Marc Schuster

The Grievers: Available for Preorder

Though it won’t be in print until May 1, I wanted to share the news that my second novel, The Grievers, is now available for pre-order at Amazon. I’m especially excited that a handful of my favorite writers have offered some highly flattering advance praise for the novel. I’m also looking forward to setting up a few readings this Spring. If you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to visit the WordPress site I put together to promote the novel.

And speaking of promotion, I’m looking for advice on marketing my novel on a very tight budget.* If anyone has any experience with book publicity, I’m all ears. Please feel free to drop me a line or share your tips in response to this blog post.

*By “very tight,” I actually mean “zero,” as I just spent my last dime on a new furnace for my home, my goal being to survive winter so that I might live to see The Grievers in print.

The Parable of the Leaf Blower

I moved into my current home about three summers ago. When Fall came, I tried to use my leaf blower, but it didn’t work. I plugged it into the electrical outlet in my garage, but when I switched it on, nothing happened. Assuming my leaf blower was broken (but being too cheap, lazy, and weirdly sentimental about the machines I own to throw it in the trash), I put it away and left it my garage for the past three years.

Earlier this month, however, I decided that I’d try to fix my leaf blower on the off chance that the problem was just a loose wire or a switch or something I could repair given my limited skill set as a handyman. My first step, of course, was to plug it in and flip the switch. And this time around, it screamed to life.

That’s when I remembered an important detail: Subsequent to the last time I’d used the leaf blower, I hired an electrician to rewire the garage. But I never put two and two together. I never made the connection between the bad wiring in the garage and the fact that the leaf blower didn’t work. As a result, I spent the next three years raking leaves like some kind of caveman when I could have been blowing leaves like some kind of jerk with a really loud leaf blower.

The point of this parable is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch, but I think it works.

It’s the end of November. If you made it through National Novel Writing Month with a draft, you’re probably painfully aware of how much work it needs. And if you came away from the month with only a portion of a draft, then you might feel like you have a lot further to go. Either way, you probably have a massive collection of pages that you feel, due to your proximity to the project, is somehow “broken.”

Maybe you hate the characters.

Maybe you feel the dialogue is flat.

Maybe the plot doesn’t make any sense.

But a lot of these negative feelings you have toward your novel might have a lot more to do with outside issues than with your novel. Your disdain for the project might have more to do with the fact that you’ve been living so closely with it for the past month than the fact that there’s anything wrong with it. In other words, your manuscript isn’t broken. You’re just too burnt out to appreciate it right now.

If you suspect that this is the case, your best bet is to put the manuscript aside for a while — probably not three years, but long enough to come back to it with fresh eyes. More to the point, don’t give up on the project, and don’t trash it just because you think it isn’t working. Instead, give yourself some time. Let your synapses rewire themselves. Allow yourself to recover from the arduous process of banging out that draft.

A month.

Two months.

Maybe longer.

And when you think you’re ready, turn to page one of the manuscript, flip the proverbial on-switch, and give your work a chance to scream back to life.

Adventures in Writer’s Block: The Birth of Captain Panther

I was a few chapters into what would eventually become my first published novel, The Singular Exploits of Wonder Mom and Party Girl. I had my characters. I had my setting. I had a narrative voice that I was really starting to enjoy. I even had conflict and tension and all the stuff that’s supposed to go into a novel. And then it happened… I hit the wall. I had no idea where to go with the story that I was just beginning to fall in love with.

Boy, was I pissed, but I refused to give up. I sat in front of my computer screen and stared at what I’d written. My protagonist, a beleaguered mother of two named Audrey, was getting in way over her head with what she at first thought to be a casual drug habit. She had an inkling that she might have a problem. But she needed someone to help her see it. She needed someone to serve as a bulwark against the influence of the friends who encouraged her drug use. At the very least, she needed some kind of impetus to get her to start thinking about clawing her way out of the ever-deepening hole she’d dug herself into.

But what would that impetus be?

At the time I was writing my first draft of the novel, I could see a nursery school from my office window. More to the point, because it was summer and my windows were open, I could hear a nursery school from my office window. Usually, it was just the sound of kids playing, but on this particular day, I could hear a drumbeat and someone shouting into a microphone: Come on out, Tigerman!

The shouting went on for a good thirty seconds until Tigerman came out and proceeded to rap about a number of subjects, saying no to drugs and bullying being chief among them. It went on for a long time, and all the while I kept thinking, Would you please shut the hell up? Can’t you see I’m trying to write a novel here?

I was, after all, kind of cranky, as I’d been stricken with writer’s block all morning.

But then it hit me. This guy was rapping about saying no to drugs. It was exactly what my character needed to hear. Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something. Maybe what my novel needed was a real live superhero.

And so I started thinking about the kind of person who might make a living dressing up like a superhero and telling kids to keep away from drugs. And since Tigerman was obviously able to draw a crowd, I figured a feline superhero was the way to go. After a bit of brainstorming, I came up with Captain Panther, who turns out, I think, to be the unlikely moral anchor of the novel.

Needless to say, I did all of the grunt work of creating Captain Panther. That is, I invented a back story for him. I gave him a job in the real world. I wrote songs for him. I gave him insecurities and doubts and all of the other foibles that plague the rest of us. And I also gave him a good heart, so that he could be there to nudge Audrey in the right direction. But none of it would have been possible if I’d slammed my window shut and stayed holed up in my little bubble of literary paralysis.

If there’s a lesson to be learned in all of this, it’s probably that writers need to live in the world. The old adage that truth is stranger than fiction certainly held true in this particular instance. And by being open to that strangeness — by being willing to incorporate some of the wonder of the real world into a piece of fiction that I’d been struggling with — I was able to open my novel up to a whole world of possibilities.

So the next time you’re stuck, try stepping away from your manuscript for a moment and taking a look at the real world for a while. You never know what it might be trying to tell you.