The Book that Wouldn’t Die

By Elizabeth Engstrom

Years ago I wrote a book called Guys Named Bob. I loved this book. My agent hated the ending, but at my insistence, he sent it out anyway. It got attention from two major publishers, but they all wanted me to change the ending. I, in my ridiculous “artiste” attitude, politely declined. So the book sat on the shelf for a decade.

This is the book that made me research how to write erotica. This is the book that spawned my (infamous) weekend workshops and conference talks on how to write sizzling sex scenes. I had two unconventional people falling for each other in an unconventional setting amidst much turmoil and emotional upheaval. I discovered that I like my sex scenes with a light, significant touch. And so they are, in this book.

GNB Cover image

Recently, I took a fresh look at Guys Named Bob again. I saw what the agent/editors objections were to the ending, and decided that I could “alter” the ending, and in fact, I needed to.  I saw what they saw, given the time that had passed and the accompanying difference in perspective. Not to mention the difference in my attitudes about my career.

The ending didn’t exactly change, but in its alteration, I see better results for every character. I am very happy with the new ending. I brought it up to date, edited it, and my publisher just released the paperback and Kindle versions of Guys Named Bob.

You can read the first chapter here. You can buy a copy here.

I hope you do, and if you like it, please leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads.

Creativity in General (and in Particular)

by Elizabeth Engstrom

Many of my writer friends engage in a variety of creative endeavors. Some are painters of exquisite artworks. Some sing. Some dance. Some quilt, or do stained glass. I knit and dabble in this and that. But mostly, we write.

Anyone who writes knows the exasperation of the inadequacies of language. With every sentence we write, with every idea we speak, we invite misunderstanding.

It occurs to me that if we had perfect mind-to-mind communications, if we could communicate our thoughts thoroughly—including all history, nuance, and emotion—in a sublime little info packet upload, there would be no need for language.

creativity

If we had no need for language, would our need for a creative outlet vanish?  We would no longer strive to explain, to clarify, to enlighten. We would no longer need to defend, to support, to go to the enormously great lengths we go to in order to express ourselves.

We as a species, would be much the poorer.

Who would we be without the inspirational art, the moving music, the inestimable beauty, the revealing literature that has come from the anguished soul?

We would be bereft.

We might actually discover that we really have nothing to say to one another.

I often say that writers are the keepers of the literature, the chroniclers of our times. But we are much more than that. We are the ones who wrestle with language, endeavoring to explain that which has no explanation, to describe the indescribable, to put motive to that which is inexplicable.

Writers reach deep within themselves to comprehend their inner truth, and then grapple with the insufficient words of language, so that we might express it well enough to touch another’s inner truth. I have been touched many times by the brilliant writings of fearless authors, and have been changed by that interaction. That is my goal as a writer: to touch another. To make a difference.

Clearly, artists of every type spend time in anguish. A friend once told me that it is just as hard to write a bad book as it is to write a good book, and I believe that to be true. In either case, the author suffered to express.

As we go through our days, we might take a moment to appreciate the things that adorn our homes, offices, lives. Every single thing that we see was crafted by someone who put some part of their heart and soul into their work. We take it all for granted, but we should not, lest our work be dismissed as easily.

Resuscitating a Manuscript

By Elizabeth Engstrom

I have a new novel coming out this summer. Guys Named Bob.

This book was written long ago, had some serious interest by my agent, and several publishers in New York. I never inked a deal because they wanted me to change things I didn’t want to change.

Years later, I’ve evolved with regards to how I view my art and my career, and the message I want to send out to my family, my friends, my fans, into the universe. It was time to make big changes to the manuscript.

This was not an easy thing to do. Technology has changed radically since I wrote that book, and technology changes everything.

rewriting

But I worked with it, and I altered the story to fit who I am today. I still rejected some of the changes those editors thought I ought to make in order for it to be more of the mainstream type of book they wanted to publish, so clearly, this is not a book for everyone. But it is a book that I wanted to write then, was heartbroken when it wasn’t picked up by a publisher, and now that it has been picked up, I’m delighted to put it out into the marketplace.

Bottom line: Some projects take more time than others.

My book Candyland was outlined during a dinner party on the back of an envelope. Seriously.  It practically wrote itself, and very quickly. My agent and I had a falling out over it, and I fired him as an agent. Since then, it has been published in an anthology, as a stand-alone novel, and was made into a movie (Candiland).

Other books take years to write.

Guys Named Bob took decades. I wrestled with committing to it, wondering if I had anything original left in the tank. Was I now just rewashing old story ideas? Did this mean I was finished as a writer? Am I even capable of writing anything new and fresh?

Well, yes. Life has interfered with my writing career for a while now, but I’m back at it. I have a list of projects to finish, and have a renewed passion and excitement for them.

Bottom line: Life has its seasons. We evolve as writers. No experience is wasted. Joy, heartbreak, disappointment, love, desperation, insecurity, determination… These are all things we must experience first-hand before we can put them on the page. And while the circumstances of a piece of fiction may need to be updated, those emotions remain eternally relatable.

