FLOP SWEAT – Borrowed From Tim Hallinan

Until I began the blog in June, 2010, my writing had been confined to required essays, term papers, and lesson plans.  I am not a creative writer.  The blog posts are comments about the creative product of other people who have the enormous talent and commitment to do what is necessary to bring a book into the world.

Thanks to the authors who blog on Murder Is Everywhere as well as other authors I have come across as I search for things of interest to borrow for this space, I have learned that writing is as onerous and draining of energy as digging a ditch.  The significant difference in the two activities is that the ditch doesn’t follow the digger home, clamoring for attention.  Tim Hallinan posted this piece on Murder Is Everywhere on July 4, 2010 in which he offers insights into the process.

Flop Sweat

The best thing about writing is that you do it alone.  It’s your worldthat you’re creating; there are no committees, no censors, no taste arbiters — just you and the keyboard.  When it’s going well, it’s one of life’s most glorious indulgences Later, you’ll get input from your early readers and your editor, but then you’ll be alone again as you either change or don’t change the story.The worst thing about writing is that you do it alone.  You’re putting a story on paper (or whatever), worrying about how best to tell it, trying to balance God knows how many characters, keeping an eye on tone and pacing and clarity and word count and brief reader attention spans, and at the same time you’re probably trying to push the envelope, creatively speaking.  If you don’t push the envelope, you don’t get better, and you also get bored.  So you’re doing this no-net balancing act all alone for, let’s say, a year.  Is it any wonder that at times it all looks like head cheese?  Is it any wonder that sometimes you get night sweats?I get flop sweat on every book.  Ten have been published (under my own name) now, and I’ve hit the wall on every one of them.  For weeks, at times, I’ve been convinced that this is the one that will kill me — or, to be less dramatic — that this is the one I’ll have to abandon.  But they all get finished somehow, and when I send them off to the publisher I usually figure they’ll like them.ALERT:  I’m about to talk about my upcoming book.  Those who are sensitive to anything that looks like self-promotion should avert their eyes


The exception was the most recent book I wrote, the one that’s coming out this August: The Queen of Patpong.  I believed, when I sent it off, that there was a fair chance that the people at William Morrow would either send it right back to me with “No, thanks” paperclipped to it, or else ask for a thoroughgoing rewrite.The book has two possible problems.  The first is structural.  In it, I kick off a thriller, get it up to speed, and then interrupt it for a 45,000-word novella about the transformation of my continuing character Rose from an awkward village teenager into the “Queen” of Patpong Road, long Bangkok’s most lurid red-light street.The second is content.  That 45,000 word story is almost all women, and women at a delicate, even intimate, juncture — they’re either entering or enduring prostitution.  I’ve always been nervous about writing women; I’d written eight books before I ever wrote a scene between two women without a man present.  And all of a sudden I found myself 20,000 words into a story I had no idea I could write.

I would have quit, but the material had hold of me.  I’d originally thought I’d tell Rose’s story in two or three chapters, maybe 6,000 words, sort of threaded through the book.  Instead, I was lost the moment I wrote the painfully shy girl whom everyone calls Stork, looking out on the dusty street of her village as jewels gleam on the neck and wrists of a young woman she’s never liked, now a Patpong dancer come home for a visit.  The woman, whose has taken the name Nana, stops and talks to Stork as though they were friends and throws her a sapphire earring,  That earring started everything.  After Stork caught it, there was no way I could let go of the story, in which Stork would run to Bangkok, change her name to Rose, and gradually turn into the woman Rafferty marries.  And then we’re back in the thriller.

I was terrified about reaction to that section.  It’s a long, painful journey, and very much a female experience.  So in the past three days, I’ve been ecstatic to have just terrific reviews by two very good female writers, Beth Terrell and Barbara Fister.  In a really positive review on Murderous Musings, Terrell says, “The moral message is both powerful and subtle . . . and the portrayal of Rose is pitch-perfect–thoughtful, insightful, and always authentic.”  And Fister, on the Yahoo group 4 Murder Addicts Only, says, “This is an amazing book: an honest and utterly absorbing depiction of women’s lives in Bangkok, showing their strength in the face of huge odds. And the writing is just lovely on every page.”

So I’m immensely grateful to Beth [Terrell] and Barbara [Fister].  Even if there are some bad ones in the future, at least two writers I respect believe that I got it right.  That makes an enormous difference.

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