I'm over my lover's quarrel with my own writing.
I am not even close to being a legal expert, but I have friends who are. On a novel I'm working on (stand-alone, not Thomas O'Shea), I was into my 11th chapter and hit a roadblock. The protagonist reports seeing two men commit a murder. Then he asks the sheriff, "Are you going to arrest them?" And up jumped the roadblock. Could a person be arrested on heresy? If so, then what? When does the District Attorney get involved, would the men be jailed, how much would bail be? And more questions.
So I contacted a friend of mine who's been a county prosecutor and is now a defense attorney. Invited him to lunch and sat down, munched out, and the questions flowed. He cleared up several key details to keep me from sounding like an ignoramus. The novel is not going to be a legal thriller, but I did need to know a few important facts before I could move on. He supplied them, we enjoyed lunch, and he said he'd be glad to help anytime. Roadblocks blown to pieces.
So, let me encourage you writers out there to be sure that the writing ground you're standing on is not shifting sand. Don't hesitate to tap into the expertise of your friends. You might be surprised to see how eager they are to help you. Just don't forget to acknowledge them when you're published.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines "rejection" as "the dismissing or refusing of a proposal, idea, etc." To me, lately, there have been two kinds of rejection. The first came from the top literary agent at the top New York literary agency. It was a form letter in response to my sending a proposal for my new novel (not a Thomas O'Shea story). He explained that he receives 300 queries daily, and for some reason, mine did not grab his attention. Understood. I was confident he would not be interested, but it was worth a try.
He was one of twenty queries I sent out. He is the only one to respond, so I give him credit, even if the rejection was a form letter. The other queries did not even generate a form letter. They did not generate anything. And they were sent out in OCTOBER. I was simply ignored, like a fly that doesn't buzz.
The other kind of rejection is self-rejection. My first two novels in the Thomas O'Shea series were published and I am proud of them. The third in the series is completed and in the hands of my publisher with their promise to publish it early this year. In the meantime, I've been working on the fourth novel in the O'Shea series. But I wasn't happy with it. I was forcing it. I was not enjoying writing it. And I had fifteen chapters completed that I did not like. So I "self-rejected" and deleted all but the first chapter after wrestling with various alternative story lines. And got back to work. Today, I finished the new second chapter and I am on my way. It is a relief, believe me.
If you're a writer, you know how one has to develop a thick skin to protect oneself from cold, heartless, form letter rejections. Or no response at all. And you have to be tough with yourself, too. Still, I find encouragement from this great writer.
This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address. – Barbara Kingsolver
Recently, I took my 12-years-old Honda Accord to the dealer to have a dead headlight and a failed brake light replaced. The technician said it would take about an hour, so I just turned over the key, and retired to the customer waiting area, which had comfy sofas and chairs and a big screen TV. I took with me some writing materials because I wanted to work on a few details for my fourth Thomas O'Shea novel, Of Mists and Murders, details I hadn't ironed out yet, in my iron head.
An older woman soon joined me, asked if I would care if she turned on the TV. I was fine with that. The lady, who looked like an octogenarian Hobbit, settled into a sofa and began watching "The People's Court," a show I had never seen before. It was distracting, but I worked hard to ignore the peculiar people on the tube. What was even more distracting was that the local advertisers for the show looked like twenty-something blondes with Barbie figures enhanced by implants. And they were advertising for personal injury local lawyers. Every single ad had the same kind of woman, whose feet never get wet in the shower, promoting one lawyer or another who really, truly, cared about me.
The aging Hobbit had zoned out, staring at the screen, mouth slightly open, nearly catatonic, taking it all in. I fought off my tendency to be judgemental, ignoring the court cases, sneaking a peak at the commercials. If I ever need a personal injury lawyer....
GOOD NEWS ALERT! I now have my very own website! From now on, you can catch my blogs and lots of other information about my work, and me a little, at www.johncarenenwrites.com.
For that, I am entirely grateful to my Book Concierge, Rowe Carenen, and David Garrison, genius website guru. Come see!