And oh: I have a new website. Check it out. http://www.elizabethengstrom.com

 

Writer? Or Author?

by Elizabeth Engstrom

I have two jobs. The first is as a Writer. I am a writer when I am putting words down on paper. Or dreaming up a plot. Or thinking through my characters’ difficulties. This is my main job: telling stories. That’s what writers do.

My second job is as an Author. My job as an Author is simple: Acquire fans, one at a time. That’s it. It’s that simple. Not easy, mind you, but simple.

author

When I get up and go to work, I am a writer. I work until such time as the words no longer show up. And then I do whatever little end-of-writing ritual I do, and then I take a break and put on my author hat.

As an author, I update my website, I post reviews to friends’ books, I post about my work on Facebook and Twitter, I explore avenues to publicize my work. I also take care of the business side of my profession with contracts and royalties and paying more out in bills than comes in (not always, but usually).

Author business takes less time than writer business, because the stories, the characters are with me all the time. Part of the problem with having a home office (also the fun of it), is dashing in here at all hours with an idea, just to make a note about a plot device, turn, or solution that I don’t want to forget by the time I get in here to work. Even when I’m reading, I’m writing in my head. So I’m always doing writer stuff, even when I’m doing author stuff. Or wife stuff. Or garden stuff. Especially garden stuff.

Being a Writer is hard. Being an Author is harder. It’s my job as an author to tell everybody who will listen that they ought to spend $10 or $15 or whatever of their hard-earned money to read what I have to say. That’s not easy for me to do, and it’s not easy for most authors to do. This is why artists of all kinds have agents. An agent can say: “This is the best thing I’ve read in ten years!” to a publisher. This is not something I can, or would, say about my own work. And yet, if I don’t stand up for myself, who will?

Occasionally the question comes up: “Do you consider yourself a writer, or an author?” The answer is quite simple as I have defined the roles. We are all writers. Being published makes me an author. I spent many years dreaming about being a published author. Doing the writer work is the only way to get to the opportunity to do the author work.

And being an Author is a badge of honor that I hold dear.

Waiting for Inspiration

By Elizabeth Engstrom

So here I sit, facing the blank page again.

The house is quiet, I’ve had enough coffee, I’m sick of social media. I am ready to write.

But what shall I write? Shall I tune up—yet again—that old broken short story that I’ve messed with for years? Shall I pull from the trash that old novel that I have pulled from the trash several times already and work on it? (Seriously. It’s back in the office closet. It needs to be in the trash.)

Or should I imagine something new, something fresh?  Yes, that’s it. That’s what I’ll do.

But what?

I know what. It’s what I always do, and it works.

L'Engle

 

Most people will go to the garden, or take a walk, or bake something, or worse, turn on daytime television. Inspiration will rarely come to you when you’re doing something other than sitting at the keyboard. Occasionally, I’ll get inspiration in the shower or on a walk, but that almost always involves a work in progress that has hit a snag.

For the fresh idea, I have to be sitting here, right here, ready to go.

And if nothing comes, if nothing in the past few days has piqued my interest sufficiently, then I begin my 10-minute free writing exercise. Timed. Internal editor off.  I just write whatever comes into my head and through my fingers to the keyboard. Most times it’s drivel. Sometimes there comes a germ of an idea.

At the end of the ten minutes, I stop, take a sip of coffee, read the crap I’ve written and see if there’s a thread there that could be pulled up. Sometimes no, but most times yes. And then I proceed, internal editor activated as usual.

Do these things always end up as stellar short stories or novel-length work that can take up to a year of my life? No. But it keeps the writing and imagination machinery greased and working. And keeping the skills alive is  mandatory.

Not everything I write is publishable—far from it—but if the ratio is 90%/10%, then I best be getting on with that 90% of unpublishable stuff so I can get to the good stuff.

I get up in the morning, and I go to work, like everybody else. I don’t wait for inspiration.  I can’t afford to.

Sometimes I have to go hunt it down.

The 2017 World Fantasy Convention

by Elizabeth Engstrom

This is a follow-up post to Christina Lay’s experience of the 2017 World Fantasy Convention. I was there, too, and my experience was a little bit different.

I was there because I had been a judge for this year’s World Fantasy Awards. That experience warrants a blog post of its own, but I won’t go into that here. This is about attending the convention.

WFCAward

World Fantasy Award

When I was young and in the hunt, I used to go to this convention all the time. It is a professional convention, which means it is heavy on professional writers, editors, agents, and booksellers, and light on fans. There are fan conventions, where people wear costumes and write fan fiction, etc. This is not one of those. It is smaller, quieter, and to me, more meaningful. Professional.

I haven’t been to the WFC in many years, but I went to this one in San Antonio because I had judged the awards. I saw many people that I haven’t seen in years, and those relationships had not changed. We were all happy to see one another. I went to panel discussions, I participated in a surprisingly rich panel discussion of one of my favorite authors, I dined with friends old and new, and had a nice time.

