I could be wrong, but it seems to me that a lot of writers don’t care for sports.
Maybe this stems back to painful memories of middle school, when athletes and cheerleaders dominated the social hierarchy and targeted bookish kids for bullying. Maybe it has something to do with the perception (and occasional reality) that the sports world is a well of anti-intellectualism. Maybe it has to do with the fact that a novelist’s craft is often solitary, and the competitor’s craft is often practiced in the context of a team. Maybe it has to do with the publishing’s reputation for tolerating eccentricity and sports’ reputation for demanding conformity.
Whatever the case may be, I think the disconnect between these two worlds is unfortunate. Yes, writing the first draft of a novel is–more often than not–an individual endeavor. But the editing process, the publishing process, and the book promotion process are all team efforts. (Even if you’re self-publishing, you have at least one team mate–Amazon. Likely, you have several others: book cover designers, freelance editors, beta readers, audiobook narrators, etc.) And the world of sports can offer fascinating insights into how groups of people succeed or fail.
Over the next week or two, I hope to share three examples of lessons from sports that apply to writing. So, without any further ado, here’s my first:
Lesson #1. Find a Coaching Infrastructure That Will Maximize Your Talent (Writing Equivalent: Finding an Editor or Publisher Whose Approach Will Maximize Your Talent)
Streaming sites offer some fascinating sports documentaries, and one I’ve enjoyed is The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain (available for free on Amazon Prime).
Mustain was the star high school quarterback for the Springdale (Arkansas) Bulldogs. He blossomed under his coach Gus Malzahn (whose style was focused on advancing the ball down the field through passing). Mustain garnered a lot of media attention, and became one of the most eagerly recruited players in the country. He planned to attend Notre Dame, whose approach to offense was a good fit for his talents.
At about the same time, the University of Arkansas was coming off a couple of losing seasons. Bigwigs who donated to the University saw Mustain and Malzahn right in the University’s own backyard (so to speak) and began to insist that the school find a way to get Mustain to play for them. Ultimately, Arkansas ended up hiring Malzahn as one of the more powerful coaches on the team (offensive coordinator) and this was one key factor in convincing Mustain and several of his high school team mates to abandon their previous plans and go to Arkansas, instead.
The problem was that the head coach of Arkansas, a man named Houston Nutt, (yes, that’s his actual name) had a completely different coaching philosophy than Malzahn did. Nutt preferred to move the ball by running it, instead of passing it, and placed a greater overall emphasis on defense.
While the combination of Nutt, Malzahn, and Mustain yielded several victories in the early part of the season, it ended up being unsustainable. Upperclassmen were reportedly resentful at the splash made by the freshmen. They also had a loyalty to Nutt. Meanwhile, Mustain and his high school teammates had been assured that the University of Arkansas would start adopting a similar offensive approach to the one they’d had in high school, but a full commitment to that approach seemingly lagged behind their expectations.
There ended up being a great deal of friction and in-fighting. Malzahn and Mustain both left at the end of the year.
According to one of the journalists interviewed during the documentary, none of the actors in this drama really–in their heart of hearts–believed that the amalgamation of personalities and strategies could work well together. But they all convinced themselves it would. They were all trying to shove a square peg into a round hole.
How does this apply to writing?
Well, all has to do with goodness of fit, doesn’t it? Mustain was a poor fit for Nutt’s offensive “system”. He didn’t have as much of a chance to develop his skills there as he would’ve in a different system. And it is my belief that most writers have publication “systems” that they are better suited for than others. This is because writers all have different personalities, different goals, different needs, and different approaches to storytelling. Just as Mustain deluded himself into thinking Arkansas was a place he would thrive, so too can writers delude themselves into thinking that Publisher X is going to be a place where they’ll thrive when in fact Publisher Y would be a better fit.
What, exactly, do I mean by this?
