• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Would You Could You

Sometimes I’ll ask a writer to think about the grand scheme. I ask how many books he would like to see on the shelf at the end of his life. Ten? Five? One, like Harper Lee? There are a lot of reasons people don’t or can’t write more than a book or two. Sometimes the experience of being published is devastating, whether good or bad. If it’s very good, I’ve seen writers buckle under the pressure of living up to their early promise. If it’s very bad, they can be crushed by the disappointment. Sometimes it’s a failure of imagination or the well is truly empty. Sometimes a nervous breakdown or crippling depression is responsible. Or alcoholism and drug addiction. Or, like JD Salinger, the critics killed the entire enterprise, or so he’s said. Or maybe the writer turns to another form: screenwriting, playwriting, finger fucking. I try so hard to motivate writers, but maybe silence is molten.

How many books will you write?

41 Responses

    • The first three a trilogy exploring the ways women leave, a dark family of origin, an unplanned child, a deadly lover. Mid way through I can see the book beyond this effort and it keeps me going. I have no lack of imagination, and no illusions left so I’m good to go.

      Thanks for asking.

  1. Two. A boy and a girl.

  2. Weird, I’ve been wondering about this. I have my first novel coming out, but it’s the last thing I would have thought I’d publish, women’s commercial. And yet I’m so -blissful moment – grateful that this went through. What I’ve been wondering is this, about going off course into a different land, getting caught up in something unlikely.

    My publisher took my story collection as well, so that’s another six months editing, and a second book. So that’s two, after many years of writing. My kids are nearly all out of school. I have another huge manuscript next to my bed, and the idea of one, though I haven’t written down a scrap. So maybe something else.

    But I’m talking pre-publication here. Maybe this thing will throttle me.

  3. 41.

    • I guess you eat your Wheaties.

      • I have no day job. No hobbies or interests. No spirituality or community or desire to leave the world a better place. No point of view, no important message. No integrity. I don’t exercise or travel. I don’t study, I don’t teach. I don’t (Shanna forgive me) watch TV. I don’t like movies. I refuse to travel. I don’t make friends or attend performances, I don’t sing or dance or draw. I can’t sell a screenplay. My wrist cramps after three minutes of finger fucking. I don’t plan on dying anytime soon, so pressure and disappointment and addiction and depression is the breakfast of champions.

      • Sometimes three minutes is all it takes.

  4. however many i’m supposed to write…

  5. As many as I can leach from my bones before my bones crumble to dust.

  6. Six. One at a time.

  7. 3 or 4. You know, I don’t know. I guess I should just wait until the first one sees the light of day and take it from there.

  8. 11 + – One was published two years ago. The second is coming out this summer, a photography coffee table book with essays. Numbers three and four are currently being edited, one of which already has a publisher lined up and I need an agent for the other. The other six are in concept mode or rough draft. And if the muse inspires me to keep going, I will.

  9. I’ve written 10 so far and would hope to write at least another 20 before I leave this mortal coil (if you put any stock in actuarial tables).

  10. 15. Now the question is how many of those will be published…

  11. “How many books will you write?”

    I don’t know, Betsy. From time to time–and this week has been one such time–I review my materials and my plans to get a fresh overview of my writing project. I’m in the middle of the review now so I don’t have a definite number, but even if I did, life is what happens to us while we’re making other plans.

    So far I’ve written about a dozen. Maybe more. That includes poems I’ve gathered into unpublished collections I’ve abandoned, and unpublished novels that were fatally flawed. Books that I’ve written and still believe in and still try to have published (and one of which is about to be published) number about eight. Books that are at some stage of composition or decomposition or recomposition or ephemeral dream number maybe a dozen. Maybe fifteen. Hard to say.

    All of those things you listed that can happen to writers, I’ve seen some of those close up. This book of mine that’s about to be published, it’s my first and the experience is a lot more disorienting and upsetting than I had imagined it would be. It’s supposed to be a dream come true. But when dreams come true they’re not dreams anymore. And when I was younger, I was the smartest and much was expected of me. The pressure was high and the disappointments–as we all know in this business–can be gut-punches. I’ve had breakdowns, depression, addiction–these things at the very least can take years away and all that’s left afterwards may be a determination to bear witness to those years and not let them be a waste. Or they can destroy. I can’t bear to let them destroy me.

    “Bear” I’ve used twice here. Earlier this morning my wife and I were talking about the connection between illiteracy and the criminal underclass. I allowed as to how I am not a man to volunteer to teach inmates to read. All I can do is bear witness. That has always been the foundation of my writerly project–bearing witness. How many books this may result in is unknown to me. “As many as I can craft” is the most accurate answer.

  12. Since my first goal is to live to celebrate my 100th b-day, I’ve got decades of time ahead of me. I’ll be disappointed in myself if I can’t write at least 25 books, frustrated with the process if at least one doesn’t get published and dreading the possibility that if one does get published, it won’t happen during my lifetime.

  13. I have three on the go at the moment that are in various stages, all with at least a first draft completed. I wish I didn’t have a day job. It really cuts into the productivity. I’ve written maybe five or six others that are so dead, I can’t remember them. I have no doubt that when I am “finished” with these three, there will be more. It’s the masochist in me.

