Still thinking about what I'm learning about writing, this year. And some of it clicked last night while I was reading Val McDermid's The Mermaids Singing.
She's a Scottish mystery writer, not as well known in the US as the UK (where she is really, really, really well known. Like, Rick Castle famous.)
The difference between McDermid and Castle is that McDermid is not a hack.
If you have not read Val McDermid? When I say she's good? She's really, really good at her job. She can write serial-killer POV that does not make me want to throw the book across the room for being (a) cheap (b) exploitative (c) wrong.
It's a feature of my career that I read a lot of first novels, a lot of early-career novels. I don't get to read a lot of novels by authors at the absolute height of their powers and development, frankly, because they don't need the book reviews. And I forget, sometimes, what a really solidly constructed novel by a master craftsperson looks like, because I'm so used to looking at that slackly plotted middle section and shrugging, because it's the author's third novel, and it takes a while to learn to do this stuff.
See, I stayed up until 4:22 a.m. to finish this book, even though I already knew how it ended, because I had seen the fairly accurate ITV adaptation. Because McDermid had her hooks into me, in a way I'd kind of forgotten a book could do. (I think the last one to nail me to the page this severely was Gene Wolfe's The Sorcerer's House but I could be forgetting something.)
She's not a flashy prose stylist, though her imagery is precise and understated. She's not prone to huge pyrotechnics in terms of character interaction. She didn't string me along with cheap cliffhanger tricks, although the level of suspense was high throughout. Actually, the climax (I thought) was one of the weaker sections of the book.
I just really, really cared about her two (smart, capable, flawed) protagonists, and wanted to keep reading about them.
It occurred to me this morning, while washing dishes (because as we all know, inspiration and comprehension are commonly found dissolved in hot tap water) that the thing I'm working to get my head around right now is a career stage that every writer must face, consciously or not.
I'm good enough at this writing thing to sell just about everything I write, at this point. It's something I've worked towards for thirty years, and I realized this morning that it would be very easy to stop here, to say, okay, that's enough suffering. I'm good enough. I know how to do this writing thing. I can allow myself to slide into unconscious, professional-level competence, and become the sort of artist of whom people say, "...I respect her early work."*
But if I do that, I'm never going to be any better than a journeyman.
That's not what I want. That's not who I want to be.
So I need to keep learning and internalizing, I guess.
This moment of navel-gazing brought to you by revising the proposal for Gotham Jazz yesterday, revising the draft of "The Slaughtered Lamb" tonight, and revising the draft of "REZ" tomorrow or Tuesday.
And then bloody well writing "Underground," one way or another, Smee.
*Sarah McLachlan, I am looking at you.