Let me put it like this: it could be argued that both Brian Evenson and Brian Keene write horror fiction. But that label (and the coincidence that they share the same first name) is where the similarity ends. Evenson writes a horror/lit fic hybrid and has had several titles published by Coffee House Press (among others). Keene appeals to the meat-and-potatoes, pulp horror reader and has had several titles published by Deadite Press (among others). This is admittedly an over-simplification. Evenson has written some media tie-in stuff relating to film and video game properties and Keene has sold a thriller or two to the Big Five, appeals to the collectible hardcover audience, and has done a fair bit of comics work for Marvel, DC, and others. But for now, let’s just stick to the Coffee House, Deadite contrast.
Obviously, these publishers have very different approaches. Deadite’s idea of a “good book” is going to be different than that of Coffee House. The editors will have different communication styles, professional backgrounds, and different personalities. The contracts are going to look different. Marketing strategies will be different. Distribution will be different.
But–importantly–each writer seems to be thriving where they are. Their goals are different, and each is taking the route that is a good fit for them. Keene’s work would be a poor fit for Coffee House and Evenson’s would be a poor fit for Deadite.
Different strokes for different folks.
Now, let’s think about your own career. Regardless of whether you’re newly published or been around for a while, you can ask yourself some questions to get a sense of whether or not you’re in the right publishing “system”.
- Is communication with my editor (or publisher, or agent) easy-going and natural? Are we “on the same wavelength”?
- What’s my definition of “a good book”? Is it in the same ballpark as that of my editor (or publisher, or agent)?
- Do I feel my editor, publisher, or agent “gets” me?
- Is my style of writing at the core of my publisher’s aesthetic, or on the fringes of it?
- Is the working relationship a joyful one, an up-and-down one, or one in which we merely tolerate each other?
- Do we share similar definitions of success?
These are just a handful of questions that I think may be helpful. What do you guys think?
I’ve been working on my second novel for just about three years now. (Yes, I was working on it even before my first novel, Mr. Suicide, was released.)
Of course, I never thought it would take this long to write. If I recall correctly, Mr. Suicide was written in a little less than a year. But this is how it’s worked out, and I’m okay with it. I mean, it’s not like I’ve been totally silent. My novella The Sadist’s Bible was published in 2016. I’ve also been busy responding to various anthology invitations, teaching writing workshops, and contracting out subsidiary rights for audio adaptations and a translation.
Oh yeah, and watching my country go batshit insane for the past two years has been a bit distracting, too.
So it’s not like I’ve been sitting on my ass playing online Scrabble instead of writing. I have valid reasons for the delay. The anthology invitations, while flattering, created the biggest issue. I would be zooming along with the novel and then have to set it aside to focus on this or that short story deadline.
But I see myself primarily as a novelist, and part of me thinks that being a novelist with only one novel to peddle is a bit like being a baker who only sells day-old bread. Of course, J.D. Salinger managed to pull off the trick with his dignity intact, so my simile is probably an exaggeration. And the readers who are just discovering Mr. Suicide seem to find it every bit as transgressive and confrontational and moving as the readers did two and a half years ago. Many adjectives have been used to describe that book, but “stale” ain’t one of them.
Nonetheless, in these days when rapid fire serial storytelling is all the rage (especially in genre fiction), it would be easy to feel insecure. We live in an era when publishing is more profit-obsessed than it has ever been. It could be argued that today’s authors are more profit-obsessed than the suits were fifty years ago. In such an environment, every author wants to become (or, at least, is supposed to want to become) a “brand name”. And being a brand name means keeping up with the Joneses (or the Kings, or the Pattersons, or whoever else is spitting out titles with machine-gun-like efficiency).
I try to keep level-headed about things. I’m not freaking out. I’m not rushing anything. My experience is that when I rush things, I fuck up. So I write. And I edit. And I re-write. And I edit again. And I re-re-re-write, and so on.
It’s more important for me to write well than to write quickly.
So far I have written over 110,000 words for this thing. Unfortunately, a good chunk of those words have–upon later inspection–proven themselves undeserving and have been banished to a computer file I think of as “the parking lot” (or, when I’m feeling less charitable with myself, “the junk yard”).
Let me clarify what I mean when I refer to “a good chunk” of those words: I mean around 44,000 of them. They aren’t a total loss. I’m pretty sure some of them will find their way into my next project. But for now, they’re exiled.
