Lonesome, On’ry and Mean
By Steve Ulfelder
What’s a nasty headline like the one above – which comes from the great WaylonJennings song, so don’t blame that spelling on me – doing at a chipper, upbeat blog like this?
I’m here to mark the release of Shotgun Lullaby, the third Conway Sax novel (as always, I’m grateful to the Reds for letting me drop by!). But as it happens, I just sent the fourth Conway book to my editor. And despite my traditional reward of a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Phish Food, submitting a manuscript always makes me lonesome, on’ry and mean.
Not to mention mad at myself. Because I fall for it every doggone time.
Fall for what?
I fall for the idea, the promise I promised myself eight months ago when I began, that once I turned in the manuscript, all would be right with the world. My shoulder blades would unlock. I would sleep through the night. Thoughts about lazy scenes and incomplete arcs would cease to nag me.
The reward for finishing a novel, I unfailingly persuade my gullible self, is to unwind and smell the roses and laze in the sun.
But it doesn’t work that way. Not for me.
Instead, I rattle around the house looking for things to do, for little projects that make me feel (falsely) that I’ve had a productive day. Sure, a few long-neglected honey-dos get addressed. And I always seem to start a short story built from outtakes (before deciding the outtakes are outtakes for good reason).
Mostly, though, I’m unfocused and unsatisfied. Lonesome, on’ry and mean.
Which is because, I finally realize (too late! Fooled again!), the kicking back is not the reward for the work. The work itself is the reward, the good time, the payoff. As to those tight shoulder blades, that insomnia, those 2:00am Post-It notes that make no sense at 8:00am?
Well, they’re just little tolls you pay for being a writer.
Here’s the question: How do you feel when you finish a major project, book or otherwise? Am I alone in my cranky reaction? Or is this letdown a universal reaction?
Bonus points if you can find another country song that perfectly sums up your answer!
Steve Ulfelder is the Edgar-nominated author of the hardboiled Conway Sax mystery series. Of Shotgun Lullaby, the latest novel, Booklist writes: “Dennis Lehane and Robert B. Parker fans will enjoy Ulfelder.” Steve is also co-owner of Flatout Motorsports, a Massachusetts company that builds race cars.
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Steve, I am so with you. I call it the "postpartum blues." Of course you're thrilled to have finished the damned book, but... when you've lived in a story, and with those characters, for six or eight months or a year, it's like letting go a big chunk of yourself.
But I give up on the country song. Waylon is hard to beat. REDS? READERS? Have a go!