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Does Anyone Want to Read My Next Book As I Write It?
I've decided to publish my new book HERE first, on my Substack. The question is whether you, the readers, actually want to read it as it unfolds.
I’ve written about 120 books. A lot (but not all) of them are here. Some were written under other pen names. Some were never published, or haven’t yet been published. But suffice to say, writing books is something I know well. Something I’ve managed to make a living at. Something that even spawned a TV show.
A lot of people ask me about my process. At peak production, I was writing about 1.5 million words a year, which is around one and a half times the entire Harry Potter series. I co-hosted one of the first indie publishing podcasts and an Austin-area writers’ conference. Thanks to all of that, I’ve gotten a lot of questions about how I write (and, sometimes, about how I write fast and what actually comes out when I do). Most of those questions come either from writers who are curious about my process compared to theirs, or from my many amazing readers who are curious how the literary sausage is made.
Everyone enjoys a good peek behind the scenes, am I right?
So I had an idea. This Substack is still pretty new, and it’s still finding its feet. I want to be of maximum service to the writers who read the site, and I want to be maximally interesting to fans of my fiction. And so I thought: Maybe I should publish my next book here.
Maybe even as I write it, rather than waiting until it’s finished.
But please keep reading, because I need your opinion. I hope you’ll take a few minutes to let me know what you think.
It’s gonna get messy
I’ll go ahead and admit that the idea of publishing this new book here and letting people read it as I write it, before it’s finished and before I even know the ending, is scary as fuck.
Did I say that right? SCARY AS FUCK.
Usually when I write a book without a collaborator, I disappear into a hole from the first word to the polished last. There’s a lot of figuring things out along the way. A lot of missteps. Frankly, a fair amount of false starts and garbage. I’ve written books halfway, then thrown them out and started over. It’s rare, but it happens.
That’s what pops into my mind when I think about publishing this new book here, chapter by chapter. Because to be clear, what I share will be a rough draft. If I instead wait to finish the book before anyone reads any of it (and polish the hell out of it in the doing), I won’t have the patience to then share it piece by piece. I also have to wait months to get started if I do things that way, and I don’t really want to have to wait.
(Besides, I kind of need the whip cracking behind me. Read on for that.)
I love the idea of sharing this book with an audience as I go, but there’s one problem with the idea. I’ll have to share as I go … and if I do that, I might screw it up. I might run into a roadblock and have to trash everything. I don’t really plan my books in advance. I have a general idea what might happen, but mostly I just follow my nose.
That means it could go bad.
But the thrill of knowing so is kind of exciting, isn’t it?
I’ve done this before, but …
Yeah. Okay. For those of you who’ve known me for a while, let’s get Fiction Unboxed out of the way.
Back in 2014, when Sean Platt and I decided to see if we could write a book live in front of an audience in 30 days, it definitely felt like a high wire act. We did it, though, and the book that resulted (The Dream Engine) became a 5-book series whose final installments will be released later this year.
To be clear, I’m not talking about Fiction Unboxing this new situation. I’m not going to record and share story meetings like we did back then if for no other reason than I’m writing this one solo and you don’t want to hear me talking to myself. I do that, but you don’t want to hear it.
The plan, rather, is to publish as I go. That means you’ll get rough drafts, although my rough drafts are very readable. It also means that you’ll follow story threads that may not pan out. It certainly won’t be as cohesive here as it will be in final, because when I finish a solo book, I like to return to the beginning and tie all the errant themes together. That means I go back and revise the book from the start in a heavier way than many writers, turning what was originally somewhat stream-of-consciousness into a coherent whole once I’ve had a whole book’s worth of time to figure out what it’s actually about.
For a recent book, that second pass involved removing entire storylines, fixing all sorts of glaring inconsistencies, and changing character relationships. If you’d read that one while I was writing it, you wouldn’t recognize the finished version. The final version was very polished — and, in my mind, pretty damn good. The rough, though interesting, had a lot of loose ends.
And so yes, I’ve done something like this this once before, but that was almost ten years ago. My writing has gotten a lot more layered whether I wanted it to or not. I felt young and reckless with Fiction Unboxed, and I also had a partner to lean on. This time, not so much.
But something has to be done. I’m at a kind of “writer’s crossroads.”