Do the math and you’ll see the current draft of the new book (minus the words I voted off the island) sits at about 66,000 words.
Which is encouraging, right?
Well, yes. But you have to remember that some portion of those words will get voted off the island, too. I’m trying to write a different type of novel this time around. After having read a fair bit of Milan Kundera‘s work for the first time, I felt compelled to attempt a Kundera-esque polyphonic novel . And growing in this direction takes time. Also, while I can’t quite classify this as a work of historical fiction, it’s fair to say that it’s historically informed. Thus, I’ve had to engage in a fair amount of research.
Is it a horror novel?
It’s plenty dark, and plenty transgressive. I don’t think it fits neatly into the template of a mainstream horror novel but then again my work has never fit that mold. I think that if you’ve dug my work so far, you’ll dig this one, too. (Though hopefully you’ll appreciate how I’ve grown since The Sadist’s Bible.)
In any event, I feel confident the end result will be worth all the toil, and that feels good. This is probably the biggest change for me in the last few years: feeling quietly confident that I’m on the right track for the development of my writing career.
Maybe sometime soon I’ll blog about confidence. (And how it differs from arrogance.) Or maybe I’ll blog some about applying historical research to a novel. That’s on my mind, too. But now I must get ready to do my daily run. (I’m training for a half-marathon race in April.)
I’ll be reading and signing books this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at Carmichael’s Bookstore (2720 Frankfort Ave. Louisville, Kentucky). Joining me at this will be David Domine (a chronicler of alleged ghost sightings in the city’s Old Louisville neighborhood). Join us for a spooky good time.
My new 10,000 word story “Crimes and Ashes” will be appearing in the Dark Regions Press anthology I Am the Abyss. The book will also include pieces by Greg F. Gifune, Steve Rasnic Tem, William Meikle, Reggie Oliver, and others.
I Am the Abyss is now available for pre-order. Clicky-click on the linky-link for more information.
Coming very soon. Click here for the full announcement on the Independent Legions website.
Nominated for the 2013 Shirley Jackson Award (novella category)
Sadism, nihilism, poverty, wealth, screams, whimpers, sanity and madness collide in Nowhere, Indiana For Thomas Krieg, Nowhere is a miles-long, pitch-black underground maze in which he’s imprisoned dozens of boys for the past ten years-all in the name of art. For two brothers, Nowhere is the only place they clearly remember living. A world unto itself, in which they must stay alert to stay alive. A world from which the only escape is death. But for an English occultist known only as Mr. No One, Nowhere is much more and much less: the perfect place in which to perform a ritual to unleash the grandest of eldritch deities, the God of Nothingness, the Great Dark Mouth.
“The confidence and expertise so blatantly evident in Nicole Cushing’s writing is astonishing.”– Thomas Ligotti, in reference to Children of No One
Tomorrow, Saturday, and Sunday I’ll be in the Dealer’s Room at the inaugural Louisville DAYS OF THE DEAD convention. (Days of the Dead is a convention organization that runs shows in several cities. This will be one of the first times they’re putting on an event in Louisville.) I’ll have copies of Mr. Suicide, The Mirrors, and The Sadist’s Bible available for purchase and I’ll be happy to sign them for you.
I love the carnival atmosphere of a good horror con. When such an event really finds its groove, it’s like Halloween on steroids. So let’s see what happens when your friendly neighborhood Shirley Jackson Award nominee finds herself under the same roof as Gary Busey and Jerry “The King” Lawler.
(Speaking of Lawler, what’s he doing at a horror con? I guess there’s a crossover appeal between the horror folks and the wrasslin’ folks–The Rot and Wrestling Connection?)
But I digress…
I’m sure some authors would find this sort of event unappealing. But as someone who has a keen interest in madness and squalor, I simply can’t resist.
See you there?
It’s been a full two months (!) since my last post. Chalk that up to a tight deadline on a project that’s proven to be more complicated than I originally thought.
But I’ve decided to come out of my messy, ink-stained hovel for a few moments to let you know about two new releases.