Some famous author once said that when a writer finishes writing their novel, a sort of depression sets in, not unlike the postpartum blues women suffer from right after having a baby. I can't relate to postpartum depression, nor can I say rightly that I get down after completing the last chapter of a novel. you see, I just finished the last chapter to my work, a 97,000-word "upmarket commercial" effort. And I did not get depressed. What I wanted to do was immediately start revising, so I did, looking specifically for two of my blind spots - passive voice and "echo," a term we writers use to describe using the same important word twice within close proximity of each other. That proximity blind spot can be annoying, a speed bump interfering with the reader's flow and proximity to a smooth narrative.
So I did that, weeding out my blind spots. What's next, you may ask?
When Stephen King finishes a novel, he sets it aside for a month or more and does something else, such as going for long walks or watching Boston Red Sox games, or reading what other writers are publishing.
My urge was to get back to working on my fourth Thomas O'Shea novel, since the first two are published (Signs of Struggle 2012 and A Far Gone Night 2014) and a third (The Face on the Other Side) is scheduled for an early 2017 release. So I plan to get after number four in the series, Of Mists and Murders.
I am a professional writer, so I have a compulsion to write, and I am itching to produce that next O'Shea novel, and it nags at me. But first, I am going to follow King's example and take some time off, starting with a long road trip with my bride, watching college football on TV (especially my Iowa Hawkeyes), and enjoying the changing of the seasons leading into my favorite month - October.
I will, however, keep a notebook in close proximity at all times, just in case I need to jot down a piece of dialogue that comes to mind, a vivid setting, or a conflict among my characters I had not thought of previously.
So, no more blogs for a while, but please look to hear from me and my writer's journey when the leaves turn to gold and orange and red.
In my previous offering, I wrote about what it's like, a little, as a full time writer. I also alluded to the fact that I was about to write the final chapter of my most recent novel, which would have been Chapter 35. Guess what? Well, I did finish the novel last night, but it was Chapter 37. Things happened that I didn't expect, including a blizzard and a puppy and a couple of scenes in a pub. If you're a writer, you know how that happens. If you're not, let me try to explain. People say, "How in the world can something can happen in a story you, the author, are writing, and how can you be surprised? Aren't you in charge? This doesn't make any sense!"
They're right and wrong. Yes, I am the writer and I am in charge, and responsible for, what I write. But no, I'm not surprised when something happens I didn't plan on happening. How does that happen? Well, if I'm writing regularly, and I'm talking about several pages or even a full chapter, then the story sort of writes itself, in a sense because the story is happening inside my head, and things can intrude - scenes, dialogue, action - that I didn't plan. I do not outline. I do not write the last chapter first. I don't even know how the novel is going to wind up when I start. In this case, I did know that there would be redemption at the end, but that was it. How was that going to happen? Don't ask me. I can't answer the question.
So, how does it feel to have finished? It's good and bad. It's good because I've accomplished what I set out to do. It's bad because it's over, the relationships I have with the characters and the story. What's next? I'll set it aside for a while, several weeks maybe (Stephen King sets his aside for three months), but I'll still be thinking what I'm going to do to make it better. I'll get ideas, I'll jot notes, I'll answer questions that should have been answered in the book (why does that guy bite people instead of say hello?) and so forth.
In the meantime, I am going back to Of Mists And Murders, #4 in the Thomas O'Shea series set in fictitious Rockbluff, Iowa, which is what I was working on when the idea for this other novel shoved its way into my schedule. In other words, when I finish writing something, I write something else. Grand, isn't it?
I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was going to write series of postings about my work as a writer. I have published the first two novels in the Thomas O'Shea series with #3 to published, I'm told, in December. I was working on #4 when I felt I was a bit stale, and besides, there was an idea for another novel, a different kind of novel, that my imagination thrust upon me. So I wrote it. I don't like the working title, but I must say I am pleased with the novel. It's in the genre called "upmarket fiction" which is supposed to be a combination of literary fiction and commercial fiction. It's supposed to be 35 chapters. I have written 34. But I don't know how to finish the book. So, I have gone back and revised, hoping to unlock the key to that elusive last chapter.
Nevertheless, the last three days have been very good writing days as I have struggled to make chapters better. Neil Gaiman said, "Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters."
The last three days have been good writing days. However, I must say that other things matter, so there.
After several hours writing and revising today, my brain is tired and I plan to take a nap, enjoy dinner with my bride, play with my dog, Lily, winner for the second consecutive year as "Best In The Universe" at the Intergalactic Dog Show on Pluto. Maybe watch some episodes of "Hell on Wheels" on Netflix. I recommend the gritty series about building the transcontinental railroad, a project I remember well, my 4th grade class taking a field trip to see the progress out of Council Bluffs, Iowa.
