Reflections on simultaneously writing two wildly different novels on the publication day of one
Question: Is it possible to write two books at the same time?
- Hell yes.
- The jury is out.
- Check back in six months.
I’ll take each of these five answers in turn.
1. YES. I am currently writing two wildly different books at the same time. So I can attest to the fact it is physically possible to do this. I work on one book in the morning and the other after lunch, more or less, sometimes I switch it up and alternate full days.
The first book is a genre bender mash-up, a page-turning thriller with a bucketful of alternative history thrown in. It’s the kind of story that gets made into a movie, or a Netflix series. (Fingers crossed).
The second book is literary fiction, falling into that category mostly by a process of elimination. It doesn’t fit anywhere else and isn't likely to ever be the basis for a film script.
(Digression: Fiction categories are, like any human attempt to sort and label things, an artifice and reflection of the values of the categorizing person or collection of people at any given moment of history. The fiction categories can be useful to distinguish novel plots, however, in our current literary ecosystem in which shareholder interest largely drives editorial decision-making, categories can also be subtly weaponized by self-appointed gatekeepers to marginalize outsider work as in, "Oh, it's just science fiction. Or fantasy. Or indie. Or alt-history.")
Okay, back to the original question.
2. HELL YES. The first of the two wildly different books I am writing is a product of my partnership with co-author Clark Hays. The novel is about Bonnie and Clyde. More accurately, it is is a trilogy, and March 24, 2018 is the publication day of the second book in the series—Bonnie and Clyde: Dam Nation. The first book in the series, Resurrection Road, was published in May 2017 by our indie author collective imprint Pumpjack Press. We are writing the third book (still untitled) now, which is set in 1945 at Hanford, Washington during the creation of the atomic bomb.
The series reimagines the life of the outlaw lovers, giving them a second chance at not-dying and casting them as covert defenders of the working class. In addition to sexy page-turning entertainment, we deploy their enduring legend to provide commentary on the current state of wealth/income inequality, inviting comparison to the Gilded Age that led to the Great Depression.
The Bonnie and Clyde series is getting crazy-good reviews, media coverage and reader love (here’s a link to some of it). Kirkus Reviews captured it in a nutshell:
“Hays and McFall make their Depression-era tale timely with reflections on wealthy fat cats and a rigged economic system that still ring true. More than that, the story is an exciting ride, with tight corners, narrow escapes, and real romantic heat between Bonnie and Clyde. Outlaws become patriots in this imaginative, suspenseful what-if story.”
Please help us celebrate our publication of Dam Nation! Pick up a copy of the Bonnie and Clyde books (here’s a link), leave a review on Amazon and share information about the books in your networks. We are excited and proud and would be very grateful.
3. THE JURY IS OUT. In today's multi-tasking society, one can—and is often expected to—do many things simultaneously but on the question of writing books, synchronicity is of lesser value than quality. So, the original question should be rephrased: Is it possible to write two books—of quality—at the same time?
While evidence beyond my own biased opinion shows the books in the Bonnie and Clyde series rock (mostly due to Clark), it’s too early in the creation process to know if my work-in-progress literary fiction novel is any good.
Here’s the set up. An aging hippie-woman is having near death experiences almost every day without the actual threat of death. She turns to a good friend—Loretta—who works at an unnamed Oregon University to query the faculty experts on her behalf across multiple departments—neuroscience, anesthesiology, philosophy, physics, religion and so on—about the meaning of near death experiences (a subset of human consciousness). At the same time, in her job as a pubic relations official at the University, Loretta is dealing with the minute-by-minute hijinks associated with a major PR crisis related to a medical error associated with, um, sperm misplacement. It’s a rollicking look (yes, rollicking) at the state of (and limits to) the inquiry into human consciousness and how the cultural stories we tell ourselves shape that inquiry. Working title: The Departments of Inquiry.
This story about near death experiences has been rattling around in my brain for almost three decades (probably courtesy of a car accident as a teen that almost claimed my life, and my left leg, in that order). And now, no matter what—good, bad or ridiculous—I’m going to get it out of my head.
I’m about one-third through the second draft. No one has read a single word of it yet. I have no views other than my own to know if it's any good. Hence, the jury is out.
4. DEPENDS. Writing two books simultaneously depends on one's discipline, to a large degree, I think. Plus opportunity.
Two years ago, after an eternity of deadline writing for hire—journalist, speechwriter, public relations, magazine features, blog posts, video scripts, annual reports; you name it, I was paid to do it—I was fortunate enough to reach an opportunity to spend all my time writing fiction. While Clark and I have been prolific with our co-written "genre" fiction, publishing (counting today) six books together, I’ve always, by necessity, crammed fiction writing into nights and weekends. In other words, the luxury of writing two wildly different books at the same time did not exist until very recently.
Yes, I know how lucky I am. But my chance to focus, part of the time, on literary fiction arrived late.
The Bonnie and Clyde books are great fun to write, especially since I get to write in partnership with Clark, and while it's still work, it's also fun. By contrast, my other book is a solitary, lonely, doubt-filled endeavor, and it’s slow-going.
The upside to starting late in life is that writing for more than twenty years for money on deadline gave me an unshakeable commitment to discipline. Even if the mood is not quite right, if that thing writers like to call the muse is lacking, I still get the hell up, and work on both books every day because that's my training (mostly; every now and again I goof off, paint or undertake the necessary tasks of marketing the Bonnie and Clyde series).
The downside is most literary fiction careers are seeded early in life. The clock is ticking. I will have to beat all statistical publishing trends to write—and sell—my first book of literary fiction at this stage in life.
5. CHECK BACK IN SIX MONTHS. Nothing to add to that. Thanks for reading.
Postscript Fun Fact One: Bonnie Parker, at least our version of her, had a near death experience. It happened when she was at Hoover Dam with Clyde working undercover to find out who wants to blow up the dam. Check out the whole story in Bonnie and Clyde: Dam Nation. On sale today!
Postscript Fun Fact Two: All four books in The Cowboy and the Vampire Collection feature an inquiry into near death. How else would vampires experience their daily deaths as the sun rises?
Postscript Fun Fact Three: I probably think about near death WAY too much.
Contributed by Kathleen McFall