Monday, October 27, 2008

Blurb is the Word

Here's a cool way to start the week. Get an e-mail from your agent that goes like this:

Your first blurb is from Lee Child.

"Audacious and terrifying--and uncannily believable."

My reply contained various amounts of positive profanity, which is really the best kind.

I'll tell a quick story that sums up why it's so cool (or why else it's so cool) to get a blurb from Lee Child, of all authors. Flash back to a little over ten months ago. The middle of December, 2007. I finish the first draft of The Breach and, for the first time, read it front to back.

Something doesn't work. A big chunk of the second half. And I don't know why. And the deadline is six weeks away.

That night I don't sleep much. I sit awake for hours looking for something on TV, settling for infomercials about knives and blenders, and a show called (more or less) The World's Dumbest-Assed Police Chases, with a narrator who says things like, "These punks thought they could steal a car and take a joyride down easy street... but they ended up on the hard road to the county lock-up."

Around four in the morning I go to a 24-hour store a mile from my place and look for a book. Something cool. Something that works. Something to remind me how to do this thing I've already been paid to do, by people who are under the impression that I can do it.

I find a copy of Lee Child's The Enemy. I read the back of it. Sounds pretty cool. I read the first few pages and conclude that, yeah, it is pretty cool.

Even right there, standing in an empty store in the middle of the night, I get a sense of what's missing from the second half of my own book. Something pretty obvious: there's not enough sh-t happening. (I could say stuff instead of sh-t, but this is one of those cases where the airline version doesn't work at all.) Here's what I mean by sh-t happening. Here's how The Enemy starts:

Jack Reacher is staring at a clock. It ticks to one minute before midnight. Then midnight. 1989 becomes 1990. Then the phone rings, and there's a dead General in a motel room, and Reacher spends the next 464 pages (my store only had the paperback) figuring out what happened in that motel room, and why. Every paragraph is about moving the hero toward the goal. Through and over and around obstacles, definitely, but always toward the goal. Every paragraph has sh-t happening.

It occurred to me that there were many, many paragraphs (about 150 pages worth of them) in my book that did not have sh-t happening. Not enough sh-t, anyway. It's amazing what you can overlook when you're writing. My mistake in the first pass at The Breach was the equivalent of a golfer leaving his clubs behind somewhere around the twelfth hole, and only wondering around the eighteenth hole why his game has suddenly gone so far south. For me, reading even the first few pages of The Enemy was like someone tapping me on the shoulder and saying, "Clubs, idiot."

And it worked. In the next few weeks I did the fastest writing I've ever done, and it felt great. I liked the result, too. I got rid of a lot of stuff that wandered and went nowhere, and replaced it with... yeah... sh-t happening.

So I have to thank Lee Child twice. For a very cool blurb, and long before it, a monumental dose of inspiration at the exact point in time when I needed it.

I'd... ah... offer to name my first kid after you, but the resulting combination would be pretty bad.

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