Setting: The interview takes place at Starbucks in Charlotte's chichi SouthPark area. Surrounded by movers and shakers who couldn't care less about us, we sip the charred drinks the barristas assure us is coffee and get down to business. I am interviewed by none other than Kelley Wilde, my former self. For a ghost, Wilde looks feisty enough, thrilled for anything remotely resembling attention. I'm about to be put on the hot seat, I know.
KW: You remind me of my younger self, when I set out from the west coast to conquer the world in New York with a hot little book called The Suiting. The year was 1986 and--
RM: No disrespect intended, spook, but enough about you now. Let's boogie to me.
KW: You wouldn't even be here, Scottie, if it weren't for me. My first books came out in hardcover. The first won an award and was optioned for film, profiled in Success Magazine!
RM: Yes, yes, we all know about that. The reviews and profiles in Publishers Weekly, the Atlanta Journal/Constitution, the New York Times, the Toronto Star, etc. The fact remains, spook: you flamed out.
Enter the Zone of the Big-Time BooHoo. The ghost of Kelley Wilde weeps and begins to rant: financial and marital problems, combined with deadlines that he couldn't meet, led to the decline of books two through four. He begins to shout then of the treacheries of agents--till he sees me yawning. To my surprise, the spook dabs at its eyes and then chuckles.
KW: That isn't working, is it?
RM: Nooo. You agreed to those back-to-back contracts and the deadlines they contained. You married the wrong woman and let her drive you crazy. You chose the wrong second agent, passing up on a couple of all-stars in order to make easy bucks. You made some potent enemies by shooting off your mouth.Worst of all by far: you didn't have the discipline at that time in your life to succeed.
RM: So...why did you chuckle?
KW: I'd needed a good cry, you see. And, oddly, the instant I had it, the whole sorry bag of the past went KA-POOF. Now I do have a few questions for you.
RM: Tell you what. You take me my surprise, and I'll let you do another of your famous sound effects.
KW: Does that include KA-BLOWIE?
RM: Well, if you insist. All right.
KW: Does your rebirth as Reb MacRath signal a brand new departure or a creative synthesis? If the latter, what parts of me have you been able to use?
RM: Well, I haven't made something from nothing. In fact, after the crash I made nothing at all till I stopped denying you. I had as much to learn from your weaknesses as from your strengths--and you had your share of both.
KW: Name the main narrative weakness you had to overcome.
RM: You may do one sound effect for not asking the main narrative strength you possessed.
KW: Hooray for me! KA-BLOWIE!
RM: Less is more...more or less was the lesson you needed to learn, but did not. You'd come to believe that cutting was the answer to all narrative woes. For every ten pages you wrote, you'd cut five, resulting in jarring transitions and an over-terse, clipped style that made readers work twice as hard, trying to fill in the blanks: where a chair was in the room, what a given character looked like, etc. The key fact is that editing means adding as well as deleting..
KW: And yet you're doing ebooks now, when I worked so hard to get into print.
RM: I'll answer that by bringing up a painful memory for you. Your first book had just been published. And you roamed all over Atlanta, trying to find it in bookstores. No dice. Finally, Mark Stevens--who owned a wonderful indie sci-fi and mystery bookstore--took the time to check Tor's catalog. Your publisher had not listed your first book!
KW: KA-SNIFFLE! Sorry, that one just came out.
RM: You earned it. And don't forget: your second publisher left out one entire chapter in the galleys sent out for reviews--causing some critics to complain of narrative confusion. And, for God's sake, let's remember the publisher who sat on a new book of yours for three years. Go ahead. You're entitled, just this once, to let loose with your trademark leader dots.
RM: Here's my point, dear partner: when you think of all that might have been, don't forget what actually was. And don't confuse the stories of publishing's halcyon past with the cut-throat number-crunching business that it has become. You had your chance. Now it's time to move on, with dazzling new footwork, to brand-new frontiers.
KW: Did I hear you correctly? Did you just say...partners?
RM: Of course. As long as you remember that I'm the senior partner with the controlling vote.
KW: I can live with that if you'll give me a clue: what's your game plan for this unique balancing act?
RM: Well, it'll be tricky but it can be done. You had brass cajones--a good thing to have, provided one knows when to zipper his lips. You showed enormous persistence and vision in your campaign to get published: e.g., you changed the spelling of Kelly to Kelley to plant confusion all around...you rented a midtown P.O. box to hide your poor address in Queens...you withheld all personal details, ignoring the agents' demands...We can't make the same moves again. But the persistence and vision themselves are still gold in our account. I'll bring to bear the maturity and discipline I acquired in those years in the desert. And we'll continue to balance the backlog of work that I wrote while pounding sand with the new books that we're writing.
KW: I'm left with the wonderful feeling that you have something else up your sleeve, Reb MacRath.
RM: Well, bless your soul. You've just earned two sound F/X in big letters. The something extra trumps all else. And it's what should give us the most cause to dance. The sense has grown, in quantum leaps, that writing is all about our readers and not us. From first to final draft our focus should be riveted on conveying the same joy to readers that we find throughout the process. Whether we write fantasy or horror or mystery, joy's what keeps us going--even when that joy is painful. Go ahead, you've waited long enough.
KW: Thank you, Reb.