because there’s a plot point I haven’t figured out. For example, I might know who the killer is, but I’m not sure why he did the killing. Use the “Rule of Twenty” to help brainstorm through that. (Don’t know what the Rule of Twenty is? It’s simply coming up with twenty possible answers, reasons, or solutions to any given plot point.) In general the first ideas you get will be the obvious, and won’t make your writing special. Admittedly, I don’t usually get as far as twenty, but each one can open up new lines of thought. Often, what seems totally off the wall ends up leading to one that works.
When I began writing DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, the 4th book in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, I knew the hero was going to be Grinch, who’d been a secondary character in other books in the series. What I’d forgotten was that due to a throwaway line in the first book, where he never even appeared on the page, he had a child. How could I write a romantic suspense where the hero had a kid? After considering as many possibilities as I could, I ended up with a way around the problem. (Of course, my solution also involved a dog, so now I had yet another “character” to deal with.)
3. Don’t waste time on details. Placeholders are your friend. XXX works very well. I’m terrible at descriptions, and even worse at metaphors. Likewise character names. If I’ve stopped for more than about thirty seconds, I simply put in an XXX and move on. In DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, a character was a landscaper, and he’d brought a plant that was suited to the setting high in the Colorado mountains. An XXX with “research plants” meant I could keep writing instead of fretting about what kind of a shrub he would have brought her.
2. Understand you might have slow days. Didn’t meet your word count goal? Why? Were you stuck on a piece of research you needed? Getting the answers counts as writing time. “Head Writing” counts as writing time. I don’t outline, or plot more than a few scenes in advance, although I do have plot points that will have to be covered, or simple “what about?” questions that I write on sticky notes and put on a foam core board. Thinking about the book counts as writing. (And, this might be the perfect time to go back to your XXXs and see if you can fill them in.)
4. Don’t stop at the end of a scene. Move at least a few paragraphs into the next one, or make a note of the plot points. That way, when you come back to work the next day (and if you’re a writer, it is a job, so you need to be as disciplined as if you were going to the office), you’ll have a running start. Knowing where you’re going brings the excitement needed to get that next section on the page.
5. Print out your day’s output. Take it away from the computer to read. I like to do this in bed, where it becomes a “book” and not “work.” Make basic markups, noting things that jump out at you, such as repeated words, confusion as to who’s speaking in dialogue, typos, transitions, and places that need elaboration or cutting. Don’t fix them, just make notes. Then when you go back to work the next day, you’ve got another running start.
6. I also have a tracking board. When I finish a scene, I jot the plot points, characters, time, and setting onto sticky notes and put them on what others call a story board. But I do mine after I’ve written the scene. I admit I get behind at times, so during those “lulls” I go back and take care of updating it. This also can trigger new ideas. When I was writing DEADLY SECRETS, I wasn’t sure who the murderer was. Then I looked at my tracking board and saw a character’s name showing up in all the critical scenes. Ta Da!
Please remember: this is what works for me. I fix as I go, and when I get to “the end” I’ve got a polished first draft. Normally, one more pass and it’s ready to go to my editor.
And, when things seem impossible, you can always write a guest blog post!
Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
You may not realize how true this is for writers unless you are one. We overcome tremendous obstacles to create our stories and in the process we learn how to motivate ourselves when things look dim. Today I’m starting a feature called Get Over The Hump Day. I’m going to invite writers here each Wednesday (hump day) to tell us how they stay inspired.
My guest today is Libby Fischer Hellmann, author of eleven novels and as many short stories, most recently A Bitter Veil. You can find her here. You should also know that her book Easy Innocence is free today on Kindle.
Libby is hosting my Get Over The Hump Day post on her blog today. We call it Mutual Bloggeration.
Please welcome Libby!
When the Going Gets Tough…
Funny you should mention this, CJ. I’m in a tough place right now and —well— I’m struggling. It’s not writers’ block per se. It’s broader than that.
Over the past ten years I’ve published ten novels (depending on how you count them) and about twenty short stories. Number eleven is done, and it should come out in 2013. When I think about how far I’ve come, I’m amazed, especially since writing was never on my master plan. I was going to be a film-maker — the Lina Wertmuller of the United States. I had visions of riding off into sunset with Federico Fellini. Life had other plans, though, so here I am.
But I’ve always been a sucker for a story. The most seductive words I know are “Hey I want to tell you a story.” Say that, and I’m yours. So it finally dawned on me that I am a storyteller, whether I’m writing it, filming it, or just imagining it.
And that’s the problem. I’m just not that excited by the story I thought I’d be telling next. As some of you may know, I’ve reinvented myself in my fiction. I started with an amateur sleuth mystery series, expanded into a hard-boiled female PI series, and branched out into thrillers and stand-alones. The thriller I’m revising now is set in Cuba, and that’s usually the time when I casting around for my next story. It’s never failed. In fact, the siren song of the “next best thing” usually puts me under its spell, and I can’t wait to get started.
This time it’s different. I had written up to page 60 on a new Georgia Davis story when I left her and decided to write three stand-alone thrillers. I promised myself I’d go back when I’d finished. The story isn’t a bad one, and I’d pretty much figured it out in my head. Georgia discovers a half-sister she never knew she had, and that sister is in big trouble. I was also going to bring back a character from an earlier book — the villain who got away.
But the problem is that I’ve been avoiding jumping in. I reread the first few chapters – bear in mind I wrote them almost three years ago – and they sounded flat and boring. No problem. That’s why we do revisions. So I rewrote the first chapter, and it’s better. More exciting. Still, I’m not captivated by the story the way I should be. And I can’t figure out why.
Is it because I already know the story? Often when I’m writing I love the sense of discovery and surprise when a character does something I didn’t expect and the plot moves in an unexpected direction. But I already know most of the twists and turns in this story.
Is the story itself a little too formulaic, too “PI-driven?” It’s not exactly a new story. Few plots are. (They say there are only two plots in the world: A person goes on a journey, or a stranger comes to town.) But we write anyway, and no story turns out to be quite like another. I suspect that would happen here.
Or is it “story fatigue?” After eleven books and twice as many stories, am I just storied out? Bored with my thinking, bored with the genre, bored in general? Am I finished? All washed up? Do I have any stories left to tell? I don’t know.
Usually when I have writers’ block, I stop writing so that my brain switches from left to right, or right to left (whatever it is). I read a new book by an author I love… I go to the movies… or I talk it out with a friend. (My friend Judy Bobalik can tell you a funny story about that. Just ask her.)
This time, though, I’m not sure what to do.
Anyone have any suggestions?