My last few books have been harder to write than they used to be. I overanalyze everything these days. I ponder and think, then edit and discard. I move slowly compared to my old self. And while that’s just fine in some ways, it sucks in others. Frankly, I think I’m becoming afraid. I used to be bold with my books, not caring when things got tricky because I knew I could blast my way through any block. But I’m older now. I’m a little more aware of the public eye, because people started paying attention to what I do whereas I had few readers in the past. Attention has made me second-guess what I never used to guess about at all … and so I can’t stop thinking that the solution might be to turn attention from a detriment into a tool.
I might need a nuke to get me back on track, in other words. There’s nothing like the pressure of live readers to keep my slacker ass from deciding to give up when the going gets tough. I won’t be able to quit, because you’ll be holding me accountable.
I don’t like the vulnerability of publishing my first pass. I think that’s why I should do it anyway.
What’s the book about?
Convenient that you should ask. The project I want to quasi-live-write for you is called The Ephemera, and it’s about the nature of memory. Here’s the teaser:
In a world where memories are bought and sold, a woman stumbles upon a black market that trades in forgotten moments. As she dives into this surreal world, she unravels her own past … and comes to see that the society around her isn’t quite real, and everyone she knows is trapped in a cycle of manufactured nostalgia.
There’s so much I love about this premise. My daughter just read 1984 and I can’t stop thinking about how much easier of a time Orwell’s Ministry of Truth (which re-writes history to agree with the official Party line and destroys anything that conflicts with it) would have doing their job in the Internet age. It’s disturbing as hell to think about. Everything can be deepfaked, people … and with enough distracting razzmatazz to go with it, you might never know the difference.
Conspiracy theory, meet possibility.
I’m fascinated with memory and the past. My first book was about personal nostalgia. Ever since, over and over, I’ve explored themes like the nature of (and possible non-existence of) a single, objective, externally-verifiable reality and truth. The more time I’ve spent thinking, the more I’ve start to believe that we are our memories. They form the basis of everything we think we know and everything we do and believe … and yet memories are far from infallible. Memories can be misremembered, and two people will remember different versions of an event because they’ve forged those memories within the context of all of their other memories.
I believe that memories are collaborative: There’s what happens, and then there’s the job — good or bad, faithful or flawed — that our brains do as they decide what those happenings mean. That’s the stuff of memory: It’s merely an interpretation, with all its bias.
That means memories do not exist in a vacuum. They are not fixed and forever unchanging. The foundations upon which you build your entire life, in other words, could and sometimes do turn out to be wrong.
And that’s before the government starts messing with externalized memories without people knowing it, which is what this book is all about.
The Ephemera combines 1984’s manipulation of history with the quagmire of memory. It asks: If our memories make us who we are, then who are we if our memories aren’t even our own?
Okay. That’s the book, and that’s the idea. To sum things up, my thought right now is to write chapters and publish them here more or less as I go. (“More or less” because I do polish a little as I write, and I don’t want to be beholden to an airtight schedule.)
The first few chapters will be available to everyone, but only members will be able to read the entire book all the way through. Because hey, I need to pay my bills and can’t always work for free, and there’s so much here that’s already free. Besides, membership is only seven bucks — so, y’know … c’mon. Support the artists whose work you enjoy. Like me. It’s just good karma.
Either way — whether you’re a site member or not — I do have a question for you, and it’s this: Would you, dear readers, be interested in reading a book as I write it, given all my caveats above? Do you want to “see how the sausage is made” by this particular writer even if it means reading a draft that might take you down dead ends, that might be rife with missteps … and that might even result in a total abort-and-reboot?
I think there’s good learning and an exciting, edge-of-your-seat feel to that sort of thing, but that’s just me. If I were a reader of mine, I’d think it sounds exciting.
I guess I should say that I’m not sold on doing any of this just yet. I want to do it, but I don’t want to take the time and embarrass myself if nobody wants to read, or if they don’t want to read this version and would rather just wait for the final.
For that reason, I need your help.
Please take a moment to weigh in on the single-question poll below. Even if you’re not a member, please answer as if you were. And if you know readers of mine who might not be on this Substack (or writers who might like to watch me try not to make a fool of myself), please tell them and ask them to come over here and answer the poll as well.
Here we go:
I’m kind of freaked out that the answer will be yes.
And man, do I hope the answer is yes.
(Have comments, questions, or notes of obviously pandering encouragement? Please leave all that good stuff below.)