Writing is hard, but I love it. More later on when and if I can write Chapter 35.
Now that Memorial Day is over and June is here, many of you are planning vacations - to the beach, to the mountains, to the back yard. When that happens, a grand old American tradition is to get one's hands on novels with page-turning plots, colorful characters, humor, and maybe even a bit of mystery and action. Ideally, romance is sprinkled into the mix with healthy portions. I would like to make two recommendations, knowing that these novels include all of the above ingredients for a good read. I know this because I wrote them, and here they are: Signs of Struggle in which the protagonist, Thomas O'Shea, who has lost his family in a tragic car accident, comes upon a beautiful woman, bloody and screaming, running down a country road. He considers not helping; after all, he has his own issues, but his heroic side wins out, one thing leads to another, and he discovers an enormous plot to sell tens of millions of dollars' worth of prime Iowa farmland. He starts snooping into the situation and then people try to discourage him. Attempts are made on his life, but O'She is a tough guy with nothing to lose as he struggles with the loss of his family, drinking, women, and his guilt for precipitating so much violence in the little town where he now lives. Ron Rash (Serena, The World Made Straight, Above the Waterfall, The Cove) says "Signs of Struggle is both a gripping murder mystery and a compelling study of one man's recovery from tragedy. John Carenen is a gifted writer and his novel is an impressive debut."
My second recommendation is the sequel to Signs of Struggle and is entitled A Far Gone Night. Suffering from insomnia, O'Shea goes for a late-night stroll and finds himself pausing on a bridge over the river that runs through the peaceful Iowa town of Rockbluff. When he glances downstream, he sees the body of a dead girl. Teaming up with his friends Lunatic Mooning and Clancy Dominquez, an old buddy from Navy SEAL days, the men set out to bring justice to the dead girl, a quest that takes them to the Chalaka Reservation in Minnesota, seedy businesses adjacent to the Chalaka Casino, and straight into the world of organized crime. Quirky characters fro my first novel, a fast-paced story, and laugh-out-loud moments continue to enliven the complex world of Thomas O'Shea. Wendy Tyson (Killer Image, Deadly Asset, Dying Brand, A Muddied Murder) says, "Carenen has done it again. Beautifully written ... A Far Gone Night doesn't disappoint."
So, whether you are headed for the beach or just enjoying your front porch, I am confident these two novels (the third in the series is at the publisher) will bring pleasure to your summer reading. You can find them at Amazon books, of course. If you I've in the South Carolina Upstate, where I live, you can pick up both novels at both Fiction Addiction and Joe's Place in Greenville and My Sister's Store in Travelers Rest. Also in "TR" as we call it, the novels are available at As the Page Turns (Southern Writers section) and The Cafe at Williams Hardware. Just ask if you can't find them. They're there.
So, I hope you'll pick up these novels, enjoy them, and say "I'm Facebook friends with this author!"
I am working on the final revision of Thomas O'Shea novel #3 in the series. It's called, The Face on the Other Side. I try to write mornings and attend to other things in the afternoons. Things like yard work, naps, working out, naps, and maybe walking the dog. The dog. She is one year old, her name is Lily, and she is mostly pit bull with some terrier. She weighs 54 pounds. She is sweet, likes to snuggle, and is strong. She is also the most playful dog we have ever had. She likes to play games, and one of her favorites is "Slammer." This we play when she has lots of energy. She communicates this by taking me by the throat and shaking me. I just made that up. Actually, she does communicate her desire to play "Slammer" by getting bouncy and giving me fervent eye contact. And this is how we play the game. I encourage her with cheers and she runs across two rooms and slams herself into the back of a futon couch, then rebounds off the futon and tears back to where she started and then does it all over again without stopping. Her style has been perfected through a short trial-and-error. Simply put, she goes airborne as she reaches the futon, turns her body so her feet are planted against the back of the futon, then springs without stopping into her tearing back where she started, pivots, and does it again. It is hilarious. Her record is 14 slammers before she stopped, finally tired. Eight is fairly common. We cheer her on and she purely enjoys it. Come see. Call first.