The Role of Terror and Jealousy in Writing

Trickster by Jeff SomersSo, I have a new book series coming out from Pocket Books. Trickster will be out in early 2013 and its sequel will follow. Also a digital-only short story in-between the two novels. I really excited, of course. These will be my seventh and eighth novels published, and let me tell you, right up until I sign the contract for the ninth I will be convinced they are also my last. That’s how it goes.

Here’s the story of Trickster in timeline format:

1995: I write a story titled The Night will Echo Back at You which deals with magic spells cast via blood sacrifice in the modern world. I never submit it anywhere. It’s one of those stories that I like in concept but is kind of dull in actual execution.

1996-2010: Nothing much happens. I drink a lot. Sell some other pieces of writing.

2010: Having finished the final Avery Cates book, The Final Evolution, I go to Bouchercon in San Francisco ostensibly to try to expand my audience into the thriller/mystery crowd but really so I can follow my agent around and surreptitiously order booze on her dime all day long (it worked!). Bouchercon teaches me two things: No one knows who the hell I am, and there’s no guarantees that I’ll ever sell another book. I was suddenly incredibly jealous of all the authors around me who had bigger followings, and terrified that I’d never publish again. The sheer energy of everyone around me busily promoting their work got under my skin.

I’d been planning to expand upon this old story anyway. Terrified and jealous, I wrote 10,000 words on the plane ride home. Most of those words survived into the final version of the book. That doesn’t always happen.

Fear is a great motivator for me when I write. Fear that it will suck, that no one will ever read it, that I’m actually not nearly as good a writer as I think I am. It gets the juices flowing, let me tell you. Some books get written peacefully over the course of years. Some burst out in an explosion of terror. I think I’ve done good work both ways, but I also suspect that fear is always down there, bubbling, churning the wheel that drives it all. Even if I’m not bug-eyed terrified like I was on that flight home, chugging tiny bottles of bourbon and garnering suspicious glances from the flight attendants (the strip search in Newark airport upon landing was no fun) the fear is still there, driving me.

It seems pretty obvious to me that if you’re satisfied, you don’t do anything. Maybe this is why so many artists bog down in middle age and stop producing good work; they hit a certain level of material comfort and are satisfied. Fear comes in many forms, and for some maybe the fear of starving to death is all it takes. Me, I don’t mind starving to death. Being ignored for the rest of my life is what gets my goat. I could live in a dumpster and drink antifreeze (not as bad as you might think – it’s got an oakey, spicey finish) and be okay with that. Tell me I’ll never sell another book and I’ll burst into tears.

The real question is, does the type and level of fear have anything to do with the level of work you produce? As an experiment perhaps I should be locked in a cage with two hungry bears and a laptop. See what happens. Well, we know exactly what happens: Bear porn. Don’t ask.



  1. Denise Grover Swank

    Fear has the opposite effect on me. It shuts me down while the chant “You suck. You can’t write this.” spins around in my head. It paralyzes me. (Which is exactly what happened to me this summer.) I have to shove the fear into a corner so I can focus. It’s still there, lurking, but at least I can breath enough to get some words down.

  2. Patty Blount

    I wrote a thing about this fear too – it’s over on Nova Ren Suma’s site. I nearly deleted SEND because of it.

    I ignore it. Pretend it’s not there. Beat it back with a stick. Rely on the advice of people a lot smarter than I am who tell me when things really do suck and when they don’t.

    I can’t wait to read Trickster! I should do your book trailer 🙂

  3. Sean

    I have no doubt you will get that ninth book, and tenth, and on and on, published, no matter what your fear says. But I know the fear you speak of, and you’re using it the right way.

  4. Sean

    And I should point out: this is a great book.

  5. Jason Falter

    Can’t wait!!! I’ve just posted the link to this up on G+ and the pimping has begun. Good thing I check your site because I missed the original posting!!!

  6. Steve Ulfelder

    I first met you at that Bouchercon. I thought you were drunk, but told myslef nah – it was ten in the morning. Thanks for confirming.

  7. jsomers (Post author)

    Steve, you never go wrong assuming drunkenness on my part. Remember that.

  8. Leah Rhyne

    “I could live in a dumpster and drink antifreeze (not as bad as you might think – it’s got an oakey, spicey finish) and be okay with that. Tell me I’ll never sell another book and I’ll burst into tears.”

    Sorry to quote you back to yourself, but that feels so close to home I simply had to.

    Congrats and good luck selling more books! 🙂

  9. Pamala Knight

    Awesome post. It’s good to hear that you channel your fear into work so that the rest of us can read the fabulous results. Don’t worry (haha, I know!), no one thinks this is your last book. Way too much talent already well-spotted for that to be true.

  10. Elisabeth Black

    Aw yeah! I am so excited to read your new book!

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