When I first announced to friends and family that I'd been working on a novel, I got a lot of blank looks. They probably thought "you can write?" or maybe they thought the opposite, that I'd secretly been flying off to party with Bono in New York or something. How does one describe the writing life? Bestselling thriller novelist and chairman of this year's ThrillerFest, Shane Gericke, shares a typical day for him.
Faint light leaking around the window shades.
I'm rolling out of my satin sheets, ready to do battle with the forces of Evil that threaten our world as we know it ...
Or I would be if the woman next to me, bejeweled in gold and very little else, wasn't reaching for me, moaning, "Shane, master, darling, you can't leave, I need you so badly ..."
"Later, baby," I say, flipping my fedora end over end and watching it land on her heaving chest. "Gotta go save the world."
"At least it smells like you," she murmurs, clutching my hat to her face and waving goodbye. "Hurry home. We're due at the White House at 6 for cocktails."
"Does the president know to shake them?" I ask.
"I told him."
"Good girl," I say, patting her behind. She purrs fetchingly.
Whereupon I slip a Walther PPK into my tuxedo holster, slide through the mansion, and waltz into the garage, where my Aston Martin purrs with horsepower.
"Where to, Sir Gericke?" my chauffeur asks, his flinty British voice echoing off metal so perfectly polished and waxed that each syllable breaks crisp as his starched cuffs.
"My publisher," I say.
"Which one, sir? You have so many . . ."
"Ah, right. Random House. The new owner's flying in from Hong Kong, and I said I'd try to make time to meet him."
"Very good, sir." He opened the door. "Your martini is chilling inside, next to your laptop and research notes. Shaken, not stirred . . ."
That's how I'd like my writing day to go.
The reality, as you might imagine, is a wee different.
I roll out of bed at 8. Cotton sheets, not satin. The babe, who is my wife, and she is a babe, make no mistake, even suffering the likes of me for thirty years, has been at her workplace for hours. I pull on my writing attire--surfer pants, T-shirt, crew socks--and rumble down the stairs for coffee.
Which is cold. She brews it at 6 when she leaves, and these newfangled coffeemakers, unlike the percolators I grew up on, shut themselves off after two hours. Safety first. Me, I'd rather have the occasional kitchen fire than suffer cold coffee. But hey, insurance lawyers.
So, coffee, mug, no-fat cream, microwave, bleh.
Then it's back upstairs, to the spare bedroom that serves as my Bat Cave. I read e-mails, looking for stuff I gotta do NOW. There is none. Everything screams of now-cessity on the Internet these days, but I won't be fooled; most is bullshit, safely ignored.
So I head for a workout. Three days a week at the gym, lifting weights; two days hiking in whatever woods I feel like driving to. Only in movies do novelists live in rambling, charm-ridden homes pouting languidly into forest and lake. Rest of us gotta drive. Herb Alpert and Black Sabbath on the iPod, please ...
Exercise finished, I head to Grandma Sally's for breakfast. I've always longed to eat at a place regularly enough to have a usual. As in, "The usual, hon?" Grandma's is it. My usual: Denver omelette with EggBeaters; side of low-cal cottage cheese; side of pancakes with sugar-free syrup. Used to be full-fat everything. I used to be young. I devour a couple newspapers. They aren't what they used to be. Too much celebrity vomitus. But I used to be a newsman, and still read them religiously. Spill coffee on the funnies. Drip syrup on the editorials. Doesn't matter. It's newsprint, not a Kindle.
Head back home in my ten-year-old Civic. No Jeeves, drive myself. Reheat more coffee--fuckin' pot went cold again--wander back into the Bat Cave.
Where I write the day's words.
I don't have a set amount. Some authors insist on a thousand words a day, or five thousand, or three hundred. Others say, "Three hours in the saddle or I've failed." Me, as long as I write something most every day--emphasis on "most"; some days I just don't, needing to concentrate on ThrillerFest, blogging, marketing, or the hundred-and-one other things that Modern Authors are obliged to do besides write. Or, I cut the grass. Fix the sink. Go to the gun range and shoot paper zombies. Physical movement unrusts my brain, which spurs my writing, so it all comes full circle into the words.
