Monday, March 13, 2006

The Need to Maintain Momentum

I love wandering around bookstores and libraries. One of my ambitions as a little girl was to figure out how to get locked in the public library overnight so I could be alone with all the books. Never did pull it off, although the fantasy lingered until I was twelve or thirteen. Then the discovery of boys changed my priorities. :)

My pleasure reading is primarily confined to mysteries, thrillers, horror, fantasy and erotic romance. On Saturday, I spent a lot of time in the mystery aisle of Half Price Books, which is what prompts this blog.

I ran across a book by Joseph R. Garber. I immediately recognized the name although I hadn't seen it in a long time.

In the summer of 1995, I bought a thriller by Garber entitled "Vertical Run." The story was irresistible. Corporate executive David Elliott comes to work one morning, only to find that everyone he encounters is trying to kill him. And he has no idea why. He eludes his first attackers. Before noon, whoever is masterminding his murder has brought in a professional hit team to finish the job. The title of the book comes from the fact that Elliott is trapped and running in a 50-story skyscraper in Manhattan.

The book was a thrill-a-minute. It became a featured Book-of-the-Month selection and was optioned by Warner Brothers (and Jon Peters) to become a movie. I was hooked on Garber and eagerly awaited his next book--which never came. After four or five years, I quit looking.

On Saturday, I found the next novel by Garber--a book entitled "Whirlwind," published in the summer of 2004--nine years after "Vertical Run."

This experience reminded me of the times this has happened before. I'll find an author whose work I admire and then -- NOTHING. The writer loses his momentum or something happens in his personal life, but he never follows through.

About the same time I read "Vertical Run," I read a first novel by a man named William S. Slusher. The book was "Shepherd of the Wolves," and told the story of Sheriff Lewis Cody, a man struggling to balance his personal and professional lives. The mass market paperback was published in 1995 to critical acclaim. It was followed the next year by the second book in the series, "Butcher of the Noble." The bio at the back of the sequel indicated that Slusher was hard at work on a third novel. Then -- NOTHING.

The experience Saturday started me thinking about writers and momentum. For most writers, it takes a number of years to find an agent and to get published. The smart ones keep writing with the result that, when they are finally published, they have two or three (or more) manuscripts to their names. Publishing companies seem to like an author to produce a book every nine to twelve months. If the writer has a backlog of material already in existence, all the better. However if he/she doesn't, then the pressure is on to produce the next work. Sometimes, that doesn't happen quickly.

I'm remembering another writer I admired: Mary Willis Walker. In 1991, Walker published the mystery, "Zero at the Bone." It was nominated for both an Agatha (best first cozy) and an Edgar (best first novel). It won the Agatha. In 1994, three years after "Zero at the Bone," Walker published "Red Scream." "Under the Beetle's Cellar" came out in 1995 and "All the Dead Lie Down" in 1998. Since then--NOTHING. Eight years and counting and no new book. This from an award-winning author.

As writers, we are all focused on producing that first novel, on getting published, on seeing our work in print. Rarely do we think ahead to what happens next.

This is a business. Like all businesses, we must keep our customers happy. That means generating new products to keep their attention and to keep our names at the forefront of the public's mind. Even before the first novel is published, your agent is asking for the second...and soon the third.

Be prepared. Plan ahead. Don't allow short-term gratification to distract you from your main goal. Stay focused and stay on track. Otherwise, some day, a reader will be saying, "I remember that author. Whatever happened to her?"

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