Jason Isbell released Southeastern in June 2013. I haven't stopped listening to it since. It's brilliant, and I warn you that I'm going to gush about it all the way down to the first divider line. Okay, still with me? Southeastern is the most complete album from top to bottom since... since... Achtung Baby. Well, maybe that's a bit extreme. I'm sure I've neglected to think of many brilliant albums that were released between 1991 and 2013 (including two particularly good albums by Lisa Hannigan and a number of good albums by David Gray and...). Long story short, I've had a year to put away this album and I can't. Most recently it served as the soundtrack for a drive through the Appalachians of Virginia and West Virginia (hmm... "Traveling Alone" goes well with that drive if I could block out the fact that I had my three kids, my niece, and my lovely wife in the car with me--I guess I'm thinking about how the song mentions mountains). Brilliant lyrics, soulful singing, strong musicianship. "Elephant" will rip your heart out, and along with "Relatively Easy" and "Songs That She Sang in the Shower" (my favorite of the bunch), they all give me chills. Literally, I have to turn the air-conditioning down on these. This is a guy who studied creative writing in college and whose apartment is littered with books. Don't take my word for it, find out for yourself. Check out the way "Songs That She Sang in the Shower" begins:
On a lark, on a whim,
I said there's two kinds of men in this world and you're neither of them.
And his fist cut the smoke
I had an eighth of a second to wonder if he got the joke.
And in the car, headed home,
She asked if I had considered the prospect of living alone.
With a steak held to my eye,
I had to summon the confidence needed to hear her goodbye,
And another brief chapter without any answers blew by.
Then go check out the song. Then go buy the album: Amazon / iTunes.
Okay. Gushing over.
With the upcoming publication of Stay, Illusion, the second novel in the Marius Besshaven series, I feel I need to write a bit about book series. You see, I've been reading Nick Hornby's collected essays from The Believer, and in one of the essays he addresses book series, mystery series, and wonders how they go on and on, how all these bad things can happen in the lives of the main character of the series. Point taken, and since I'm writing a series where a lot of bad things happen in the lives of my characters, I've been thinking about this and how it applies to Marius's story.
In a series where a law-enforcement agent is the main character (Harry Bosch or Dave Robicheaux), it makes sense that bad things happen. In a series where the main character is a private eye (Elvis Cole or Kenzie & Gennaro), it makes sense. Then we get Myron Bolitar, sports agent. I never worried about all the trouble Bolitar consistently gets involved in--the books are too good! Then there's Lisbeth Salander, hacker/investigator. A woman with a rather fucked up past that is the basis for much of her story in the Millennium Trilogy.
So where does my character, Marius, fit in? Like Lisbeth, he's got a fucked up past. But he's not a hacker or investigator or private eye or police officer or... sports agent. He's an astronomy professor. And he's not battling society and its twisted system of guardianship like Lisbeth did. He's battling his own demons, their origin covered in Ruin's Entrance, and he's going to meet a real bad dude in Stay, Illusion. There's one more book to come (at the very least, as you'll see when you get to the end of Stay, Illusion). And after that? Marius will either be left in a good place, a bad place, or just left. For a while. Maybe forever. What I'm trying to say is it would be disingenuous for him to continue to get in trouble. Can't the man find peace? Are we interested in his story without the external element of some crime to solve? I'm interested, but interested enough to pour out 80,000 words exploring it? I like stories--reading them, telling them, so I don't foresee a plotless novel in Marius's future. No, no, no.
Anyway, you're going to have to wait a while for the third book in the series. I'm lucky I wrote the second one as quickly as I did. You see, a year ago I got 40,000 words into a novel that contains many of the elements of Stay, Illusion, but with the characters involved, it just wasn't working, and I instead turned my attention to finishing The Footnotes (now there's a series opportunity, and the rough draft is done on the second book!). Ruin's Entrance wasn't supposed to be the beginning of a series, but I wanted to know what happened next to Marius. And he fit in perfectly with that 40,000 word manuscript I'd put aside, so what if... A good match, I think. And I see the trouble involved in the third book as a natural outgrowth of the first, perhaps a way of bringing resolution to the lives of some of the characters. After that? I don't know. Maybe he lives out his academic life and nothing much exciting happens to him. Meaning his story will forever remain a trilogy. I'll have to wait and see.
