Monday, August 02, 2010

Sit, write

By David Heinzmann

Anybody who planned to mark the stages of their summer this year by the progress of the trial of former Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich may have been disappointed to see the back-to-school sales come way too early. Most people expected the Blagojevich trial to dip into the first few hot weeks of the football season. But here it is the first week of August and the jury has already begun deliberating whether the former governor conspired to illegally trade campaign donations for government action.

A verdict, which could result in the last two Illinois governors in federal prison at the same time, may come as early as this week.

For those not following this case closely, the big chunk of this courtroom thriller that’s missing is the defendant on the stand. Blagojevich cut the trial short by at least a week when he changed his mind about telling his side of the story and decided not to take the stand, robbing trial watchers of the big climax. His lawyers said they decided to save Rod the trouble because prosecutors hadn’t proved he had committed any crimes. Others said it was because they finally understood the enormity of the bloodbath awaiting the former governor on cross examination.

Either way, the centerpiece of Chicago’s crazy summer of news is coming to a close earlier than expected. If this was a novel, you might not write it this way. But regardless of what the jury says, there’s still plenty of room for high drama and explosive plot twists in the coming days when the jury renders their verdict. Whether he's convicted or acquitted: What Will Rod Do?

My own connection to this case as a reporter is tangential. I was in court the morning that Blagojevich was herded before the judge in one of his finest jogging suits, but only by chance. I had volunteered to help a small team of reporters stake out the governor’s house on the North Side after our ace federal court reporter Jeff Coen figured out in late 2008 that the FBI was moving in on him. It just happened to be one of my days watching the house. I had been sitting in my car with a photographer in the predawn darkness when they came for him—though the arrest was carried out so smoothly that it looked like nothing but the morning shift change for the governor’s state police security detail. Rod was already on his way to a holding cell by the time we figured out what had just happened.

Anyway, I haven’t had to cover the case since then, so I can’t blame the Blagojevich saga for my lack of progress on my third book. But I have indeed gotten stuck. I started strong a few months ago, firing off five quick chapters of a new story—with a new protagonist—before getting bogged down. Unpredictable sleeping schedules of children, trips to the Northwoods and the shores of Lake Michigan are my excuses. Oh, and a day job. But most writers have day jobs and have to steal the time, so that’s not really an excuse.

All the summer vacations are finished now, so it will be back to some semblance of a daily date with the chair and keyboard.

And I’m going to try to not let the editing of my second book, Throwaway Girl, contribute to the distractions while writing the third. That sort of happened with the first and second books. I was almost finished with the manuscript of Throwaway Girl when I signed a contract to publish A Word to the Wise. A first timer, I became so engrossed in the editing process with the publisher, not least because of errors and problems I found in the manuscript at that late stage, that I set aside completion of Throwaway Girl for more than a year.

I just signed the contract with Five Star to have them publish Throwaway Girl in November 2011. After I finished this manuscript and sent it off, I had sort of counted myself as a liberated man, ready to move on with the third book. But now that I have a contract and a publication date I’m obsessing a little bit about the editing process and things that may need to be fixed. I know, I know: it’s supposed to be perfect by the time it goes to the publisher so that I can wash my hands and move on. I just haven’t swallowed that idea yet. But I’m determined to not go too far down this path of distractions.

Anybody with any advice on how to keep the editing of one book from devouring all the energy it takes to draft a new book at the same time?


Shaun Webb said...

Thats what it comes down too: ass in chair and write the damn book.

I published my first novel and am working on a second one. You just have to do it.

David Heinzmann said...

Shaun, Clicking on your name and seeing that it links to the Michigan sex offender registry made my day. Awesome.

Sara Paretsky said...

Dave, I find it very hard to think of new story lines while still twiddling with a previous book, so all I can say is, I feel your pain, and have no solution to it. Except to know that keeping chiseling at the marble in the head will ultimately produce something-but how long it will take, and how painful it will be--unpredictable.