- First, let’s tackle AUDIO. There’s now a digital audiobook version of The Sadist’s Bible available for download at Audible, narrated by Julia Duval. This is the first audiobook adaptation of my work, but definitely not the last. Stay tuned for more news on that front.
- Then let’s move on to ITALY. The Italian translation of Mr. Suicide (titled Mister Suicidio) has just been released by Independent Legions Press. Right now the Kindle version is out, with plans for a paperback to come out very soon. I’ve always been interested in how a continental European audience would respond to my work. Now I have a chance to find out!
I wish I could talk some more about my summer. But you know the drill. Work awaits, so I must return to my hovel.
Well, this is pretty damned delightful: The Sadist’s Bible has made it onto the short list for the Shirley Jackson Award in the novella category. I take great pride in this news, as I’m pretty sure T.S.B. has to be the most transgressive book to ever garner a SJA nomination.
No small feat, eh?
At the same time, I think the nomination makes a lot of sense. The protagonist of T.S.B., Ellie, was partially created as an homage to Eleanor from The Haunting of Hill House. I wanted her soul to writhe with anxiety in the same way Eleanor’s had. Hopefully, this nomination will help folks in the quiet horror, weird fiction, and dark fantasy scenes understand that transgressive works can aspire to genuine literary merit. The stigma against transgressive works (perpetuated simply because the works are explicit, without regard to the emotional and ontological context in which the explicit material is presented) grows tiresome after a while. My themes (trauma, mental illness, addiction, squalor, and related matters) don’t lend themselves to subtlety. These are all extreme states of being. To address them honestly, I have to write in a way that many may find jarring and unusual. So be it.
Congrats to all the other nominees, especially Joe Pulver and the great Brian Evenson.
The awards ceremony will be held on Sunday July 16 at ReaderCon in Quincy, Massachusetts. For more information about the Shirley Jackson Awards (and to see the entire short list), visit http://www.shirleyjacksonawards.org/nominees/ .
This marks the second award The Sadist’s Bible has been shortlisted for. (Earlier this year, the book was also nominated for the Bram Stoker Award® .)
The snazzy illustrated print edition of The Sadist’s Bible recently debuted at StokerCon. You can purchase signed copies for $7.99 at Louisville’s Carmichael’s Bookstore and San Diego’s Mysterious Galaxy.* Both stores have online purchase options where you can have the book shipped to you. You don’t have to be in Louisville or San Diego to patronize them.
Unsigned copies and ebooks are available at Amazon.com. ($7.99 for their unsigned copies, $1.99 for the ebook.)
*A note about Mysterious Galaxy: they have both signed and unsigned books in stock. I presume they would sell the signed books first, but you may want to check with them to confirm this.
In addition to the snazzy new illustrated print edition of The Sadist’s Bible, copies of Mr. Suicide and The Mirrors will also be available for sale.
Mysterious Galaxy (San Diego location) address: 5943 Balboa Avenue, Suite #100, San Diego, CA 92111
For more information, visit: http://www.mystgalaxy.com/
Note: I’ll also be attending StokerCon in Long Beach, CA this weekend. I’ll be doing a reading and signing there on Saturday afternoon, appearing on a couple of panels, and teaching a class on media skills for writers. For more information, visit www.stokercon2017.org
I just arrived home from my trip to Virginia (where I served as special guest at the 22nd Annual John Tyler Community College Literary Festival). Thanks to Professor Jeff Landon, Professor Ashanti Luke, and staff member Kathy Arterburn for their assistance during my visit.
I taught my workshop (“Understanding the Publishing Business”) at both the Chester and Midlothian campuses. I also held an evening reading and book signing event, and even got a chance to stop by Richmond’s delightful Poe Museum for the second time. (It’s a treasure trove of Poe artifacts and I’m sure I’ll be back again at some point in the future.)
If you run a literary festival, convention, conference, or similar event and would like to have me lead a workshop there, feel free to email me at nicolecushingwriter (at) gmail (dot) com. I really enjoy doing this sort of thing.