All of this being a long-winded way of saying, I think Nick Hornby had a point. Of course he did. He's also brilliant. Like Jason Isbell, though in a different kind of way (see how I clumsily tied the first two parts of this together?).
Part the Third, then, deals with what I've learned during the last year of writing and publishing. Up until last summer I was content to write and never share any of my stories (and travel journals--lots of that) with anyone--writing's a hobby, something I love (and have loved since I was quite young), and I have a day job that pays a decent wage and affords me some free time. So all is good. No illusions about making a living off of writing (though it would be nice to be paid well to do this--I can't lie).
So a little over a year ago I let my first fully revised novel go into the world. I was scared to death. It's a vulnerable feeling, putting something you've worked so hard on out there for other people, strangers, to have a look at, to respond to. People who have read it seem to have enjoyed it. I was a little more confident with Ruin's Entrance, and, again, people seem to have enjoyed that one. (Feedback involves people saying they couldn't put it down and one person saying, 'Wow, you're messed up--but in a good way. That's a compliment.' Thanks, I think.)
So what have I learned?
I don't know what the next year of writing will have in store for me, other than I'll continue to write. Next up is, sorry, not the third Marius book. I got inspired down in Charleston and am finally writing the horror novel I've long wanted to do. Marius #3 will come after that--the idea is there. So, yes, another year full of writing. And maybe I'll learn some more about selling myself without doing things that make me cringe. And reach a few more people. I'd quite like that.
Hey, Jason Isbell didn't reach so many people without a little legwork, right? Of course, it doesn't hurt that he has so many (a veritable series) of great albums, does it? Okay. Enough with the clumsy attempts to tie these three disparate topics together. Signing off.
Today marks the conclusion of the first and heaviest round of revisions on Stay, Illusion, the sequel to Ruin's Entrance. What better time to talk a little about writing?
Stay, Illusion is now the third novel I've taken through revision (a number of rough drafts, including the sequel to The Footnotes, remain messy accumulations of words and ideas). I feel like the process of revision is getting a bit easier. It's not like prepping a rocket for launch. Lives are not at stake. However, persistence is required. My writing day starts at 5:00 a.m., seven days a week. I get as much done as I can before the kids wake up and I have to engage with the real world--mouths to feed, Lego creations to admire, summer camps and piano and guitar lessons to drive to. Such is the life of a father.
Round one (finished!):
Round two begins now:
And that's a brief view of the revision stages I go through. Publication of Stay, Illusion is probably at least a month away.
The Ruin's Wasteful Entrance giveaway ends May 30th, so there's still time to enter! Ruin's Wasteful Entrance is the first novel in the Marius Besshaven series.
House of Atreus, meet the House of Frost. The rambling estate in the wooded hills of southern Ohio hides secrets. Murder begetting murder. Wickedness leading to more wickedness. It’s a story as old as time itself.
Cast into this world after the death of his parents, young Marius Besshaven seeks the truth about his mother’s past, about his own identity. Cryptic messages in unlikely places, the fractured memories of unreliable survivors, the haunting voices of ghosts--from these elements Marius will have to piece together his family’s history. And what will become of him? Will he find ruin, like so many who came before him? Will he find resolution? Or will the curse continue?
From loudspeaker-muted atrocities on the killing fields of Nazi-occupied Poland to lavender-scented murder in the estate’s hidden garden, the tragedies of the past touch the lives of the present and no one will ever be the same.
Stay tuned for news on the sequel, due out early in the fall of 2014.
Ray Stickle reads a lot and writes daily. For progress reports, updates on any upcoming releases, and the occasional thought or two, check here.