Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest Post: Mark Terry

Todd: Mark Terry is an award-winning novelist, creator of the Derek Stillwater series, blogger, and an all-around great guy. He's also an email friend who has been a big help and influence on my writing career so far. His latest novel, The Valley of Shadows, is not only a new Stillwater adventure, it's available in hardcover and as an e-book. By the way, anyone who can start off a blog entry by quoting Crash Davis is alright with me. Here's Mark!

Fear & Arrogance

By Mark Terry

If you remember the movie "Bull Durham," at one point Kevin Costner's character, Crash Davis, tells Tim Robbins' character, Nuke LaLoushe, that "you have to play this game with fear and arrogance."

To which Nuke says, "Fear and ignorance. Got it."

Well, when it comes to the fiction biz, maybe they're both right.

I've often thought it takes a serious kind of arrogance (bordering on megalomania) to think that our daydreams not only would be of interest to other people, but of such interest that they would pay money for the privilege of sharing them. I know I'm supposed to say that there's a fine line between confidence and arrogance, but I actually suspect in this case that there's a wide gray borderland here littered with the corpses of unfinished and unpublished novel manuscripts, lying alongside abandoned dreams and failed writing careers--this is where the artist resides most of the time, and has to for their own protection. If there's anything that can kill a creative project better than fear, I don't know what it is.

The thing that makes novel writing so difficult is it's absolutely impossible to know if you're doing it right (or well). It's almost impossible to be objective about your own work, especially when you're in the middle of it. You may spend weeks or months or years working on something that you think is wonderful only for it to be a piece of crap. Or you may struggle with something you think is a piece of crap, but when you finish it and read it, find that it's just as good as anything else you've written. I know these feelings all too well.

That's fear.

Most novelists I've talked to who are regularly published also have this fear: I'm not going to be able to do it again, I won't get published and I'm going to have to go get some "real" job that I hate.

When really stressed, I have dreams (nightmares) that the writing didn't work out and I had to go back to work at the hospital.

PJ Parrish commented once to me that when she's stressed, she has nightmares about the writing not working out and having to go back to working at Big Boy.

I believe it.

It's a dream job, but it's not all roses. I'm not whining. I'm just pointing out that Crash Davis (or the scriptwriter, whose name eludes me at the moment) was probably right: we play this game with fear and arrogance.

What do you think? Are you all cocky, sure you’re the best thing since brewed beer? Or do you fear you’re writing garbage?

Todd Adds: Ron Shelton is the name you're looking for, Mark as far as the screenwriter of "Bull Durham" and my answer to your questions is that everyone who thinks they have something that another person not only wants to hear, read, see or experience, but needs to hear, read, see or experience has to have arrogance.

My dad once said that anyone who runs for political office has to be able to go into a room full of people and without knowing any of them, believe in his heart that he has better answers and greater solutions to the country's problems than all of them. A writer almost has to be the same way.

But just like most politicians (and if you don't believe me, check out the news lately), we need validation. We need someone to tell us that what we are doing is just as good as we think it is. And that is where the fear comes in. Great post by Mark. Check out his books, they are a great read!


  1. I certainly have the fear that what I'm writing is garbage. I also have a fear that I'm right!

  2. Always the problem, isn't it? Sometimes it probably IS garbage.

  3. Great interview! I know that "gray borderland" all too well, as do several of my forgotten manuscripts. Thanks for sharing this.