But at this moment, I'm BISCW. (Butt In Swivel Chair Writing. My acronym. Pronounced "Bisquick," like the pancake batter, bringing the words full circle back to Grandma's; side of bacon, hon? No, thanks, I musn't ...) I'll type madly for an hour, which turns into four, which sometimes turns to all day. (Rarely, though. Too many hours at one time, my back aches like granny's bunions.) Mostly, the time is productive. Sometimes, it's like that famous writer--Oscar Wilde?--said about his writing day: "This morning, I put in a comma. This afternoon, I took it out."
I rewrite as I go, so the scene might be redone a dozen times before I think it's polished enough to leave alone for awhile. Then, it's on to the next scene. I write chronologically, Pages 1 to 415. (I tried 515 once, but my editor got fumey; those extra words needed pages to put them on, bucko, and that costs a truckload of money. So I cut back.) I think in scenes and keep a bunch fully formed in my head, like little movies on freeze-frame. But I don't write them until it's time chronologically. Don't know why; it just is. I don't worry about forgetting them. If they don't stay in my head like a neural Post-It, they're too weak for the book anyway, and good riddance.
When the manuscript is finished, I make a printout and stuff it in a drawer with the Kleenex box and spare mouse batteries. Why? Well, if I proofread it immediately after the first draft, I'd think, "Why, that's a darn fine job, chum, how could I change anything?" Let it sit a few weeks, and the potholes, warts and butt-uglies jump me like so many vampires loosed from their coffins.
Which is the opening bell for the rewrite(s) process.
I'll redraft a book three or four times before I'm satisfied. Then I e-mail it, and my editor points out the stuff that works, and doesn't. I beam at the what-works. I grimace at the doesn't. But she's got an excellent ear for this stuff, so I do the redrafting without complaining. My name's on the book, so I'll get the praise for the miracle that is partly my editor's sharp eyeballs. Thus, it'd be stupid to turn down her sage advice. And, I want the rest of my advance. Publishers hold them like bank hostages to ensure Darn Good Cooperation.
We're supposed to write better with each book. Fortunately, that seems to hold true for me. I'll never be perfect, because perfection doesn't exist, except maybe in a John Sandford book. But "better" is obtainable with hard work and sound advice. Case in point: My editor loved the first half of my debut, Blown Away, but thought the second half sucked dead mice. Lots o'rewriting on that puppy. My second book, Cut to the Bone, brought the comment that the premise was divine but the crime I chose to wrap the premise around was a four-letter word--dull--so could I pretty please find a better crime? She was right, and I did. Fair amount of rewriting on that one, but much less than the debut.
My upcoming book, Torn Apart, is the first that's entirely mine. I e-mailed the manuscript, immediately figured out eight major ways it could be better (why oh why can't I think of that stuff before hitting Send, right?), and suggested all the edits before she could find them. She agreed with my assessment, I got to work, she accepted it as final draft. So this book, for better or worse, is me without an editor's parachute.
I can't wait to see what you think on July 6, when it goes on sale at a favorite bookstore near you! (In the business, that's known as SSP, or Shameless Self-Promotion. Become familiar with that term, as you will probably see it again as July 6 draws near. I need the sales.)
Oh, and then I'm done writing for the day, and so I answer the e-mails and update Facebook and recruit literary agents for ThrillerFest and worry that I haven't talked to my sisters for much too long but God there's just no time and then The Babe comes home from work, and we eat dinner in front of Law & Order cause we love the show even though we've seen every rerun a thousand million damn times, then clean up, then hit the hay, then before you know it, I'm rolling out of bed at 8 o'clock. Time to make the doughnuts ...
Shaken, not stirred.
This post first appeared on Criminal Minds, and is re-posted here with Shane's permission. Shane Gericke would love you to join him in New York this summer for ThrillerFest V, as (a) it'd be fun to see you, and (b) he's this year's chairman and his peers will tease him unmercifully if he fails to break last year's attendance record. So take pity on his poor soul and check it out at www.ThrillerFest.org. He also invites you to visit www.ShaneGericke.com. He paid a lot of money to make his new site spiffy and bright, and it'd be a shame if you didn't come check out the drapes and furniture.
Shane, thanks for sharing your story with us and allowing us to re-post it! I look forward to meeting you at ThrillerFest this summer. Please send the limo for pickup. ;)