But the minute I stepped into the convention hotel, I had a familiar feeling. These conventions bring out two emotions in me. One is envy. I tend to castigate myself: Why hadn’t I finished that book that’s been sitting on my desk for the last six months? I could be celebrating its release along with everybody else who was celebrating a release. (In fact, I had a book released this year and was celebrating its release.) The other is a feeling that I have become irrelevant, last-week’s news. And yet, I had a book released this year, and was a judge for these prestigious awards. Why would I feel like that? I don’t know, but both things plague me at every WFC.

This year, however, as I was sitting the ShadowSpinners table in the Dealer’s Room, I saw a very successful author I have admired for years. We have met, but I don’t know him well enough to approach (oh yeah, I also have to fight the introvert in me who wants to sit in my room and watch television), so I just watched him walk the floor in the dealer’s room.

I saw in him what I was feeling in myself. He looked exactly like he felt like he was irrelevant, last-week’s news. To me, he was anything but. And with that astonishing revelation, I started looking around the floor, the halls, and I saw it everywhere, on many people’s faces. There were the young hungry authors, networking their hearts out, but those of us of a certain age weren’t as aggressive. We’ve been well published. We’ve paid our dues, but somehow that wasn’t enough.

Knowledge is power, and once I realized that I was not the only one who felt like that, I stood a little taller, felt a little better, enjoyed myself twice as much and was bolder in all my interactions.

I used to teach an advanced novel writing class—mostly about marketing and getting published—and one year WFC landed in Seattle in the middle of the course. Almost everyone in the class decided to go. I gave them an assignment: Write down three goals for this trip. Those who did as I suggested had a much better, more productive, time. And each of them achieved their three goals. Those who did not stood in the shadows, feeling irrelevant.

Here’s the takeaway for me: Make three goals, and actively and aggressively pursue them at a convention like WFC. I could have made my time more productive, I could have had a better time. I could have made these my goals: Introduce myself to three authors whose work I admire (I actually did that); Make three new friends to connect with at future WFCs (introvert that I am, I mostly hung with old, familiar faces); More aggressively market my new release (Benediction Denied, a Labyrinth of Souls novel, from ShadowSpinners Press) by making sure that certain editors and reviewers had copies.

World Fantasy Convention is the best convention for me, despite my personal demons. I always enjoy myself, I always have fun, I usually buy art at the astonishing fantasy art show, and the big Friday night booksigning is beyond imagination. The East Coast conventions have a completely different personality than the West Coast conventions. Baltimore is up next year and after that, Los Angeles.

I am a big believer in attending conferences and conventions. If you’re a professional writer, or want to be, this is the convention for you to attend, get to know, and frequent. Find me on the convention floor. If we’re not already friends, we soon will be.

Write What You Know

By Elizabeth Engstrom

I’ve been fortunate to have a career writing and teaching fiction. I love fiction. I love reading it, I love writing it (sometimes), and most of all, I love watching a new writing student’s fire ignite with the passion for his or her own fiction.

This is why I am annoyed by one of the biggest truths and biggest lies that circulate and recirculate around the writing world—academic and otherwise—which is “write what you know.” I am annoyed because it is misunderstood.

writer

If I took this advice on its face value, I would write about a middle-aged, middle-class woman, married with children, average income, average height, average experiences. I make dinner, I keep house, I do the laundry, I go into my home office and write. I can’t imagine anything more boring to write about than my life.

This is not to say that my life is boring; far from it. But it would not make good fiction.

There are other things that I know about, and they require a broader, deeper investigation of the advice to “write what you know.” I know about love. I know about the first blush of a crush, I know the deep and abiding knowledge of another person for whom I would gladly give my life. I know about loss. I know the chest-crushing experience of grief and the periodic waves of it that have rendered me unable to move. I know joy, and anger, and frustration to the breaking point. I know anxiety, stress, and responsibility far beyond my ability to be the adult-in-charge. I know about betrayal and infidelity. I know paralyzing fear. I know soaring, thrilling triumph and how to put it all into perspective.

This is what I know, and this is what I write about. And because I write about these things, I can write from the point of view of a man, or an alien, or in a place I’ve never lived, in a time far before or after my limited lifespan. That is the imaginative, tale-telling aspect of fiction.

While many people would resonate with trying to figure out what to cook for dinner, my readers deeply resonate with my portrayal and reaction to a cancer diagnosis. Or the face-slap of a dear friend’s betrayal. These are the things I know that you know. These are the things that you can and should write about, because fiction is about adding your voice to the chorus.

Writers are the keepers of the literature, the chroniclers of our times. Your voice is important, and you must speak your truth. Not about choosing where to buy your produce, but how you reacted to the major upheavals in your life. Your voice is unique. It adds depth to the choir.

Write boldly. Write courageously. Write what you know.