  14. At least one more, as I have a contract on a sequel. But I’ve decided there are no more excuses. I write fast, very fast. There is not reason I can’t write two of three books a year. It’s MG and YA so they’re shortish, but still, that’s my goal. Finish this WIP, write one more before I start edits on the verse novel with my publisher in the fall. Then maybe another after that.

  15. I’ve finished two already.

    Ten’s a nice round number. I’d hope I could get at least that many, if not more. It’s the getting them published thing I’m concentrating on now.

  16. How many books? Here’s the minimum:
    1. Current novel I finished that deserves to be published because it will bring enjoyment to at least 50-,000 readers, most but not all of whom are women.
    2. Collection of short stories–expansion of my previously published chapbook.
    3. Collection of essays/memoir. literary criticism. In other words, memoir in the form of essays on books and writers who have meant the most to me.
    4. At least one but maybe more that combine words and pictures. Current blog and Facebook entries are the warm-up.

    I expect everything I write that is made public to be worth reading and re-reading 50 years from now. Have been writing all my life, but only in past 6 years have I been able to afford to write full time. I recognize that I am in the same relationship to the marketplace as jazz musicians and poets, namely that I have mastered what used to be a popular art form and is no longer commercially viable.

  17. One that I’m half done with. A second that I have notes on and am just beginning research. And beyond that, I am eager to see what’s next.

  18. Well, I dunno.
    I have two finished novels. I have 3/4 of a third novel. I have most of a collection of connected short stories. I’m working on a non-fiction.

    Shrug. Dunno. Will keep at it. Hope to birth one or more into publication.

  19. Eight short story collections and three novels.

  20. Thank you for this. It helps to see the determination of other writers, the courage inherent in results-oriented shoulder shrugging.

    I can’t say how many books I’ll write. I’m still suspended in the initial accident of publishing. Shards of glass hang in the air. The airbags have gone off. The crumple zones are pancaked, and the safety cage is in jeopardy, but this shit has to stop sometime, doesn’t it?

  21. i’m guessing six. i will continue to write for imaginative freedom, no matter the publishing outcome.

  22. On my fifth. Have experienced every emotion you mentioned throughout the years.

  23. …as many as my time left on earth allows me to write.

    I’ve written two novels, thirty short stories, sixty plus (published) essays. I write a weekly column and post on my blogs; I have two, a couple of times a week. Wow, I’m impressing myself.

    So where do I go from here?

    My dream…to make a literary agent rich but not posthumously.

  24. Done: Two novels and enough short stories for a collection, and 3 children’s books.
    Doing: a collection of personal essays about my attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows.
    Doing: Waiting for the next big idea to fall from the sky. No, not from the sky– it usually wakes me up at night. I know it will happen. I just have to be patient and keep my brain limber in the meantime. I have a feeling it’s a screenplay.

  25. At least four more than I will get paid for in my lifetime, but practice is never wasted.

  26. Hi Betsy, 3. I want to get my first two novels pubbed (two chapters published already from the first one and a small press offer on the 2nd so far) and I want to finish my current one that I’ve started. That’s all I want to do. If those 3 are on the shelf when I die, I’ll die a happy man.

  27. Does that count the three in Rubbermaid tubs in my basement? The one that keeps moving from hard drive to hard drive? The two currently making rounds w/ editors? The one in my head? The one I just started? The one I wrote in 6th grade and illustrated with really dark felt pens?

    Really, if I go off the deep end and scribble out a few 50K I-screwed-a-billionaire books and use a pen name, will that count? How about the various configurations of short stories collections I cobble together and crack apart like Legos?

  28. That cat’s gonna grow up to hurt somebody. Really bad.

  29. I have no clue. You mentioned finger fucking. Authoring is a bit like fucking of one sort or another. You do a book. A few days, hours, minutes later, you feel the urge to do another.

  30. Twelve. I have always told myself twelve, just like I was going to marry a skinny guy with black hair and I was going to live in an old house with big windows. Okay, so I’m behind! Two out of three!

    I know I lost a decade, for most of the reasons you mention. But: I refuse to be one of those depressing stories you tell at cocktail parties. Je refuse!

  31. Considering myself as advanced beginner in writing fiction, I started with a number of short stories and now prepare to submit one to some magazine. But, I am in cloudy thoughts, maybe I would move to writing novel (a bit more at liberty than with the condense form of a short text). So the long-term plan would be two collections of short stories and a novel. Big target?
    Betsy mentioned about writing genre. At this stage, sometime I imagine of writing “mystery” in art shape, after being too much struggling with literature (reading, studying, writing and thinking about them), not an issue of publication yet, not in my plan. I am re-reading an old stuff of Raymond Chandler–just out of a moment of tiredness–and back to my current work on fiction now.

  32. Unless I pick up the pace pretty quickly, not very many.

  33. How many will I write…or publish? I’m sure I’ll write a dozen or more. Ideally, I’ll publish just as many. But that’s only in a perfect world.

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