Friday, November 20, 2009

What’s Your Book About?

I get this question a lot lately, and I see it as a good sign: people (at least those I know) are interested. I think people ask mostly because I’ve been working on BLACKHEART for years and secondly because I make no effort to keep it a secret that I spend a lot of my free time writing. It gives me great pleasure when I go to a party and someone comes up to me and identifies me not by my techie day job (which is a fine thing in itself) but by my love and passion, “Oh, you’re the WRITER.” Why, yes, yes I am.

But answering, “What’s your book about?” Is still a tough one for me. In the early stages, before they are fully formed, to me rough drafts are a bit like unborn children. They are meant to be handled gently, not shaken, tossed around and certainly are not meant to be subjected to close public scrutiny before they’ve had a chance to form into the complete book they are meant to be.

But, my book is now long past that point….

The other reason that I, the author, hesitate to answer this question is that I know every intimate detail of every known plot element and twist in my book. I also know all the back story of all my characters—even the tons of stuff that will never, ever, ever make it into the book—but I needed to put down somewhere to figure it all out. So when asked the question, “What’s your book about?” I worry: Am I telling you too much? Not enough? Am I giving the ending away? Am I telling the best bits and leaving you with no reason to read it? It seems a delicate balance to achieve, especially if the person asking is a prospective agent or editor (and I have had the opportunity to sit down at the table with a couple–and hope to do so again now that my manuscript is 3 full revisions down the path to being a real, whole book).

But I’m stalling…

So what’s my book about? Thank you for asking! Here is my 25-word answer:


Sent by an angel a suicidal private investigator tries to stop Blackheart—a vengeful immortal warring with demons—from finding an extraordinary child in Minneapolis.

There you have it. Hope you'll stay tuned to find out more.

So why in only 25 words?

It’s a technique I’m trying to perfect. I had the pleasure of hearing John Saul ( speak at the 2007 Maui Writer’s conference. (Like writing, like Hawaii? Have money to spare? Go! Go! Go!) There he talked about how he develops his story ideas into novels using short “What if….” concept statements. The goal using this method is to explain your book as completely as possible reflecting the inner and outer story (and your “hook”) in 25 words or less. Ideally, if you can do this before you begin your book you can use it as a guide for getting things started and keeping it on track. Once your book is done and you are trying to “pitch” it, you can use this short sentence as an “elevator speech” to help sell your book. I like the idea. Guess I’ll find out how well it works for me.

What’s my NEXT book about??

Well, I have over 100 pages of a first draft for book 2, most of which was written in 2008 during November, yes, during “write a novel in a month-month.” I’ve decided I really need to wrap up my first book, BLACKHEART, before I will go full bore at this project. In the meantime I write down snippets and ideas and relevant character scenes as they occur to me. But per my explanation above, this baby is way, way, way too underdeveloped, just a little fetus of a bookling for me to tell you anymore about it right now.

I’m still finding out myself.


Jon said...

Great post, Mark. I encountered the same thing when my Fiancee was asking me about Book Two.

I was like "Eh... I don't know... stuff... War profiteering and family... maybe?"

Also, that 25 word thing was tough. Here's what I came up with:

"When the dead rose, the world came to an end. Now “Black Magic” Jack El-Hai must survive both the monstrous Dead and the murderous living."

Also, the Swamp Thing's weakness is fire...

Brenda said...

And I can't wait to read the entire thing - whenever it's a formed enough being to be let out into the bright sunlight on its own.

I am and will always be your biggest fan - and not in a creepy, break-your-ankle kind of way (per your previous fan boy post).

; )