10 Things I’ve Learned After Writing 10 Books

Last week I published Lie Zombie Lie. This was a milestone for me on a number of levels. First of all, this is the fourth novel in the I Zombie series and offers both myself and my readers proof in the brain pudding that Bethany Nitshimi and company are here to stay. Second, and I say this with pom poms in hand, TEN FREAKIN’ NOVELS! It’s at this point which one would say with some assurance “Yeah, I’m here to stay.”  And I’m not one to pat myself on the back much, but TEN FREAKIN’ NOVELS! Can I get a Muhaha from the Jackverse? I thought so.

But… what have I learned from this wacky hay ride? I want to offer all of you (readers AND writers) ten things that I have gleaned from this wacky pop dance? And so, without further hullabaloo, let’s get on with this bitch.

1. Write what you love and love what you write. You’ve probably heard this said in every possible way and the meaning has shifted around like an amorphous blob. But here’s the thing — I truly enjoy the books I write. I have been a horror fan since I was a child. I love reading, watching, and writing horror. When I am digging deep into the wells of fright I am at my happiest (I know, it sounds crazy). When I have started writing something that I didn’t enjoy — it became a chore and turned out little more than dreck. And so — now I only write what I love. Besides, I figure if I  (a raging horror fan) am enjoying the story, other fans of the genre will enjoy as well.

2. Write without a net. I have written with bare outlines, overly-detailed outlines, story boards, and everything in between. But how I write the best is when I am unencumbered and my imagination has full reign over the story. When I write like this, the story is free to go off in any direction it wants. Oh sure, I always know where I want to go with the plot, but getting there, for me, is half the fun. Besides, when I write without a net, the act of writing is also the act of reading (or discover). So generally I know right away if something is working or not. If I can’t wait to dig back in, I know I’m on to something.

3. Too much salesman soils the garment. I have no idea why I said that, but I know what it means. It means this — you can’t be pushy. You can’t flood the twitterverse or the Facebookspace with posts of “Please ‘like’ or read me!” People are like dogs — they can smell desperation. And besides, I do NOT want to come off as a salesman. Why? Think about it… how often do you think of ‘salesman’ and think pleasant thoughts? Never!

4. Overnight success is never overnight. I was an actor for over twenty years. I know how the business of ‘art’ works. Not only is it fickle as hell, it’s a process that is painstakingly slow. As an actor it took me nearly ten years to get to the point where I had a modicum of success (in the theatre world). By that point I had directors coming to me to play roles. Ten years. As a writer, I assume it will take the same time… and I’m happy to give it that time. Why? Because I care about my art form. I want to be the best I can possibly be and slamming out product with the hope of becoming an overnight sensation is crazy talk.

5. I’d rather have staying power than be a MEME. MEMEs are a flash in the pan. You can go back over the last few decades and discover thousands upon thousands of MEMES. They come and they go very quickly. When they hit, they hit hard and everyone wants to be a part of them (because it’s cool to know Honey Badger doesn’t give a shit). But as quickly as they come, they go. And when someone brings up a passe MEME, they look like a Hipster with a Hand-grenade (or worse — no moustache tattoo on their index finger).

6. The relationship between editor and writer is as important as the relationship between writer and audience. That’s right — if you do not have a relationship with your editor, your book is sunk from the beginning. An editor must know your voice and work tirelessly to not change the voice. At the same time, you (the writer) must know to fully respect the opinion of the editor and not get in the way of doing their job. This can be challenging when a new relationship is formed. Make sure, at the beginning, the lines of communication are wide open. And never, EVER assume you can edit your own work. EVER. PERIOD. NEVER.

7. A writer’s voice is gold. I could tell David Sedaris’ story. What I could never do is tell that same story in Mr. Sedaris’ voice. That is his baby — he owns it. In the same vein, no one could tell the I Shero story with my voice. It took me a while to come to that voice and now I do everything I can to make sure my words are true to that voice. The narrator from the Shero series came about as a direct result of my own joy of writing the books…a deep, seeded connection with the charters and situations. I wanted to comment on the reader — and make the reader feel special. Readers are drawn to specific writer’s voices as much as they are a story.

8. Writer’s must let go of their babies once they are published. The way I see it is once I publish a book that story “belongs” to the readers — not in any financial or legal sense of course; but, In a sense, once published, a story can only come to life when read. I have put my hard work and time into the stories and if they aren’t read the life of that book dies away. I can pimp as much as I want, but that doesn’t give life to my work. Being read gives back to the soul of what came from within me. Well beyond commerce, the sharing of the story is the true gift of being an author. If a writer clutches a published work as if his or her very life depended upon it, that writer will wind up in a straight jacket much sooner than expected (because we all eventually go crazy).

9. If I don’t enjoy what I’m writing, my readers won’t enjoy what they are reading. After writing ten novels I have discovered the single most important thing for me is to have fun. And writing should be just that — a joy, a pleasure, a passion. I want to produce works that my readers will treasure (for one reason or another). I know that will not happen if I am having a bad go of things with a work in progress.

10. Too much diversity is a bad thing. I have fallen into somewhat of a pattern: I Zombie, Fringe Killers, Shero, One off. That one off is important as it let’s me venture out into deeper horror waters than does either the I Zombie or Fringe Killer series allows. But it’s crucial that I continue with that pattern for a number of reasons. First and foremost in that list of reasons is that those series are always fresh in my mind. I do not want to lose touch with those worlds and characters.

Ten novels. I know I’ve said it a lot here, but it’s a point of pride for me. But more than anything, I am proud to be bringing to life something for my readers to enjoy. The next milestone? Twenty novels. I hope you’re all with me along for this dark hayride.

Thank you all for reading my work. You are the most kick ass fans in the world!