Or: how do I choose what to write without needing to choose?
My “to-be-written” pile is pretty intense. Maybe down to a dozen by now but still that’s a lot of books. Somewhat less than a million words, if we average 60,000-65,000 words per book. Absolutely doable within a few years, because it only took three years for the first 850k.
Now I’m left with the start of three series but no ends. While none of these series have made me rich, neither has anything else I’ve written, which I take as a lack of exposure, not quality. My readers exist, they just don’t know it yet. And one of the most satisfying experiences for a reader is a completed series.
I started publishing under a disposable pen name. Under that name, I released my first full length novel, a bonkers erotic romance about fin de siècle swingers who ball their way across Europe and back. At the end, our plucky if rather sticky heroes are forced to separate, one couple to try their luck in New England, the other trio setting off for Imperial Japan, to reunite with yet another 1890’s hornbag.
I wrote the New England book last summer, mainly as I’d already written a big chunk of it at the time I wrote the first. It’s an equally bonkers novella involving archaeology and (God help me) turn of the century reproductive rights that ends with another hasty escape, this duo of sticky heroes absconding cross country to the amoral paradise of California.
I’ve since rereleased the first book under my current pen name. Despite my strange ambivalence after the fact (is it too raw? too filthy? too political? a ridiculous piece of slanderous trash?) I’ll be putting out the second book in April. And yet…I haven’t written the third book. I was still not sure that I would. But part of my faith is accepting synchronicities at face value. I don’t believe things happen for “reasons” but I’m not going to ignore it when it seems like they do.
The first standout was this post about late 19th century Westerners having “samurai” portraits painted on their trips to Japan. You can still get this done, and I have a revolting photo of myself as a geisha from a visit to a television company’s theme park/historical recreation site/active film set (Japan’s a hell of a drug.)
Of course Matti would have this done, I thought. Get talked into it by Shigeru. Get teased about it later by Paul, who would offer to do better with his camera. The scene unfurled before me, so fully formed I haven’t written it down because it’s whole as is.
At some point prior to that I bought this book. I pick up a lot of books for pennies at yard sales and thrift shops, and couldn’t tell you when or where I got this. Flipping through the other day, I found excerpts from a diary kept by a Japanese man in 1905, written in Roman script. Romaji, as it’s called, is a transliteration of Japanese syllables into Roman letters, i.e. what English is written in. This is what we read outside of Japan. Okinawa, Osaka, Tokyo: these words are written in romaji so that non-Japanese people can read them.
In 1905, a poet kept a diary that almost no one could read. A Japanese person would not know the characters, and Westerners did not speak enough Japanese. It is as a consequence deeply personal, even more than most diaries, which are only secret if kept secret. This was a confession, all the writer’s fears for the future, his abiding existentialism encoded in a book only he could read.
Chills, baby, and they were multiplying. Much of Oh Vienna! is built around diary entries. Matt keeps a journal of his scientific “inquiries” into human desire which devolves into a open-hearted testimony to his first love. It is to reunite with that love that Matt and his companions travel halfway round the world. The next book clearly needs a diary to structure it, and perhaps that’s what I always found missing from Book 2. On I went, shelving this in the Very Interesting section of my mental library.
And then…and then KJ happened. Again. Charles’ books repeatedly tear me apart, and have in a way ruined me for most other books. So when she posted the covers of the Japanese edition of The Magpie Lord…
I cried. I’m crying right now. I don’t know why, other than the books are so beautiful and the story so touching yet vivid and lively (and filthy, did I mention filthy?) and her characters are perfect and I want to be so good a writer that I deserve a set of books this fucking beautiful. Hitch your wagon to a star, right?
Not that my next book will deserve such a tribute (that enough people in Japan want to read it that they translated it, designed new covers, and are printing paperbacks.) But the river flows downhill, and all rivers become the sea, and I don’t know what I’m trying to say with this except I’m writing that next book. The last of the Libertines. Okinawa, Mon Amour. Spring 2024.