Friday, September 24, 2010

The Jitters by SJ Rozan

SJ Rozan, a life-long New Yorker, is an Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero and Macavity winner, as well as a recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon award. She's served on the boards of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and as President of Private Eye Writers of America.  She leads writing workshops and lectures widely.  Her latest book is ON THE LINE.  


The Jitters
by SJ Rozan
I have a book coming out next week, ON THE LINE.  It's my 12th, the 10th in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series.  You might think I had this down by now.  Send the announcements, write the blogs, do the events, ho-hum, same old same old, what a yawn.


Every time, EVERY TIME, what's the same are the jitters.  The nervousness that keeps me up at night, gets me jumpy and distracted, makes me wonder whose dumb idea this writing wheeze was anyhow.  No one will notice it.  If people do notice it they won't buy it.  If they buy it they won't read it.  And then, the one it's really all about: if they read it, they won't like it.

Has this been my experience?  Thankfully, no.  People do generally read my books, not in Dan Brown numbers but satisfyingly many.  And they do seem to like them, or if they don't they generally keep it to themselves.  So what's my problem?

Well, I think it's this: when I started this book -- and the one before it, and the one before that, etc. -- I had an idea.  A vague but luminous vision of what this book was going to be.  What it was going to accomplish.  The heights it would scale.  The thing about these kinds of visions, though, is that they only stay luminous when they're vague.  Before you start the actual, you know, WRITING, anything's possible.  Once that first word's down, those possibilities are narrowed.  It may be the most brilliant word in the world, but it's that one word, it's no longer potentially all words.  It's no longer potentially anything.  It's concrete and real.

Yes, of course you can always change it.  It's metaphorically concrete, not set in real concrete.  That's not the point.  The point is, whatever it is, it IS, and as you go on, adding more words to make a sentence, more sentences to make a chapter, more chapters, you keep narrowing the possibilities, closing doors.  The door you take and the path it leads you down might end at a work of pure genius (that would be nice...) but still, it's THAT work, and all the infinite other possible works you saw glowing in that vague luminosity as you began this book are not written.

So in an odd metaphysical sense, this book -- every book -- is a disappointment.  Which has nothing to do with whether the book's actually any good.  Just, it's THIS book, not all the other books it might have been.

This disappointment is, I think, what I'm projecting onto readers as the launch date nears.  I'm afraid they'll feel it, too.  Readers, of course, don't feel it.  Readers come to the book knowing it's THIS book, and they judge it on whether THIS is a good book.  I know that, and I'm grateful for it.

I always get the jitters, nevertheless. 

-- SJ Rozan


Rosaria Williams said...

Oh my, this is such an acute remark about the process of creating.

Mason Canyon said...

Just the thoughts of the jitters is enough for me to stay away from writing. LOL. Good luck SJ with your new book.

Kaye, as always, thanks for introducing me to a 'new to me' author.

Thoughts in Progress

Anonymous said...

This is another wonderful and lovely series that I have been meaning to read for years. Sigh. So many.

Some of my mystery book group members raved about SHANGHAI MOON and they are beyond excited to read ON THE LINE. I think I probably need to just jump in with this new one. That would OK right?

Best of luck to SJ, and, as always, thanks Kaye for having such great guests.

Vicki Lane said...

Like all of your writing, this post is a marvel of insight and clarity! (I speak with feeling as I too have a book coming out next week . . .)

Best of luck, S.J., with the latest!

SJ Rozan said...

Thanks, all. Kay, glad your book group liked SHANGHAI MOON -- thank them for me. Yes, you can jump in my series any time. You don't need to know what happened in previous books. Vicki, good luck with your launch.

Kaye George said...

Well, I always look forward to a new SJ Rozan--without any jitters.

Thanks for the peek into SJ's life and her office, Kaye.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

I love your books. And for purely selfish reasons, I am glad you get the jitters. It means you care about those books and their impact on the reader. That shows!

Congratulations and thanks for a thoughtful post.


jenny milchman said...

I know exactly what you mean, SJ--the unwritten book is such a dazzlingly, flawless gem compared to the nineteenth draft that equals a finished product. By then we know its foibles, the characters that simply wouldn't let us whip into shape--no matter how hard we shook 'em round the necks--the plot holes we puttied and patched instead of hitting right out of the ballpark.

I have a feeling though that what's key is *we* know those parts. No one else does. And when they read your finished product, they see something pretty close to a glowing gem.

Mike Orenduff said...

I love SJ's play on possibility and reality, on what might be and what is. My PHD dissertation was on modal logic, the name we philosophers give to the logic of necessity, possibility, contingency, and impossibility. Her use of these concepts is the most precise and imaginative application of these ideas I've ever read. I have the same jitters. Now I have a succinct explanation of why.

Larry said...

Different strokes...
Funny, my jitters and SJ's sound like opposites. Early on in writing my books, I have nasty heebie-jeebies: characters are flat, plot is blah. But I've learned that if I just...keep...writing, the characters reveal and define themselves, complications spring up, words are spoken, deeds are done, and the book springs to life. The whole process seems like gradually bringing a slide under a microscope into focus. By the end, I feel relieved, even comforted, as though I've written the story I wanted to tell (which is usually different from the story I had thought I'd wanted to tell), and I've done it as well as I could. By the time it appears in print, I'm into the next story, and any jitters I have are related to the new project.
What of those other stories that might have been? That's life. It's why alternative histories can be so fascinating. Everything we say or do sends us off in a particular direction, too bad about the myriad other possibilities that now never will be. To go a little further, how many other possibilities were there at the moment my parents did what it took to put me into the world? I guess there could have been better Larry Karps, but for better or worse, here I am.

Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Hi, Everyone! Thanks for stopping by!

SJ - you're one of those people who has a lot to share, and a fascinating way of doing it. Thank you! You even managed to pull in a couple of folks who don't usually come out of "lurkdom." Pretty cool!