Tracy Townsend: Five Things I Learned Writing The Nine

In the dark streets of Corma exists a book that writes itself, a book that some would kill for…

Black market courier Rowena Downshire is just trying to pay her mother’s freedom from debtor’s prison when an urgent and unexpected delivery leads her face to face with a creature out of nightmares.  Rowena escapes with her life, but the strange book she was ordered to deliver is stolen.

The Alchemist knows things few men have lived to tell about, and when Rowena shows up on his doorstep, frightened and empty-handed, he knows better than to turn her away. What he discovers leads him to ask for help from the last man he wants to see—the former mercenary, Anselm Meteron.

Across town, Reverend Phillip Chalmers awakes in a cell, bloodied and bruised, facing a creature twice his size. Translating the stolen book may be his only hope for survival; however, he soon realizes the book may be a fabled text written by the Creator Himself, tracking the nine human subjects of His Grand Experiment. In the wrong hands, it could mean the end of humanity.

Rowena and her companions become the target of conspirators who seek to use the book for their own ends.  But how can this unlikely team be sure who the enemy is when they can barely trust each other? And what will happen when the book reveals a secret no human was meant to know?

Nobody Knows You’re Doing This Thing…

Hey there, handsome, smart, adventurous person! You decided to write a book! Go, you! You have embarked upon something that will change your life, at minimum teaching you how patient you are with yourself, how forgiving, how driven, and how functional on only a modicum of sleep. This experience will also change your sense of just how important you and this major enterprise really are.

*leans in close*

Because nobody knows you’re writing this novel.

You think I mean “Nobody knows because you haven’t told them.” Nope. I mean even people you have told, with puff-chested pride or (perhaps) hushed, conspiratorial whispers, will look at you blankly each time you bring your writing up. And then (the paths diverge here a bit) they respond with some mixture of amusement, confusion, discomfort, etc., as if they’ve never heard of a human being — let alone you — trying such a thing. Get used to this being the world’s weirdest secret. It seems to keep itself, even as you talk to people about your work, the idea of it bouncing off them with humbling regularity. You have to hold onto the knowledge of what you’re doing, because a baffling plurality of people around you just plain won’t.

… And For the Most Part, They Won’t Get It

My agent will tell you I’m not very good at the so-called elevator pitch. She’ll tell you this not because she’s a merciless heckler (she’s actually quite lovely; send Bridget Smith all your sfnal things) but because she is absolutely correct. I can do a lot of peachy keen things on a page. Get me in front of a live audience and I get a little. . . off-script. But my terrible elevator pitch was improved markedly by repeated exposure to people politely inquiring about my writing and repeated experiences timing how long it took their eyes to glaze as I explained my world of fused science and religion, complete with retired mercenaries, desperate orphans, bizarre creatures, and Things No Man Was Meant to Know.

Take advantage of people Not Getting It. Use the polite curiosity of hapless innocents to refine your understanding of your work. Learn to make your project sound irresistible. My money moment was getting a group of Vegas tourists entranced by the Bellagio’s fountains to stop listening to Andrea Bocelli synced to spurting water and pull out their smartphones, taking down my name and The Nine’s title.

I’m still not sure that they got it. But I got them.

Assemble Your Avengers!

Writers need support systems. But not all support systems work equally well for every writer, every project, every process. Thinking carefully about what kind of reader you want to reach and what your strengths and weaknesses as a writer are will help you assemble the right team.

Finding the right critique partners is a bit like putting together a superhero team. You don’t expect Hawkeye to be the muscle, because he’s literally not built that way. You send him to cover Cap, and to be eyes for blunderbusses like Thor, or infiltrators like Black Widow. I’m good at characterization and world-building, but there are gaps in my armor, too. I need Michelle Barry because she knows how to put characters in a bad situation, then turn up the heat until the dial breaks off the stove. I need Maura Jortner because her marginal speculations about where the plot might be going are often so much savvier than my original plan, I’m all too happy zig toward her zag. I’m sure they have some reason for keeping me around. Maybe I’m like Banner.

Not Hulk. Banner. Twitchy, with questionable fashion sense.

“No” Recalculates the Route Toward “Yes”

Rejection is a reality for writers at every level. The good news is, most “No”s are (eventually) part of how your writing career recalculates the route to “Yes.”

So that agent didn’t want to represent my novel? Okay. There are uncounted others I’ve yet to contact. So the agent with the R&R offer didn’t like the final product? Okay. This other one did, and I’m only talking to her because I did that revision in the first place. I’m only hearing her great ideas because my writing didn’t fit into someone else’s game plan. So the first couple of editors who look at the manuscript take a pass? That’s okay. One of them wants to see a revision. The revision doesn’t make it through Acquisitions? I’ve still got that revision. And lookee lookee if another editor doesn’t think it’s just her thing.

It only takes one yes. It will take a lot of “no”s to get there. But you need those “no”s because they help you find the route that will best support your work — the people who were looking for something just like it all along.

The Second Book Is Not the First Book

The first book was perhaps the hardest thing you’ve ever done. You get a contract that starts off a series, maybe. I did. Good for me! Good for you! Guess what?

Writing the first book was easy, though it never for a minute seemed that way. Past You would punch Present You in the nose just for suggesting it. But Past You doesn’t know what you’re learning now: all that time recalculating the route toward Yes by way of No’sville was a luxury. It’s you writing at your own pace, revising meticulously, stepping back for as long as you want, and never having to worry if the two steps forward your writing took today are only making up for the two taken backward yesterday.

Book two, book three. Those are hard because every positive review (and I’ve been lucky enough to get more than a few, even some that made me a bit weak in the knees) reminds you that now, people have expectations. You have readers, and they expect more, and better. And, of course, your publisher is waiting, too. Your process has to change, and so does your pace, and so you assemble your Avengers sometimes for the sole purpose of making gibbering noises at them, and them sending you gifs of cute animals and babies eating cake. These things help, mostly. But because you Did The Thing, you now need to Do It Again. Good luck, and godspeed. It’s going to feel very different.

Trust me, I know.

Tracy Townsend holds a master’s degree in writing and rhetoric from DePaul University and a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from DePauw University, a source of regular consternation when proofreading her credentials. She is the past chair of the English Department at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, an elite public boarding school, where she presently teaches creative writing and science fiction and fantasy literature. She has been a martial arts instructor, a stage combat and accent coach, and a short-order cook for houses full of tired gamers. Now she lives in Bolingbrook, Illinois with two bumptious hounds, two remarkable children, and one very patient husband.

Tracy Townsend: Website | Twitter

The Nine: Amazon | B&N | Indiebound | Powells | Read an excerpt

5 comments

  • The one thing I continue to remind myself is to learn. I received a bad critique: Okay, lets learn from that. My writer’s group contained one member who was a complete pain in the ass: Why did he bug me? Was he simply telling me the truth? And so on. Learn and grow from every experience. Build those layers and in time we will have the smarts to know what it takes to survive this gig.

  • I love the idea of all the “No”s routing you to a “Yes”. The simplistic version of that is obvious — that you’ll keep hearing No until you (hopefully) hear a Yes — but I’ve never realized that one in fact helps lead you to the other. Thanks for that.

  • Thank you for this post! Currently, Book 3 is enjoying being a problem child. Book 4 (idea stage) knows it, and is clamoring for attention, making Book 3 take even longer to finish. *sigh* At least there is a hoard of coffee at the ready.

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